One of the last places that we visited during our time in Kathmandu was to Swayambhunath Stupa, which is located on the hillside overlooking the city. It is commonly referred to as “monkey temple” due to the abundance of monkeys that live in the trees that surround the temple grounds. Although there are plenty of monkeys and, as always, you need to be careful around them as they will steel anything that they can get their hands on, we found the nickname to be somewhat derogatory. The temple grounds and the large stupa at the top of the grounds are definitely worth visiting and it is quite busy because it is located on the edge of the city and is a short drive from most of the hotels.
The shape of the Swayambhunath Stupa has very specific meaning as the white, round dome base represents the earth and the 13 golden tiers on the tower of the stupa represent the 13 stages to nirvana. Also, the face of Buddha on the four sides of the tower each face in the directions of west, north, east, and south. There is much more to the temple grounds than just the stupa as there are many different temples and statues surrounding the stupa. There are also the famous prayer wheels that wrap around the base of the stupa and faithful will spin each wheel as they walk around the stupa.
It was the most crowded location of all of the places that we visited while in Kathmandu other than perhaps the Durbar Square in Kathmandu. You will also find plenty of vendors selling goods around the temple grounds and we actually purchased a set of the famous prayer flags before leaving to go back to our hotel. In addition to the stunning architecture, there are also wonderful views of the city from the top of the hill, but it was a little cloudy on the day that we visited, so the views weren’t as dramatic as they might be on a clear day. Especially considering how close it is to the heart of Kathmandu, it is certainly worth taking a couple of hours to visit the Swayambhunath Stupa.