A Guide to Getting There: Planning Shaligram Pilgrimage in Nepal

Posted by J Foster on Jul 4, 2017 in Cultural Anthropology, Fieldwork 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?

26 Comments

madhuryakrishna
Jul 26, 2017 at 7:44 pm

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.


 
J Foster
Jul 27, 2017 at 7:13 am

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.


 
Sangharsh
Nov 19, 2017 at 12:44 am

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


 
J Foster
Nov 19, 2017 at 8:27 am

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


 
RAJESH TRIPATHI
Nov 29, 2017 at 3:43 am

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


 
RAJESH TRIPATHI
Nov 29, 2017 at 3:57 am

SANGHARSH

BROTHER I AM GOING TO MUKTINATH AND SHALIGRAM PILGRIMAGE IN THE NXT WEEK ,MY EMAIL IS RAJESHTRIPATHI7@GMAIL.COM ,PLEASE SHARE THE PICS IF U CAN


 
J Foster
Nov 29, 2017 at 10:28 am

I have sent you an email. Happy to help however I can.


 
Sangharsh
Nov 29, 2017 at 12:04 pm

@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.


 
J Foster
Nov 29, 2017 at 12:06 pm

Thank you!


 
Prasad.r
Jan 12, 2018 at 8:52 pm

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


 
J Foster
Jan 12, 2018 at 9:27 pm

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!


 
Prasad.r
Jan 12, 2018 at 11:01 pm

Thank you mam


 
Prasad.r
Jan 22, 2018 at 4:15 am

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.


 
J Foster
Jan 22, 2018 at 9:47 am

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!


 
Prasad.r
Jan 23, 2018 at 12:03 am

Thank u Mam.


 
Abhinav
Jan 24, 2018 at 5:49 pm

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?


 
Abhinav
Jan 29, 2018 at 3:25 am

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


 
Prasad.r
May 5, 2018 at 12:03 am

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.


 
J Foster
May 5, 2018 at 8:35 am

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!


 
Prasad.r
May 5, 2018 at 11:25 pm

Thank you Mam. We were truly disappointed last time.


 
J Foster
May 6, 2018 at 8:07 am

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.


 
Prasad.r
May 7, 2018 at 12:17 am

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.


 
Prasad.r
May 7, 2018 at 2:06 am

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 ?


 
J Foster
May 7, 2018 at 9:16 am

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.


 
J Foster
May 7, 2018 at 9:17 am

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!


 
Prasad.r
May 7, 2018 at 10:01 pm

Thank you for the valuable information.


 

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