With snowcap mountain on the background, the beautifully adorned 3-tiered temple of pagoda style may give impression of a complete Hindu shrine. But, the Buddhist prayer flags fluttering with one side attached to strings that embroider the shrine will make you reconsider your last opinion. Yes, this is Muktinath temple – the pilgrimage for the Hindus as well as a sacred place of the Buddhists. The holy abode situated at an altitude of 3,710 meters, the base of Thorang-la Pass. Which is one of the favorite places of high altitude trekkers, represents a perfect paradigm of centuries-old understanding between the two religions.
The main temple houses the statue of lord Vishnu which is also revered as Aalokitesvara – the deity of compassion by the Buddhists. Apart from the main temple there is a remarkable coexistence of other Hindu temples (Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesha) and many prayer wheels and Chortens (stupas) in a common religious platform.
The history of Muktinath temple dates back to around 15th year from the start of 19th century when a queen of Nepal initiated the construction of the temple. Muktikshetra, the site of Muktinath, is considered by Hindus to be the place of salvation as is its literal meaning in Sanaskrit. According to a legend, the Hindu god of creation Brahma made an offering by lighting fire on water. Surprisingly, the phenomenon attesting this Hindu legend –flame of natural gas that is believed to be burning from the eternity can be witnessed inside a Buddhist monastery, namely Meber Lakhag Gompa. There are nunneries to the left of the temple. There is also a Shiva temple surrounded by Vishnu, Ram and Ganesh temples which is the only all-Hindu shrine of the site.
The monastery at the entry of the complex is Sangdo Gompa which was once a residence of monks and who, as told by the villagers, performed Lama Dance during Lhosar. The complex apart from seating the religiously important temples and stupas is known for being the site of spiritual practice by Hindu as well as Buddhist yogis in the past. Guru Rinpoche or Padmasabhava who is credited for bringing Buddhism to Tibet had meditated here on his way to Tibet whose footprints are still preserved in the site. Similarly, an 18th century Indian yogi Swaminarayan had undergone a severe penance whose monument rests at one of the spots.
Muktinath Temple is the symbol of Salvation.
The yard of Muktikshetra consists of 108 water spouts, each with the shape of a boar-head, from where ice-cold water emanate. These are believed of delivering salvation if shower is taken from each. The devotees baring themselves in such a cold air and running quickly bathing from one faucet to the other with the chilling water is fun to observe. The Tibetan identify Muktinath as Chuming Gyatsa who probably coined the title after those water spouts (Chuming Gyatsa = 100 waters in Tibetan). A large number of religious visitors throng at Muktinath during the Poornima (full moon) of August-September, which is an auspicious day for the Hindus.
For those interested in tribal festivals with horse-race, the propitious time to visit is during Yartung festival which is marked by open gambling (still illegal in Nepal ), horse-race , joviality, alcohol and much more. For the rest, any time between April-May or October-November is the best. The recently constructed handsome gate, shops run by the nuns, poplar trees at the altitude of more than a dozen of thousand feet, a peculiar Chorten with strange sounds said to heal ear diseases are also the attractions of Muktinath worth mentioning.
The accessibility to Muktinath temple has become much better with the construction of road, though many trekkers consider that the excavation has rather hampered the long-preserved and exotic significance of that route. However, you have plenty of options to reach Muktinath – either by trekking, flight to Johmsom and a short trek or directly via jeep ride. Whatever mode you opt, you can make your Nepal stay memorable simply by paying a visit to the Muktinath – a pilgrimage located at the spectacular Himalayan setting, a focal point of the Annapurna trek, an ideal conflation of Buddhism and Hinduism and much more.