Nepal, a country nestled along the foothills of the mighty Himalaya, is a land steeped in legends and mythology. The country is home to many pilgrimage sites related to the two predominant religions of Nepal, Hinduism and Buddhism. The Himalaya is considered the abode of the gods. As the Hindu Scripture Skanda Purana cites, “In a hundred ages of the gods, I could not tell thee of the glories of the Himalaya. As the dew is dried up by the morning sun, so are the sins of mankind by the sights of the Himalaya.”
The country abounds in many temples, monasteries and shrines visited by the devout followers of their respective faiths, which include the places of worship of other religions such as Islam, Christianity, Bon, Kirat, Jain and Sikh. Some of these sites are located in the Kathmandu valley, the capital city, while others are situated in different parts of the country.
Despite having a predominantly Hindu population, Hinduism and Buddhism have co-existed in Nepal as nowhere else in the world. There are many temples, shrines and monasteries which are equally sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists. While there is the Pashupatinath Temple, the holiest of the holy temples for Hindus, in Kathmandu, Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha and one of the most sacred places for Buddhists, is located in the Terai district of Rupandehi. There are monasteries and caves where Guru Rinpoche, or Padmasambhava, is believed to have meditated. The temple of Muktinath, situated in the trans-Himalayan district of Mustang and dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Avalokiteshwar, is a site equally venerated by the Hindus and Buddhists alike. Gosainkunda, a holy lake tucked in the serene arid lap of the Himalaya at an altitude of 4,380 m, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. There are also Bonpo shrines in Lupra, north of Jomsom in Mustang, and Shey Monastery in Dolpo. These pilgrimage sites are visited by a large number of pilgrims during specific festivals and occasions. The temple of Pashupatinath draws large numbers of pilgrims from Nepal and India during the Shivaratri festival.
Besides their overwhelming religious significance, the Pashupatinath Temple, the two great stupas of Swayambhunath and Bauddhanath, and Lumbini are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Four prime pilgrimage areas or Kshetras of Nepal
Hindu mythological texts cite four prime pilgrimage centres for Hindus called char dham, which are located at the four geographical points in India. These include Badrinath in Uttarakhand to the north, Dwarka in Gujarat state to the west, Puri in Orissa state in the east and Rameshwaram in the southern state of Tamilnadu. Every devout Hindu harbours the ultimate wish of making it once to these holy sites in his/her lifetime. Similarly, holy places termed as kshetras are to be found at four locations in Nepal. These are the Pashupat Kshetra, Mukti Kshetra, Ruru Kshetra and Baraha Kshetra.
Pashupat Kshetra is the place of the famous temple of Lord Pashupatinath in Kathmandu. Mukti Kshetra in Mustang has the famous Vishnu temple, also revered by Tibetan speaking Buddhists as Avalokiteshwar. This place, from where the river Kali Gandaki originates, is also well known for the shaligram, a kind of fossil revered by the Hindus as the manifestation of Lord Vishnu in stone form. Ruru Kshetra is located at Ridi near Tansen in the western hills where the Kali Gandaki River flowing north-south changes its course of flow in the easterly direction. Baraha Kshetra is situated in Sunsari district in the east where the mighty Sapta Kosi River emerges from its mountainous journey to make its descent into the plains.
Besides Lumbini, Nepal is the birthplace of Sita, the consort of Ram of the epic Ramayana, in Janakpur, and Bed Vyas, the great sage and author of the epic Mahabharata, in Tanahu district on the banks of the Madi River.
Vaishnav, Shaiva and Shakti Shrines
Followers of Hindu religion are loosely identified as Vaishnav, Shaiva and Shakti Upasak or devotees dedicated to Lord Vishnu, Shiva and Durga, or Bhagawati, respectively. Eminent Vaishnav temples in the Kathmandu valley include Changu Narayan – a UNESCO World Heritage Site; Budhanilkantha, or the reclining Vishnu, in a location by the same name; and the Krishna Temple in Patan. The Muktinath Temple and Rishikesh Temple in Ridi, western Nepal, are other famous temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
Among the Shaiva temples, the most eminent in Nepal is undoubtedly the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu. This temple is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Large numbers of devotees and pilgrims from all over Nepal and India throng this temple on Shivaratri, or the ‘Night of Lord Shiva’ festival. Other festivals when devotees visit this temple in large numbers are Teej, Harishayani Ekadashi and Haribodhini Ekadashi. The Halesi Mahadev Temple in Khotang in the eastern hills, Jaleshwar Mahadev in Jaleshwar in the mid-Terai district of Mahottari, Galeshwar Mahadev Temple in Myagdi in the western hills and Gosainkunda Lake in Rasuwa are prominent Shaiva temples and places dedicated to or identified with Lord Shiva.
Shakti Peeths are dedicated to Goddess Durga or ‘Divine cosmic power in female form’. Normally, animal sacrifices are performed at the Shakti Peeths. The famous Shakti Peeths in the Kathmandu valley include Guhyeshwari, Shova Bhagawati, Dakshinkali and Bajrajogini. Goddess Bajrajogini is also worshipped by the Buddhists.
In the eastern hills, the temple of Pathivara in Taplejung, Singhabahini in Tehrathum and Dantakali in Dharan are visited by a large number of devotees. In the western hills, the temples of Bindhyabasini and Taal Barahi in Pokhara, and Manakamana in Gorkha draw large numbers of pilgrims. Shakti Peeth temples in the mid and far western regions include Bageshwari in Nepalgunj, Shaileshwari in Doti and Badi Malika in Bajura. The temple of Gadhi Mai in Bara district is famous for the large number of animal sacrifices that are carried out during the mela (fair) that occurs once every three years. One interesting aspect of the Shakti Peeths in Nepal is that a number of them have Dalits as pujaris (priest).
The Kathmandu valley comprises Kathmandu, the capital city, and the cities of Patan (Lalitpur) and Bhaktapur, which were separate kingdoms before the unification of Nepal in 1768 by King Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha. Its most famous pilgrimage sites are the Pashupatinath Temple, revered by Hindus all over the world, and Swayambhunath and Bauddhanath - centres of Newar and Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal respectively. All these three sites are included in UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Despite having a predominant Hindu population, the two major religions of Nepal, Hinduism and Buddhism, have blended and co-existed in utter harmony and mutual respect, with followers of the two religions visiting and worshipping each other’s holy places as not seen or experienced elsewhere in the world.
The country has also shown a high degree of religious tolerance and reverence towards other faiths as well. Kathmandu has mosques, churches and a Sikh gurudwara, some of them grandly located in the city’s busiest centres, where devotees offer their prayers according to their faith. There are also shrines or centres dedicated to Sai Baba, Krishna Pranami, Osho and Brahma Kumari. Several Lamaist Buddhist monasteries representing all four orders of Tibetan Buddhism - Ningmapa, Sakyapa, Kagyukpa and Gelukpa - are also found here. There are also a number of Theravada monasteries. Several of these monasteries offer courses on Tibetan Buddhism.
This temple situated on the banks of the holy River Bagmati is the most revered Hindu temple in Nepal. The main temple complex is open only to the Hindus; non-Hindus can observe the temple premises and activities from the terraces across the Bagmati River to the east. As a mark of reverence and tradition, leather items that include shoes, belts and cameras are forbidden within the temple complex and must be left outside. Photography is strictly prohibited inside.
The most important festival observed here is Shivaratri, or ‘the Night of Lord Shiva’ - the night Lord Shiva self-originated - when devotees and pilgrims from far and wide across Nepal and India, including sadhus (barely attired holy men with long locks of hair and smeared in ashes) and ascetics, throng the temple to have a darshan (glimpse) of the sacred Shiva lingam. The other holy occasion when devotees descend to the temple in large numbers is on Teej (a festival solely observed by Hindu women) in mid-September. The whole temple complex and the adjoining areas turn into a sea of red as women draped in their bridal red sarees and wearing yellow or green bead necklaces offer prayers for the well-being, prosperity and longevity of their husbands. The temple is just as crowded with devotees every fortnight on the 11th day of the lunar month on Ekadashi. Among the Ekadashis, the most prominent and holiest two are the Harishayani Ekadashi in Ashadh (June/July) and four months later, Haribodhini Ekadashi in Kartik (October/November).
The Slesh Mantak forest encircles the holy site where monkeys abound, and deer is reared in captivity to revere the animal form that Lord Shiva took as per the Swasthani Brata Katha.
Main Temple Complex
The word Pashupati means “Lord of the Beasts”. It is one of the most venerated and famed Shiva temples for the Hindus. The main temple, a two-storey pagoda temple measuring about 24 metres in height and built on a square platform, is believed to be three centuries old. It stands in the middle of an open courtyard. The massive doors on four sides are silver plated and intricately carved with images of deities and auspicious signs. The main idol, or Jyotirlingam, carved on black stone has four faces facing in four directions, and a fifth one is believed to be facing upwards. The four faces are named as Tatpurush in the east, Aghor in the south, Bamadeva in the north and Sadojat in the east.
The Shiva linga is believed to be seven centuries old as the former one was supposedly disgraced by the Muslim invader, Sultan Shamshuddin from Bengal, who attacked Kathmandu in 1346. To the west of the temple are the figures of two bulls; the smaller one facing east towards the temple was constructed during the Malla period. The second one, a massive size bull made of brass and also facing the temple was built by Rana Prime Minister Jung Bahadur’s son, Jagat Jung, as an offering to Lord Pashupatinath. The bull known as Nandi is the baahan (carrier) of Shiva. It may be interesting to note that all Shaiva temples have Nandi, the bull, seated facing the temple.
Inside the temple complex are idols of many Hindu gods, goddesses and deities enshrined and instituted at different periods of history. The Vasuki Temple, devoted to the Snake God, was constructed by King Pratap Malla in the 7th century. The temple of Unmatta Bhairab is to the south of the main temple. The main entrance to the temple complex is on the west. There is an entrance from the east also, which leads/descends to the sacred Aryaghat along the Bagmati River, which is the cremation ghat for Hindus.
The western door of the main temple opens at 5 in the morning for worshippers, and the remaining doors are also opened to the devotees from 9:30 a.m. to 14:30. Doors reopen at 18:30 till 19:30 for Aarati (offering of oil lamps). Water and liquid offerings to the Shiva linga flows down the sacro sanctum to a place called Brahma Naal, a rectangular stone slab on the bank of the River Bagmati where those who are on the verge of death are laid down to breathe their last in the belief that dying at this spot at the foot of the Lord would assure them a place in Heaven.
Access: The temple lies 5 km to the east of the city centre. Besides taxis, microbuses or three wheelers called tempos will drop you at Gaushala from where it is a short walk to the temple.
It is one of the famous Shakti Peeths in Nepal and is located on the banks of the Bagmati River near the Pashupatinath Temple. Here too, non-Hindus are denied entry. The goddess is replicated here in the form of a silver plated water-hole which is kept covered by a silver kalash (auspicious water jar). The Swasthani Brata Katha chronicles the origin of the temple. Following the death by self-immolation in a fire by his beloved consort Sati Devi, a grief-stricken Shiva wandered aimlessly across the earth carrying her dead body on his shoulders. In the course of his directionless wandering, the corpse began to rot, and parts of the body fell at different places. Wherever those body parts fell, a Shakti Peeth originated, and the Mother Goddess in her manifestation as the consort of Lord Shiva came to stay there. Gods, sages and celestial beings came to the Shakti Peeths to do penance or offer worship to the goddess (Ishwari), and thus these spots became holy places. It was at this spot that the Guhya (anal portion) of the corpse fell, and hence this place came to be known as Guhyeshwari.
The Changu Narayan Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is perched atop a small hill to the east of Kathmandu in Bhaktapur district. It is one of the best known Vishnu - Narayan is another name of Vishnu - temples in Nepal and is visited by a large number of devotees especially during Harishayani Ekadashi in the month of Ashadh and Haribodhini Ekadashi in Kartik, over the four month period when Lord Vishnu is supposed to retire to sleep. At the front of the temple is a beautiful statue of Garuda dating back to 5th century Lichchhavi period. This Garuda is unique in that it resembles a human being except that it has wings unlike other Garuda statues found elsewhere. The Garuda is the baahan (carrier) of Lord Vishnu, and it is interesting to note that all Vishnu temples have the celestial bird seated on its knee with folded palms in front of the temple.
The temple is one of the most elaborate in the Kathmandu valley, rich in wood and stone carvings. It is a two-tiered pagoda structure and was re-constructed in 1702 after the old one was gutted by fire. A stone tablet Shilapatra, discovered in the vicinity of the temple, dates from the 5th century, the oldest such inscription discovered in Nepal. The main courtyard has several temples and idols of gods with intricate carving in stone accomplished between the 5th to 12th centuries, making it the highest concentration of ancient art in Nepal.
The temple has a gilded copper roof with a pinnacle. On each of the four doorways are four toranas, or exquisitely carved crest suspended over the door. In the temple courtyard are pillars on which are positioned the four divine possessions of Lord Vishnu consisting of the sankha (conch), chakra (discus), gadaa (mace) and padma (lotus). The temple complex also contains the idol of Vishnu Vishwarup considered by some to be one of the most beautiful idols ever made in Nepal. There are also smaller shrines dedicated to Goddess Chhinnamasta (goddess devoid of a head), Badeshwar Mahadev, Laxmi Narayan and Kileshwar. In the northeast corner of the courtyard is the beautiful bas-relief of Vishnu mounting on the back of the Garuda which dates from the 12th century. The importance of this image can be ascertained from the fact that it features in the Nepali 10 rupee banknote. Although Changu Narayan is primarily a site sacred to the Vaishnavites, there are also idols of Shiva and Durga, making it a site equally important to the Shaivas and Shakti upasaks, thus demonstrating a high degree of mutual respect and tolerance between the different sects within Hinduism.
Access: Changu Narayan is situated 12 km to the east of Kathmandu. There are microbuses from Bhaktapur that leave regularly for Changu Narayan. Some visitors also trek from Nagarkot to Changu Narayan and return to Kathmandu via Bhaktapur.
It is situated in Pharping at the southern point of the valley on the way to the famous Dakshinkali Temple. The Vishnu temple is built on a cliff known for its stalactites and is one of the four prominent Narayanas (or Vishnus) in the valley, the other three being the Changu Narayan (described earlier), Ichangu Narayan at Halchowk (west of Swayambhunath Stupa), and Bishankhu Narayan en route to Godavari. A huge fair takes place in the four Narayan temples in the months of Ashadh and Kartik on Ekadashi.
Access: Shesh Narayan is reached by the same transportation that takes you to Dakshinkali.
This site, situated at the foot of the Shivpuri hills in the northern-most part of the Kathmandu valley, has probably the largest stone statue of Lord Vishnu in Nepal reclining on a bed of snakes in the middle of a pond. The five-metre long granite image carved out of a single rock dates back to the Lichchhavi period. According to folklore, a farmer was ploughing his field one day when his plough struck a boulder, and to his surprise and alarm, blood started oozing out of the cut in the stone. Upon digging around the huge boulder, he unearthed the magnificent image of the reclining Vishnu that had remained buried in the ground. A big mela (fair) is held at Budhanilkantha on the auspicious two main Ekadashis, Harishayani and Haribodhini, marking the four month period when the Lord retires to sleep.
Access: There are regular microbuses from Kathmandu’s city centre to Budhanilkantha, 9 km to the north.
It is situated in Gokarna which lies in the northeastern part of the valley - hence the name Gokarneshwar. This pagoda-style Shiva temple constructed in the 16th century is situated on the bank of the Bagmati River. Several devotees visit the temple during the waxing new moon according to the lunar calendar in the Nepali month of Bhadra (August/September) and Paush (December/January) to perform the shraddha ceremony of their deceased parents and ancestors. The courtyard of the temple contains idols of many Hindu deities such as Surya, Chandra, Kamadeva and Narad which are normally not found elsewhere.
Access: Gokarneshwar Temple can be reached by taking a bus to Sundarijal and disembarking at Gokarna point.
Situated at the south end corner of the Kathmandu valley, Dakshinkali is one of the most famous Shakti Peeths in Kathmandu dedicated to Goddess Kali; hence the namesake which means “Kali of the south”. The temple precinct overflows with crowds of zealous devotees especially on Tuesdays and Saturdays when ritual animal sacrifices are performed. It is to be noted that Nepal’s Shakti Peeths never accept female animals for sacrifice. Tucked in a scenic sylvan setting, the place has become a favourite haunt for picnickers.
Access: The shrine is situated 22 km from Kathmandu on the southern rim of the valley. There are tourist buses, taxis and public transport to reach the shrine.
This temple is one of the major Shakti Peeths of the Kathmandu valley and is situated on the outskirts of the old city across the Bishnumati River. The temple is a two-storey pagoda with brass roofs. The goddess is worshipped by both Hindus and Buddhists. Tantric rituals are followed in worshipping this deity. People throng the temple in large numbers from the wee hours of the morning during the Navaratra, the nine days that mark the Dashain festival in October. Near the temple is the cremation ghat along the bank of the Bishnumati River.
Access: This temple is a 10-minute leisurely walk from downtown Kathmandu.
The two temples, one a Shiva temple and the other a Shakti Peeth, are located in the same temple complex, south of the city of Patan. Bagalamukhi is one of the most famous Shakti Peeths of the Kathmandu valley and is visited by a large number of devotees especially on Thursdays. The goddess is known as the one who fulfills the devotees’ wishes. The inner shrine is carved with silver. Navaratra draws large numbers of devotees to the temple from the wee hours of the morning.
Kumbheshwar is dedicated to Shiva, the Lord of Aquarius or Water Pitcher (kumbha). It is a five-storey pagoda temple made of wood, one of just two five-storeyed temples in the valley. The temple dates from 1392, making it the oldest temple in Patan, Lalitpur. There is a large silver Shiva lingam inside the temple. There is a pond nearby whose water is said to flow all the way from Gosainkunda Lake nestled in Langtang Himal in Rasuwa district. A big fair is held here on Janai Purnima in August.
Bajrajogini, situated in Sankhu village 20 km east of Kathmandu, is a prominent Tantric deity which is worshipped by both Buddhists and Hindus alike. The three-storey pagoda was constructed by Kantipur (Kathmandu) King Pratap Malla in the 17th century. There is also the temple of Khadgajogini in the area. Goats, chicken and ducks are offered as sacrifice to the deity during festivals such as Dashain. Buddhists following the Vajrayana sect also consider the temple to be sacred. There are a number of prayer wheels with inscriptions of “Om Mani Padme Hum” written in Tibetan script.
Access: Buses leave Kathmandu’s old bus park for Sankhu. It is an hour uphill climb to the shrine. One can also reach the shrine from Nagarkot, which is a two-hour trip.
Perched on a hillock west of Kathmandu, Swayambhunath is, perhaps, the most eminent Buddhist monument in Nepal. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also mentioned as the ‘Monkey Temple’ owing to the presence of a large number of monkeys around the area.
The oldest written reference to the stupa dates from the 5th century, but it could have existed much earlier. It is said that when Sultan Shamshuddin from Bengal invaded the Kathmandu valley in 1346, he broke open the dome to see if there were gold and valuables hidden inside. It was renovated over the centuries. Legend, however, has it that the stupa evolved spontaneously at the time of the valley’s creation.
Pilgrims circumambulate the base of the hill of the stupa. A steep climb up a stone stairway on the eastern flank of the hill takes you to the dome of the stupa where the first thing one comes across at the end of the ascent is the huge vajra, or thunderbolt, also called dorje. Around the periphery of the circular base of the white dome at intervals are placed the five meditating Buddhas enclosed in the walls within iron veils, ostentatiously to protect them from theft. Prayer wheels of copper inscribed with the chant ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ are fixed along the periphery of the dome, and pilgrims rotate the wheels as they circumambulate the stupa.
The stupa is one of the several shrines and temples in the complex. There are two white shikhara-style temples constructed by King Pratap Malla of Kathmandu in the mid 17th century known as Pratappur and Anantapur facing east on either side of the vajra. To the west of the dome, there is a two-tiered temple of Ajima, or Harati, known as the protector of small children and the goddess of smallpox. According to legend, Harati was a mother to 500 children and was used to kidnapping others’ children to feed her own. On the plea of those who had lost their children to Harati Ajima, Buddha one day made off with the youngest of her children and hid him beneath his begging bowl. When she came to know that her child was lost, she was overwhelmed with grief and inconsolable. The Lord then told the grief stricken mother that if she was so overwhelmed with grief at the loss of one child (she had 500), then imagine the pain caused to other mothers who had lost their only child to her. The Lord then returned the child safely to her. From then on she became the ultimate protector of children, and the temple is dedicated to her.
On a hillock west of Swayambhu is a shrine dedicated to Manjushree who is credited to have drained the lake and made the valley habitable. The idol of Manjushree is also worshipped as Saraswati, or the ‘Goddess of Learning’ by Hindus. A large number of devotees and students, in particular, visit this shrine during the Basanta Panchami in February with prayers for knowledge and education. Parents bring their very young children and have them scrawl alphabets on the walls of the shrine in the belief that the goddess will make them studious and scholarly.
There is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Kagyukpa order north of the Swayambhunath stupa called Karmaraj Mahabihar. On a clear day, a beautiful panoramic view of the Kathmandu valley can be had from the platform surrounding the chaitya.
Access: Swayambhunath lies 2 km west of Kathmandu and is a 40-minute walk from the city centre. There are public buses and tempos that will drop you at the foot of the hill. From there, it is a steep climb up the eastern stairway. Alternately, the easier route is ascending from the western side.
The Bauddhanath Stupa is one of the most imposing landmarks in Kathmandu and is also another centre of Buddhism in the valley. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The entry to the Bauddhanath Stupa complex is through a gate, and shops selling tourist paraphernalia and restaurants ring the stupa. The path around the stupa is crowded with devotees circumambulating clockwise round the stupa, turning prayer wheels with the writing “Om Mani Padme Hum” inscribed on them. Devout pilgrims prostrate themselves along the path.
The stupa is said to contain relics of Kashyapa Buddha, who preceded the arrival of the Enlightened Buddha, according to Buddhist holy texts. The stupa, originally constructed around the 5th century, is said to have been renovated in the 7th and 8th century to the present form. To the north of the stupa is the temple dedicated to Harati Ajima, the goddess that protects children from diseases such as smallpox. According to folklore, she was used to devouring children of the settlements. Buddha persuaded her to give up the cannibalism, and she now protects the shrine. According to legend, however, the temple is dedicated to Sukhotama Devi who is supposed to have built the stupa.
The stupa has three terraces. The four corners of the stupa contain statues of Heavenly Kings. There are prayer wheels of copper with “Om Mani Padme Hum” inscribed in them fixed to the walls. The four sides of the stupa have the all-seeing eyes of the Buddha painted on them, which are supposed to represent the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha. The nose as a question mark represents a Perfectly Enlightened Buddha. The spire is made up of 13 levels and represents the 13 stages of the path of Bodhisatva.
There are a large number of Buddhist monasteries at Bauddhanath. Most of these were constructed in the second half of the 20th century.
A large number of pilgrims visit the Bauddhanath Stupa during Lhosar, or the Tibetan New Year, or on the occasion of Buddha Jayanti, the day Buddha was born. Pilgrims light butter lamps and offer prayer flags to the stupa.
Access: There are microbuses, taxis and tempos to Bauddhanath, which is 6 km east of the city centre in Kathmandu.
Kapan Monastery is situated on a hillock north of Bauddhanath and is one of the most famous monasteries in Nepal. This monastery was established in 1970 on a piece of land owned by a royal preceptor of Nepal. There is a huge statue of Tsnokhapa inside the monastery. Courses are offered on Tibetan Buddhism in the monastery and a significant number of students from Western countries attend here.
Access: There are direct microbuses from Kathmandu’s city centre to the foot of the hillock where Kapan is located. One must climb the hill to reach the monastery.
Hattiban in Lalitpur district has holy sites associated with the Kirat religion.
Two mosques, the Kashmiri Taquiya and Jame Masjid, are located at Durbar Marg in Kathmandu on either side of Ghantaghar (Clock Tower) and Tri-Chandra College. The northern mosque known as Kashmiri Taquiya, or the Kashmiri Mosque, was originally built by Moslems from Kashmir who came to settle in the Kathmandu valley during the Malla period. The mosque to the south is known as Jame Masjid, renovated in the 1990’s to the present structure. Most of the devotees to this mosque come from certain districts of the southern Terai region where there is a larger Muslim population. Faithfuls throng the mosques on Fridays and during Moslem festivals.
The Sikh Gurudwara is at Kopundol near the bank of the Bagmati River.
There are several churches in Kathmandu which include both Catholic and Protestant.
2.1 Namobuddha, Kavre
Namobuddha is a famous Buddhist pilgrimage site situated near Panauti in Kavre district. Buddhist legend has it that one of the earlier Buddhas once came across a tigress who had given birth to cubs, but she was so frail and weak that she could not go out hunting, leaving her cubs to die of starvation. In utmost piety, the kind Buddha offered his own flesh to the tigress to keep her and the cubs alive. There is a small stupa built in reverence to the ultimate sacrifice of the Buddha. Buddhist holy books narrate tales of several Buddhas before the arrival of Siddhartha Gautam Buddha, the Enlightened One.
Access: Namobuddha can be reached by a three-hour trek from Dhulikhel or Panauti. These two towns are at about an hour’s drive by regular bus services from Kathmandu.
2.2 Palanchowk Bhagawati, Kavre
Palanchowk Bhagawati is located on a hilltop in Kavre district to the east of Kathmandu. It is a three-storey pagoda temple in which is enshrined the deity of Bhagawati, the Goddess of Power (Shakti). This exquisitely carved image is considered the most magnificent among the stone idols of Bhagawati, or Durga, in the temples of Nepal. Devotees flock to the temple to offer sacrifices to the goddess to seek divine favour for prosperity and happiness of the self and family. There is a legend behind this artistically carved stone idol. It tells the tragic story of the master craftsman whose hands were amputated by the king who had ordered the idol made, for no apparent reason other than to ensure that there would be no reproduction or duplication of the idol of such elegance.
This temple dates back to Lichhavi period. It is a pagoda style temple and is 15 meters tall. The statue of goddess Durga with eighteen hands is very artistic. There is a good view of the Himalayan ranges from the temple.
Access: The temple is situated on a hilltop and needs a detour on foot or by jeep along a narrow mountain path from a point 55 km east of Kathmandu on the Arniko Highway (road that leads to the Chinese border). It is situated between Dhulikhel and Panchkhal on Arniko Highway. A side road connects the temple from Lamidanda on the highway. There are regular buses from Banepa to Palanchowk every hour
2.3 Dolakha Bhimsen, Dolakha
The temple of Bhimsen in Dolakha town of the district by the same name lies to the east of Kathmandu. The temple is dedicated to Lord Bhimsen, the mightiest in physical strength and the second of the five Pandava brothers cited in the epic Mahabharata. It is believed that the Pandavas spent some time here during their one-year Gupta-baas (living in total concealment) while undergoing forced exile after losing everything to the Kauravas in the game of dice. The temple lies 4 km to the east of the town of Dolakha. Inside the temple is a boulder depicting Bhimsen along with stones on either side representing Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas, and Draupadi, common consort of the five Pandava brothers.
There are fascinating stories related to the temple and coincidentally proven by unfolding events. The idol of Bhimsen is supposed to “sweat” to forewarn impending major catastrophes or natural calamities in the country. Such sweatings were reported prior to the Great Earthquake of 1934, death of King Tribhuvan and Mahendra and the Narayanhiti Palace Massacre in 2001 as well as the end of the monarchy in Nepal (2007). Thousands of devotees throng this temple during Chaitra Dashain and Bhim Ekadashi in the month of Magh (January/February).
Access: There are regular bus services to Dolakha from Kathmandu. It’s a six-hour bus ride from Kathmandu. Dolakha is near Jiri, a postcard pretty countryside dwelling likened to Switzerland by Tony Hagen and starting point of the Everest Trek by land.
2.4 Gosainkunda, Rasuwa
Gosainkunda Lake, situated northwest of Kathmandu at an altitude of 4,380 m in Rasuwa district, is a major pilgrimage site for Hindus.
This lake on the Langtang trekking trail is the source of the River Trisuli.
Devotees throng this lake on the auspicious day of Janai Purnima in July to take a holy dip in the icy cold waters and wash away their sins.
There are nine other kundas (lakes) in the vicinity, prominent among them being the Saraswati, Bhairab, Surya and Ganesh Kunda.
Hindu mythology relates the saga of ‘Samudra Manthan’, or the churning of the celestial ocean by the gods and demons, in the quest for amrit, or elixir that would make them immortal, and ratna, i.e., the most precious of jewels and treasures. Unfortunately, the first thing that came out of the churning of the ocean was not ratna but the mother of all poisons, Halahal kalkoot, which soon started diffusing and dispersing into the atmosphere, destroying nature and killing all fauna and flora.
Alarmed, the gods and demons prayed to Lord Shiva to save them from annihilation.
The kind Lord took the poison and consumed it, but did not swallow it and held it in his throat (Adam’s apple).
The poison, however, caused unbearable pain, and Lord Shiva dashed to the cool Himalayan mountains for solace.
On reaching there, he plunged his trident into the mountain rocks from where gushed three springs of icy cold water which accumulated downstream into a lake. The Lord then dipped into the cold waters of the lake and soothed himself. As the burning poison caused his throat to turn blue in colour, Lord Shiva since then came to be known as Nilkantha or ‘the one with the blue throat’.
The gods and demons, of course, thereafter proceeded with the churning of the ocean and drew vast treasures including the precious jewel Kaustubh Mani, the celestial elephant Airawat, the divine conch Panchajanya, the all wish-fulfilling celestial tree Kalpa brikshya, the divine cow Kam Dhenu and the Goddess of Wealth Laxmi, which they apportioned among themselves, including the amrit that emerged last.
Access: Gosainkunda can be reached by taking a bus from Kathmandu to Dhunche, the headquarters of Rasuwa district (almost a day’s drive due to poor road conditions), and then starting the uphill journey on foot which takes a day or two to reach the lake, depending upon one’s ability to walk under treacherous high altitude mountainous terrain. The pilgrimage site can also be reached by taking an alternate trekking route via Sundarijal to the north of Kathmandu valley.
2.5 Devghat, Chitwan
Devghat in Chitwan district is a prominent pilgrimage site situated at the holy confluence of the major rivers, Kali Gandaki and Trishuli which includes such large tributaries as the Seti, Budhi Gandaki and Madi. The confluence is located at a point about 5 km northwest of Narayanghat town where the rivers emerge from the Mahabharat range and flow into the plains. Rechristened the Narayani River, it then flows to India as the Gandak River to finally join the Ganges near Patna in the Indian state of Bihar. For Hindus, any confluence of rivers is considered a holy site.
Devghat is mentioned in several Hindu Scriptures such as the Baraha Purana, Skanda Purana, Padma Purana and the Himavatkhanda. The area surrounding the confluence is densely forested by sal trees. A large number of shrines, temples, ashrams and old age homes have been built at Devghat.
The most prominent is the Chakreshwar Temple where the famed King Mukunda Sen of Palpa is said to have meditated and attained Nirvana in the 16th century. A huge religious fair is held at the site on the occasion of Makar Sankranti, the first day of the Nepali month of Magh, in January. Devotees and pilgrims from all over Nepal and adjoining India come here to take a ritual dip at the confluence.
Many elderly devout Hindus have their winter homes in this sacred area, and some of them stay here to spend their last days in the belief that breathing their last here will assure them a place in Heaven. Throughout the day and night, Devghat resounds with the ringing of bells and the singing of hymns, or bhajans, in the temples and ashrams.
Access: There are minibuses and tempos available from Narayanghat to Devghat at regular intervals.
2.6 Janaki Mandir, Janakpur, Dhanusha
Janakpur is situated in the Mithila region of Nepal south of the capital Kathmandu, and is a major pilgrimage site as it is the birthplace of Sita, heroine of the epic Ramayana. The massive and magnificent Janaki Mandir - Janaki is the other name of Sita, the daughter of King Janak - was constructed in 1874 by Rani Brishbhanu Kunwari of Tikamgarh, a small state in central India. The temple, a blend of Mughal and local architecture, is of three storeys and has 60 rooms, making it the largest temple in Nepal. It is also called the Naulakha temple as it then cost nine lakh rupees, or Rs. 900,000 (a massive amount by any consideration) for its construction. The temple houses an idol of Sita which was found near Ayodhya, the kingdom of Ram, her consort.
In the southwest corner of Janaki Mandir is the Vivah Mandap, which has been built at the site where the marriage of Ram and Sita is said to have been consecrated. Another well known temple in the vicinity is Ram Mandir built by Amar Singh Thapa in 1782. It is a pagoda style temple and hence is different from the other temples in Janakpur which generally bear resemblance to Mughal architecture.
A female statue, said to be of Yogamaya, in this temple has the reputation of being one of the most beautiful images of female form in Nepal. Other holy sites of interest include the Ram Temple, Laxman Temple, Sankat Mochan Temple and Hanuman Temple. There are a large number of ponds considered sacred in Janakpur area, including Ganga Sagar and Dhanush Sagar. The best known Ganga Sagar is situated in front of the Ram Temple.
Hundreds and thousands of devotees and pilgrims from Nepal and India visit Janakpur during Ram Nawami, the birthday of Ram which lies in the month of Chaitra (April) and Vivah Panchami, the day of matrimony of Ram and Sita, in the month of Mangsir (December).
Access: Janakpur is linked by highway with all the major towns and cities of Nepal. There are also regular flights linking Janakpur with Kathmandu.
2.7 Dhanushadham, Janakpur
Located 18 km to the northeast of Janakpur, Dhanushadham’s significance dates back to the time of Lord Ram and Sita. According to the Hindu epic Ramayana, Lord Ram had broken the divine bow of Lord Shiva into three pieces at Rangabhoomi of Janakpurdham to win the hand of Sita in marriage. Of the three pieces, one had fallen at Dhanushadham. During the month of Magh (January/February), hundreds of thousands of devotees from different parts of Nepal and India throng the Dhanusha Temple to worship the fossilized bow fragment.
Access: Dhanushadham is two hours’ drive from Janakpurdham.
2.8 Jaleshwar Mahadev, Mahottari
Jaleshwar is a town that lies 18 km south of Janakpur near the Indian border. It is famous for the Shiva temple known as Jaleshwar Mahadev. The Shiva lingam is situated about 20 feet below the surface of the temple and is reached by a narrow stone stairway. Most of the time it lies immersed in water, hence the name Jaleshwar, which literally means Lord of the Water. There are two large ponds on either side of the temple, and the seepage of water from these ponds could be the reason why the Shiva lingam always remains immersed in water. There is a big fair on Shivaratri when a large number of devotees throng the Shiva temple.
Access: Jaleshwar is about two hours’ drive from Janakpur along a highway.
2.9 Gadhi Mai Shrine, Bara
The Gadhi Mai Shrine, situated in the middle of a forest in Bara district in southern Terai, sees the largest animal sacrifice once every three years in the month of Mangsir (December). Thousands of goats, buffaloes and birds are sacrificed to the goddess by devotees from Nepal and India on this occasion. Hundreds and thousands of pilgrims and devotees take part in the grand mela.
Access: Gadhi Mai is situated near Bariyarpur Bazaar, 11 km east of Kalaiya, the headquarters of Bara district. The shrine is accessible by road (surface transport) from Birgunj.
2.10 Chandeshwari, Kavre District
It is one of well known Shaktipeeths in Nepal and is situated east of Kathmandu valley. There is a three storied pagoda style temple dedicated to goddess Chandreshwari. There is a red sandalwood forest near the temple. There is a festival at the temple during Baisakh Purnima when a young girl known as Kumari is taken around the town on a chariot.
Access: It is situated near Banepa on the Arniko Highway connecting Kathmandu with the Chinese border. There are buses leaving Kathmandu every fifteen minutes from Old Bus Park.
2.11 Bhairabi, Nuwakot District
It is situated in a palace complex constructed during Malla period and renovated during Shah period. It contains images of Asthamatrika. There is a big fair in the Nepali month of Chaitra at this temple.
Access: It is situated near Trisuli which is connected by bus from Kathmandu.
2.12 Risheshwar Mahadeb, Makwanpur District
This temple dedicated to Shiva is located at Daman below Simbhanjyang amid rhodendrodon forest. A big fair takes place during Rishi Panchami at the site.
Access: There are buses from Kathmandu and Hetauda that travel along Tribhuwan Rajpath that pass through Daman which also has a view tower for panaromic views of the Himalayan ranges.
3.1 Pathivara, Taplejung
Pathivara, situated in Taplejung district in the far eastern hills of Mechi Zone, is a temple dedicated to Goddess Durga. The site is located on a high hillock at an altitude of 4,000 m. It is visited by thousands of pilgrims every year in spite of its difficult accessibility. Goddess at Pathibhara is believed to fulfill the long-cherished dreams of her devotees, like son for sonless and wealth for poor. Devotees make pilgrimage to Pathibhara when their wishes come true. Buddhists living in the vicinity light lamps at the temple on the full moon nights. In the area of Pathibhara are several ponds where pilgrims take holy dips and observe traditional fairs. In this region pilgrims can also visit monasteries situated in Olangchungola and Lungchung, the waterfall at Sawa and the pond of Timbuk, during autumn and spring every year.
Access: Pathibhara Temple is seated at 3,794 meters in Taplejung district. The area is reached by buses up to Sukhetar via Biratnagar and Illam. From Sukhetar is a seven-hour trek to Pathibhara. Travelers can also reach Pathibhara by flight from Biratnagar to Sukhetar.
3.2 Barah Kshetra, Sunsari
Barah Kshetra is a major pilgrimage site in Nepal. It lies near Chatara in Sunsari district where the mighty Sapta Koshi River emerges from the mountains and flows into the Terai plains. The site, perched on a hillock that rises gradually up at the confluence of the Sapta Koshi and Koka Rivers, contains a number of temples dedicated to Lord Barah, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Hindu mythology has it that Lord Vishnu took the form of Barah (wild boar) to dig his way into the ground to rescue Mother Earth from the demon Hiranakshya and eventually killed him at this very spot in an epic battle that lasted thousands of years. Hence all the temples here are dedicated to Lord Barah, the boar-headed incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
The confluence is also supposed to be the site where the great sage Vishwamitra did penance. Considering its very holy status as the confluence of the two rivers, an Ardha Kumbha Mela is organised at Barah Kshetra every six years where hundreds and thousands of pilgrims come to make religious offerings and take a holy dip in the mighty Sapta Koshi River. The Ardha (meaning half) Kumbha is a miniature form of the grand Kumbha Mela that is held at Sangam Prayag, Allahabad in India at the confluence of the holy Ganges and Jamuna rivers every 12 years. It is considered to be the largest gathering of devotees in the world, running into millions. Other holy places at Barah Kshetra include Guru Barah and Indra Barah.
Access: Barah Kshetra is accessible by road from Biratnagar, a major industrial city in southeast Nepal. Biratnagar has very good air connectivity with Kathmandu.
3.3 Pindeshwar Baba Dham, Sunsari
Pindeshwar Baba Dham, a temple devoted to Lord Shiva, is located near Dharan Bazaar. This is a shikhara-style temple with the Shiva lingam made of black stone. Considering its very high religious importance as narrated in the Hindu Scriptures, the site is gaining popularity and drawing large numbers of devotees especially during the Bol Bam Tirtha Yatra when thousands of devotees clad in saffron robes and carrying a kalash (water pot) with water walk bare foot to make water offerings to the Shiva lingam.
Access: Pindeshwar Baba Dham is walking distance from Dharan Bazaar, a booming commercial and educational city in eastern Nepal. The site is accessible by road transport.
3.4 Budha Subba/ Dantakali/ Pancha Kanya , Sunsari
Charming little town of Dharan in East Nepal also has the temples of Dantakali, Pancha Kanya and Budha Subba. Most of these temples are located in and around the hill of Bijayapur.
According to the tales of Swasthani, a tooth of Satidevi, Lord Shiva's consort, fell on the spot where the temple of Dantakali stands today. Another well-known temple is dedicated to the five known women of Hindu mythology: Draupati, Tara, Kunti, Parvati and Mandodhari. Known as Pancha Kanya Temple, this temple was built by King Mukund Sen seventeenth century A.D.
To the northeast of the main market of Bijayapur is a peaceful area surrounded by bamboos where the temple of Budha Subba is situated. The natives of this area sacrifice animals to the Budha Subba to ward off anxiety and suffering. It is said that the temple stands on the spot where the eighteenth century ruler Buddhi Karna Rai was buried.
Access: Dharan is in Sunsari district. It is connected to Kathmandu and Biratnagar by road and by air. The little down in the east of Kathmandu can be reached by an overnight bus from the Gongabu Bus Park in Kathmandu. From Biratnagar, one can hire a vehicle or use the bus to reach Dharan. Moderate facilities of accommodation and food are available in Dharan.
3.5 Holy Sites of Kirats
The eastern hilly districts of Nepal are inhabited by the ethnic Kiratis and contain a number of holy sites related to Kirati religious faith. Milke Danda in Tehrathum district, famous for the enchanting rhododendron forest, is one such site. There are also religious sites in Yashok, Panchthar which lies to the north of Ilam.
3.6. Maithan, Ilam
This three storied pagoda temple is dedicated to Durga and was constructed in early 20th century. It is situated in Ilam Bazar.
Access: Ilam is connected by road from East-West Highway.
3.7 Satasi Dham, Jhapa
It is supposed to be the place where the Pandavas stayed during guptabaas.
3.8 Tengboche Monastery, Solukhumbu
The Tengboche Monastery is situated at an altitude of 3,867 m on the main Everest trekking route from Lukla to Everest Base Camp. Though not the oldest, but definitely the most famous, this Tibetan Buddhist monastery lies in the midst of an extremely scenic Himalayan panorama with the majestic Ama Dablam peak forming the backdrop.
This monastery was constructed in the 20th century. It is said the initial cost of constructing the gompa at Tengboche was borne by four rich men of Khumjung, Junbesi, Namche Bazaar and Gole, while the Sherpa villagers voluntarily contributed their labour, and the monastery was completed in two months. The main temple was destroyed in the Great Earthquake of 1934 but was rebuilt with donations and labor contributions by the villagers of Khumbu. In 1989, fire engulfed and burnt down the monastery, which has since been rebuilt.
This monastery is well known for the Mani Rimdu festival that takes place in November. The festival, which lasts three days, is marked by the famous mask dances performed by the monks. The dance drama depicts the victory of good over evil.
Access: The easiest way to reach the monastery is by taking a regular flight to Lukla and then walking for three days along the most scenic trekking route that leads to Everest Base Camp.
3.9 Halesi Mahadev, Khotang
Halesi Mahadev is a famous Shiva temple located in Khotang district in the eastern hills. Part of the temple is situated underground in a sort of cave and is accessible by a staircase. There is also a Tibetan Buddhist monastery nearby. It is believed that Saint Padmasambhava meditated in the cave known as Maratika near Halesi, which explains the large number of Buddhist pilgrims visiting the site. A large number of pilgrims visit the temple during Shivaratri and Balachaturdashi festivals.
Access: The site is not yet accessible by road from any major town or city. It can only be reached by walking for six hours from a point on the Katari-Ghurmi road. Alternatively, there are jeeps that could be hired from the nearest airfield at Lamidanda (regular flights from Kathmandu) to the temple.
3.10 Chhinmasta, Sapatari
Chhinmasta or Sakhada Bhagawati is considered a powerful diety. The temple is dedicated to one of the many forms of Goddess Durga. Many pilgrims from Nepal as well as India visit the temple of Sakhada Bhagavati. The goddess is said to fulfill the wishes of her devotees. Sakhada Bhagavati is also worshipped by followers of Tantrism in pursuit of supernatural powers.
Access and Accommodation: Chinnmasta or Sakhada Bhagwati is in Saptari district near the capital city of Rajbiraj. Rajbiraj is well connected to Biratnagar and Kathmandu. One can ride or hire a vehicle to Sakhada Bhagwati from Rajbiraj. Moderate facilities of food and accommodation are available at Rajbiraj and Biratnagar.
4.1 Lumbini, Rupandehi
Lumbini lies in the Terai district of Rupandehi in mid-southwestern region of Nepal and has earned world fame as the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautam Buddha, the Enlightened One. Lumbini is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Maurya Emperor Ashoka of India visited Lumbini in 245 B.C. and erected a pillar signifying the sacred spot where the Lord first put his foot after birth.
Two famous Chinese pilgrims, Fa Hien and Hueng Tsang, visited the site in the 5th and 7th centuries respectively and wrote about this sacred place in their travelogues. The main temple is named after Buddha’s mother, Maya Devi. A large number of Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world visit Lumbini to pray at the Maya Devi Temple where excavations have revealed the ‘marker stone’ showing the exact spot where Siddhartha Gautam Buddha was born. Construction and development works have been going on in Lumbini since the last couple of decades to give shape to Japanese architect Prof. Tange’s master plan for the development of Lumbini, and countries with large or sizable Buddhist populations have lent a hand in constructing monasteries and infrastructure in support of the master plan. These include temples, monasteries, rest houses and stupas by countries such as China, India, Japan, Mongolia, Myanmar, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
Access: Lumbini lies 22 km from Bhairahawa, a major industrial city bordering India. There are regular buses from Bhairahawa to Lumbini. Taxis are available at Bhairahawa. Bhairahawa is well connected by air with the capital.
4.2 Manakamana Temple, Gorkha
Manakamana means “having one’s wishes fulfilled”. Hence, Manakamana in Gorkha is one of the most visited temples in Nepal where devotees from all over Nepal and abroad throng the temple daily to offer prayers and sacrifices to the goddess in the belief that this will fulfill their wishes. Accessibility to this temple, which is perched on the top of a steep hill, has been enhanced by the addition of a modern cable car system which ferries the traveler from the base station on the major highway to the temple premises in just over 10 minutes. The temple is a two-tiered pagoda built in a large courtyard. Goddess Manakamana is enshrined in the form of a shila, or a large boulder, inside the temple. There are four other boulders adjacent to it representing the deities Bhairab, Ganesh, Kumari and Betaal.
Legend has it that the temple originated during the reign of King Ram Shah of Gorkha, ancestor of the Shah kings, in the 16th century. The queen was believed to be the incarnation of Goddess Durga. So when the king died, as per the Sati customs then, the queen prepared to burn herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. She told her most faithful servant that she would be reborn as a goddess in the form of a shila, and he and his successors were to worship her. The temple thus came into being at the spot where the shila was found. The “pujari”, or main priest, at the temple is a Magar by ethnicity as per the directives of the Sati queen.
The temple lies in Gorkha from where the unification of Nepal started under King Prithvi Narayan Shah. The Shah kings of Nepal were great devotees of this deity. Devotees make offerings of animal sacrifices to the goddess. Especially Saturdays and Tuesdays see maximum rush when it takes hours just to get a glimpse of the goddess in the temple. One can have panoramic views of the Manaslu and Annapurna peaks from the temple complex.
There is the Bakreshwar Shiva Temple and Siddha Gupha (cave) at about an hour’s walk from the temple.
Access: The temple is a pleasant three-hour trek uphill from certain points along the Kathmandu-Pokhara-Narayanghat highway. But the easiest and most popular route is by cable car from Kuringhat on the main highway. From this base station, it is an enjoyable 10-minute ride on the state-of-the-art cable car system. Practically, Manakamana is the most accessible of pilgrimage sites situated in a difficult terrain.
4.3 Muktinath, Mustang
The temple of Muktinath is located in the trans-Himalayan locale of Nepal at the foot of the snow-covered ranges at an altitude of 3,800 m. The site is sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists.
Mukti Kshetra, or where the temple of Muktinath is situated, is mentioned in the Hindu Scriptures such as the Ramayana, Barah Purana and Skanda Purana. The place partly owes its fame to the fossil stones, called shaligram - considered holy by Hindus - found along the Kali Gandaki River. The fossil stones are said to represent Lord Vishnu in stone form.
The temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu is simple in architecture and built in pagoda style. It is believed to have been constructed at the beginning of the 19th century. As the idol of Vishnu is considered to date from the 16th century, it is presumed that another temple stood there at the site before the current pagoda structure. Many Hindu pilgrims from Nepal and India visit the site to worship Lord Vishnu. Buddhists worship him as Avalokiteshwar. Buddhist nuns and Brahmin priests worship at the temple.
Nearby is a temple called Jwala Mai considered sacred and worshipped by both Hindus and Buddhists. An eternal blue flame keeps burning in the temple. Nearby, there are 108 sacred water spouts (springs) where pilgrims take a ritual bath. Muktinath lies on the famous Annapurna Circuit trek visited by thousands of foreign trekkers every year. The trek starts from Besi Sahar and passes through Manang and Thorung La Pass (5,380 m) via Muktinath to Jomsom.
Access: Regular flights connect Jomsom with Pokhara. It is then a five-hour walk from Jomsom to Muktinath. Regular buses running between Pokhara and Beni in the Kali Gandaki valley complete part of the journey. A road connecting Jomsom with Beni has recently been constructed. It is likely that regular bus services will start between Beni and Jomsom soon.
4.4 Kagbeni, Mustang
Kagbeni at an altitude of 2,804 m is situated along the Kali Gandaki River at its confluence with the Kag River, west of the ridge where Muktinath is located. It has a number of carved mani prayer stones and chortens, or small Buddhist shrines in the mountains. The confluence is a popular religious site for Hindus for performing the shraddha, or rituals in the name of the deceased ancestors and family members.
Access: Kagbeni is accessible via Jomsom. It is an hour’s walk from Jomsom which is accessible by air and land both.
4.5 Damodar Kunda, Mustang
Damodar Kunda, situated at an altitude of 6,400 m north of Muktinath, is the source of the Kali Gandaki River where the shaligram fossil stones are found aplenty. Shaligrams are found along the Kali Gandaki from Kagbeni to as far south as Ridi. Geologists consider the shaligram to be ammonite fossils that lived in the sea millions of years ago during the Jurassic Period when the Himalaya was under water. The Hindu faithfuls consider these fossils to be a manifestation of Lord Vishnu himself. There are three kundas, or ponds, at the foot of Damodar Himal.
Access: It is an extremely difficult trek in view of the high altitude. The three-day trek to Damodar Kunda starts at Kagbeni and passes through Tanghe and Chhuskang. The route meanders through uninhabited areas. Many of the pilgrims head for Damodar Kunda during the full moon in the month of Shravan (July/August).
4.6 Lo Manthang Monastery, Mustang
Lo Manthang is a walled city located at an altitude of 4,000 m in Mustang, northern Nepal. It is a former principality which was once ruled by the Raja of Mustang. There is a monastery of the Sakyapa order located within the walled city which was constructed in the 15th century. It contains priceless old manuscripts and idols of the Buddhas. A special permit is required to visit upper Mustang that lies to the north of Kagbeni.
Access: Upper Mustang is accessible via Jomsom which is accessible by both air and land. Upper Mustang is five days trek from Jomsom.
4.7 Galeshwar, Myagdi
Galeshwar is a Shiva temple located in the village of Galeshwar, 3 km north of Beni on the bank of the Kali Gandaki River. The Shiva lingam made of stone is black in color. A big fair is held at this temple during the festival of Bala Chaturdashi.
Access: There are regular buses from Pokhara to Baglung and from there to Beni. It is about two hours’ walk from Beni to Galeshwar. With the recent completion of the road from Beni to Jomsom, Galeshwar could soon be accessible by bus.
4.8 Bindhyabasini, Kaski
Bindhyabasini Temple is the most famous temple in Pokhara. Standing on a park-like ground, the temple enshrines the Goddess Durga. Legend relates this temple to the famous temple of Bindhyabasini in Bindhyachal in Uttar Pradesh, India. It is believed that King Siddhi Narayan Shah of Kaski brought the deity to Pokhara before Nepal’s unification.
Access: It is situated in the heart of the old town quarters of Pokhara.
4.9 Taal Barahi, Kaski
Taal Barahi Temple is located on an island in the middle of Phewa Lake in Pokhara. The two-storied pagoda is dedicated to the boar manifestation of Ajima representing the female force. Devotees in large numbers throng the temple during the fair held in the Nepali months of Baisakh (April-May) and Kartik (November-December).
Access: The temple is reached by boats from the lakeside in Pokhara.
4.10 Gupteshwar, Kaski
It is a sacred cave situated near the well known David Falls in Pokhara where the Seti River emerges from underground. The cave is nearly 3 km long, and a Shiva lingam has been preserved here in the condition that it was found in. The site was discovered only in the 1990’s.
Access: The temple is easily accessible.
4.11 Ridi, Gulmi
Ridi is situated on the banks of the Kali Gandaki River where it joins the smaller Ridi River to form a confluence and changes its direction of flow from north-south to west-east. Ridi is also called Ruru Kshetra in Sanskrit. There are a number of temples in Ridi, the most prominent ones being those of Rishikesh and Mukundeshwar. This area also contains a number of caves, including Kanya Gufa which has been the abode of sadhus, or holy men. Among the many festivals and fairs (melas) held in Ridi, the Maghe Sankranti draws the maximum number of pilgrims who take a bath in the waters of the Kali Gandaki River. Ridi is also known as the place where Rana Prime Minister Juddha Shumshere spent his last years of life as Rajarshi after voluntarily renouncing the all powerful Prime Minister’s Office.
Access: Ridi is connected by road from Tansen (north) and Butwal (south).
4.12 Gajendra Mokshya Dibyadham or Triveni, Nawalparasi
Triveni is situated near the Indian border where the River Narayani, or Gandak, emerges from the Siwalik ranges to flow into the Gangetic plains. It is called Triveni (meaning three streams or rivers) as the large Narayani River mingles with the smaller Sona and Pancha rivers. This place is often mentioned in the Hindu Scriptures for a number of reasons. There is the Balmiki Ashram, said to be the retreat where a pregnant Sita, banished by her husband Ram, took refuge in the great sage’s ashram and gave birth to her two sons, Lava and Kush. It was here that the sage wrote the epic Ramayana.
The place is also known as Hari-Har Kshetra, sacred to both Shaiva and Vaishnava followers of the Hindu religion. Hari means Vishnu and Har means Shiva. There is a temple enshrining the idol of Hari-Har - half Vishnu, half Shiva.
The site contains a holy place called Gajendra Mokshya Tirtha where according to the Barah Purana, a god worshipping elephant (Gajendra meaning Elephant King) was caught in the jaws of a powerful alligator while wading in the waters to pluck lotus flowers for worship. Lord Vishnu hearing his devotee’s prayer for help personally descended on the spot riding on his Garuda and killed the alligator with his Sudarshan Chakra (discus) and saved the elephant. This act of liberation (mokshya) of the elephant king from the clutches of the crocodile (graha) has earned this place the name Gajendra Mokshya. A big fair is held at this site on Magh Krishna Amabasya, or the dark night (no moon), in the month of Magh (Jan/ Feb). Pilgrims, from both the hills and plains of Nepal and from India, take a ritual bath in the river on this occasion.
Access: Triveni can be reached by taking a link road from the Narayanghat-Butwal section of the East-West Highway.
4.13 Ujireshwari, Palpa
It was constructed by Ujir Singh Thapa, a commander of Nepal army who defeated the British in the war of 1814-16 in the Palpa front, although Nepal lost the war on other fronts. He is reported to have made a vow that he would construct a temple if he were able to defeat the British. It is a three-storey temple in pagoda style and is dedicated to goddess Durga. There is a big fair during Krishnasthami.
Access: It is situated in Tansen which is connected by road from Butwal and Pokhara.
5.1 Bageshwari, Banke
The Bageshwari Temple is situated on the bank of a large pond in the old part of Nepalgunj town and is dedicated to Goddess Bageshwari, the Goddess of Speech or Voice. It is the most famous temple in Nepalgunj. According to the Swasthani Brata Katha, it was here that the tongue of Sati Devi, Shiva’s consort, fell while Shiva wandered around the earth with the corpse of his wife on his shoulders. A temple was built at the spot and became known as Bageshwari. Devotees throng the temple every day to offer prayers and worship.
Access: It is in proper Nepalgunj town. Nepalgunj is linked by the national highway with all the major towns and cities of Nepal and India. There are regular daily flights linking it to Kathmandu.
5.2 Bala Tripura Sundari, Dolpa
This temple dedicated to Goddess Durga is in Dolpa district. It is situated on a hillock surrounded by the Bheri River on three sides. There are five stone images of Bala, Tripura, Sundari, Devi and Mahakali.
Access: There are regular flights to Juphal, Dolpa, from Nepalgunj.
5.3 Swargadwari, Pyuthan
Swargadwari literally means gateway to heaven, and legends have it that the five Pandavas of Mahabharat journeyed to heaven from Swargadwari. Swargadwari is associated with a saint named Swargadwari Mahaprabhu who took samadhi in 1940 AD. There is a big fair at the site in Nepali month of Kartik and Baisakh. Pilgrims visiting also get a chance to experience the uniqueness of Midwest Nepal.
Access:It is situated 26 km west of Khalanga in Pyuthan in Rapti Zone north of Dang valley at an altitude of 2,200 meters. The area can be reached via Bhalubanga on the Mahendra Highway to Bhingri from where Swargadwari is 5-hour trek away. Another route is from Lamahi to Dang district headquarters Gorahi from where the temple site is a day's trek away. Pony rides are available on the way to Swargadwari to facilitate pilgrims and cable car service at is also being considered.
5.4 Chandannath, Jumla
Chandannath is one of the most famous temples in the mid-western hills and is located in Jumla. It is dedicated to Dattatraya, the trinity form of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Access: There are regular flights to Jumla from Nepalgunj. A track road has recently been opened linking Jumla with Surkhet in the south, but it will be quite some time before reliable bus services operate along this treacherous mountain road.
6.1 Khaptad Ashram
It is believed that the first Aryan entered Nepal through the route of Mansarovar and Mt. Kailash to settle in Khaptad. The history of Khaptad was enhanced half a century ago when the great scholar Swami Sachidananda Saraswati also known as Khaptad Baba, chose the place for his ashram (dwelling).
Far West Nepal is as exciting for naturalists as it is for pilgrims and tourists. The Mahakali and Seti region famous for Khaptad National Park is plentiful in rare variety of living species. The green plateau of Khaptad is home to musk deer, jungle cats and the extensive grassland of Khaptad abounds in uncommon breeds of aromatic and medicinal plants. Among the 35 different types of forests recognized in Nepal 16 are found in the Khaptad Park.
Access: Khaptad Ashram, is situated at 2,923 meters and the national park region falls in the districts of Achham, Bajhang, Doti and Bajura in far west Nepal. The region is accessed from Attariya on the Mahendra Highway toward from where one has to travel north to Dipayal. From Dipayal it is an 8 to 9-hour trek. Another option is flying from Nepalgunj to Sanphe Bagar from where the Khaptad National Park area is only a day's trek away. The best time to visit Khaptad is during fall and spring when the weather is good. Buki Daha and Sajhghat are other religious sites in the area.
6.2 Baidyanath, Achham
The Shiva Temple at Baidyanath is located at the confluence of the Budhi Ganga and Saraswati rivers in Achham district in the far western hills. There is mention of this place in the Skanda Purnana.
6.3 Badi Malika, Bajura
This temple dedicated to Goddess Kali is situated at an altitude of 3,800 m in Bajura district in the far western hills near the Budhi Ganga and Karnali rivers. There is mention of Badi Malika in the Skanda Purana and Swasthani Brata Katha. According to the Swasthani Brata Katha, the shoulder part of Sati Devi, Shiva’s consort, fell at this place while Shiva wandered around the earth with the corpse of his dear wife on his shoulders. It is a Shakti Peeth, and a temple was built at the spot where the part of the body fell. Pilgrims visit this temple hoping to get their wishes fulfilled.
6.4 Shaileshwari, Doti
The temple of Goddess Shaileshwari is situated at Silgadhi in Doti district. It is one of the most famous shrines in the mid-western and far-western hills of Nepal. There is mention of the place in the Skanda Purana. The deities in the temple complex include a Shiva lingam, Chaturbhuj Narayan, Ganesh, Bhairab and Masta. Special pujas are offered here during the Dashain festival.
Access: There is a motorable road served by regular bus services from Dhangadhi, Kailali to Dadeldhura and then to Silgadhi, Doti in the hills. The mountain road is known as Bhim Dutta Marga. Silgadhi is also linked by air service to Dipayal, the headquarters of the Far Western Development Region.
6.5 Sahasreshwar, Achham
This temple is located in the famous Khaptad region of Achham. This site is also mentioned in the Skanda Purana.
6.6 Tripura Sundari, Baitadi
The temple of Tripura Sundari is dedicated to Goddess Durga. It is in Baitadi district.
6.7 Ugratara, Dandeldhura
It is a famous shaktipeeth of far western Nepal. It situated 5 km north of city of Dandeldhura. The main deity is Durga with eight hands and there is a two storied pagoda style temple. There is a big fair on the full moon in the month of Kartik.
Access: It is a three hour bus ride from Dhangadhi in the Terai.