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?

73 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!

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