A celebration of history, culture and religion
Hailed as the most beautiful city in the Terai, Janakpur, the ancient celestial capital of King Janak, enchants visitors with its colorful atmosphere and its religious aura . The city is the birthplace of Sita or Janaki, the ideal Hindu wife of Lord Ram and the heroine of the much-popular epic Ramayan. Thus, the city is an important historical and pilgrimage site, with many temples, shrines, kutis (sacred centers), dharmashalas (pilgrims’ hostels) and numerous sacred ponds
The centerpiece of Janakpur is the Janaki Mandir, an enormous marble shrine with Mughal-style battlements and domes. The temple is built on the site where Sita’s idol was unearthed. The edifice is not very old – it was built in 1912 – but there are some fine carvings on stones and on the silver doors leading to the inner room that houses the images of Ram and Sita. In front of the temple is a plaza where religious paraphernalia is sold and where people throng in the evening in an air of festivity.
Next to the Janaki Mandir is the Ram Sita Bibah Mandap, built to commemorate the marriage of Ram and Sita. It is an attractive traditional Nepalese pagoda standing on beautifully carved marble pillars on a big, terraced plinth. Images of the revered couple in their nuptial get-up of golden robes are inside the temple. There are other temples and ponds scattered around town. The major landmark is the pagoda-style Ram Mandir, built in 1882 and the oldest, which is close to two holy ponds, Dhanush Sagar and Ganga Sagar.
In keeping with its spiritual character, Janakpur celebrates a number of festivals, religious fairs and ceremonies. These celebrations are occasions when the story of Ramayan is played out in the streets, and highlight the importance of Janakpur in Hindu religion. The town comes alive in an explosion of colors and sounds especially during two major festivals – both connected with the mythology of Ram and Sita.
During November-December, pilgrims congregate here to celebrate Sita’s marriage to Ram, Bibah Panchami. During Ram Navami, the birthday of Ram in March-April, an enormous procession goes through the town.
Another attractive feature of Janakpur is its Mithila culture. The city was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Mithila, famous for its culture and literature. This beautiful culture can be seen today in the elaborate folk-art paintings done by Mithila women. The women originally decorated their mud walls and floors with these paintings.
Hindu mythology is the source of the Mithila paintings, and they sometimes use complex, abstract symbols. Some of the popular themes are the romantic Krishna, the ferocious goddess Kali, and the devoted wife Sita. The paintings are colorful and extremely attractive. At the Janakpur Women’s Development Center, women produce these paintings and other art forms including ceramics, papier-mache, patchwork tapestry, silkscreen prints and woven wall hangings, which are available for sale.
Visitors will find Janakpur’s atmosphere vibrant and charming. You get to see how life in this Terai town is so intertwined with its unique spiritual character as well as to experience the rich cultural individuality of its people.
An adventure of the spirit
Lying in the heart of the highest mountains on earth, and very close to the source of four of the most important rivers in the subcontinent – the Indus, Brahmaputra, Karnali (or Gogra) and Sutlej – Mt. Kailash, rising to a height of 6,714 m, is not
particularly tall by Himalayan standards. Yet, it is one of the most elegant and entrancing peaks in Tibet. The sacred mountain owes its remarkable allure to the fact that it rises like a perfect pyramid of rock and snow in the midst of a stark landscape.
The mountain is revered by the followers of four different religions. The Hindus believe it to be the abode of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati as well as the terrestrial manifestation of Mt. Meru, “the pillar of the earth”, around which the entire universe revolves. For Tibetan Buddhists, Mt. Kailash has for centuries been the Gang Rimpoche (Jewel of the Snow), and plays in the structure of the world a role similar to that attributed by the Hindus.
For believers of the ancient religion of Bon, the mountain is both the center of the ancient land of Shang Shung and the place where the founder of the sect descended to earth from heaven. For Jains, Mt. Kailash is the place where the first prophet of the faith purged himself of sin before he began to preach.
Not far away from the icy pyramid, and also an integral part of the Kailash tour, is the equally sacrosanct Manasarovar Lake. Taking a dip in the sacred pool is believed to be sufficient to ensure one the paradise of Brahma, and a single sip of the lake water enough to redeem the sins of a hundred lifetimes. The circumambulatory route around the lake is dotted with many small convents which provide shelter for devotees to pray and meditate. Every summer, thousands of pilgrims converge on the Kailash-Manasarovar area from every part of Nepal, Tibet and India.
Visitors can go to Kailash either on foot through Yari of Humla district in Nepal, or by road via Kodari on the Nepal-China border. The trip requires a Tibet visa, and it is obligatory to go through a registered travel agency in Kathmandu. Permits are issued only if one is part of an organized.
The journey via Yari begins with a flight from Kathmandu to Nepalgunj in far west Nepal from where you catch another flight to Simikot in the remote northwestern corner of the Kingdom. From Simikot, it takes some five days of leisurely walking to reach the Tibetan town of Sher from where you drive to Kailash via Manasarovar Lake. You drive all the way back to Kathmandu via Zhangmu on the return. The drive in/drive out option via the scenic southern route to Mt. Kailash is best suited for pilgrims and those with time limitations.
Mid-May through mid-October is the best time to undertake the excursion. Although the trip is not a technically difficult one, considerable physical challenges may arise due to the elevation and the chilly climate, making acclimatization a must.
The walk around Mt. Kailash takes around three days while two days are required for Lake Manasarovar. Reaching the blessed mountain and completing the circuit are, however, much more than a simple exercise of the legs. It is a great adventure in history and landscape and an exceptional occasion to perceive the strong flavor of Eastern spiritualism.
Location: Western Tibet
Access: Drive from Kathmandu via Kodari (7-8 days by landcruiser); or fly Kathmandu-Nepalgunj (90 minutes) and Nepalgunj-Simikot (30 minutes), trek for five days Simikot-Sher and then two to three days’ drive via Manasarovar Lake
Trip grade: Moderate to rigorous
Season: May through October
Visa: Tibet visa and Alien Travel Permit required. Visa given only to groups organized by registered travel agencies in Kathmandu
Altitude sickness: Those with chronic health problems should consult a doctor before making the trip. Visitors may suffer mild discomfort due to the altitude. Remedy is to acclimatize, drink plenty of water and refrain from engaging in physically exhausting activities
Clothing: Warm clothing, especially October through April. Layered clothing best. Few changes of clothing – shirts, trousers, sweater, jacket, cotton inner linings, comfortable walking shoes. October-April – woolen/down clothing and boots