Don’t hate the monkey, hate the grain.
Lonely Planet describes Swayambhunath Temple as “mobbed by monkeys,” which is a good way to put it. Semi-organized, collectively criminal, and most of them carrying concealed weapons. It’s difficult not to chase around the monkeys with your camera, like little children chasing a yard full of puppies or prostitutes. Who doesn’t love a monkey? Yes, they’re infuriatingly arrogant and offensive, but they’re also, more than anything, brilliantly, playfully, carelessly mischievous.
Making the modest walk west to the temple from the Thamel bubble gave me and new New Zealand-native chum Rosey a slight glimpse of the poverty they don’t make posters of to sell in bookstores.
Panoramas of each massif (I know I use that word a lot, but how can you not?) are for sale everywhere, with names hovering over and pointing out each of the major peaks. But it’s unlikely you’ll see a similar street scene poster with lines pointing out individuals: “HIV positive,” “mother of seven starving children,” “Unemployed factory worker,” and so on. Sixty-eight percent of Nepalis get by on less than $2 USD per day and an average GDP of $264/year, it’s estimated that Nepal ranks about the 12th poorest country in the world. (More stark statistics available from UNICEF.)
In any case, after meeting Rosey over a Hotel Potala breakfast and enjoying her enviable insight and outlook at only 24 and so much more ( I’m remarkably easily distracted by song lyrics), we convinced each other to make the dusk drift across to the monkey temple. I visited there 11 years ago, where I recall seeing a dog challenge a band of monkeys over some scraps. Bad call.
Being from such an adolescent nation, it’s always funny to hear history such as the humbly stated fact that although there are alleged visits of note to the spot 2,000 years ago, confirmed evidence only goes back as far as 460 AD. Shamefully recent. A mere millenium before white folk shored up in the Western hemisphere.
The sunset wasn’t so sensational but the monkeys, the myriad religious symbolism I need to learn more about if I’m to appreciate Buddhist architecture less superficially, and a warm meal in an aqua-walled corner café in the middle of anywhere made it a stellar day.
But come on, everything’s better with monkeys. After laughter, monkeys are surely the best medicine. Penicillin a distant third. If you can find a quality stand-up comic macaque MD, well, effective universal healthcare can’t possibly be far away.