Muktinath Temple, in the Himalayas of Nepal, is one of the great pilgrimage sites for both Hindus and Buddhists from all over the world. The temple is the epitome of the spiritual and emotional cleansing site for the devotees of Muktinath.
This holy temple stands on the lap of the remote Muktinath Valley at an elevation of 3,710 meters above sea level. It lies in the Mustang district of Nepal and at the base of Thorung La Pass (a famous part of the Annapurna Circuit Trail).
This sacred temple is one of 108 Divya Desam. Vaishnav people (followers of Vishnu in Hinduism) highly respect this holy place. Generally, there are eight holy sites knowns as Swayam Vyakta or Divya Kshetra of Lord Vishnu. Muktinath is one of them and others are Tirupati, Badrinath, Srirangam, Naimisharanya, Srimushnam, Totadri, and Pushkar.
The term Muktinath is derived from the Sanskrit word “Mukti” and “Nath” where Mukti refers to “Salvation or Moksha” while Nath stands for “God”. Hence, it holds great significance for all spiritual people in South Asian countries.
There is a belief that after completing the pilgrimage of four special religious sites, Chardham Yatra of India, the pilgrims must visit Muktinath Temple once.
Similarly, Buddhists call Muktinath “Chumig Gyatsa” (place of 108 waterspouts). The main ethnic group of Muktinath Valley is Bhotias. Moreover, you’ll witness Tibetan borderland culture in medieval villages. The people here dress in Tibetan clothing and speak a language close to Tibetan.
Despite it lies in one of the remote regions in Nepal, thousands of pilgrims from different corners of the world visit this place. Likewise, it stands at a higher elevation, and the fascinating mountain scenery and surrounding landscapes attract thousands of trekkers.
This temple is open throughout the year, but during Ram Navami, Vijayadashami, and Rishi Tarpani thousands of pilgrims visit here to celebrate the festival.
The main temple of Muktinath is a pagoda-style dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Whereas, Buddhists worship Vishnu as Avalokiteshvara. The temple consists of a metal statue of Lord Vishnu, Goddess Lakshmi, Saraswati, Janaki, Garuda, Lava-Kush, and Sapta Rishis.
Furthermore, with this remarkable main temple, there are other many prayer wheels and Chortens (Stupas).
It is a religious place that holds the faith of two different religions in the same shrine. It is a commonplace of worship for both the Buddhist and Hindu communities. Thus, this makes the Muktinath temple exceptional as people from two religions with different beliefs and rituals come together under one roof.
Muktinath Valley is a marvelous place to wander around. It has seven historic villages; Putak, Jhong, Chhyonkhar, Purang, Jharkot, and Khinga. There is also a religious belief, it is only one place on the planet, where you can see all the five major elements; fire, sky, water, air, and earth in one place.
History of Muktinath Temple
According to Hindu Legend
Muktinath is one of the most ancient temples of Lord Vishnu. According to Hindu stories, there was a huge battle between Lord Shiva and Jalandhar (powerful king of Asuras). Jalandhar was evil-minded, he crossed the limit and attack Kailash to achieve Parvati (wife of Lord Shiva).
Then Jalandhar used his power and change himself to duplicate Shiva. Since Parvati has spiritual power she easily notices reality and quickly called Shiva for help. Soon after the battle started between them, but he (Jalandhar) was quite safe because of her wife’s faithfulness.
Later other gods decide to use a little trick to destroy a massive evil. In this, Lord Vishnu utilizes his power and turns into a duplicate of Jalandhar, and presents himself to Vrinda. She (Vrinda) failed to notice and behaved like her husband. After this, she loses her devotion, and Lord Shiva slaughters Jalandhar.
At last, Vrinda learns the truth and she curses Lord Vishnu to spend the rest of his life as Shila (stone). Thus, after that Lord Vishnu takes birth as Shaligram in the Muktinath area. After giving a curse, Vrinda destroys herself and from her ashes, Tulsi Plant was born.
Lord Vishnu respects and loves Vrinda, as he was really impressed by her faithfulness. Therefore, while worshiping the Shaligram it is necessary to have a Tulsi leaf.
Muktinath has many stories. Another is according to Swasthani Brata, after the death of Sati (the first wife of Lord Shiva), Lord Shiva carried her body and wandered places. The places where her body parts fell are famously known as the Shakti Peetha. Muktinath is one of them. There is a belief that Sati’s mouth (Mukh) was fallen here in Muktinath and hence it was honored with the name “Muktinath.”
According to Buddhism Legend
In the Buddhist community, Muktinath Temple is widely popular as Chumming Gyatsa. The meaning of Chumming Gyatsa in Tibetan is “Hundred-Water”. Among the twenty-four prominent Tantric places, Chumming Gyatsa is one of them. It is also the home of 21 Taras (Starts), the Dakinis goddesses (Sky Dancers).
There is a strong belief, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, Guru Rinpoche- aka Padmasambhava, mediated here on the way to Tibet from India.
Also, nearby Muktinath Temple, there is a famous lake known as “Damodar Kunda.” It is the main source of the Kali Gandaki River and Saligram. Also, it is the starting point of Muktishetra and is related to Guru Rinpoche. In the Tibetan language, Damodar Kunda is also called “Men-Chu.”
Major Attraction of Muktinath Temple
There are two holy water ponds in front of Muktinath Temple; Laxmi Kunda and Saraswati Kunda. There is a strong belief, taking a bath in these ponds washed all the “negative karma.”
Behind the Muktinath Temple, there are 108 water spouts in the shape of a bullhead and arranged in a semicircle with a gap of a foot between them. The water from the Kali Gandaki River flows through the mouths of these 108 bull faces.
According to Hindu Astrology, it is the product of 12 Zodiacs and 9 Planets. Thus, there is a belief that bathing from all these 108 scared taps washes away all our sins and keeps us healthy and prosperous.
However, to take a holy bath here, the individual requires a burning desire as the water is ice cold. Hindu devotees take baths under the chilled water of 108 waterspouts believing that it brings them salvation.
It is a sacred place for both Hindu and Buddhist followers. The interesting part of visiting the temple is to see how unity is being promoted among the different religions of people.
Every year thousands of devotees visit Muktinath temple for worship in the hope to receive salvation from the cycle of birth or rebirth.
Jwala Mai Temple
The Jwala Mai Temple is popularly known as the “temple of the eternal flame.” It lies inside the Tibetan-style Dhola Mebar Gompa and stands on the east of the main Muktinath temple. It is built above an underground water stream.
Inside the temple, a small natural gas is continuously produced. This temple has a spring and three eternal flames; a holy flame from the soil, rock, and water fed by natural gas. Hindu follower believes that Lord Brahma made this miracle of fire.
Likewise in the Gompa, there is a small hidden burning flame on the floor just behind the grid. You should kneel down on the floor to see the small blue flame that has been burning here for thousands of years ago. If you listen carefully, you would also hear the gurgle of water too.
Furthermore, inside the Dhola Mebar Gompa, there are the main statues of Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara, and Vajrapani. And just below the statues, there is an eternal holy flame.
Another attraction of Muktinath Temple is Swaminarayan. The Swaminarayan sect is a part of Hindu followers and highly values this Muktinath Kshetra (Place of Salvation). Lord Shri Swaminarayan is Satguru (master) of Sabij yoga. At the end of the 18th century, after the death of his parents, he left his home at the age of 11.
Later, he performed difficult penance for two and a half months and achieved a high degree of enlightenment in Nishkam Vrat at Muktinath. In 2003 AD, his followers built a new barrier around the Muktinath temple. Also, his memorial sculpture was elevated at Muktinath Kshetra.
Shaligram (Shila) is a fossilized shell stone. In Hinduism, Shaligrams are the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. According to Hindu Myths, Lord Vishnu turned into Shaligram after he was cursed by Vrinda, the wife of Jalandhar.
The Hindu devotees mostly Vaishnav groups worship as a symbol of Lord Vishnu worldwide. Kali Gandaki river in Nepal is the main source of Shaligram, thus it is considered very sacred. There are various types of Shaligrams according to different religious scripts.
There are different characters including chakra in the form of Lord Vishnu. Shaligrams typically look like black-colored, spherical ammonite fossils with chakra or without it or might contain golden colors.
Despite being a Buddhist monastery, Hindus equally worship the deity of this Gompa as the Narasimha avatar of Lord Vishnu. Nar means “Human” and Singha denotes “Lion” i.e., Humanoid Lion. So, this monastery is well-known as Narsing Monastery.
However, local Buddhist people call it the temple of 1,000 lamps (Mharme Lha Khang Gompa). This monastery has a large clay statue of Padmasambhava and his mate Tibetan Tantric Deity known as Dag Po on the right-hand side and Seng Dong on the left-hand side.
How to reach Muktinath Temple
The Muktinath temple lies in the lap of snow-capped mountains at the base of Thorong-La mountain pass in the Mustang District of Nepal. This temple also lies in one of the famous trekking routes of the Annapurna circuit. With good road conditions, the accessibility to Muktinath Temple becomes much easier.
There are different ways to go to Muktinath Temple from Kathmandu and Pokhara;
Muktinath Tour By Helicopter
If you are traveling with limited time then you can opt for Muktinath Tour By Helicopter. It will extremely reduce your valuable time. The government-authorized travel or trekking companies will arrange helicopters.
From Kathmandu, it takes approximately one and a half hours to reach Ranipauwa, a place nearby Muktinath Temple. From that place, you’ve to walk for 30 min to reach the main Muktinath temple area.
Likewise, Kathmandu to Muktinath helicopter fare is about 1400 USD per person. The price will become less if you take a helicopter ride from Pokhara to Ranipauwa. Also, the price may fluctuate depending on the season. Besides, if you’re traveling in a group, the price drops significantly.
Muktinath Tour By Road
Pokhara is the main starting point of the Muktinath tour. From Pokhara, you’ve to drive around 100 km to Beni (headquarters of Myagdi District, Nepal). It will take approx. two and a half-hour by bus to reach Beni.
Further, it’ll take 7-8 hrs to complete a journey from Beni to Jomsom. The next day, early in the morning you’ll drive towards Ranipauwa and hike to Muktinath Temple. Within two hours you’ll reach Jomsom from Muktinath valley. The Jeep fare from Pokhara to Jomsom is about NRS. 700 per person.
Note: Since the Beni bus park is a little unmanaged, it may get difficult to purchase the ticket on the spot. You may have to wait longer or you must know some local people related to transportation. So, it’s wise to reserve in advance.
Muktinath Tour by Flight plus Vehicles (Jeep)
This one is the most convenient option for those who’re limited on time and money as well. At first, you’ll take a scenic flight from Pokhara to Jomsom which will take 15-20 minutes via domestic airways.
After landing at the airport, you can catch vehicles (jeep or bus) to Ranipauwa, a nearby Muktinath area. It’ll take around 1.5 hours to reach Ranipauwa and again walk 30 minutes to get to the temple premises.
Also, those who are unable to walk can hire a horse or motorcycle from Ranipauwa for Muktinath Darshan. Isn’t it really cool?
Visitors named these bikes “Mundrae Yatayat”. Actually, physically disabled people, older or overweight can utilize these facilities. Despite this, many people prefer it for fun.
Note: There is a weight restriction on this flight journey. On hand carry, you can take only 5 kg, and in baggage 10 kg. Because of unfavorable weather conditions, flight cancellation and delay is normal. So you need to be mentally prepared, for all these flaws as the climate in the mountain region is totally unpredictable.
Muktinath Tour by Trek Route
As I already mentioned, Muktinath rests on the lap of the Himalayas. So, trekking enthusiasts can follow the Muktinath trekking trail. First, you’ve to drive from Kathmandu to Pokhara and drive to Nayapul. The trek starts from Nayapul, Tikhedhunga, and goes through Ghorepani, Tatopani, Ghasa, Marpha, Kagbeni, and Muktinath. You’ve to walk for an average of 6-7 hours per day.
Jomsom Muktinath Trek is one of the best short and sweet trekking of the Mustang region in Nepal. From novice trekkers to experience trekkers prefers this trek. Nonetheless, whatever mode you opt for you can make Muktinath Tour a memorable trip.