Nepal is not only known for its natural beauty but also as a cultural melting pot where two of the oldest religions of the world co-exist in perfect harmony- Hinduism and Buddhism. Dating back thousands of years, some of the oldest religious sites in Nepal are revered as the holiest places for salvation by Hindus and Buddhists. Some lie high up among the snow capped mountains of the Himalayas, requiring treks through deep valleys and steep hillsides. It’s an unforgettable physical as well as spiritual experience.
A land steeped in legends and mythology, Nepal is home to many Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage sites. The Himalayas is considered the abode of the gods. As the Hindu scripture Skanda Purana cites: “In a hundred ages of the gods, I could not tell thee of the glories of the Himalaya. As the dew is dried up by the morning sun, so are the sins of mankind by the sights of the Himalaya.”
The country abounds in all manner of shrines, visited by devotees of their respective faiths, which includes places of worship of such diverse religions as Islam, Christianity, Bon, Kirant, Jain and Sikh. Some of these sites are located in the Kathmandu Valley while others are found scattered around the country.
Despite having a predominantly Hindu population, Hinduism and Buddhism have co-existed in Nepal as nowhere else in the world. There are many temples, small shrines and monasteries which are equally sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists. While the Pashupatinath Temple is the holiest of the holy temples for Hindus in Nepal, Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha in the Tarai is one of the most sacred places for Buddhists.
Pashupatinath attracts pilgrims throughout the year and more so during festivals like Shivaratri when hundreds of thousands of Hindus, both Nepali and Indian visit. Not far from Pashupati is the giant stupa of Boudha which is revered by Buddhists as a holy pilgrimage site. It attracts thousands of Buddhist pilgrims from far and wide. Around it are countless monasteries that draw not just devotees but also students of Buddhism from around the world. On the other side of the city lies the other famous pilgrimage site, the Swayambhu stupa, the site of which is said to be the origin of the settlement in the Kathmandu valley. Pashupatinath, Boudha and Swayambhu are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites along with Lumbini.
The temple of Muktinath, situated in the trans-Himalayan district of Mustang and dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Avalokiteshwar, is a site equally venerated by Hindus and Buddhists alike. There are also several monasteries and caves where Guru Rinpoche or Padmasambhava, is believed to have meditated.
Similarly, Gosainkunda in Langtang, a holy lake in the lap of the Himalayas at an altitude of 4,380 m, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is also an important place for shamans. There are also Bonpo shrines in Lupra, north of Jomsom in Mustang, and Shey Monastery in Dolpo. These pilgrimage sites are visited by a large number of pilgrims during certain festivals.