Prayer flags flutter along the wall inside the Muktinath temple compound. Just outside the wall, Buddhist monks air their blanket by spreading them on a bed of jagged rocks. A Sadhu Baba (holy man) of Tibetan origin, with his possessions, a bronze ewer, two hardbound books next to him, makes a wooden bench at the main entrance, his temporary home. Raising his right hand, he blesses the passing devotees, as they look at him with great 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.
After a negotiation of 80 odd steps, the main entrance emerges to view. At first glance, owing to the gilded roof structure of the main entrance, one gets an impression of 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 off their sins.
River Gandaki, whose source is at the border with 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 woolen 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. And from Pokhara another 30min flight, perhaps the smallest aircraft you’ll ever fly, 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 Pasupatinath, Muktinath and other temples.