A Guide to Getting There: Planning Shaligram Pilgrimage in Nepal

Planning a pilgrimage to the Kali Gandaki can be exceptionally tricky if you are unfamiliar with the region or with traveling in Nepal in general. But because the most common questions I get tend to relate to the logistics of actually going on Shaligram pilgrimage, I’ve compiled a handy short list of considerations below. Think of this as the first part of a brief “Guide to Getting There.”

Total travel days: Between 7 – 10

Total days searching for Shaligrams: 3 – 4 (with trip to Muktinath included)

1. If possible, arrange your travel to Mustang (where the Kali Gandaki flows) prior to arriving in Kathmandu. This can be done through a Nepali travel agent or trekking company easily enough and if anyone is especially interested, feel free to comment on this post for more information.

2. If you are arranging travel to Mustang after you arrive in Kathmandu, you should start with air tickets. From Kathmandu, you must fly first to Pokhara and then to Jomsom, where the pilgrimage route begins. I highly recommend doing this with either Tara Air or Buddha Air as they are the most reliable and are not as prone to random cancellations as some of the other airlines are (you will have to walk or take a taxi to the local ticket office to purchase tickets).

The second thing to keep in mind is that these flights tend to only go early in the mornings (due to weather) so you will likely need to plan for at least two days of travel to get to Mustang. Additionally, if you are traveling during monsoon, expect delays and cancellations (some which can run several days at a time during the height of the rains). PLEASE NOTE! Do not anticipate being able to get from Kathmandu to Jomsom on the same day. While theoretically possible if all your flights work out, it is more likely you will end up with at least one day in Pokhara.

If you plan to travel to Mustang by jeep or bus (from either Kathmandu or Pokhara), you can do so from any one of the many bus or jeep stations in either city. Private jeeps are expensive though, and can run a few hundred dollars (US) for the entire trip, which can be anywhere from 7 – 9 hours or up to 14 hours by bus. Buses are cheap however, and can get you to Jomsom for about $14 dollars (US).

3. Remember that you will need to get two permits to access Mustang, the TIMS permit and the ACAP permit. Both of these permits are available from the Immigration Office in Kathmandu or at the Immigration and Trekking Counter in Pokhara. The total fee is around $25.

4. The final altitude for reaching Muktinath is over 4000 meters. At this altitude, you will acutely notice the thinness of the air and, depending on your personal make-up, you may find it difficult to breathe or that you are tiring easily. This is to be expected, which is why it is important to plan at least a few extra days in case of altitude sickness or travel delays. If you are able, stop by any one of the many pharmacies in Kathmandu or Pokhara for a couple of doses of mountain medications to keep on hand I would recommend it. Just in case. Additionally, if possible, plan for at least one over-night in Jomsom. The elevation between Kathmandu and Jomsom is reasonably extreme (Jomsom is at around 3,100 meters), so if you are not sure how you will react to the altitude, be sure to give yourself enough time to acclimate.

5. It is possible to find Shaligrams in the Kali Gandaki just north of Jomsom. If you are prepared to trek, you can leave Jomsom early in the morning and follow the route of the Kali Gandaki towards Kagbeni village. Kagbeni is about 2 – 3 hours walk north if you follow the road straight but many pilgrims use this opportunity to find Shaligrams in the river as they go. If you choose to do this, plan for around 4 – 5 hours of walking to reach Kagbeni. Otherwise, you can either stay in Jomsom and look for Shaligrams north of the town (on the far side of the river, past the jeep stand and main gompa) or take a bus (in the morning only) to Kagbeni and stay there while looking for Shaligrams. Either place works, though I have noticed that the quality of the Shaligrams I have found outside of Kagbeni tends to be better than outside of Jomsom.

6. Lodging in Mustang is fairly easy to come by. There are guesthouses and trekking lodges throughout Jomsom and Kagbeni (as well as near Muktinath) that offer reasonable rooms and meals (around $15 a night in Jomsom, $8 – $10 a night in Kagbeni and Muktinath). If you have specific dietary restrictions, however, you may have to plan ahead before you arrive. Most guesthouses have vegetarian or Vaishnava food available but the kitchens are not separated from the preparation of trekking meals. This means that meat, eggs, and other animals products are prepared on the same premises as everything else. There are a few houses and dharamsalas that specifically cater only to pilgrims here and there but you will likely need the help of a local travel agent to help you book them. If all else fails, consider bringing some prepared food with you before you leave.

7. Guide services are generally not necessary unless you plan to do more extensive trekking in the Annapurna region, such as the Thorong La Pass. If you are just planning on Shaligram pilgrimage (Jomsom to Kali Gandaki to Muktinath and then back to Jomsom), you won’t need a full mountain guide.

8. Finding Shaligrams in the river can be tricky but it’s not impossible. For most people, even on their first pilgrimages, they are able to find between 6 and 10 Shaligrams over the course of a few hours. The best advice I can offer is to focus on areas of the river where the water has recently passed. This means along the edges of the streams that flow through the main river bed as well as along the rocky areas where the water has recently moved over. Shaligrams will have a distinct inky black color in the water (or when wet) that helps pick them out from the surrounding silt.

9. The typical pilgrimage route is from Jomsom to Kagbeni (1 day), Kagbeni to Muktinath (1 or 2 days), Muktinath to Jomsom (1 day – with flight or bus leaving the following day). For this reason, try to plan at least 4 or 5 days in Mustang aside from 2 days to get to Jomsom and 2 days to get back to Kathmandu.

10. If you are traveling to Kali Gandaki during the summer months (June, July, August) the weather tends to be fairly mild: 10 – 12 C (50 F) during the day, 5 – 7 C (40 F) at night. During the fall and winter, however, it can get quite cold in the Himalayas. Always look up the expected temperatures for Mustang before you plan on arriving so that you can be sure to pack warm enough clothes.

Ok, anything I forgot?

121 thoughts on “A Guide to Getting There: Planning Shaligram Pilgrimage in Nepal

  1. Namaste madam. I m from India.
    Can we plan to visit Muktinath and Salagram collection in Kagbeni, from Kali Gandaki river, in October/November.
    If it is okay with you, please let me know whether you will be visiting Muktinath this year, in October/November

  2. Namaste. Please let me know whether we can visit Muktinath and Kagbeni village for collection of Salagram from Gandaki river, in the month of October/November. I am from India.

    Please also let me know, if you don’t mind, whether you will be visiting Muktinath at the same time, this year.

  3. Namaste! Yes, you can certainly visit Muktinath in October/November. Be prepared for cold weather in the Himalayas, of course, but the fall is actually relatively popular for visiting Mustang in general. The monsoons will have passed and the river will be lower, making it easier to Shaligrams on the banks.

    I will not be visiting at that time, unfortunately. But I wish you the best of luck!

  4. Thank you Foster madam, for your prompt reply. I hope I will be able to visit Muktinath, in October/November, by God’s grace.

  5. Hi. I am planning to travel mid August. My main idea is to visit muktinath and collect shalagram. Can you guide me on stay climate and how to go about

  6. Mid-August will probably be towards the end of the monsoon season, so be aware that it could still be a little wet. It’s usually not too bad by August, thankfully, and you shouldn’t run into too many travel delays. As I note above, Shaligrams can be collected from the Kali Gandaki at almost any time but if you have the time, I recommend staying in Kagbeni village for at least a day so that you can spend all morning or afternoon on the river bed.

    Does that help?

  7. Namaste Madam. I am very much interested in collecting salagrams, either direct from the river or purchase them. Please advise me, how to identify genuine salagrams. I have heard so many are selling fake salagrams, salagrams made from m seal, breaking the original one, making inscriptions, markings, etc, and pasting the same on original salagrams, etc. Please advise.

  8. Namaste. I refer to your reply dated 15th June. Will send you the photos definitely, if I m lucky enough to get few salagrams

  9. Namaste! Thankfully, if you are collecting Shaligrams directly from the river, you don’t need to worry too much about false ones. Buying from sellers is trickier, though. If you are working with a seller in Mustang or in Pokhara, they are generally pretty reliable since they have access to the Kali Gandaki as often as they need.

    As for identifying false Shaligrams, it can take some work. Stones made from M-Seal will feel a little like plastic and won’t be as heavy as real Shaligrams. Their chakras will also look indented or imprinted and probably won’t have the right kinds of spirals. But if you don’t have a lot of experience with real Shaligrams, telling them apart can be difficult. Overall, I would say, avoid any Shaligrams with obvious seams or break lines in the body of the sila, or anything that looks cut or carved. The river always wears real Shaligrams very smooth with only a few sharp edges on the outside. Sharp edges, tool marks, or cut marks are all suspect.

  10. Thank you Foster madam for your prompt reply. Will definitely follow your advice.

  11. Madame H Walters,

    Is it advisable to go to Damodar Kunda or Kagbeni if you have Lung Empyema ? In that case one has not the normal lung capacity, not even for to work on low altitude, not the normal capability.
    Can you advise me please? If i go there i should take with me some bottles of pure oxigen at least ?

    kindly regards Hielke, Holland

  12. Good morning! Traveling to Damodar Kund is a very difficult journey, but it may still be possible. I would ask your doctor about taking high-altitude medications like Acetazolamide, which can help slow the symptoms of altitude sickness. You could also ask then about taking oxygen with you as well.

    Be safe and good luck!

  13. Here is a procedure to know if a sila is a sila, or other stone. Someone from Katmandu, an expierenced dealer, said to me to rub gold on the stone. The stone must be clean, dry and unoiled. When one time there are gold marks or scars from a gold ring or some other gold material, it will not leave the stone ever. I have tested it on a dry and black krisna paduka. Its still on the stone and i can not remove it with my finggers.

  14. Madame, you are mentioning above a village called Tiri. But i can not find it on google maps. How many km above Kagbeni is that village ? sincerly, Jan

  15. Tiri village probably only a few hundred meters north of Kagbeni, on the other side of the river. You can literally see it from anywhere in Kagbeni. Tiri is only a few dozen houses though, so I’m not surprised it’s not easy to find (via Googlemaps). It is also technically in Upper Mustang as well, which is why people aren’t allowed to stay there. You can travel to Tiri village during the day without a permit but not further north than that.

  16. Actually foster mam,how to search shaligrams at kagbeni river .Weather these are available at river bad or we have to enter river water

  17. You do not have to enter the river itself. Shaligrams usually appear in the river bed or along the banks. I do not recommend going into the Kali Gandaki river. It can be very deep and fast.

  18. Mam,pls suggest me which time is the best for Shaligram Yatra and to search shaligram easily.i am planning for 1st week of october.will it be the best?

  19. Early Fall is actually great. It will be after the monsoon and the region should be pretty clear and easy to travel through. Just be aware that it can get quite cold, however. So pack clothes accordingly. You shouldn’t have any trouble searching for Shaligrams in the river bed or along the water’s edge. Good luck!

  20. Respected mam, i and my wife are visiting mukthinat in 1st week of oct 2019.we are planning to trek from khagbeni to tiri village in search of saaligram.are there any shops in TIRI village selling saligrams.can we stay at tiri village for one night with the sameTIMS and ACAP permit.are there any tea houses for the night halt.pls guide us.

  21. Respected mam,I and my wife are visiting mukthinath in 1st week of October 2019.We are planning to trek from khagbeni to tiri village in search of saaligram. Are there any chances of finding shaligrams there ?Are there any shops selling shaligrams at tiri ? Are there any teahouses for night stay ? Can we stay at tiri with the regular ACAP and TIMS permit ? Pls guide us.Thanking you.

  22. Yes! You should be able to find Shaligrams on the river bed between Kagbeni and Tiri without much of a problem. There are also Shaligram sellers in Kagbeni. You can find them in a few pilgrimage shops and from sellers near the river. As for lodging, I am not aware of any general lodging in Tiri, since most people do not actually stay there. Main lodging and teahouses are in Kagbeni, which isn’t a problem since the two villages are literally across the river from one another.

    Does that help?

  23. No,mam,you didn’t miss,you responded to first msg.But,by mistake we sent 2 nd time.sorry .

  24. Do the Trek The trek from Jomsom (9,055 ft) to Muktinath (12,172 ft) and back requires 4-5 days of easy hiking. There are teahouses along the way in the villages of Jomsom, Kagbeni, Jharkot, and Ranipauwa. These are family-run guest houses that offer basic but comfortable accommodation for ?300-1,000 a night. Food choices are wide, from hand-tossed pizzas, yak steak sizzlers, and homemade pasta, to apple pie and crumbles. This can be washed down with some Mustang coffee or fresh sea buckthorn juice.

  25. Hello, very informative post. Thank you so much for the wonderful narration. Am planning to go for salugram pilgrimage between 10th of apr and 20th.
    1. Can I do it in a week. As difficult to get leave for more than week.
    2. Is it sure (by the grace of God) that we find Saligrams.
    3. Apr is better or May
    4. How about safety. Any goons, tricksters, enroute?

    Thanks in advance

  26. That’s great news! Have a wonderful trip! Hopefully I can answer your questions below.

    1. Yes, it is possible to do it in one week. Generally, the difficulties the might arise have to do with weather delays. But April/May shouldn’t be a problem.

    2. The best places to find new Shaligrams in the river is nearest to Kagbeni village, before traveling up the mountain to Muktinath. With a day or two on the river, I have no doubt that you will see Shaligrams appear.

    3. Either April or May tends to work fine, since it is before monsoon. It will be cold up in Mustang, so plan accordingly.

    4. The pilgrimage route to the Kali Gandaki is, thankfully, pretty safe. There are, of course, always people looking to steal or profit from pilgrims but it’s not especially common.

    Hope that helps!

  27. Fantastic write up. We are planning to do 7/8 days trip to Nepal including Muktinath between 28th January and 5 th February 2020. We are senior citizen couples aged 68/64 and in pretty good health. Will it be ok to do it. What precautions can we take. Any tourist company you can suggest who can take care of all requirements including permits etc in Khatmandu. Thanks in advance.

  28. If you are otherwise in good health, the pilgrimage to Muktinath shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Just be sure to take some time to get acclimated to the high altitude when you arrive in Jomsom. Furthermore, if you are looking for some help with permits, transportation, etc. I often use Alliance Trekking (Thamel, Kathmandu) to get things set up. Best of luck!

  29. hello mam i want to collect some salagrams for my temple from kali gandaki river in kagbeni which side is best for collecting shaligram in kagbeni and any other person help for searching shaligram in kali gandagi

  30. hello mam i want to collect some salagrams for my temple from kali gandaki river in kagbeni which side is best for collecting shaligram in kagbeni and any other person help for searching shaligram in kali gandagi.where we can get easily.any location do you have please share with me.

  31. You can find Shaligrams just about anywhere in the river bed near Kagbeni village. I have found the best ones north of the village near Tiri. Good places to look are along the edge of the water where the sand is still turning over. Hope that helps!

  32. There are usually three ways of faking a Shaligram. The most common is to mold it out of M-Seal or other industrial epoxy. The best way to detect these is by feel. They will feel slightly plastic-y and if you scratch them lightly with a tool, they will dent like plastic. The chakras will also likely not look right. They will have lines that are too thick or the spiral will be pressed into the stone like a stamp. The second most common way to fake a Shaligram is to take a broken stone and glue it together. Inspect these Shaligrams closely, because they will likely have a seam visible somewhere or will have asymmetrical sections that don’t look like they naturally go together.

    Good luck!

  33. Sashtanga Pranam Maate,
    I see your website has wonderful tips.
    I have been to muktinath Kshetra, now I plan on traveling to damodara kunda. Any tips?
    I heard choppers cost NP Rs.20,000/ person?

    Would Silas in Damodara kunda be better in Quality of Markings?

    And How easy is it to find Silas in Damodara kunda?

    Where are red Silas ideally found? I would like to donate them to temples for worship.

    Thank you

  34. Namaskar!

    Damodar Kunda is a challenging trip. Helicopters can be very, very, expensive which is why most people don’t take them. The usual plan is to hire a guide and horse caravan, which takes longer obviously but is more accessible.

    To my understanding, Damodar shilas are not necessarily better in terms of markings but they do tend to be much larger, since very large shilas don’t travel as far into the river as smaller ones. There are also fewer pilgrims that far north, so more shilas are generally available than lower down in the Kali Gandaki. In short, finding Shaligrams in and around Damodar Kund is relatively easy.

    As for red Shaligrams, I have found them everywhere in the Kali Gandaki; from Tiri to Kagbeni to Jomsom. One of the most spectacular shilas I ever found was a large, red, Lakshmi-Narayan I donated to a temple in the UK. So, I would say, they tend to appear everywhere black Shaligrams do.

    Hope that helps!

  35. I believe you need to have a passport to access Mustang but that might not necessarily be the case for Indian nationals. Good question for the immigration office or for your guide.

  36. You should not. There are no laws (that I am aware of) that require taxes or government fees for Shaligrams in either India or Nepal.

  37. hello
    I am from canada. I want to visit Muktinath ji and go for bath in Gandaki river alongwith collection of Shaligram ji.
    Pl guide me the best months to travel and short and crisp trekking plan.

  38. Hi! The best months for travel to Mustang are either April – June (early June) or September/October. Mostly, you just want to avoid being in the high Himalayas during monsoon in July/August if at all possible. As to a trekking plan, you should really contact a Himalayan guide for more information. But generally, most pilgrims plan for about 4-5 days in Mustang. Arrival in Jomson and travel to Kagbeni. About 2 days in Kagbeni (or 3, depending on how long you want to look for Shaligram in the Kali Gandaki). Then up to Muktinath and usually an over-night in Ranipauwa. Then back to Jomsom.

    You can, of course, add as many days in there as you have available but this is typical. Hope that helps! – HW

  39. hi
    Thanks for reply and sorry for delay in reply by me.
    So basically I have to travel from Kathmandu to Jomson then from Jomson to Kagbeni. Find Shaligram ji in Kagbeni. Then from Kagbeni to Muktinath ji and overnight in Ranipauwa. from Ranipauwa to Jomsom
    is that fine.

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