There’s a place in Kathmandu called the monkey temple (or, more accurately swayambhunath). We were leaving Kathmandu later in the day to head to nagarkot and to make the most of our morning, we woke up around six and walked about an hour to the base of this temple, still an important religious site in the city.
To get up to the temple you have to walk up a huge, steep stairwell, which you not only share with monkeys at times, but also with people doing their exercises by stair running (like a huge group of local men with the phrase “Rangers” on their backs). From half way up you can start to see the eyes painted at the top of the temple, framed by Nepalese prayer flags, and when you reach the top you’re greeted to an ornate circular temple lined around the edges with prayer wheels, which you spin as you walk clockwise around the structure. I was surprised by the number of locals there, outnumbering the tourists by far, all saying prayers and performing religious rights. While on the one hand it was kind of nice to be at a tourist location actually used by locals, it was also one of those moments where you feel like you’re intruding, capitalizing on the differences in others’ lifestyles. I hope they don’t mind.
More than outnumbering the people, though, were the monkeys. Oh my gosh the monkeys. You’d think with the place being called monkey temple that we would have expected that there were a lot of monkeys, but I’m not sure anything prepares you for the number of monkeys that were really there.
We were captivated by them.
Adult monkeys scrambling around and finding food, climbing atop the temple roof and shrines, and babies cutely perched near their moms, trying to get the hang of getting from place to place. They were so used to people they stood feet away from you, nibbling on rice and flowers left by followers, almost posing for pictures. They sat on rooftops picking at each other, had their own social hierarchies (if an unwanted monkey joined a rooftop gang and was unwanted the rooftop gang would bang their fists on the aluminum roof until the monkey hopped away).
We loved the temple, all of it, from the ornateness and importance, to the monkeys, to the souvenir (Amy and I both got circular carved stones that blew us away). It was incredible and because we went so early we were able to be pretty leisurely and really enjoy ourselves, eating food and drinking tea and watching the monkeys like they were there solely to entertain us.
Next up was finding a bus to nagarkot…next time.