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.
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.
The Swayambhunath stupa is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site Kathmandu Valley.
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.
Comparison a bit far-fetched, you think…? 🙂
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?
Yes, I took that. I was in Nepal in the pre-digital days, so this is a scan of an old-fashioned print photo.
I love monkey temples and the idea of monkeys being revered, even if it does turn them into little brats.
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.
No wonder the photo is from a print – it has a real retro look about it, like Nat Geo shots from the seventies. Lovely.
Wow, thanks 🙂
Glad you answered what made the monkeys holy, as that is exactly what I was asking 2 seconds before you told us.
A bit strange that story, isn’t it…
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.
The monkeys were mostly around the many stairs coming up to the stupa, hopping about on the hand rails.
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.
Interesting. Repeats itself through many cultures. Wonder where it originated…
Beautiful photo! I would never have guessed there were monkeys living there… and holy ones no less!
I love the decorative design on the outside!
It really is a most striking temple.
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!
Rather monkeys than rats, that’s for certain.
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.
I have heaps of slides as well. Just got a little box that converts slides to jpg, so a fun summer ahead 🙂
Pretty photo for a very strange story 🙂
Very strange indeed 🙂
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!
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.
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 !
really a great post and photo just awesome
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 🙂