It took me 28 years to learn the difference between apes and monkeys. I always thought it was based on size: King Kong > gorillas > apes > monkeys. Apparently I was wrong, and it took a text book for five year old Singaporean children to teach me that. Apes don’t have tails but monkeys do, gorillas are big and live in Africa and King Kong lives on Skull island but probably isn’t real (take note any aspiring educators – that was some top notch teaching).
I’m a big fan of anything monkey (or ape, etc) related, so after missing the new Planet of the Apes movie I figured the next best thing was to go to Swayambhunath, the monkey temple in Kathmandu. According to the taxi driver there was a festival on, so he had to charge us more than usual. I had just begun to think he had made it up when the streets closed in on us and the most extreme 30 minutes of traffic, pedestrian dodging and horn honking unfolded. It would have been a lot faster to walk, but it was one of the more memorable taxi rides I’ve been on so I’m glad I experienced it.
You couldn’t accuse the monkey temple of falsely advertising itself to draw tourists in. If anything they undersell just how cool it really is. You’d assume from the name it’s only one temple, but there are countless small shrines, stupas, monuments and temples to explore, as well as a rooftop restaurant, a monastery and small shops jammed full of trinkets and carvings. It’s really a small village, but before you see any of that you’ll have to climb an imposing set of stairs.
You’ll see a lot of monkeys at both the bottom and the top of the stairs, but not so many in between. I guess they are pretty smart; people that are struggling up hundreds of steps aren’t all that likely to stop and give monkeys food – they have more important things on their minds. In all honesty the climb isn’t that hard, and if you’re really unfit you can go to the other side of the hill for a far easier climb.
Humans and monkeys have a bit of a love hate relationship, which is eloquently portrayed in all of the Planet of the Apes movies (even the Mark Whalberg one which everyone but me seemed to hate). When visiting the monkey temple, what you carry determines whether you’ll have a fun or frieightening experience. I saw someone get manhandled (or monkeyhandled, but my computer tells me that isn’t a real word) by a hungry monkey. He made the mistake of carrying a bag of food, or something that resembled food (I know I said monkeys are smart but they’re easily fooled), so if you want to avoid being mugged then you should keep everything in your bag/pockets.
The monkeys at Swayambhunath are pretty entertaining and the area is surpisingly large – you can spend at least a couple of hours there and not be bored, assuming you like monkeys and temples. If not, there are plenty of other interesting things to see in Kathmandu (actually most of them involve temples in some way so you might be screwed).
Have you been to the monkey temple in Kathmandu? Are you a Planet of the Apes fan? Was that link too tenuous to base a whole post on? Let me know!
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