Also known as the Monkey Temple in honor of its resident population of sacred simians, Swayambhunath is an ancient cluster of religious buildings that sits atop a small hill dominating the west of Kathmandu. This is one of the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage places in Nepal—second only in importance to Bodnath—and is also revered by Hindus. Among the oldest religious sites in the country, it was said to have been founded about the beginning of the 5th century. Consisting
of a central stupa, and numerous surrounding shrines and temples, the former was completely renovated in 2010—the 15th such makeover in its 1,500-year history, which saw the dome re-gilded with 40 lbs of gold. The most striking feature of the stupa is the square structure above the dome with Buddha's eyes painted on each face, gazing out in all four directions. The eyes are said to represent wisdom and compassion, while the 'nose' in between is actually the Nepali symbol of unity. The main access to the site is via a long stairway on the east side containing 365 steps. Devotees would not consider arriving any other way, but for the less eneregetic there is also a road leading up to the southwest entrance.