Run to Swayambhunath Temple in Kathmandu

No one in their right minds would run straight across Kathmandu city. Dense black smoke is all there is to breath within the city streets. But last Saturday saw a lull in the traffic thanks to the nationwide strike the Maoists had called. And with a brief reduction in smog and carcinogenic gases, the hash house harriers took the chance to lay a run through the city.

Buddha eyes look out over Kathmandu from Swayambhunath

The trail began in Bhatbhateni, on the easterly side of Kathmandu.

From there we scurried through the back alley ways to the back of the Royal Palace, now devoid of royalty since 2001 when Crown Prince Dipendra shot most of the regal family dead. The event was one in a long line (that includes a decade’s civil war) that helped precipitate the country’s current democratic republic state.

Holy feet mark the entrance to Monkey Temple

We wound our way through back streets that I had never had reason to go near. Before we knew it, we were in Thamel, back-packer central, the place where tourists shop for outdoor gear, Buddhist pictures and various illicit drugs. A rickshaw stopped and offered us a lift, not understanding the purpose behind our run. Instead we headed into one of the many pubs that fill in the area for a quick pint before running on.

Waiting a fare in tourist-central Thamel, Kathmandu.

From Thamel we thought we’d begin the return journey, back to Bhatbhateni from where we all began. Instead we kept heading westward, crossing the stench of the Bisnumati River until we found ourselves at the steps of Swayambhunath, otherwise known as the Monkey Temple. This is a holy shrine for the Buddhist community that live within Nepal. But with no religious regulations in sight, hindus are also welcomed to come and say their prayers.

Turning the prayer wheels at Swayambhunath

The holy monkeys (whose presence gives the temple the ‘Monkey Temple’ name) were out in force to check if we had any food to offer them. Having none, they left us alone to hassle the other tourists and pilgrims.

Some of the holy monkeys that give Monkey Temple its name.

Some of us climbed the 365 stone steps to get to the top and the Stupa complex on the hill. Towering above us was the white coloured dome with Buddha’s eyes looking in all four directions. Both Buddha and I had a great view of Kathmandu, Swayambhunath hill providing enough elevation to take in Nepal’s sprawling capital across the valley floor.

A kid takes a break in one of the Buddha's laps.

At the base of the dome, pilgrims spun the prayer wheels, hoping their fortune will turn around with their spin. And all around, red, blue, white, yellow and green Tibetan prayer flags fluttered frantically blessing the trees from which they hung.

Masses of prayer flags hang from the Monkey Temple's trees.

We were at the opposite end of the city from where we had started our trail. The energetic amongst us opted to run back to the start and add another 45 minutes to their day’s exercise. The rest waited for the minibus that was kindly laid on by the hash hare. If only that Thamel rickshaw driver had been around and he might have picked up a few fares.

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