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Nepal - Things to do in Nepal

Pilgrimage Sites

Nepal has several ancient pilgrimage sites. Each temple is attached to a legend or belief that glorifies the miraculous powers of its deity. Kathmandu Valley is home to the famous Pashupatinath Temple, Swayambhu Stupa and several other famous temples. Hundreds of famous temples are located in and around the Kathmandu Valley. Some well-known pilgramage sites are: Baraha Chhetra, Halesi Mahadev, Janakpur, Pathibhara, Tengboche in East Nepal; Manokamana, Gorkha, Lumbini, Muktinath, Gosainkunda, Tansen, Kathmandu Valley in Central Nepal; and Swargadwari, Khaptad Ashram in West Nepal. Pashupatinath, Swoyambhunath, and Boudhanath are the sites that are also listed in the UNESCO Heritage Sites.

Nepal is also the Gateway to Kailash Mansarovar, the mythical abode of Lord Shiva. Devotees from various parts of Nepal and India throng the temples during special festivals. Even though weak infrastructure renders some places hard to reach, efforts are being made on national level to develop and promote some popular sites.

Pilgrimage sites of Nepal like Muktinath and Gosainkunda make popular trekking destinations. Tours to these sites are encouraged for the novelty they provide in terms of nature and culture.

Swayambhunath

The most ancient and enigmatic of all the Valley's holy shrines lies 2 km west of Kathmandu city, across the Vishnumati river. The golden spire of Swayambhunath stupa crowns a wooded hillock and offers a commanding view of Kathmandu city. On clear days, one can even view a line of Himalayan peaks. The view is splendid at dusk as city lights flicker one by one, and even better when a full moon hangs in the sky.

The establishment of Swayambhunath Stupa goes back to the legendary beginning of the Kathmandu Valley.The legend says that when the bodhisattva Manjushri drained the waters of the lake to reveal the Kathmandu valley, the lotus of the lake was transformed into the hillock and the blazing light became the Swayambhu stupa. Swayambhunath stupa is a World Heritage Site.

Boudhanath Stupa

It is the biggest stupa in the Valley. The stupa, well known as Khasti, is also known as the World Heritage Site. It looms 36 meters high and presents one of the most fascinating specimens of stupa design. There are more than 45 Buddhist monasteries in the area. It lies about 6 km to the east of downtown Kathmandu . The Bouddha Area Preservation & Development Committee runs an information center.

Pashupatinath Temple

The temple of Pashupatinath is Nepal's most scared Hindu shrines and one of the subcontinent's greatest Shiva sites, a sprawling collection of temples, ashrams, images and inscriptions raised over the centuries along the banks of the sacred Bagmati river.

The richly- ornamented pagoda, houses the sacred linga or phallic symbol of Lord Shiva.
Chronicles indicate the temlple's existence prior to 400 A.D, but a shrine may have stood here nearly 1000 years before that. Legend says that Shiva once took the form of an antelope and sported unkown in the forest on Bagmati river's east bank. The gods later caught up with him , and grabbing him by the horn, forced him to resume his divine form. The broken horn was worshipped as a linga and overtime was buried and lost. Centuries later an astonished herdsmen found one of his cows showering the earth with milk. Digging deep at the site, he discovered the divine linga of Pashupatinath.

The temple complex has been renovated and improved over the centuries. Entrance to the shrine is only restricted to Hindus, however, one can still get the good view of the sacred temple from vantage points across Bagmati river. Across the river, one can also visit the temple of Guhyeshwori and a classic 6th century ekmukhi "one-faced" linga of Shiva.

Namo Buddha

Namo Buddha means 'Greetings to the Buddha'. It is the symbol of human sacrifice at the highest possible level. A legend has it that a prince while hunting in the forest saw a hungry tigress with her cubs. The compassionate prince seeing the pitiable conditions of the starving animals cut the flesh of his body and feed them. Such an extra ordinary deed of the priced led him to be a Buddha at the site where he feed his flesh to the animals. The main stupa dedicated to Namo Buddha depicts this story of self-less action of the prince. Namo buddha has always drawn reverent pilgrims. You can drive up to Dhullikhel or Panauti from Kathmandu then hike up to Namo Buddha.

Panauti : Standing in a peaceful valley roughly 8 Km south of Banepa, the small beautiful town of Panauti is at a junction of the rivers Roshi and Pungmati. Similar to that of Ilahabad in India , a third ‘invisible' river is declared to join the other two at the confluence point. This Town is relatively untouched but where festivals preserving tradition of the indigenous Newars are held. It possesses a number of interesting temples, one of which perhaps be the oldest in Nepal . Besides it is famous for magnificent woodcarvings. Panauti once stood at the junction of important trading routes and had a royal palace in its principal square. Today it's just a quiet backwater, yet all the more interesting for that. Concerning trek, an interesting walk leads from Dhulikhel to Panouti. The pleasant two-hour stroll starts off south from Dhulikhel, then turns west crossing rice-fields and running along the course of tiny stream. It eventually hits the Banepa - Panauti road a little north of the town.

Baraha Chhetra

Located at the confluence of the Saptakoshi and Koka rivers, is 20km away from a town in eastern Nepal-Dharan. Baraha-chhetra is among the four great Hindu pilgrimages. Here, the Boar-Baraha, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu is said to have killed the demon Hiranakshya. Apart from the main shrine dedicated to Baraha, there are many other temples with images of the Baraha in Baraha-Chhetra. Every year on the first Magh (November), a religious fare takes place here.

Manakamana Temple

The temple of Manakamana, a very popular pilgrimage in Nepal, is a temple of one of the manifestations of the Hindu goddess Bhagwati. Bhagwati is believed to have the power to fulfill wishes. It lies 125km to the west of Kathmandu. It is a steep three hour hike from Abu Khaireniion Kathmandu-Gorkha Highway. Cable-cars also take travellers to Manokamana

Janakpur in the eastern Terai is one of the oldest and most famous cities of Nepal. Mithila was the capital of the Videha (bodyless) spiritual Janakas, the rulers who were the embodiment of spiritual attainment. Janaki, Sita was born to Sivadhwaga Janaka and was married to Rama, the King of Ayodhya the legendary hero of the great epic Ramayana. A great centre of learning for scholars in ancient times, Janakpur once had hundreds of sages who contributed substantially to Hindu philosophy, with one of their oldest works being the famous Upanisad Brihadarandyaka written in the form of a dialogue which deals with the gods, the nature of Brahma, the supreme reality and the introduction to the self.

Janaki Temple

Predominantly inhabited by Maithilis, it has its own language, script and a rich artistic tradition and culture. The religious Mithila art is well known in the local and international art world.

Janakpur is a city of dozens of holy pools, with a number of ancient sites, some of which have yet to be identified. The really famous object for adoration in Janakpur is the Janaki temple which is some times compared with the Taj Mahal of India. A simple construction to start with, the present structure owes its existence to King Pralapa Singh and his consort who donated hundreds of thousands of silver coins when they were blessed with a child by Sita, enshrined within the temple. Started about 1895, it took a number of years to evolve into its present shape and was completed in 1911.

Constructed in an area of 4,860 sq. feet in a mixed style of Islamic and Rajput Domes the temple is 50 metres high; a three storeyed structure made entirely of stone and marble. All its 60 rooms are decorated with coloured glass, engrav- ings and paintings, with beautiful lattice windows and turrets.

Thousands of pilgrims visit the temple in November/December for Vivah Panchami ( marriage over 5 days ), the town s major annual festival, when the marriage of Sita and Rama is celebrated with various re-enactments. A popular time too for modern day weddings.

Dakshankali Temple
The temple of Dakshinkali is situated about 18 km. south from Kathmandu and just 2 km. of Shekha Narayan. Dakshinkali is regarded as one of most important Hindu goddesses. Pilgrims visits this temple to offer their prayer and animal sacrifices to the goddess. Besides, this place has been developed as a popular picnic spot and the nearby, is a lovely temple to the Tantric Goddess Bajrayogini and a meditation cave of the Buddhist teacher "Guru Rimpoche" (Padmasambhava).

Shekha Narayan:(way to Dakshankali)
Situated between Chobhar and Dakshinkali the temple of Shekha Narayan represents one of the four Narayans of the Kathmandu Valley. The other three Narayans are Changu Narayan of Bhaktapur, Visankhu Narayan of Patan and Ichangu Narayan of Kathmandu.

Muktinath Temple

You are sure to become enchanted by the sight of the bewildering Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges as you approach the Pokhara Valley by air or surface. The next morning when you discover the sky clear and the mountains in view, you then know you are on your special journey to Muktinath.

Once the flight takes off you are flying between the ranges with the river below in the deepest gorge on earth. It is a spectacular sight way beyond your expectations. Just under the Dhaulagiri icefall the riverbed widens, and you get your first glimpse of the stone houses with juniper and firewood stacked on the flat roofs. In no time you are landing on the runway on the banks of the Kali Gandaki River, leaving the Hindu sub-continent behind and entering the world of the Thakalis, Gurungs, Managis and the Tibetan Khampas.

The people of Jomsom, the Thakali tribe, have been traders for the past two thousand years trading salt from Tibet for rice and flour from the lowlands, of this trade the people of the upper Kali Gandaki were influenced by the Bon Po doctrine of Tibet as early as the 12th century. A new faith known as Lamaism, which was influenced by Tantric Mahayana Buddhists on the Bon Po, is now more popular in the upper Kali Gandaki region, and its influence can be seen in several village monasteries as well as in the houses.

Hanging demon traps in the doorways and at the corners of the houses in the form of sun crosses, dead rabbits and peh moussas hanging just inside the door, and skulls and horns placed on the roof - all offer protection to the inhabitants. Combined with this are the religious wall murals and the prayer flags flying on the house roofs.

Leaving Jomsom you follow the vastly wide Kali Gandaki River passing traders coming from Tibet and local village people who may have already walked two or three days to come to Jomsom to buy and sell goods. Dressed in traditional chuba (Tibetan dress) with colourful scarves wrapped around their heads and beautiful turquoise and coral necklaces hanging around their necks they remind you of the Tibet of the past.

A half hour walk out of Jomsom you will see three chortens hugging the cliff covered with small juniper bushes and hundreds of white kartas left as offerings hanging from the branches. Behind the juniper there is a small cave where Guru Rinpoche stayed the night on his journey through the Upper Kali Gandaki. (img)

The way continues on the rocky river bed until you come to a somewhat smaller river entering the Kali Gandaki from the right. Take this river bed trail to the Bon Po village of Lumpra - seldom visited by tourists. Behind a chorten you will find a path lined with poplar trees leading up to the village. The Gompa sits a little bit away from the village, and the main sight will be many village women doing Kora at all times of the day. There is a trail going straight across the river that then climbs up to high pastures. This will bring you down into the small village of Eklai Bhattai where there are four houses all providing food and lodging.

The Kagbeni trail veers to the left just after the last guest house - the right trail leads directly to Muktinath. Just a few minutes on the trail on the right you will see a very large Om mani carved into the boulders and if you look further you will see the irridescent green fields and the walled village and red gompa of Kagbeni. (of course it does depend on what time of the year as to whether you see the green fields).

Behind the gompa stands the turreted palace and within the walls of the village are very old whitewashed houses inter-twined between small alleys that seem to lead everywhere but nowhere. Kagbeni is one of the palace forts and is constructed like a fortress to ward off spirits and bandits during the bygone trading era. The monastery has been well cared for in the past 570 years, with a collection of rare statues and other rare ritual artifacts, and until the middle of the 18th century housed over 100 monks from five villages, now there are only about 5 monks in resi- dence.

Kagbeni is an oasis with apple and apri- cot orchards, and barley fields standing against the vast landscape of silver grey river stones and shale cliffs of brown. There are guest houses and good food, and it is a restful place to stay before the steep climb begins to Jarkot and finally Muktinath.

Jharkot is on a prominent spot overlooking the Kali Gandaki, with a crumbling fortress wall the only remaining evidence of an original palace. At the other end of the village there is a beautifully maintained monastery, and also the Jharkot Tibetan Medicine Hospital and school, well worth a visit to see the bherbs collected and dried, and a diagnosis from the Tibetan doctor is quite a special experience.

From Jharkot it is two hours to Muktinath - the place of 108 fountains, with the sacred temples of Muktinath just below Thorung La in a grove of trees. Every tree is laden with prayer flags, and here you could build your own chorten. Here in the early 19th century the Hindus consecrated a Vishnu temple and named is Muktinath - Lord of Liberation. Against a backdrop of incredible starkness you can sit and stare to the south the snow covered Annapurna range, or to the north the Tibetan plateau.

Gosaikunda Holy Lake

A lake is believed to have been created by Lord Shiva when he thrust his Trishula (trident) into a mountain to extract water so that he could cool his stinging throat after he had swallowed poison. there is a large rock in the center of the lake, which is said to be the remains of a Shiva shrine. People often claim that they see Shiva lying in the water. Devotees gather here in hordes on the full moon night of August to take holy dips in the lake.

Gosaikunda is situated at the altitude of 4380m to the north of Kathmandu on the Langtang trekking trail. The holy lake is a two day long trek from Dhunche, which can be reached through an adventurous 118km mountain road from Kathmandu via Trishuli Bazaar. Small hotels and pilgrim shelters are here for travellers.

Balmiki Ashram
The Balmiki Ashram is situated in a forest on the banks of the Tribeni river, at the south- western corner of the Chitwan National park. It was a retreat used by the great Hindu sage, Balmiki. This is where Sita is said to have lived with her two sons, Labha and Kusha, after separating from Rama. Various statues were unearthed in this area during an archeological excavation in the late 60's. Recently, a Temple of Sita has been built here.
Devghat
Devghat is situated 6 km to the north of Bharatpur, the gateway to the Chitwan National Park. On the day of the Makar Sankranti festival in January pilgrims come here to take holy dips in the Narayani, formed by the meeting of the Kali gandaki and Trishuli. There is a settlement of a community of elderly, retired people here. Devghat can be reached by taking a daily flight or bus service.
Dhanushadham
Dhanushadham, a historical and religious site, dates back to the time of the great epic- Ramayana. It is located 18 km north-east of Janakpur in the south- central region of Nepal. Dhanushadham was the place where Lord Rama had broke Shiva's divine bow, a condition for winning the hand of Sita in marriage. According to the epic, one of the three pieces of the bow fell in the present day Dhanushadham.
Ridi
Ridi is among the most popular religious places in Nepal. Rikeshwor Narayan mandir, situated here, is the local version of the Pashupatinath temple with its auspicious Ghats (cremation grounds). It is situated at the confluence of The Kali Gandaki and the Ridi Khola, linked by a 50 km dirt road to the hill resort town of Tansen. During the Makar Sankranti festival, hundreds of devotees from different parts of the world throng the Dhanusha temple to worship the fossilized bow fragments and to take ritual dips in the river. Here, there are other temples dedicated to Ram and Ganesh too.
Simraugadh
The capital of the former kingdom of Tirahut, is the seat of a rich civilization, which peaked between the 11th and 14th centuries. The ancient city suffered terrible devastation in the hands of invaders but its cultural glory remained in the archeological treasures that are found here. There many Hindu temples that draws people to this place in large numbers. Simraugadh is situated in the Terai plains to the south of Kathmandu. The most convenient access to this place, by air, is from Birgunj (270 km away from Kathmandu). Another route to Simraugadh is a Flight to Simara (15 minutes) and then a drive to Birgunj (25 km) from where it is 45 km to simraugadh.
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