Photographer's Note

Swayambhunath is known as the Monkey Temple, although it is not what (as many people say) the name of the stupa means.

The legend has it that Swayambhunath monkeys were transformed from lice living in the hair of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, who created the hill on which Swayambhunath stupa stands. At least that’s what Wikipedia says… Knowing Nepal, there must be tens of other, competing, stories.

Anyway, it really is the right name for this temple. You will see the first monkey several streets away, before you even approach the long and steep stairs leading to the stupa. When I visited in 2014 there were so many of them that it was difficult to take photos like this, of one or two of them at a time, without many others appearing in the background or in the corners of the photo (disclaimer: no monkey was cloned out to make this or the WS photos; but they required a bit of luck and a lot of patience). From time to time a big herd would suddenly appear, as if from nowhere, run across the top of the hill, among the amused or petrified worshippers and tourists, and then disappear without a trace. They of course live in the forest on the slopes of the hill but the way they all of a sudden turn up is quite mind-boggling.

As long as you don’t try to approach them, touch them or feed them, they seem to be harmless. And the babies, like this one looking at its reflection in water, are irresistibly cute.

When I returned to Swayambhunath in 2016, I forgot about those rules of wisdom. At the foot of the hill I was approached by a group of Buddhists, singing and handing out quite European-looking (and tasting) croissants. I took one, and then, while walking up the steps leading towards the stupa, unwrapped it…

Trust me, there was, at the time, no monkey in sight but, as soon as I put that piece of pastry in my mouth, a big male macaque appeared, baring his teeth and growling. It took me a split second to realise that hiding the unfortunate croissant in my bag and simply walking away was not going to work. I decided that the croissant meant less to me then my health and the remainder of my trip and threw it at the monkey. But I know I will never ever dare bring food to that place again.

Two more photos in WS.

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Additional Photos by Kasia Nowak (kasianowak) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 1597 W: 9 N: 3247] (16832)
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