Kathmandu - Pashupatinath



Pashupatinath is one of the most important Hindu shrines in the world and the oldest one in Nepal. It is a UN World Cultural Heritage Site and draws thousands of pilgrims and tourists. It is located on the banks of the Bagmati River where people bathe to release themselves from the cycle of rebirth. It is also the most renowned cremation sites in the Nepal.

When we arrived there, we could smell burning and in fact, a man from the ticket gate showed us to one of the cremation ghats along the river. He explained that they were cremating the victims of the recent airplane crash. That set the tone of our visit to Pashupatinath. Call me a softy, but the news of the crash the day after our arrival on the day of our cancelled Everest flight, followed us throughout the trip. We read about it and people talked about it every day. So the sight and smell of the bodies burning and the sound of the families wailing was a little too overwhelming for me and there was no way for me to "appreciate" the ritual. The man smiled and said: "you can take pictures!" but I thought it was too disrespectful and we walked away. Be aware that if you refuse a guide, they will come close to insulting you saying that you know nothing about Hinduism and you won't understand. Whether you get a guide or not is totally up to you (he said it would take at least an hour and a half). Just tell them clearly.

The origins of the temple are not clear but the most common belief is that the Lord Shiva hid in the forest along the river in the shape of a deer with his consort Parvati, when the Gods finally found him, they caught him by the horn forcing him to return to his original form. The main pagoda of the Pashupatinath complex is located over where the horn supposedly fell and turned into a four-faced linga (a phallic symbol of Lord Shiva). Many years later, a lost cow kept returning to the same spot and releasing her milk. People began to wonder why the cow returned there every day, and started to dig and discovered the linga.
Since its creation, the temple and it's ground have been expanded, destroyed and rebuilt by several rulers. 

The grounds are massive, and as you enter, someone will offer to be your guide. Whether or not you want a guide depends on your personal preference, your time constraints and interest. However, you should try to see:
It is a square, two-tiered pagoda temple standing 23.6 meters above the ground, with gold and silver doors on each side. Entrance is reserved to Hindus only, but anyone can walk around the outer edge. Inside the temple is the four-faced Linga (Chaturmukha) which is 1m tall. Just inside the temple's Western gate, you can see a bull structure which is representative of fertility.
Don't forget:
- the gold-painted images of guardian deities in the niches on either side of the doors,
- the struts under the roofs are decorated with wooden carvings of the Shiva's family members.
- along the banks of the Bagmati river, you can see both Chadeshrar (an inscribed linga from the 7th century) and the Dharmashila (a stone where sacred oaths are taken)

Just in front of the main pagoda is a cremation ghat, as well as further along the river (to your right as you enter the grounds). Near the cremation ghats are also the bathing ghats.
Bodies are wrapped in orange (the holy color) cloth and decorated with flowers. When the last rites have been carried out, fire is placed in the deceased's mouth by a family member.

These are a shrines containing Lingas built for the deceased in the 17th-18th century. You will see many sages sitting around here, and you can get the best view of Pashupatinath Pagoda and the Bagmati River from here too.

As the legend has it, Shiva came to this forest to meet his consort Parvati. Just as Pashupatinath is where Shiva's Linga is found, Guhyeshwari is where Parvati's Yoni is (I'm assuming you can guess what that means).
- Next to the temple is the Gauri Ghat, the most popular bathing ghat for women.

If you're lucky enough, you might be in time for one of these festivals:

- Maha Shivratri (Lord Shiva's birthday) - usually in February or March.
Ghee lamps light the temple all night and thousands of devotees bathe in the river and numerous sages congregate here.
- Teej Akshaya (One of Lord Vishnu's reincarnation's birthday) - usually in April or May
Thousands of women dressed in red saris bathe in the waters of the Bagmati River in the hopes to have a long and happy marriage
- Raksha Bandhan (celebrates love and duty between siblings) - usually in August- Ekadasi (eleventh day of ever lunar fortnight)
- Sankranti (the sun's movement through the zodiac constellations)
- Grahana (an ecplise)
- Poornima (Full Moon day)

Price: $10 + guide (negotiable)
Hours: 24h
Location: About a 30-minute walk from the airport or Bodnath Stupa, $7 by taxi from Thamel area

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