Dawn at Swyambhunath
Tourists call it the “Monkey Temple,” owing to the clans of rhesus macaque wandering through the grottos and recesses of this ancient shrine. The apes climb where they please, siblings squabble, parents scold and protect—a parallel simian culture mirroring our own. The cinnamon hominids perch in niches, studying their hairless cousins circumambulating Swayambhu Chaitya, the whitewashed hemispherical stupa—or reliquary dome—capped with a golden spire and hundreds of prayer flags. The apes are believed to be progeny of Hanuman, who—like Ganesha—sprang from Shiva’s golden seed. The Lord of the Dance apparently tangoed with any species that could follow his kinky tune.
As dawn teases the smog-shrouded horizon, I wander through time and space toward the Vasundhara temple with its eternal flame guarded by the goddess of abundance, inhaling a heady perfume of incense and flowers saturating the morning breeze. Every saffron offering is redolent with collective memory, every hand-polished and foot-worn stone a reified chronicle of the rituals and stories brought to South Asia more than three millennia ago by horsemen of uncertain origin.
They may have come from somewhere between the Black and Caspian Seas, migrated east across the high passes of Central Asia, then steered south to collided with the already ancient settlements of Mohenjodaro and Harappa. The Aryans were not some master race of giant, blue-eyed, tow-headed Teutons, but they were, however, epic storytellers.