Prayer flags flutter along the wall inside the Muktinath temple compound. Just outside the wall Buddhist monks air their blanket on a bed of jagged rocks. A Sadhu (holy man) of Tibetan origin, with his possessions, a bronze ewer, two hardbound books, makes a wooden bench at the main entrance his temporary home. With his right hand raised, he blesses the passing devotees, as they look at him with curiosity. At other times, he sucks on-what looks like-a chillum and blows smoke against the backdrop of the snow-covered Annapurna mountain range and clear blue sky.
In Muktinath temple, Hindu temple bells and Buddhists prayer flags share the same space. The temple is sacred for both Hindus and Buddhists.
Within Hinduism, it is considered Mukti Khestra, a place of salvation. In the main temple, a golden statue of Lord Vishnu, one of the main deities of Hinduism, stands tall. Tibetan Buddhists call it Chumig Gyatsa, and for them, it is the abode of 21 Taras, female deities, and many Sky Dancers aka Dakinis.
Perched at an elevation of 12200 ft., in Mustang, Nepal, at the foot of Thorong La pass, the giant Himalayan mountains stretched into infinity envelops the temple in every direction.
An idyllic setting for all those seeking peace, serenity and blessings.
Buddist Monastery, Hindu Temple
After negotiation of 80 odd steps, the main entrance emerges to view. At first glance, owing to the gilded roof structure of the main entrance, it looks like a Buddhists monastery, which, in a way is true. It is after crossing the entrance, the Hinduness of the temple becomes apparent with 108 bull shaped water spouts gushing water, icicles in winter- supposedly sacred Pushkarini water-aligned in a row. The belief is, bathing under these 108 taps will rid people of their sins.
River Gandaki and The Town Ranipuwa
River Gandaki, whose origin is at the border of Tibet, flows at the base of the Muktinath. The river is especially famed for Shaligraams, ammonite fossils with spiral markings, usually found in rivers of the Himalayas. They are considered an iconic representation of Lord Vishnu.
Not very far from Muktinath is a town named Ranipuwa, sometimes mistakenly called Muktinath. The whole town buzzes with street stalls selling woollen wear, knick-knacks and most importantly, Shaligraams.
Saligrams found at Muktinath temple
What makes the Muktinath temple exceptional besides the scenic backdrop is that people from two religions with different beliefs, rituals and traditions come together under one temple roof.
Hope and harmony overflow in the air around the temple.
I visited the temple during my Annapurna Circuit trek. However, hiking is not the only way to reach the temple. People could also visit the temple by flying from Kathmandu to Pokhara. Then another 30min flight, perhaps the smallest aircraft you’ll ever fly, from Pokhara to Jomsom Airport. From Jomsom, one can either hike or hire a vehicle to reach Muktinath.
Also, many tours and travels offer good pilgrimage tour packages covering Pashupatinath, Muktinath and other temples in the surrounding.