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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.