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?

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

  1. yes you have forgotten to mention about the condition of the roads for both driving and trekking. also you have not mentioned about the rain fall as jun, july, august are the months of rain.

  2. Yes! Thank you!

    Everyone should keep in mind that travel in Mustang during monsoon can be very tricky. In the past, this has meant entire roads washing out (potentially stranding you on either side) and occasionally bus and jeep accidents. If at all possible, try to travel before or after the monsoon months.

  3. Hello Miss.Foster…..have been eagerly waiting for your next post.

    Happy to inform you that,i was blessed with another opportunity to have darshan of Muktinath.

    I was in Nepal from Nov 29 to Oct 7.Mustang,Muktinath and the Mountains are surreal in winter…..all the trees have shed their leaves and i saw a different sort of beauty this time.

    and …..Mustang i must add is truly Beautiful in all its desolation.

    eagerly awaiting your next post.

    Regards,
    Sangharsh

  4. Wonderful news! And yes, my apologies for not updating recently. I am trying to get the book manuscript finished in time for spring and it is taking up a large amount of my time at the moment. Best! JF

  5. WHERE ARE YOU CURRENTLY …I AM TRAVELLING FROM MUMBAI TO NEPAL WILL ARRIVE IN KATHMANDU ON THE 13 DEC AND THEN MOVE TO JOMSOM NEED TO SPEAK TO YOU A LOT ABOUT THE REGION THT U HAVE SO WELL RESEARCHED .PLS BE KIND TO REPLY

  6. @JF…….Very happy to hear that work on your book is going at a brisk pace….our prayers and best wishes are with you and hope the treasure trove of your research sees the light of day soon.

    @Rajesh…Happy to hear about your pilgrimage plans,It would be my pleasure to share the pictures and my experiences with you.You can expect a mail from me in the next few days.

  7. Mam,we are visiting muktinath on 1st to 4th april 2018.our aim to search saligrama near jomsom,kagbeni and marpha asper weather forecast it may rain.please guide us.your article is very useful

  8. Best of luck on your pilgrimage! April certainly can be rainy, but I hope that it clears for you.

    As for looking for Shaligrams, you will likely have to start just north of Jomsom but on occasion, Shaligrams can be found further south. The best places for Shaligrams to appear is near the village of Kagbeni. Either just north (near Tiri village) or just south of Kagebeni has many places on the river where Shaligrams are common. I hope the helps!

  9. Mam,as I said earlier we are visiting mukhtinath on 1st to 4th April 2018.as its going to be rainy is it possible for us to search for shaligrams ?what about snow ? Are there any chances of finding them?Do we need special raincoat or any ordinary variety will do?pls guide us.

  10. Even if it is rainy it is still possible to search for Shaligram. Bring a raincoat and also be sure to have something warm, like a sweater or jacket, to have on underneath it. It is possible in April to get snow but it shouldn’t be much if it does.

    The Kali Gandaki should still be low in April (since the summer melt high up in the mountains shouldn’t have begun yet), so the best places to find Shaligram will be between Jomsom and Kagbeni villages. Search along the areas of the river bed near to where the water is flowing and I am confident that you will see Shaligrams there.

    Good luck!

  11. Hi Prasad,

    Just read that you will be going to Jamsom to look for Shaligrams.I am very interested to visit as well. Are you going with your family? If not, may I please accompany you?

  12. Hi Abhinav,i am going to mukthinath with my wife.we are going for the first time.we hope and pray God for HIS mercy in finding saligrama in the river

  13. Respected madam , we had been to muktinath on 29th March 2018,were there till 31st.But due to rain and wind couldn’t go to kagbeni and eklebati.so,we are planning to go on 27th October 2018. Pls let us know about the weather, rain and wind.Also about the water level in gandaki.will it be possible for us to search for shaligrams at that time ?.pls guide us.

  14. October is generally a good time to visit Muktinath and the Kali Gandaki. It will be cold and it is possible that the snows will already have come into the Himalayas but there should not be much rain. The water level in the river will also be lower (due to cold high in the mountains) so you should be able to find Shaligrams without too much trouble. When you are there, start north of Jomsom and also look just north of Kagbeni near the village of Tiri. These are some of the best places to find new Shaligrams.

    -Good luck!

  15. The weather in the Himalayas can be, unfortunately, extremely unpredictable. Especially in spring, when the snows are changing over to rain. Best of luck on your October trip! I hope it goes well for you.

  16. Respected Mam ,thank you very much for your valuable guidance.May I know do we have any chance of meeting you in jomsom or kagbeni during our visit.Me and my wife would like to meet you if it is possible.

  17. Sorry to bother,Madam will you please tell us till what time we can be out searching for shaligrams ? Can we go out in the evenings too , say till 4 pm ? What about wind ?

  18. The best times for Shaligrams is in the mornings, usually between about 7am and 11am. Around 11 or 11:30 the high Himalayan winds will come in and it will be very difficult to be out on the river. Sometimes, in the later part of the evenings you can be out again but you don’t want to be on the river after dark. Therefore, my strong recommendations is to plan for the mornings.

  19. Unfortunately, I will not be in Nepal this year. My hope is to plan another pilgrimage for next year if at all possible.

    Gook luck!

  20. Respected mam ,i need to ask u that is there any restriction to bring shaligrams from Nepal to India by Nepal government?Because i listened that shaligrams contain gold.Also suggest me to recognize the original shaligrams

  21. Namaste Dillip!

    No, there are no restrictions on taking Shaligrams from the Kali Gandaki while on pilgrimage. If you find a Shaligram, or otherwise obtain one, in Nepal you are free to take it to India. It is also untrue that Shaligrams contain actual gold. The golden color of some Shaligrams is from the pyrites inside of them, which forms when they enter the river. But don’t worry, they are all still very beautiful and finding one with the golden colors is very exciting.

    Recognizing Shaligrams takes a little practice but it is not especially difficult. In the water, Shaligrams are a very dark, inky, black color (much more than the other stones around them). Many also have the recognizable spiral shapes somewhere on the surface. They are also very hard and do not break or scratch easily. In my experience so far, false Shaligrams are usually made of concrete or cut out of softer stone. These Shaligrams will break or scratch without much effort. The shape of their spirals will also not appear to be natural.

    If you have any other questions, feel free to ask and I will help where I can!

  22. Thank u so much mam.Is there any registrated organisation that provides original shaligrams with laboratory test?

  23. Hare Krishna
    Dear Foster Sir,

    1) Is it fine to plan a trip to Muktinath Dham in the month of May, will there be lot of rains and not allowing us to find Shaligram Shila in the river?

    2) When water flows too much in the river isn’t it too difficult to find the Shaligram?

    3) Also as we are south Indians we are not exposed to too cold weather, thus we decided to have a trip in May? Does this go well? (Rain should not be a problem) Because our main goal of coming to Muktinath is to have a collection of Shaligrams.

    4) As we are building a temple we are in the target of bringing atleast 108 Shaligrams (By Lord’s Mercy), If we have this count as our target, how many days to stay at Kagbeni is recommended? and is it right time in May to find Shligrams?

    It’s great if you kindly answer these questions!!

    Thank you.

  24. Not that I know of. For the most part, if you find a Shaligram in the Kali Gandaki you can be certain it is genuine. Shaligrams received from temples or from people can be identified by a trusted guru if you know one. Often times, Vaishnava mutts have people who can authenticate them for you. Sometimes I am able to do identification from photos as well

    Good luck!

  25. Namaste and Hare Krishna!

    Yes, May is just fine for traveling to Muktinath. The rains don’t usually come in until the end of June or mid-July at the latest. The temperature should also not be too cold. It’s always somewhat cold in the Himalayas but the snow will have left by then and the melt in the highlands will have started. You should also have no trouble finding Shaligrams at this time. The river will not have risen yet and the banks are easily accessible from either Jomsom or Kagbeni. Though I highly recommend searching outside the village of Kagbeni, to the north. Be sure to dress warmly and bring something to protect your feet in the river (the stones can be very sharp).

    Finding 108 Shaligrams may be difficult however. The last time I went on pilgrimage to the Kali Gandaki, I lived there for almost 6 months. When I went out into the river, I would usually find around 5 – 10 Shaligrams in a day. If you have many people with you, however, it might be possible. For that many, and if you can afford it, you should try to stay in Kagbeni for about 5 or 6 days. Muktinath is then only about a 5 hour walk up the mountain from Kagbeni.

    I hope that helps and good luck!

  26. Thank u so much mam.Is there any registrated organisation that provides natural shaligrams with laboratory test?

  27. Thank you for your kind answers.

    I just went through all your suggestions and I am greatly thankful for that. After considering all my questions (such as shouldn’t be too cold, water level in river should not be more, rains also should not trouble) if there is an option to have a trip on April or May, which one is better?
    Great if you can be specific with regard to which part of may or april month, or month end or mid of the month or which week can be good?

    With dhanyavaad!
    Ys

  28. The Himalayas can be reasonably unpredictable, but my general advice would be to try and schedule your trip in the first weeks of May (April can still get some unexpected snowstorms). Hopefully that helps!

  29. Mam,is there any transportation available from kagbeni to Muktinath. We are planning to trek from jomsom to kagbeni on 27th oct 2018 ,stay one night for acclaimatization at kagbeni and would like to go to muktinath by any transpotation.(jeep or bus) .pls guide us

  30. Yes there is! You can get either a Jeep or a bus from Kagbeni to Muktinath at the Kagbeni Jeep Stand near the river. The pilgrimage buses usually leave around 8 or 9 in the morning.

  31. Yes, there are several! The one I recommend the most is called the New Annapurna Hotel and it is located right alongside the Kali Gandaki on the south side of Kagbeni village. They have tea, food, and rooms at a good price for pilgrims. There are also several tea houses and guesthouses in the center of the village.

  32. Thankyou mam…..eager to visit kaghbeni….hope this time i and my wife will be blessed to have darshan of saaligrama at kaghbeni Gandaki river.

  33. Yes, there are! In the center of the village is several small shops who sell supplies. They also have Shaligrams. Jomsom and Muktinath (Ranipauwa) have shops as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *