Namobuddha is a famous Buddhist pilgrimage site situated near Panauti in Kavre district. Buddhist legend has it that one of the earlier Buddhas once came across a tigress who had given birth to cubs, but she was so frail and weak that she could not go out hunting, leaving her cubs to die of starvation. In utmost piety, the kind Buddha offered his own flesh to the tigress to keep her and the cubs alive. There is a small stupa built in reverence to the ultimate sacrifice of the Buddha. Buddhist holy books narrate tales of several Buddhas before the arrival of Siddhartha Gautam Buddha, the Enlightened One.
Access: Namobuddha can be reached by a three-hour trek from Dhulikhel or Panauti. These two towns are at about an hour’s drive by regular bus services from Kathmandu.
Palanchowk Bhagawati, Kavre
Palanchowk Bhagawati is located on a hilltop in Kavre district to the east of Kathmandu. It is a three-storey pagoda temple in which is enshrined the deity of Bhagawati, the Goddess of Power (Shakti). This exquisitely carved image is considered the most magnificent among the stone idols of Bhagawati, or Durga, in the temples of Nepal. Devotees flock to the temple to offer sacrifices to the goddess to seek divine favour for prosperity and happiness of the self and family. There is a legend behind this artistically carved stone idol. It tells the tragic story of the master craftsman whose hands were amputated by the king who had ordered the idol made, for no apparent reason other than to ensure that there would be no reproduction or duplication of the idol of such elegance. This temple dates back to Lichhavi period. It is a pagoda style temple and is 15 meters tall. The statue of goddess Durga with eighteen hands is very artistic.
There is a good view of the Himalayan ranges from the temple.
Access: The temple is situated on a hilltop and needs a detour on foot or by jeep along a narrow mountain path from a point 55 km east of Kathmandu on the Arniko Highway (road that leads to the Chinese border). It is situated between Dhulikhel and Panchkhal on Arniko Highway. A side road connects the temple from Lamidanda on the highway. There are regular buses from Banepa to Palanchowk every hour
Dolakha Bhimsen, Dolakha
The temple of Bhimsen in Dolakha town of the district by the same name lies to the east of Kathmandu. The temple is dedicated to Lord Bhimsen, the mightiest in physical strength and the second of the five Pandava brothers cited in the epic Mahabharata. It is believed that the Pandavas spent some time here during their one-year Gupta-baas (living in total concealment) while undergoing forced exile after losing everything to the Kauravas in the game of dice. The temple lies 4 km to the east of the town of Dolakha. Inside the temple is a boulder depicting Bhimsen along with stones on either side representing Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas, and Draupadi, common consort of the five Pandava brothers.
There are fascinating stories related to the temple and coincidentally proven by unfolding events. The idol of Bhimsen is supposed to “sweat” to forewarn impending major catastrophes or natural calamities in the country. Such sweatings were reported prior to the Great Earthquake of 1934, death of King Tribhuvan and Mahendra and the Narayanhiti Palace Massacre in 2001 as well as the end of the monarchy in Nepal (2007). Thousands of devotees throng this temple during Chaitra Dashain and Bhim Ekadashi in the month of Magh (January/February).
Access: There are regular bus services to Dolakha from Kathmandu. It’s a six-hour bus ride from Kathmandu. Dolakha is near Jiri, a postcard pretty countryside dwelling likened to Switzerland by Tony Hagen and starting point of the Everest Trek by land.
Gosainkunda Lake, situated northwest of Kathmandu at an altitude of 4,380 m in Rasuwa district, is a major pilgrimage site for Hindus. This lake on the Langtang trekking trail is the source of the River Trisuli. Devotees throng this lake on the auspicious day of Janai Purnima in July to take a holy dip in the icy cold waters and wash away their sins.
There are nine other kundas (lakes) in the vicinity, prominent among them being the Saraswati, Bhairab, Surya and Ganesh Kunda. Hindu mythology relates the saga of ‘Samudra Manthan’, or the churning of the celestial ocean by the gods and demons, in the quest for amrit, or elixir that would make them immortal, and ratna, i.e., the most precious of jewels and treasures. Unfortunately, the first thing that came out of the churning of the ocean was not ratna but the mother of all poisons, Halahal kalkoot, which soon started diffusing and dispersing into the atmosphere, destroying nature and killing all fauna and flora.
Alarmed, the gods and demons prayed to Lord Shiva to save them from annihilation. The kind Lord took the poison and consumed it, but did not swallow it and held it in his throat (Adam’s apple). The poison, however, caused unbearable pain, and Lord Shiva dashed to the cool Himalayan mountains for solace.
On reaching there, he plunged his trident into the mountain rocks from where gushed three springs of icy cold water which accumulated downstream into a lake. The Lord then dipped into the cold waters of the lake and soothed himself. As the burning poison caused his throat to turn blue in colour, Lord Shiva since then came to be known as Nilkantha or ‘the one with the blue throat’.
The gods and demons, of course, thereafter proceeded with the churning of the ocean and drew vast treasures including the precious jewel Kaustubh Mani, the celestial elephant Airawat, the divine conch Panchajanya, the all wish-fulfilling celestial tree Kalpa brikshya, the divine cow Kam Dhenu and the Goddess of Wealth Laxmi, which they apportioned among themselves, including the amrit that emerged last.
Access: Gosainkunda can be reached by taking a bus from Kathmandu to Dhunche, the headquarters of Rasuwa district (almost a day’s drive due to poor road conditions), and then starting the uphill journey on foot which takes a day or two to reach the lake, depending upon one’s ability to walk under treacherous high altitude mountainous terrain. The pilgrimage site can also be reached by taking an alternate trekking route via Sundarijal to the north of Kathmandu valley.
Devghat in Chitwan district is a prominent pilgrimage site situated at the holy confluence of the major rivers, Kali Gandaki and Trishuli which includes such large tributaries as the Seti, Budhi Gandaki and Madi. The confluence is located at a point about 5 km northwest of Narayanghat town where the rivers emerge from the Mahabharat range and flow into the plains. Rechristened the Narayani River, it then flows to India as the Gandak River to finally join the Ganges near Patna in the Indian state of Bihar. For Hindus, any confluence of rivers is considered a holy site.
Devghat is mentioned in several Hindu Scriptures such as the Baraha Purana, Skanda Purana, Padma Purana and the Himavatkhanda. The area surrounding the confluence is densely forested by sal trees. A large number of shrines, temples, ashrams and old age homes have been built at Devghat.
The most prominent is the Chakreshwar Temple where the famed King Mukunda Sen of Palpa is said to have meditated and attained Nirvana in the 16th century. A huge religious fair is held at the site on the occasion of Makar Sankranti, the first day of the Nepali month of Magh, in January. Devotees and pilgrims from all over Nepal and adjoining India come here to take a ritual dip at the confluence.
Many elderly devout Hindus have their winter homes in this sacred area, and some of them stay here to spend their last days in the belief that breathing their last here will assure them a place in Heaven. Throughout the day and night, Devghat resounds with the ringing of bells and the singing of hymns, or bhajans, in the temples and ashrams.
Access: There are minibuses and tempos available from Narayanghat to Devghat at regular intervals.
Janaki Mandir, Janakpur, Dhanusha
Janakpur is situated in the Mithila region of Nepal south of the capital Kathmandu, and is a major pilgrimage site as it is the birthplace of Sita, heroine of the epic Ramayana. The massive and magnificent Janaki Mandir – Janaki is the other name of Sita, the daughter of King Janak – was constructed in 1874 by Rani Brishbhanu Kunwari of Tikamgarh, a small state in central India. The temple, a blend of Mughal and local architecture, is of three storeys and has 60 rooms, making it the largest temple in Nepal. It is also called the Naulakha temple as it then cost nine lakh rupees, or Rs. 900,000 (a massive amount by any consideration) for its construction. The temple houses an idol of Sita which was found near Ayodhya, the kingdom of Ram, her consort.
In the southwest corner of Janaki Mandir is the Vivah Mandap, which has been built at the site where the marriage of Ram and Sita is said to have been consecrated. Another well known temple in the vicinity is Ram Mandir built by Amar Singh Thapa in 1782. It is a pagoda style temple and hence is different from the other temples in Janakpur which generally bear resemblance to Mughal architecture.
A female statue, said to be of Yogamaya, in this temple has the reputation of being one of the most beautiful images of female form in Nepal. Other holy sites of interest include the Ram Temple, Laxman Temple, Sankat Mochan Temple and Hanuman Temple. There are a large number of ponds considered sacred in Janakpur area, including Ganga Sagar and Dhanush Sagar. The best known Ganga Sagar is situated in front of the Ram Temple.
Hundreds and thousands of devotees and pilgrims from Nepal and India visit Janakpur during Ram Nawami, the birthday of Ram which lies in the month of Chaitra (April) and Vivah Panchami, the day of matrimony of Ram and Sita, in the month of Mangsir (December).
Access: Janakpur is linked by highway with all the major towns and cities of Nepal. There are also regular flights linking Janakpur with Kathmandu.
Located 18 km to the northeast of Janakpur, Dhanushadham’s significance dates back to the time of Lord Ram and Sita. According to the Hindu epic Ramayana, Lord Ram had broken the divine bow of Lord Shiva into three pieces at Rangabhoomi of Janakpurdham to win the hand of Sita in marriage. Of the three pieces, one had fallen at Dhanushadham. During the month of Magh (January/February), hundreds of thousands of devotees from different parts of Nepal and India throng the Dhanusha Temple to worship the fossilized bow fragment.
Access: Dhanushadham is two hours’ drive from Janakpurdham.
Jaleshwar Mahadev, Mahottari
Jaleshwar is a town that lies 18 km south of Janakpur near the Indian border. It is famous for the Shiva temple known as Jaleshwar Mahadev. The Shiva lingam is situated about 20 feet below the surface of the temple and is reached by a narrow stone stairway. Most of the time it lies immersed in water, hence the name Jaleshwar, which literally means Lord of the Water. There are two large ponds on either side of the temple, and the seepage of water from these ponds could be the reason why the Shiva lingam always remains immersed in water. There is a big fair on Shivaratri when a large number of devotees throng the Shiva temple.
Access: Jaleshwar is about two hours’ drive from Janakpur along a highway.
Gadhi Mai Shrine, Bara
The Gadhi Mai Shrine, situated in the middle of a forest in Bara district in southern Terai, sees the largest animal sacrifice once every three years in the month of Mangsir (December). Thousands of goats, buffaloes and birds are sacrificed to the goddess by devotees from Nepal and India on this occasion. Hundreds and thousands of pilgrims and devotees take part in the grand mela.
Access: Gadhi Mai is situated near Bariyarpur Bazaar, 11 km east of Kalaiya, the headquarters of Bara district. The shrine is accessible by road (surface transport) from Birgunj.
Chandeshwari, Kavre District
It is one of well known Shaktipeeths in Nepal and is situated east of Kathmandu valley. There is a three storied pagoda style temple dedicated to goddess Chandreshwari. There is a red sandalwood forest near the temple. There is a festival at the temple during Baisakh Purnima when a young girl known as Kumari is taken around the town on a chariot.
Access: It is situated near Banepa on the Arniko Highway connecting Kathmandu with the Chinese border. There are buses leaving Kathmandu every fifteen minutes from Old Bus Park.
Bhairabi, Nuwakot District
It is situated in a palace complex constructed during Malla period and renovated during Shah period. It contains images of Asthamatrika. There is a big fair in the Nepali month of Chaitra at this temple.
Access: It is situated near Trisuli which is connected by bus from Kathmandu.
Risheshwar Mahadeb, Makwanpur District
Access: There are buses from Kathmandu and Hetauda that travel along Tribhuwan Rajpath that pass through Daman which also has a view tower for panaromic views of the Himalayan ranges.