Located on the banks of the Bagmati River on the immediate eastern outskirts of Kathmandu, Pashupatinath Temple is one of the most revered of Hindu temples in the world and Hindu pilgrims ( especially from neighbouring India ) throng the temple complex literally throughout the year. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva who is one of the three major Hindu deities and is considered the 'Creator', 'Transformer', 'Preserver' and 'Destroyer'. It is situated on the western banks of the Bagmati and the main temple complex is a golden, pagoda style spire and one striking feature of the temple when one enters it is the golden Nandi or Shiva's bull.
Though only Hindus are permitted entrance into the main temple complex, the temple is amply visible from the eastern banks of the river. The eastern side also has single story stone constructions that are dedicated to Lord Shiva and hold the iconic symbol of Lord Shiva – the Shiva 'Lingam' or the erect phallus.
Also situated in the premises is the 'Panch Deval' ( Five Temple ) Complex which provides shelter for the destitute. It may be noted here that many Hindus choose to spend their final days in the temple complex.
The architecture, holy ambience, the multitude of monkeys and 'sadhus' or ascetic priests with ashes smeared on their bodies are not the only features that captivate visitors to the temple premises, but the funeral pyres that reduce mortal human remains to ashes will surely take your undivided attention. The sharp stench of burning wood combined with human flesh may be overpowering to your senses – the fragrant incense does very little to mask this smell. As you walk along the eastern bank of the Bagmati River, you can witness rows of funeral pyres on the other side laden with bodies that make their final passage here. Hindus firmly believe that if one is cremated here, he or she will be reborn as human again. As further consolation to the grieving families, the Bagmati River eventually merges with the holy Ganga to the south and finally to the Bay of Bengal – so, the ashes make an epic journey.
Another shocking, yet interesting, sight for your eyes to feast on is the multitude of women washing their clothes and utensils ( or even taking a dip ) immediately downstream from the cremation site. The fat and ashes in the river is supposed to act as some form of detergent according to popular belief.