Travel photo: Monkey Temple, Kathmandu Valley

2014-07-25T09:18:48+00:0018 May 2012|Nepal, Travel photos, UNESCO World Heritage|

This week’s #FriFotos theme* is holy places. My choice of holy place today is Swayambhunath stupa, Kathmandu. Along with six other groups of monuments in the Kathmandu Valley, the temple was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1979. It is first and foremost a Buddhist shrine, but also important in Hinduism.

Monkey Temple

Since holy monkeys live here, it’s also known as the Monkey Temple. And what makes these monkeys holy? I’m glad you asked. This gives me an opportunity to point out yet another similarity between Nepal and Norway. Not only do both begin with N, not only are they both very mountainous countries. But they’ve also both had rulers slightly obsessed with their hair!

In Norway, 9th century Viking king Harald Fairhair refused to cut his hair until all of Norway was joined together in one kingdom. And in Nepal, Manjushree, the bodhisattva of wisdom, didn’t cut his hair until he had finished building the Swayambhunath temple hill.

Hygienic conditions couldn’t have been the best, because he got head lice. But here comes the interesting part: Manjushree’s lice, you see, they magically transformed into monkeys.

The monkeys are still here. In droves. And some quite aggressive. Although one of the young ones was a sweet little thing: hopping about on the railings, he (or she) followed me all the way up the stairs and insisted on grabbing my hand over and over. Adorable at first, annoying after a while…


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*#FriFotos is a weekly Twitter chat founded by @EpsteinTravels where travellers share their favourite photos. Each week has a different theme. Search #FriFotos on Twitter to see more or to join in.

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The Swayambhunath stupa is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site Kathmandu Valley.

Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.

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  1. ItalianNotes 18 May 2012 at 1724 - Reply

    I find both N stories nutty and nice, though I fail to see the causality between monkeys and head lice not to mention Norway and Harald Haarfager’s fair hair.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 20 May 2012 at 1246 - Reply

      Comparison a bit far-fetched, you think…? 🙂

  2. Elena Anne 19 May 2012 at 1012 - Reply

    Honestly, it’s the first time that I’ve heard about this. The structure is really awesome! Were you the one who took this picture?

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 20 May 2012 at 1240 - Reply

      Yes, I took that. I was in Nepal in the pre-digital days, so this is a scan of an old-fashioned print photo.

  3. Laurel 20 May 2012 at 1125 - Reply

    I love monkey temples and the idea of monkeys being revered, even if it does turn them into little brats.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 20 May 2012 at 1245 - Reply

      I like them, too – but I must admit, at a little distance, at least when they’re aggressive. A friend of mine is very bothered by monkeys, though – they’re too much like humans for her comfort, I think, a reminder of our more primitive traits.

  4. robin 20 May 2012 at 1917 - Reply

    No wonder the photo is from a print – it has a real retro look about it, like Nat Geo shots from the seventies. Lovely.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 24 May 2012 at 1618 - Reply

      Wow, thanks 🙂

  5. Emme Rogers 21 May 2012 at 0100 - Reply

    Glad you answered what made the monkeys holy, as that is exactly what I was asking 2 seconds before you told us.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 24 May 2012 at 1618 - Reply

      A bit strange that story, isn’t it…

  6. Beautiful place! I was wondering why it would be called the Monkey Temple. I bet it would be quite the site to see with all the monkeys swarming everywhere.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 24 May 2012 at 1620 - Reply

      The monkeys were mostly around the many stairs coming up to the stupa, hopping about on the hand rails.

  7. InsideJourneys 21 May 2012 at 1416 - Reply

    His hair must have been verrry long by the time this was done!
    I just thought about this: in the Bible, Samson’s strength was in his hair. He lost it when his hair was cut.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 24 May 2012 at 1621 - Reply

      Interesting. Repeats itself through many cultures. Wonder where it originated…

  8. Megan 21 May 2012 at 1907 - Reply

    Beautiful photo! I would never have guessed there were monkeys living there… and holy ones no less!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 24 May 2012 at 1621 - Reply


  9. Andrea 21 May 2012 at 2132 - Reply

    I love the decorative design on the outside!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 24 May 2012 at 1622 - Reply

      It really is a most striking temple.

  10. Angela 22 May 2012 at 1726 - Reply

    Lovely picture, I remember when I went to India everybody was scared of monkeys and they kept telling me because they are too naughty and they beat everyone up! I’ve always found them very cute 🙂 That temple is probably better than one I visited in Bikaner, India, full of rats!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 24 May 2012 at 1622 - Reply

      Rather monkeys than rats, that’s for certain.

  11. Leigh 22 May 2012 at 2216 - Reply

    I remember those aggressive monkeys well but the head lice story is all new to me. Amazing the stuff we learn on your site Sophie.
    I was there in pre digital days too and all my shots were on slide film.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 24 May 2012 at 1623 - Reply

      I have heaps of slides as well. Just got a little box that converts slides to jpg, so a fun summer ahead 🙂

  12. Ayngelina 23 May 2012 at 0702 - Reply

    Pretty photo for a very strange story 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 24 May 2012 at 1624 - Reply

      Very strange indeed 🙂

  13. Very interesting post. I really like the structure of this temple. I would love to visit it, even though the monkeys can be aggressive. Thanks for sharing!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 24 May 2012 at 1626 - Reply

      Thanks. It’s an interesting temple, but then so is all of Kathmandu. A strange, in the very best sense of the word – and exciting place.

  14. Bijaya Ghimire 12 October 2012 at 1240 - Reply

    And in Nepal, Manjushree, the bodhisattva of wisdom, didn’t cut his hair until he had finished building the Swayambhunath temple hill.
    I am tour guide in Nepal and take tourist to Swoyambhunath Stupa (also popularly known as monkey temple among tourists) for sightseeing. Have never heard about Manjushree’s such vow. Real travelers dig beneath and discover such ! Happy to read this blog.
    wish you peace !

  15. Sudeep 21 October 2012 at 0938 - Reply

    really a great post and photo just awesome

  16. Anirudh Singh 24 March 2016 at 0005 - Reply

    Have seen some monkey temples in India though but didn’t notice this one on my visit to Kathmandu 2011. Anyways nice post it is 🙂

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