In the Northwest of Kathmandu, half an hour walk or a 200 rupee taxi journey (although it is possible to get there for less) from the city centre lies Svayambhūnāth(a).
According to the Svayambhū purāṇa, a Buddhist scripture describing the origin of the Kathmandu valley, the area of Svayambhūnāth was a huge lake out of which a lotus, the self-arisen (svayambhū) flame, grew. The lake was drained by the Wisdom Buddha Mañjuśrī (मञ्जुश्री) by cutting the mountain with his sword. The lotus rested on the highest point in the valley and a stūpa was built over it. It took four days and four nights before the lake was empty. It is said the flame still glows within the stūpa.
There are two ways to the top of the stūpa. The most direct way is by a flight of very steep steps to the front of the stūpa.
A more leisurely walk is by walking clockwise around the base of the hill, allowing you to turn the prayer wheels, then up the stairs, passing a smaller stūpa, where you turn right to climb the second staircase. At the top of this staircase you turn left and suddenly you are face to face with Svayambhūnāth Stūpa.
On the way up and all around the stūpa, you will encounter a lot of monkeys, giving the stūpa its alternative name: ‘Monkey Temple’.
And occasionally you might even run into a snake.