Swayambhunath is a Buddhist stupa on a western hill of Kathmandu.
According to the legends, the history of the Valley starts with Swayambhu, "the self-existent". 2,500 years old, this ancient landmark is connected to the visit of Manjushree : he came across a beautiful lake during one of his travel and saw a "celestial lotus" that emitted brilliant light at the lake's center. In order to drained the waters to worship the lotus, he cut a gorge in a southern hill. Then, men started to settle on the bed of the lake : Kathmandu was created.
I knew very little about Bhuddhism before this journey. But, I bought some books in Kathmandu and visited numerous bouddhist site on the net since. One of them provides this very interesting quotes about the meaning of the stupa :
"Unique among all forms of sacred architecture, the stupa is a pure symbol of
enlightenment, the primordial sacred structure for all Buddhist traditions.
All the forms of a stupa connect the inner realm of experience with the outer physical cosmos. Constructed and empowered according to the sacred texts, the stupa becomes a gateway joining inner and outer, merging the innermost heart of enlightenment with the infinite Dharmadhatu"
So, the stupa of Swayambhu is a hemispherical mound of compacted earth, which represents four elements : earth, fire, wind and water. The 13 gilded rings of the top spire symbolize the 13 steps of the ladder leading to nirvana, the final salvation.
Today, the age-old statues and shrines of the stupa complex illustrate the religious harmony and the complex blending of Hinduism and Buddhism of Nepal as its worshippers are from different origins : Newar nuns, Tibetan monks, and Brahmin priests…
On the eastern side, after a very steep path of 365 steps, the entrance of the stupa is graced by a huge vajra (the symbol of thunderbolt).
Swayambhunath is also called the "Monkey temple", due to the numerous monkeys running freely around the stupa.
From the stupa, you have an excellent view of the Kathmandu Valley