The Himalayan kingdom of Nepal is not only known for magnificent vistas of Muktinathsoaring summits, but also for its incomparable blend of high mountains and rich cultures. Nepal has always been known as “a land of piety” and “the dwelling of the Gods” and many aspects of primordial history, religion, culture and tradition as well as legends and myths emanate from the awesome Himalayas . Nepal also harbors countless holy shrines, temples, monasteries and sacred lakes in the wilderness and remote parts of the country. One such example of a small but extremely sacred places for both Hindus and Buddhists is the Muktinath temple.
Muktinath-Chumig Gyatsa is situated about 18 kilometers Northeast of Jomsom in the Mustang district, at an altitude of about 3749 meters above sea level. The local name for Muktinath is Chumig Gyatsa (Hundred waters). Both Hindus and Buddhists have visited Muktinath-Chumig Gyatsa for hundreds of years and this place reflects a unique blend of Hinduism and Buddhism.
The Muktinath temple was consecrated in 1815 A.D. by Queen Subarna Prabha, the wife of Rana Bahadur Shah (1775-1806), King of Nepal, after she had a dream. This temple is built in a Tibetan pagoda style and contains huge brass idols of Lord Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma and Kali. Muktinath temple is dedicated to the Lord of salvation (Muktinath) Lord Vishnu or Chenrezig, as Buddhists call him.
Not only are these details present here but the four basic elements- water, fire, earth and air-also converge at Muktinath. Nearby is another temple where water gushes out of a rock and this water is considered even more holy. There is also a Buddhist gompa (monastry) in the in the eastern corner of Muktinath dedicated to “Jwala Mal” (Goddess of fire) also known as the Salamebar Dolamebar Gompa. In this place, shielded by curtains, are the outlets for the natural gas that flows from the rocks and feeds the eternal burning flame. Some Hindus also believe the flame to be Agni the fire God.
There are other two temples nearby. They are the Shiva-Parbati temple, and a Narsingha Gompa where rituals are performed according to both Hindu and Buddhist customs. Here the two religions coexist together in a two-storey structure, the lower storey is the Gompa while the upper storey is the temple. At the back of the main temple one can also find 108 water spouts (Chumig Gyatsa), fashioned in the shape of boars’ heads, one of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. The water from the spouts is considered to be holy water, which is believed to wash away negative deed or karmas, the results of one’s past negative actions. This water is channeled from a stream running above the temple.
For Hindus, beside the holy water, the importance of the Muktinath area is in the belief that the incarnation of Lord Vishnu is in the form of ammonite fossils (Shaligram). Shaligram is found in the waters of the Kaligandaki river, just a few hours walk from Muktinath. Shaligrams are a symbol that has contributed to the glory and the sanctity of the sublime Himalayas . On Hindu festivals like Janai Purnima and Ram Nawami, devotees gather here to pay their homage to Muktinath. The traditional “Pujaris” (caretakers) of Muktinath are the Tibetan Buddhist nuns with the head of the Gye Lhaki Dung as their abbot. The current abbot of Chumig Gyatsa is Muktinath Lama Wangyal.
Muktinath geographically speaking is a high valley located on the Mustang Bhote region. As it is situated in the rain shadow area of the Greater Himalayas and the climate and the landscape here are similar to those of the Tibetan Plateau. The views from Muktinath are enchanting as golden rays of the rising and setting sun are reflected by the Nilgiri and Dhaulagiri ranges. The entire panorama is filled with a golden, glittering light which forms a dramatic contrast with the barren and dry mountains of the surrounding Kali Gandaki Valley . The Kali Gandaki is also called Thak Khola, form the ethic group Thakalis, the main inhabitants of this area.
Muktinath actually lies along the route of the Annapurna circuit trek. The winding trail to Muktinath passes through magnificent forests of oak and rhododendron that line the Southern foothills of the trail. In January and February these areas may be covered in snow but during March and April there will be a blaze of red rhododendron flowers here. This is an easy trek that can be taken at any time of the year except during the monsoons (July-August). The altitudes of this trek varies between about 915m at Pokhara to approx. 3750 at Muktinath. Going up and down will test the best pair of knees. The best way is, slowly!
For those who are not inclined to slogging it on foot, taking a flight to Jomsom from either Kathmandu or Pokhara is the alternative. From Jomsom, you have to take the trail by foot. Although Muktinath is only 18 kilometers from Jomsom, the ascent is quite steep in some parts so it may take a full day to get there. Visitors can also choose to ride on a pony instead from Jomsom. There are also plenty of good lodges only a few hundred meters away from Muktinath and food and board around this area is purely local food of Jomsom.
Muktinath is one of the five most important pilgrimage sites for Hindus. It is also home to many ethic Tibetan and Buddhists who come here to worship the Jwala Mai (goddess of fire) which miraculously burns in a stream of water. A trip to Muktinath is often called as a 2 in 1 trip. For western tourists, a trip to Muktinath not only provides a trek of a lifetime amidst the barren valley and lofty Himalayan Ranges , but also gives them an opportunity to see the homogeneity of Hinduism and Bhuddhists in the same place. For Hindus and Buddhists, Muktinath has more value as a sacred holy pilgrimage site. A trek with a belief that one will attain the ultimate nirvana in Muktinath-Lord of Salvation, is undoubtedly the most “divine-trek” for all the people.