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?

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

  1. Yes, that would work. The one thing to keep in mind is that you can find Shaligrams in the river between Jomsom and Kagbeni. So many pilgrims, if they are able, walk the distance between the two villages (it takes about 2 hours). If not, you can spend your time looking in Kagbeni. Either works.

  2. Mam. You are doing a great job.in guiding the devotees to visit Holy Gandak I and obtain Shaligrams. Have couple of questions.. Some Shaligrams are getting sold at exorbitant prices on websites like https://www.shaligram.com/Sacred_Adwaitya_Brahma_Vishnu_Mahesh_Trijuti_Gauri_Part_EXTRJ1002-1-14-447-13522-1.php9.

    Are they genuine ? Whats so special ? Which store or direct dealer do you recommend for genuine and reasonable donations to avail Shaligrams ?

    Is a base or peetha necessary to make it a genuine shaligram ? Thanks in advance.

  3. Yes, there are a number of Shaligram sellers online. Sadly, many of them are dishonest. Some devotees who gave purchased Shaligrams through these websites have received genuine Shaligrams but many have not, and instead have gotten fake stones made from M-Seal or concrete. Or, they have gotten a different stone than the one they requested. Even for the Shaligram sellers who ensure that they send real shilas, there is nothing particularly different about these Shaligrams than the ones that come directly out of Kali Gandaki (they are, after all, the same Shaligrams) but my experience has been that the more expensive the Shaligram, the rarer that particular manifestation is and the harder it is to find (though, I have also seen Shaligrams misidentified for the purposes of charging more for them). Either way, the fact that they ask for such a large amount of money concerns me. Unfortunately, that means that I don’t generally have a seller that I recommend.

    If you do go the online route, the important thing to remember is that genuine Shaligrams always come from Kali Gandaki/Muktikshetra in Nepal. If it is coming from somewhere else, it is not Shaligram.

  4. Thanks for quick and detailed response. Can you identify if the below ones are genuine. I have seen few Shaligrams which are genuine in the sense present in Temples which are centuries old and are smooth and shining. The ones here aren’t. https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=1QzHXPFN3jjwvMKGXcqxc81dQb68DN1I3

    Let me know if they are genuine or not. And if yes what kind are they.. Also as told by you, the ones delivered are different to the ones asked for .. Have they cheated ? Thanks in advance ..

  5. Lovely! Firstly, while it is always tricky to identify Shaligrams from images, these two do indeed look genuine. Shaligrams that have only recently appeared out of the Kali Gandaki are often a little rough and grey colored. The smooth, black, appearance is easy to get however. It comes from bathing the Shaligrams in clean water (with a little scrub brush if you have one) and then rubbing them with oil. Most practitioners I know use hibiscus oil or some other flower oil for puja. Do that a few times and they’ll be bright and shiny in no time.

    As for their identification, it looks like the seller here was pretty accurate. These are both Lakshmi-Narayan Shaligrams, without a doubt. They have identified the larger one as Lakshmi-Narasimha, which is pretty common due to the large vadana (mouth) but there is some debate about this one. If the Shaligram doesn’t have noticeable “teeth” around the edge/internal rim of the vadana, many ritual specialists would instead identify it as Mahadevi Lakshmi rather than Lakshmi-Narasimha. These are pretty nuanced arguments, however, so overall, I would say that the seller in this case was honest.

  6. Thanks a lot. Thats so relieving..Money offered was worth it then. And you as usual were kind and detailed in your response. Keep your service going on. Best wishes..

  7. Hello please let me know if you your book is ready and available
    thanks a lot

  8. Hello Hare Krishna
    I am based in Bangalore and would like to visit Muktinth, Kali Gandki from 7th June 2021 along with 35 yatris ,mostly senior citizen. Our journey starts from Gorakhpur .have six days to spend durig which would cover Pokhra, Jhamsom, Muktinath-Gandki, Kathmandu. I am trying t o engage a Gorakhpur based Travel company on a package basis. Can you guide me how to go about.
    thanks

    D V JAHAGIRDAR
    BENGALURU

  9. The only time I’ve ever used a travel company to go to Mustang I used a Kathmandu-based company. They tend to have access to the permits a little faster and can, if you want, provide a Nepali Himalayan guide to help you navigate things like jeeps, buses, and lodging. I have had good luck with both Alpine Ramble Treks (+977 9851175531) and Alliance Treks (+977 9851022814).

    I hope that helps! — HW

  10. Namaste mam
    I am from india. I want to go to nepal alone to collect sharigram. Can you send me the details. My email id is satpathy.hara@gmail.com.

    Mam i want to collect 21 shaligram.. Is there any restrictions on number of shaligram shillas those i can bring with me from nepal??

    Can i find shaligram shillas or i will be back empty handed??

  11. Hi! It is certainly possible to collect that many Shaligrams in a single pilgrimage trip but it might take a few days. Thankfully, there are no legal restrictions on the number of Shaligrams you can carry. So, the odds are pretty good that you will be able to find 21 Shaligrams on your trip. Good luck!

  12. Mam many black coloured stone will be available in the river bed.. How to identity which is stone and which is shaligram..

  13. It can be tricky, that’s for certain! That’s why most pilgrims tend to only take Shaligrams that have clear chakras (spirals), especially if they don’t have anyone with them who knows how to identify Shaligrams. The other way to tell is that Shaligrams are almost always very smooth and round in appearance, and will be distinctly black against the river bed.

    I hope that helps!

  14. मुझे भी मुक्तिनाथ की ट्रिप करनी है

  15. यह एक खूबसूरत जगह है। मुझे वहां होने की याद आती है

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