Pilgrimage Trekking of Nepal!
This major Himalayan highway follows the gorge of the Kali Gandaki River, crossing from subtropical jungle to high-altitude desert in less than one week. Mixed in the stream of international trekkers, are Hindu ascetic walking to Muktinath and jingling mule trains heading down from Tibet loaded with bales of wool. Both are reminders of the trails status as a major trade and pilgrimage route, an important cultural corridor across the Himalaya.
The end point is the ancient shrine of Muktinath (3800m), one of Nepal’s holiest pilgrimage sites. There’s no real village, but lodges around the lower portion (Ranipauwa) put up pilgrims and trekkers.
The ancient holy site is a typically confusing blend of nature, Hindu and Buddhists beliefs. The little Newari-style pagoda to Lord Vishnu is a relatively recent addition. Muktinath has been sacred for more than 2000 years; the Hindu holy book Mahabharat mentions it as Saligram, ‘Places of the Saligram’, the black fossil stones sacred to Vishnu and found in abundance in the Kali Gandaki Valley. Its holiness stems from flicking blue flames of natural methane gas burning on water, stone and earth, and now enclosed in the shrine of Jwala Mai below the Vishnu Temple. Near the pagoda, there are 108 spouts, shaped like bulls’ heads, where devout pilgrims bathe in the freezing water to purify their sins and earn spiritual liberation.
The place has ancient association for Buddhists as well. Guru Rinpoche is said to have passed through here en route to Tibet, leaving his footprints in a rock. There are many old Buddhist temples around here.
The entire trek to Muktinath remains below 3000m. One should figure at least two weeks to walk in and out, allow a few extra days for exploration, the upper region in particular, is lined with fascinating villages. Flying into Jomsom and walking back down is possible, but one should remember to acclimatize before climbing to Muktinath. One can fly from Jomsom to Pokhara.
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