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Holy Place of Hindusim

Nepal is a land renowned for the faith of its people and the monuments they have made. Holy sites within its borders include the birthplace of Lord Buddha and the wedding site of Ram and Sita, as well as the resting places of many prominent Hindu gods. The Kathmandu Valley is home to numerous temples with nearly every street corner marked by a holy shrine. It has for centuries been a city where pilgrims and devotees have come to converse with the sublime. Religious travellers will find no shortage of holy destinations to visit throughout Nepal.

Pashupatinath TemplePashupatinath:
The vast complex of Pashupatinath in Kathmandu constitutes one of the most important stops on the pilgrimage trail for the devout Hindu. The site dates back to the fifth or sixth century AD and is mentioned in the Hindu epic Mahabharat, although the present two-tiered pagoda structure is believed to have been completed only in 1697. Situated on the banks of the holy Bagmati river, it houses the sacred linga (phallic symbol) of Lord Shiva.

The most sacred of the Shiva temples, Pashupati is as picturesque as it is holy. The central pagoda is capped in gold with an entrance of carved silver. Surrounding it are many shrines and statues and the Bagmati river is dotted with resting places and ghats. On the opposite shore is a vast parkland riddled with statues and idols of the Lord Shiva and others. This thick wood, called the Sleshmantak, was a place where Lord Shiva is said to have once disguised himself as an antelope and gamboled around.

On the north-eastern end of the Sleshmantak lies a special shrine dedicated to Guheswari, Lord Shiva's spiritual consort in her ferocious manifestation. The temple dates back to the 17th century and stands in the center of a stone-paved courtyard surrounded by rest houses. Unlike the Pashupatinath temple, it has an open roof with four gilded serpents arching up to support its finial.

Another striking feature of this shrine is the absence of the deity's image in the sanctum. Only a gilded emblem with a hole in its center is there to represent the goddess. The sanctum is however, replete with other images upon the walls.

Langtang GosaikundGosaikund:
The holy lake of Gosaikund (4,380 m), nested 40 km north of Kathmandu in the Langtang mountains, requires an adventurous four to five-day trek to reach. According to ancient holy scriptures, Gosaikund was created by Lord Shiva himself in the act of saving the world from a cosmic poison. Pilgrims looking into the lake are able to see his holy image, or at least his trident. The full moon of July/August, marks a great festival for which devotees come and crowd around the lake to take a ritual dip in its cold waters.

There they worship the large rock at the center of the lake which is said to be the remains of an ancient Shiva shrine.

Those who cannot make it to Gosaikund gather at the sacred ponds near Banepa and at Kumbheswar in Patan. Taking a dip in these ponds is similarly meritorious, for they are said to be connected through a subterranean channel with Gosaikund.

Muktinath TempleMuktinath:
The next major pilgrimage site lying within the Himalayan ridges is Muktinath. Located a two-day's walk from the Jomsom airstrip atop a 3,710 m high mountain, this holy site is sacred to Hindus and Buddhists alike.

Because the Mahabharat refers to it as a place abounding in shaligram, the black fossil-stones sacred to Bishnu, all Hindu activities here revolve around a two-storied pagoda housing Bishnu in his manifestation of Muktinath - "the Master who rescues all". Worshipping him after bathing in the freezing water gushing out of 108 spouts shaped like bulls' heads ensures mukti (salvation) from all sins. Muktinath's sanctity also stems from the flickering blue "eternal" flames of natural methane gas, enclosed in the nearby Jwala Mai shrine.

The great Buddhist saint Guru Rinpoche's passing through Muktinath en route to Tibet is substantiated by his foot-prints on a rock, terra-cotta images, and a number of gompas (monasteries).

Janakpur TempleJanakpur:
Hailed as the most beautiful city in the southern plains of the Terai, Janakpur enchants visitors with its colorful atmosphere and its religious aura. The city is the birthplace of Sita, wife of Lord Ram and the heroine of the popular Hindu epic Ramayan.

The centerpiece of Janakpur is the Janaki Mandir. This massive Mughal-style marble monument was built on the site where Sita's father, King Janak, found her lying in a field. Next to the Janaki Mandir is the Ram Sita Bibah Mandap -- the spot where Ram and Sita were married. Enshrined in this temple are the ornate images of the revered couple in their nuptial costume of golden robes, heavy tika, and red lips.

Janakpur is also a city of two major festivals, notably Ram Nawami, the birthday of Ram on March 28, when an enormous procession advances through the town.

Vyas GufaVyas Gupha:
Vyas Guphaa historic cave lying one kilometer off the Kathmandu-Pokhara highway at Damauli, is one of the most sacred Hindu pilgrimage sites in Nepal. This spot is associated with Maharshi Vyas, the great saint who is the reputed author of the Mahabharat. Ancient Hindu scriptures identify this cave as not only his birth place and meditation retreat, but also as the site where he penned the magnificent epic.

A great festival takes place here on Guru Purnima, the full moon day of July. As it is a day dedicated to gurus (teachers), devotees flock to Maharshi Vyas to pay homage to this guru among gurus.

A holy land to Hindus and Buddhists alike, Nepal is an ideal destination for pilgrimage. With its sophisticated travel infrastructure and wide choice of air and land carriers, Kathmandu is well equipped to make the arrangements to ensure that visitors of faith are well cared for as they embark on their holy journeys.