Pilgrimage Sites in Nepal

Nepal has several ancient pilgrimage sites. Each temple is attached to a legend or belief that glorifies the miraculous powers of its deity. Kathmandu Valley is home to the famous Pashupatinath Temple, Swayambhu Stupa and several other famous temples. Hundreds of famous temples are located in and around the Kathmandu Valley. Some well-known pilgrimage sites are: Baraha Chhetra, Halesi Mahadev, Janakpur, Pathibhara, Tengboche in East Nepal; Manokamana, Gorkha, Lumbini, Muktinath, Gosainkunda, Tansen, Kathmandu Valley in Central Nepal; and Swargadwari, Khaptad Ashram in West Nepal. Pashupatinath, Swoyambhunath, and Boudhanath are the sites that are also listed in the UNESCO Heritage Sites.

Nepal is also the Gateway to Kailash Mansarovar, the mythical abode of Lord Shiva. Devotees from various parts of Nepal and India throng the temples during special festivals. Even though weak infrastructure renders some places hard to reach, efforts are being made on national level to develop and promote some popular sites. Pilgrimage sites of Nepal like Muktinath and Gosainkunda make popular trekking destinations. Tours to these sites are encouraged for the novelty they provide in terms of nature and culture. Pashupatinath, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is the holiest Hindu destination in Nepal.
Swoyambhunath is believed to have been established more than 2,500 years ago. Janaki Temple dedicated to Janaki (Sita in Ramayana).

Some Important pilgrimage sites:
Barah Chhetra: This Barah Chhetra is located at the convergence of the Saptakoshi and Koka rivers at around 20km away from Dharan the eastern town of Nepal.  It is among the four great Hindu pilgrimages. Here, the Boar-Barah, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu is said to have killed the demon Hiranyakashya. Apart from the main shrine dedicated to Barah, there are many other temples with images of the Barah in Barah-Chhetra. Every year on the first Magh (January), a religious fare takes place here.
Manakamana: The temple of Manakamana, a very popular pilgrimage in Nepal, is a temple of one of the manifestations of the Hindu goddess Bhagawati. Bhagawati is believed to have the power to fulfill wishes. It lies 115km to the west of Kathmandu and additional steep three hour hike from Abu Khaireni of Kathmandu-Gorkha Highway. Cable-cars also take travelers to Manakamana from Kurintar about 105 Km. away from Kathmandu in Prithwi Highway which takes only 10 minutes to be in top.
Janaki Mandir:  In the eastern Terai, Janakpur is one of the oldest and most famous cities of Nepal. Mithila was the capital of the Videha (body less) spiritual Janakas, the rulers who were the embodiment of spiritual attainment. Janaki (Sita) was born to Sivadhwaga Janak and was married to Rama, the King of Ayodhya the legendary hero of the great epic Ramayana. A great centre of learning for scholars in ancient times, Janakpur once had hundreds of sages who contributed substantially to Hindu philosophy, with one of their oldest works being the famous Upanisad Brihadarandyaka written in the form of a dialogue which deals with the gods, the nature of Brahma, the supreme reality and the introduction to the self. Predominantly inhabited by Maithilis, it has its own language, script and a rich artistic tradition and culture. The religious Mithila art is well known in the local and international art world.
 
Janakpur is a city of dozens of holy pools, with a number of ancient sites, some of which have yet to be identified. The really famous object for adoration in Janakpur is the Janaki temple which is some time compared with the Taj Mahal of India. A simple construction to start with, the present structure owes its existence to King Pralapa Singh and his consort who donated hundreds of thousands of silver coins when they were blessed with a child by Sita, enshrined within the temple. Started about 1895, it took a number of years to evolve into its present shape and was completed in 1911. It is constructed in an area of 4,860 sq. feet in a mixed style of Islamic and Rajput Domes the temple is 50 meters high; a three storied structure made entirely of stone and marble. All its 60 rooms are decorated with colored glass, engravings and paintings, with beautiful lattice windows and turrets. Hundreds of pilgrims visit the temple for Vibah Panchami (marriage over 5 days). The town’s major annual festival, when the marriage of Sita and Rama is celebrated with various re-enactments. 

Muktinath: Muktinath is such a pilgrimage site that surely makes you to become enchanted by the sight of the bewildering Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges as you approach the Pokhara Valley by air or surface via Jomsom. The next morning when you discover the sky clear and the mountains in view, you then know you are on your special journey to Muktinath. Once the flight takes off from Pokhara you are flying between the ranges with the river below in the deepest gorge on earth. It is a spectacular sight way beyond your expectations. Just under the Dhaulagiri icefall the riverbed widens, and you get your first glimpse of the stone houses with juniper and firewood stacked on the flat roofs. In no time you are landing on the runway on the banks of the Kali Gandaki River, leaving the Hindu sub-continent behind and entering the world of the Thakalis, Gurungs, Manangis and the Tibetan Khampas.
The people of Jomsom, the Thakali tribe, have been practiced as traders for the past two thousand years trading salt from Tibet for rice and flour from the lowlands, of this trade the people of the upper Kali Gandaki were influenced by the Bon Po doctrine of Tibet as early as the 12th century. A new faith known as Lamaism, which was influenced by Tantric Mahayana Buddhists on the Bon Po, is now more popular in the upper Kali Gandaki region, and its influence can be seen in several village monasteries as well as in the houses. Leaving Jomsom you follow the vastly wide Kali Gandaki River passing traders coming from Tibet and local village people who may have already walked two or three days to come to Jomsom to buy and sell goods. Dressed in traditional Chuba (Tibetan dress) with colorful scarves wrapped around their heads and beautiful turquoise and coral necklaces hanging around their necks they remind you of the Tibet of the past. The way continues on the Rocky River bed until you come to a somewhat smaller river entering the Kali Gandaki from the right. Take this river bed trail to the Bon Po village of Lumpra - seldom visited by tourists. Behind a chorten you will find a path lined with poplar trees leading up to the village. The Gompa sits a little bit away from the village, and the main sight will be many village women doing Kora at all times of the day. There is a trail going straight across the river that then climbs up to high pastures. This will bring you down into the small village of Ekle Bhatti where there are few houses all providing food and lodging.
The Kagbeni trail veers to the left just after the last guest house of Ekle Bhatti- the right trail leads directly to Muktinath. Just a few minutes on the trail on the right you will see a very large Om Mani carved into the boulders and if you look further you will see the iridescent green fields and the walled village and red Gompa of Kagbeni. Behind the Gompa stands the turreted palace and within the walls of the village are very old whitewashed houses inter-twined between small alleys that seem to lead everywhere but nowhere. Kagbeni is one of the palace forts and is constructed like a fortress to ward off spirits and bandits during the bygone trading era. The monastery has been well cared for in the past 570 years, with a collection of rare statues and other rare ritual artifacts, and until the middle of the 18th century housed over 100 monks from five villages, now there are only about 5 monks in residence. Kagbeni is an oasis with apple and apricot- orchards, and barley fields standing against the vast landscape of silver grey river stones and shale cliffs of brown. There are guest houses and good food, and it is a restful place to stay before the steep climb begins to Jharkot and finally Muktinath.
Jharkot is on a prominent spot overlooking the Kali Gandaki, with a crumbling fortress wall the only remaining evidence of an original palace. At the other end of the village there is a beautifully maintained monastery, and also the Jharkot Tibetan Medicine Hospital and school, well worth a visit to see the herbs collected and dried, and a diagnosis from the Tibetan doctor is quite a special experience.
From Jharkot it takes maximum two hours to Muktinath hike which offers 108 fountains, with the sacred temples of Muktinath just below Thorung La in a grove of trees. Every tree is laden with prayer flags, and here you could build your own chorten. Here in the early 19th century the Hindus consecrated a Vishnu temple and named is Muktinath - Lord of Liberation. Against a backdrop of incredible starkness you can sit and stare to the south the snow covered Annapurna range, or to the north the Tibetan plateau.
Gosaikunda: Gosaikunda is a lake which is believed to have been created by Lord Shiva when he thrust his Trishula (trident) into a mountain to extract water so that he could cool his stinging throat after he had swallowed poison. There is a large rock in the center of the lake, which is said to be the remains of a Shiva shrine. People often claim that they see Shiva lying in the water. Devotees gather here in hordes on the full moon night of August to take holy dips in the lake.  It is situated at the altitude of 4380m to the north of Kathmandu on the Langtang trekking trail. The holy lake is a two day long trek from Dhunche, which can be reached through an adventurous 118km mountain road from Kathmandu via Trishuli Bazaar. Small hotels and pilgrim shelters are available here for travelers.