By Ram Bahadur Thapa
Baglung, May 19 (RSS): Indian tourists make up the bulk portion of the visitors arriving in Mustang’s famed pilgrimage site of Muktinath.
A high number of Indians come to Nepal to take a tour of Muktinath with belief that paying homage at the temple fulfills one’s wishes. It is widely believed that worshipping the Muktinath liberates one’s soul from the circle of life and death.
From January this year to the end of April, 8,556 Indian tourists have arrived in Muktinath. The number is more than half the total number of visitors to Muktinath in the period. In the last five months 16,984 foreign tourists have visited Muktinath.
According to data provided by Jomsom – based Information Centre of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), 9,105 foreigners visited Muktinath in April month alone among which Indian tourists were counted at 4,537. ACAP’s data shows that the number of Indian tourists visiting Muktinath temple has been increasing every year.
In 2017, Indian tourists entering Muktinath were counted at 24,888. In 2015, when Nepal was struck by a massive earthquake, only 8,459 Indian tourists visited Muktinath.
ACAP Office Chief, Tulasi Prasad Dahal, said Indian tourists’ number is only second to the number of Nepal’s domestic tourists visiting Muktinath. Dahal added that majority of the Indian tourists come for pilgrimage to the famed temple. “Hundreds of Indians enter Mustang during the tourist season,” he added.
Muktinath’s hotel entrepreneur, Suraj Gurung, says the tourists mainly visit the Muktinath during two prime seasons of the year. Tourists mainly flock the temple site during the period between mid September to mid November and from mid April to mid June. On other occasions, visitors to the temple are not as high as during the prime seasons.
Muktinath is located along one of the most famous trek routes in the world, the ‘Annapurna Circuit’. Trekkers heading towards the Thorang La Pass also go through the temple’s vicinity and often they visit to pay homage at one of the most secluded temple sites.
The temple is not just for Hindu pilgrims but for Buddhist pilgrims as well. It is one of many examples of temples that reflect the blend of Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal. Hindus view Muktinath as the ‘Muktichetra’ or ‘the region of liberation’ while Buddhists call it ‘Chuming Gyasta’ meaning ‘100 waters’ in Tibetan language. Muktinath, which is also famous as ‘Shaligram God’, is located at an altitude of 3,800 metres above sea level.
The holy Shaligram, a fossilized shell only found in the Kaligandaki river that flows through the Mukti region, is regarded as an incarnation of Hindu God Vishnu. Temple’s Priest, Krishna Prasad Subedi, said many come to the temple with wishes while many others come with belief of liberating their ancestors.