Swayambhunath (Devanagari: स्वयम्भूनाथ स्तुप; sometimes romanized Swoyambhunath) is an ancient religious complex atop a hill in the Kathmandu Valley, west of Kathmandu city. It is also known as the Monkey Temple as there are holy monkeys living in the north-west parts of the temple. The Tibetan name for the site means 'Sublime Trees' (Wylie:Phags.pa Shing.kun), for the many varieties of trees found on the hill. However, Shing.kun may be a corruption of the local Newari name for the complex, Singgu, meaning 'self-sprung'. For the Buddhist Newars in whose mythological history and origin myth as well as day-to-day religious practice, Swayambhunath occupies a central position, it is probably the most sacred among Buddhist pilgrimage sites. For Tibetans and followers of Tibetan Buddhism, it is second only to Boudhanath.
The Swayambhunath complex consists of a stupa, a variety of shrines and temples, some dating back to the Licchavi period. A Tibetan monastery, museum and library are more recent additions. The stupa has Buddha's eyes and eyebrows painted on. Between them, there is something painted which looks like the nose - but is the Nepali symbol of 'unity', in the main Nepali language dialect. There are also shops, restaurants and hostels. The site has two access points: a long stairway, claimed to have 365 steps, leading directly to the main platform of the temple, which is from the top of the hill to the east; and a car road around the hill from the south leading to the southwest entrance. The first sight on reaching the top of the stairway is the Vajra. Tsultrim Allione describes the experience:
The Kathmandu Valley (Nepal Bhasa: स्वनिगःSvanigaḥ[sʷoniɡəː], Nepali: काठमाडौँ उपत्यका), located in Nepal, lies at the crossroads of ancient civilizations of Asia, and has at least 130 important monuments, including several places of pilgrimage for the Hindus and the Buddhists. There are seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites within this valley. Historically, only the Kathmandu Valley was referred to as "Nepal" by people who lived outside the valley. After the annexation of the valley by the Gorkha kingdom, and subsequent conversion of the valley as the capital of their empire, this designation of "Nepal" was extended to every land they conquered. The valley itself was referred to as "Nepal Proper" by British historians.