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Fistful of Bananas
June 24, 2000

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Our not-too-distant cousins, the primates, rule this temple
Do you like monkeys? Here in Kathmandu there is a Buddhist temple called Swayambhunath, but it is more affectionately known as the Monkey Temple. So grab a fistful of bananas and let's visit it together, shall we?

Even looking up at the Monkey Temple, I hadn't at first thought the obvious fact that to reach it, we will actually have to climb up that steep hill. Pilgrims from all over the Himalayas are attracted to this place -- not only for the monkeys. In fact, this ancient site has been a place of pilgrimage for over 1,500 years! Since the average monkey around here lives only fifteen years, that is the same time as one hundred generations of monkeys. That's a long time and it must be worth it, so let's get going up that hill.

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Just the beginning
As we begin our climb (these steps are steep, aren't they?) we see more figures of Buddha. There is a scene showing Buddha being born and taking the seven steps he miraculously took minutes after his birth, and there is his mother holding a tree branch (Still no monkeys, though).

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Pious monkey contemplates the wheel of life
Wait! I hadn't even realized it, but there they are! There are the monkeys! They are everywhere! We've been surrounded. They are ringing the bells and jumping out of garbage cans! Big monkeys, small monkeys, old and young, everywhere!

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The stupa is the big one in the background
The thousands of monkeys who live in and around the temple are servants to Manjusri (the God who cut open Chobar Gorge so that Kathmandu Lake emptied out and become Kathmandu Valley- remember I told you that this hill was once an island in the middle of a lake?). This is their realm, and their occupation of it is complete. Sure, there are monks (not to be confused with monkeys) who are the caretakers for the temple and sweep up monkey mess. But we know that their smaller hairy brothers are in charge.

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Andrew asks dutifully,
Do you notice how the monkeys are watching us closely? A little too closely. And there are so many of them. I think it's time that we left. Tell you what- I'll create a diversion, and you all run down the steps to safety. Either way, watch your step on the way down and remember what we witnessed here today!


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Abeja - What I learned from Gandhi

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