Muktinath

A Symbiotic Religious Site of the Hindus & the Buddhists

Introduction:
Muktinath is situated at an altitude of 3710m. at the base of Kathang Kang (Thorung Peak), in Baarah Gaun (lit. twelve villages) region in Mustang district. It is a gateway to Mustang from Manang on the famous Annapurna Circuit Trek route. Named after the highly revered Muktinath shrine, the valley is one of the religious place in Nepal for both Hindu and Buddhist. Hindus call it Muktichhetra (lit. the salvation region). Many Shaligrams (Ammonite) found here are considered by the Hindu as the incarnation of Lord Bishnu and worship them (According to Hindu myth,Lord Bishnu turned into the Shaligram because of Brinda’s curse, wife of Jhalandhar). Similarly Buddhist call this valley Chuming Gyatsa (lit. the place of 108 waterspouts) It is believed that Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava), the scholar and founder of Tibetan Buddhism once meditated and gained the lifetime achievement of spiritual enlightenment, while on his way to Tibet in the 12th century. The valley has seven famous historic villages: Putak, Jhong, Chhyonkhar, Purang, Jharkot, and Khinga. Ranipauwa(lit. queen's pilgrim hostel, named after Queen Subarna Prabha Devi) is a new settlement founded by the people of Purang. Most of the hotels are located here. The main ethnic group of the valley is Bhotias (posses last name Thakuri and Gurung) of Tibetan origin.

Access:

  • From Beshishhar via Thorung La (5,416m): 8 to 11 days walk
  • From Beni or Nayapul - Birethanti: 5 to 8 days walk
  • From Jomsom: about 6 hours walk

Key attractions:

  • Muktinath Temple Complex:
  1. Muktinath Temple:
    The Pagoda style Muktinath temple is the symbol of religious symbiosis between Hindu and Buddhist. Hindu believes that lord Bishnu got salvation from the curse of Brinda here. Therefore he is worshipped as Muktinath (lit. the lord of salvation). Hindu devotees take bath under chilled water of 108 waterspouts located behind the temple. It is also believed that the deity was originated from Jumla, far Western Nepal. On the other hand, Buddhist worship Bishnu as Avalokiteshvara (Chingresig). The temple depicts the metal statues of lord Bishnu, goddess Laxmi, Saraswati& Janaki, Garuda, Lava-Kusha and Sapta Rishis.
  2. Mharme Lha Khang Gompa:
    This monastery is situated north of Muktinath temple. Mharme Lha Khang translates as thousand holy lamps. As this monastery is dedicated to Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava), his huge clay image is placed at centre of altar along with the Bon deities: red Trakpo at the right side and blue Singe Doma at the left side. Since Singe Doma is lion headed deity, Hindu worships as Narsinha and named the monastery Narsingh Gompa. It is also believed that it is  Ne Chog Khandoling (lit. holy meditation spot) of Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava) where he got enlightenment during his meditation. The presence of Bon deities in this monastery indicate that present day Muktichhetra used to be Bon pilgrimage site in early days.
  3. Dhola Mebar Gompa:This is monastery of miraculous flame. The main deity of the monastery is Chingresig under which natural gas is continuously burning. Although there are three kinds of flame: "Sale Mebar" (holy flame from soil), "Dhola Mebar" (holy flame from rock) and "Kla Mebar" (holy flame from water), currently only two flames are burning. Hindu believes that this miracle of fire lighting was an offering made by Brahma himself and worship it as Jwala Mai (lit. goddess of fire). The monastery is situated south of the Muktinath temple.
  4. Gompa Samba: Gompa Samba means "new monastery". It is believed that founder of this monastery Syandol Lama came from Tibet. Originally this monastery was a big hostel for lamas that later collapsed and people of Khinga and Jharkot jointly reconstructed it. The main deities of this monastery are Sakyamuni, Chingresig & Guru Rimpoche. The monastery is situated at the left from the main entrance gate of Muktinath temple complex.

Anila (Buddhist nuns) of Khinga and Jharkot take care of the cultural heritage inside Muktinath temple complex. Photography & filming of the deities inside any monasteries and temple is strictly prohibited.

  • Tharwa Chyoling Nunnery: 
    It takes about 1 hour from Ranipawa via Chhyonkhar and 1 and 1/2 hours from Jharkot to reach this Monastery. Since this monastery is situated in deep valley, locals call it the Gompa Dhong Dhong. The original name is Tharwa Chyoling. Tharwa means salvation and Chyoling means area of religion. Originally it was established by a native person Takla Thakuri which got ruined by the earthquake. Present monastery is the renovated form of 40-50 years old monastery. Syangpa Rimpoche, a re-incarnated lama renovated it 5-6 years ago.
  • Gargen Chyoling Nunnery  (Ghar Gompa):
    This monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in the valley. Anila from Chhyonkhar, Purang, Jhong and Putak villages study and live here. Once more than 160 nuns used to live and used to stay with their long braided hair to become Dubral, a higher position of nuns. The monastery was renovated by two monks of Luri Gompa, Upper Mustang about 26 years ago. Lama Chyongi Rimpoche of Ngesdon Osoling Monastery of Swayambu, Kathmandu built the hostel for Anila. Luri Gompa and Taglung Gompa are the only two monasteries in Mustang, which are alike to this monastery.

Other attractions:

Ruined settlement called Phudzeling is found opposite of Khinga. Similarly ruined caves called Myabrak are located opposite of Jharkot. These ruined settlements and caves stand as evidence to ancient civilization of the Muktinath valley. This is site of very interesting archeological excavation, where some of the most important findings for Mustang's archeology have been made. Some of the findings are placed in Mustang Eco Museum in Puthang, Jomsom airport (Five minutes walk south from Jomsom airport). The valley provides breathtaking views of Yak Kawa (6,482m.), Thorung Peak (6,488m.), Mt. Nilgiri (7,060m.), Tilicho Peak (7,139m.), Mt. Dhaulagiri (8,167m.), and Tukche Peak (5,877m.).

Festivals/Events:
Many interesting festivals take place in the valley at different times of year. Yartung, perhaps the most famed festival of the valley, is celebrated during August/September. This is the festival of harvest and horserace taking place in Ranipauwa. Devotees from surrounding villages and Manang gather here during the festival. Other important festivals are Lhosar (New Year), Dhajyang/Toranla (Festival of Archery), Dhekyap, Bakchhap (festival of Lama Dance), Fangyal (festival of taking rest) etc. Villagers perform a Syabro Dance (local dance)in their typical traditional wear during most of the festivals.

Side trips:

  • Chhyonkhar Village:
    Chhyonkhar translates as "the cycle of religion" in Tibetan language. It is believed that Chhyonkhar village was founded by a Tantrik monk of Tibet named Chabgyepa Dhorje Singe about 209 years ago. One of  monk generations founded Chhyonkhar Gompa where Tantrik teaching, Jyanwal Sinje, similar to Lubra Gompa is taught here.Several worshipping such as: Yangdak, Narak and Thorim take place during different times of year. Monks perform Dhekep, a masked dance on 12th month of Tibetan calendar. This village has unique type of festival called Yul Yartung, where horse riding take place. It is about half an hour from Ranipauwa.
  • Jhong Village:
    The village is ancient capital of the region and makes an interesting side trip from Ranipauwa and Jharkot. The Tibetan culture and tradition is still intact. Jhong translates as "fort" in Tibetan language. Jhong Chode Shedup Choephel Ling Gompa, one of the important and largest Shakya-Pa sect monasteries in the Muktinath valley, is situated on ruins of the forts. The fort is called Rabgyal Tse (lit. the peak of supreme victory) found around 14th century by Pondrung Throgyal, the great successor of Ame-Pal. In the past the chief used to control six villages of Muktinath valley from this fort. This ancient monastery was established in 16th century by Lo-Khenchen Sonam Lhundup, one of the best disciple of Ngorchen Kunga Sangpo shelters monks of Jhong, Putak and Chhyonkhar villages, as it is main monastery of these three villages. The monastery depicts images of Shakyamuni (historical Buddha) and other deities. It has beautiful wall paintings and woodworks. Photography and filming inside the monastery is strictly prohibited. Visitors have to pay certain fee to enter the monastery.
  • Jharkot Village:
    It is an impressive fortress like village with its picturesque Kani (huge Chhorten) and large Shakya-Pa sect monastery. The monastery is situated close to the ruins ofthe forts in Jharkot. The Tibetan name of the monastery is Ngorp. It is believed that this monastery was founded during regime of King Chopse. Four monks regularly stay there and perform various worshipping during different times of year. It is a main monastery of Jharkot, Purang and Khinga people. Visitors have to pay certain fee to enter the monastery.
  • Lubra Village:
    The village is about three hours walk directly from Ranipauwa avoiding Kagbeni - Eklebhatti route. It is about two hours walk from Jomsom along Panda Khola. Both routes remain closed from June to August because of flood in Panda Khola. Founded around 1200 A.D., this is the only village in Mustang, where Bon (pre-Buddhist) religion is still practiced. There is a Bonpo monastery named Lubra Gompa at centre of the village. It was founded by Lubragpa, a great scholar of Bon religion in the 11th century.  It depicts idol of Walsa and other Bon deities and Buddha along with wallpaintings and fine woodwork.