Nepal is basically known for its altitudinal variations, ranging between 65 m above the sea level to pinnacle of the Earth, the Mt. Everest. This fact describes Nepal as the mountainous country encompassing many sky-penetrating mountains with lush green meadows, serene hills and deepest gorge. Notable among hill stations include: Bandipur, Nagarkot, Dhulikhel, Tansen, Gorkha amongst others.
Bandipur is an ancient trading town of quaint streets and charming atmosphere, which lies 135 km out on the Kathmandu -Pokhara highway. Bandipur retains its age-old cultural attributes. Nagarkot, located 32 kilometers east of Kathmandu, is one of the most scenic spots in Bhaktapur district and is renowned for its spectacular sunrise view of the Himalaya when the weather is clear. Nagarkot has become famous as one of the best spots to view Mount Everest as well as other snow-topped peaks of the Himalayan range of eastern Nepal. Dhulikhel is a scenic and ancient town situated 30 kilometers east of Kathmandu on the Arniko Rajmarg (Kathmandu Kodari Highway). From here one has a panoramic view of the Himalayan range. Tansen is on the way from Pokhara to Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, and it is not too far from the Royal Chitwan National Park and located 4,300 meters above sea level, on the south flank of Srinagar Hill.
Nagarkot, located 32 kilometers east of Kathmandu, is one of the most scenic spots in Bhaktapur district and is renowned for its spectacular sunrise view of the Himalaya when the weather is clear. Visitors often travel to Nagarkot from Kathmandu to spend the night so that they can be there for the breathtaking sunrise. Nagarkot has become famous as one of the best spots to view Mount Everest as well as other snow-topped peaks of the Himalayan range of eastern Nepal. It also offers an excellent view of the Indrawati river valley to the east. With an elevation of 2,195 meters, Nagarkot also offers a panoramic view of the Valley and is described by visitors as a place whose beauty endures year round.
Many visitors prefer to visit Nagarkot in the spring when surrounding valleys break out in a rich kaleidoscope of different coloured flowers. The flowers are beautiful against the serene backdrop of the snow-covered mountains. Ever popular among the tourists are the short treks and picnics which Nagarkot offers. Treks from Nagarkot are unique and delightful. For anyone who wants to have an adventure without exerting much efforts, a hike to Nagarkot’s surrounding areas would be a good option. One can traverse short distances on trekking trails and come close to nature’s wonders such as the outer of verdant forests, flower-covered meadows and unusual rock formations.
Dhulikhel is a scenic and ancient town situated 30 kilometers east of Kathmandu on the Arniko Rajmarg (Kathmandu Kodari Highway). From here one has a panoramic view of the Himalayan range. From the main town, a short visit to Namobuddha, with the stupa and Buddhist Monastery, is highly recommended. Panauti, a village noted for its numerous temples with magnificent woodcarvings, is a short distance from Dhulikhel.
Kakani is another good location for viewing the mountain scenery. Only two hours north-west of Kathmandu, one can see the mountain landscape of central Nepal, a vast collection of majestic peaks stretching from Ganesh Himal to the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges. There is an unusually perfect blending of the imposing mountain scenery with the more sylvan environment of the lower valleys. Rhododendrons growing wild on the mountain slopes begin to bloom in late winter and stay in bloom for several months, giving the village even more charm.
For a view of the breathtaking grandeur of the world’s highest peaks from the far west of Dhaulagiri to the east of Mt. Everest, there is no better place than Daman. It lies eighty kilometers south-west of Kathmandu on the mountain highway known as Tribhuvan Rajpath and has a view tower fitted with a long range telescope.
Ilam is the far eastern district of the country, inhabited by people of different colors living in peace and harmony. Neighboring the famous Indian hill town of Darjeeling, it is situated on the foothills of Mount Kanchanjunga, The third highest peak in the world. Ilam is adorned with an almost limitless range of lush-green tea gardens. The rolling hills covered with tea leaves are simply majestic. The thick white fogs alternatively descend to veil the gardens and then suddenly vanish. Greenery prevails all over the hills of Ilam all around the year.
Ilam Tea Garden located near Ilam Bazaar and Kanyam Tea Garden located halfway between Terai plain and Ilam Bazaar are the major gardens of Nepal.
Antu Danda: Antu Danda, situated at an altitude of 1677m in Ilam District, is famous for its unique views of Everest and Kanchanjunga. It is the best vantage point for viewing sunrise and sunset. There is a motorable road from Ilam to Chhipitar from where one can read Antu Danda on foot. This exhilarating trekking along the lush green hills takes about 3 hours.
Mai Pokhari: Situated at an altitude of 2438 meters, Mai Pokhari is a famous place of pilgrimage in Ilam district. Lying at about thirteen kilometers north of Ilam Bazaar, this beautiful place consists of the pond whose circumference is more than one kilometer. Altogether there are nine ponds in the area some of which are large enough for boats. This place becomes alive every year during ‘Harisayam Ekadashi’ when a one-night fair is held. This place is a famous picnic spot for nearby people Mai Pokhari can be reached in four hours from Ilam Bazaar in jeep. On the way are the villages of Chureghanti, Bakhaute, Dharapani and Hasbire Bhanjyang, which offer commanding views of the snowy peaks towards north.
Getting There: Ilam is linked by a fine metalled road with the East-West Highway of Nepal. Pashupatinagar, situated at northern boarder of Ilam, is an important entry point for travelers from Sikkim, Darjeeling and Mirik. Darjeeling, a famous hill station of India, is just two hours drive from Pashupatinagar. There are regular bus services to Pashupatinagar and Ilam from Kathmandu and Biratnagar.
Accommodation: There are a number of hotels and lodges in Ilam.
Dharan lies right at the foot of hills, but the transformation when coming from Terai is dramatic. It is a hill town with hill people. Dharan is also the gateway to such towns in eastern hills as Dhankuta which are being developed as regional center for the whole area. Until 1989 there used to be a British Gurkha Camp in Dharan which was used to recruit Gurkha soldiers from the eastern hills. Rais and Limbus from eastern Nepal used to constitute the major portion of Gurkha soldiers. Dharan is now a bustling bazaar town that has grown rapidly. Temples of Dhantakali, Buda Subba and Singha Bahini in Dharan are unique and famous.
Getting There: This hill town is linked by a metalled road with the East-West Highway of Nepal. It takes two hours in bus to reach to Dharan from Biratnagar.
Accomodation: There are a number of standard hotels and lodges in Dharan
Hile is situated about 13 km north of Dhankuta Bazaar. The panorama of the major peaks of eastern Himalaya including Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest), Makalu, Lhotse and Kumbhakarna can be enjoyed from Hile.
Getting There: There are plenty of bus services operating between Dhnkuta and Hile. In fact most buses to Dhankuta continue as far as Hile.
Accommodation: Hile is facilitated with a number of hotels and lodges for average to luxurious accommodations.
III. 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.
Pashupatinath: Pashupatinath is one of the four most important religious sites in Asia for Shiva devotees. Pashupatinath, dedicated to Shiva the Destroyer, is the holiest Hindu pilgrimage destination in Nepal. Although the Pashupatinath Temple was only built in the fifth century and later renovated by Malla kings, the holy site is said to have existed from the beginning of the millennium.
A gold-plated roof, four silver doors, and wood carvings of the finest quality decorate the pagoda temple of Pashupatinath. Temples dedicated to several other Hindu and Buddhist deities surround the temple of Pashupatinath. Nearby is the temple of Guheshwori dedicated to Shiva’s consort Sati Devi. Behind the temple is the River Bagmati. On the banks of Bagmati are raised platforms used as cremation sites for Hindus. Only Hindus are allowed inside the Pashupatinath courtyard.
Some important monuments to see in this area are:
Gorakhnath Rajrajeswari Pancha-Dewal
Bankali Arya-Ghat Birupakchhya
Pashupatinath is the other popular name of Shiva. Shiva in the form of Rudra was imagined by the early Aryans and later was worshipped in the form of a Linga, a Phallus, a vertical piece of stone placed in an upward position on a round pedestal. The Indus Valley civilisation in Pakistan has shown that the peo- ple there worshipped Shiva in the form of a Linga in about the 3rd century BC. Besides south Asia, archaeological excavations in some ancient cities of Europe have revealed that the linga-worship cult ex- isted there too.
Pashupatinath, in a limited sense, literally means the Lord of the Animals. But animal is also a term that denotes the animal like instincts in human beings. Capable of destroying instantly every evil force either with his trident or the third eye, when it comes to his devotees, the Lord Pashupatinath destroys their igno- rance. Be it an issue of material gain or release from the cycle of mortal existence he is the height of compassion, generosity, as well as consciousness.
Shiva has been worshipped in Nepal from the beginning of the Neolithic civilisation in the Kathmandu Valley, with scientific archaeological studies and findings around the temple proving that the god Pashupatinath was worshipped here from about the beginning of the Christian era. From about the 7th century onwards it became the first and foremost temple of Nepal, with kings, aristocrats and the rich offering a great deal of wealth and land in trust to the god, making it one of the richest temples in Nepal. Many temples and stat- ues around the temple were added making it a big complex rather than just a temple. The main God or the Linga of Pashupatinath is carved on a blackish stone, with four faces engraved on four sides of the Linga.
Nepal is constitutionally a Hindu kingdom so non- Hindus cannot enter the temple, although Buddhists can. But no one is allowed to enter the inner sanctum except the Bhattas, the main priests who come from the south of India. The temple starts swarming with devotees around 4am every morning. However the top of the hill to the east of the temple is the ideal place for the non Hindu visitor to view the temple, its rich surroundings, and below on the edge of the Bagmati river the ghats where the dead are brought to be cremated Situated on the top of a small hill about 15 kilometers east of Kathmandu and only a few miles north of Bhaktapur, the temple of Changu Narayan is perhaps the best and oldest in the context of Nepa- lese art and architecture. Built around 239 A.D., it s not only the temple but the whole complex which is an open air museum – breathtaking and bewildering in character.
Swoyambhu literally means ‘Self-Existent One.’ Swoyambhunath is believed to have been established more than 2,500 years ago. An inscription dated 460 A.D. states that the construction was carried out by King Manadeva. By the thirteenth century Swoyambhunath had developed into an important Buddhist learning site.
The history of Kathmandu Valley is said to have started with the beginning of Swoyambhu. The largest image of the Sakyamuni Buddha in Nepal is in a monastery next to the stupa. Behind the hilltop is a temple dedicated to Manjusri of Saraswati – the goddess of learning. Statues and shrines of Buddhist and Hindu deities dot the stupa complex.
Large numbers of Buddhists and Hindus alike visit Swoyambhunath. Swoyambhu is perhaps the best place to observe the religious harmony in Nepal. The stupa is atop a hill, and requires considerable walk. There is also a road that leads almost to the base of the statue.
Swoyambunath Swoyambhunath seen on hill-top from east
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: 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
Gosaikunda: 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.
Muktinath: 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.
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.
Janaki temple: 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.
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.