Muktinath is a highly revered site of pilgrimage for Hindus and Buddhists alike and situated in the Muktinath Valley at an altitude of 3710 metres. The place is located just at the foot of the Thorongla Pass in Mustang District of Nepal. This sacred site is not far from the village of Ranipauwa, which itself is sometimes mistaken as Muktinath. Hindus refer to this holy site as 'Mukti Kshetra' which translates to 'the place of salvation'. The temple is prominently considered to be of Sri Vaishnava origin and reverently worshipped by Buddhists. Buddhists refer to Muktinath as Chumig Gyatsa or a prominent place of Dakinis – Goddesses who are known to be sky dancers and one of the 24 tantric places. They consider the statue to be a manifestation of Avalokitesvara.
The central shrine of Muktinath is considered to one of the most important shrines of the eight Hindu sites; the remaining seven are Srirangam, Srimushnam, Tirupati, Naimisharanya, Todatri, Pushkar and Badrinath. This temple is one of the most ancient temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The statue is golden and cast to the size of a full human figure. Water is poured through 108 bull faces and devotees take baths in freezing waters to cleanse themselves ( 108 is an auspicious number in eastern philosophy ) – 108 water pipes also pass through the temple complex. There are both Buddhist monks and nuns who oversee the prayers and worship.
As per Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Guru Rinpoche who is also known as Padma Sambhava, had meditated in Muktinath en route to Tibet. Muktinath is the only place on earth where you can find the five basic elements from which everything is made; fire, water, earth, sky and air. The river bed here is entirely covered with Shaligram stones which are vital in order to worship Lord Vishnu and establish a temple in his dedication.
Muktinath : When & How
The ideal time to visit Muktinath would from March to June as weather conditions in the remaining months are too harsh and there would be safety concerns too. The pilgrimage passes through numerous archaeological sites and temples.
As mentioned, weather conditions make accessibility difficult, however, under favourable circumstances, one can fly from Kathmandu to Pokhara and then Pokhara to Jomsom. From Jomsom you can either opt to trek all the way to Muktinath or take a jeep. Some people to choose to charter a helicopter ( a 45 minute flight ) – this is convenient, but if you are planning a longer stay, this is not advisable due to risk of acute altitude sickness(acclimatization is a gradual process ).