There was a signpost at a corner of the southwestern part of Kathmandu's Durbar Square, near the Kasthamandap, that pointed towards Maru Tole. That name, Maru Tole, sounded really familiar. It was one of the starting points leading to Swayambuhnath from the square. For convenience, most opt for the taxi to get there but this time, with the rest of the morning and afternoon in hand, I'd decided to go on foot.
It's a 3 km walk, crossing the Vishnumati river and a highway, passing through villages and exploring the less commercialised side of Kathmandu. As I ventured deeper into the quiet suburb, the signposts reduced. Not that it mattered, really, as the map itself was no more than a few unnamed white lines. There was no clear indication that I was on the right track but since the holy stupa sits on a hill, I was only reassured by the fact that I was still ascending the uphill path. I looked up constantly, anticipating a golden arc or any feature of the stupa.
The steep, endless eastern stairway seems to serve as a test of faith of the believers. At the top, panting, I was rewarded with one of the most spectacular views of Kathmandu, only lower than the view from the eyes of the Buddha, drawn on the stupa, guarding the city. I retreated to a nearby bench to enjoy more of the view, accompanied by the familiar chants supplied by the nearby CD vendor. I must have stayed there for a good 30 minutes.
A Tibetan Buddhism site, the rituals observed were similar to those at Bodhnath, except that here, there were more deities and chaityas, an indication of the marriage of Buddhism and Hinduism that is quite uniquely Nepal.
Not forgetting the macaques...lots of them. But they were never a nuisance.
Worshippers upon reaching the hill and before turning to leave were seen touching the gilded vajra (a celestial thunderbolt representing enlightenment that stands at the eastern stairway entrance) as they muttered words of prayers, eyes closed. I followed suit, not so much for wanting to attain nirvana but to express gratefulness for an enlightening journey thus far.
Do click here for more photos of Swayambuhnath.