As a Hindu-majority country with a visible Buddhist minority, there are numerous holy temples, mountains and other spots worth visiting in Nepal. Here are some that you should check out while in Nepal.
The distinctive white dome and golden peak of Boudhanath Stupa is the holiest site for Tibetan Buddhists outside of Tibet itself. It was built in the 14th century, and is one of the biggest stupas in the world. Many Buddhist sites in Tibet are actually modelled on this amazing place. The Boudhanath area is a hub of Tibetan life in Kathmandu, and the lanes around the stupa are full of Tibetan trinket shops catering to locals as well as tourists. It’s auspicious to go around the stupa clockwise (called a kora), and to spin the brass prayer wheels along the way.
Located in the Langtang National Park, Lake Gosainkunda is a Hindu pilgrimage spot as well as a popular trekking destination. It’s a high-altitude lake at 4,380 metres, surrounded by beautiful mountains, and remains frozen for about half the year. It’s an important place for Hindus as according to Hindu mythology, the gods Shiva and Gauri lived here. Thousands of pilgrims flock here during the Gangadashahara and the Janai Purnima festivals. It’s relatively quiet the rest of the time, though. Trekkers are advised to do the Gosainkunda trek after completing the Langtang Valley trek (rather than the other way around) to help with acclimatisation.
Spend any time on the roads of Nepal and you’ll soon learn that ‘Buddha was born in Nepal’. At least, that’s the slogan emblazoned across every second truck and taxi! Lumbini is a small town in the Western Terai, on the plains bordering India, and according to archaeological evidence, was indeed the place where Buddha was born, in 623 BCE. Now, Lumbini is home to monasteries and Buddhist centres built by various countries with strong Buddhist traditions, so touring the place is like taking a tour of Buddhist architectural traditions from around the world.
The Manakamana Temple is located high on a hill in Gorkha District. Anyone travelling the highway between Kathmandu and Pokhara will have noticed the cable car (and the unsightly NCell ad!) on the hill, about half way. This leads up to the temple. Alternatively, it’s possible to trek the steep route up. Although the temple itself was badly damaged in the 2015 earthquake and is undergoing repairs, Manakamana is worth a stop. On a clear day, there are good views of the Himalaya. There are lots of places to buy Indian snacks, as it is a popular pilgrimage place for Indian and Nepali Hindus.
Muktinath, at 3,710 metres, is a sacred place to both Hindus and Buddhists, as it’s believed to be a place where liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth can be found. It’s located at the foot of the Thorung La (Pass), which must be crossed on the Annapurna Circuit trek, and is a short drive (or a longer hike) from the village of Kagbeni in Lower Mustang. On a clear day, the views of the snowy Himalaya and the dry, rocky landscape of Mustang are incredible.
Swayambhunath is an ancient Buddhist stupa on a hill overlooking the city of Kathmandu. It can be reached via a steep staircase on the eastern side, or a more gradual road on the west. It’s one of the most iconic sites of Kathmandu, with its white dome, ornate bronze spire, and intricately painted Buddha eyes. It’s also surrounded by numerous statues, temples and stone chorten, as well as the numerous creatures that give Swayambhu the nickname of ‘monkey temple’. Although not as large as Boudhanath Stupa, it should still be circumambulated clockwise. A must-visit place in Kathmandu.
Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu is the most sacred Hindu place in Nepal. It’s located on the banks of the Bagmati River which, despite being sacred itself, is in a deplorably poor condition as it makes its way through the city, being little more than an open sewer. Nevertheless, Pashupati is an amazing place to visit. It’s where many cremations take place, and lots of devout Nepalis come here to die. Be respectful of grieving families if hanging around or photographing the burning ghats.
Mount Everest – known as Sagarmatha in Nepali or Chomolongma in Sherpa and Tibetan – is a sacred mountain to the Sherpa people who inhabit the regions around the mountain. Their name for it means ‘Goddess Mother’. And while there are (obviously) no prohibitions on climbing it, as there are some other sacred mountains, many would-be climbers would do well to remember its sacred status before littering it with garbage.