Exploring the temple town of Manakamana
I can never resist the opportunity to ride in a cable car. So when our tour company suggested that we break the long drive from Chitwan to Bandipur with a ride up to the temple at Manakamana, I agreed immediately. It would be a chance to see a different side of Nepal, I thought. And it was, but not quite in the way I had imagined.
Perhaps I should have done my homework, but unusually for me, I didn’t. So when we arrived I was expecting a ride to a viewpoint overlooking the mountains, perhaps with a café, and of course some sort of temple. But what we found there both surprised and enthralled me.
The cable car
Let’s start with the ride up to Manakamana. Until 1998 when the cable car (the first of its kind in Nepal) opened, pilgrims had to make the long slog up the hill on foot. Today they are whisked up the nearly three kilometres in around ten minutes. The cable car, the vision of local businessman Laxman Babu, has transformed access to the temple for them and opened it up to tourism.
Perhaps the long queue of people waiting to board should have given me a clue that this was going to be a rather different experience to the one I’d anticipated. There were so many people here, most of them Nepali it seemed. But as foreign tourists with more expensive tickets we were allowed to skip the queue and were ushered to a separate much shorter line. We rode up with a friendly couple from Singapore. The views down to the rice terraces below and along the valley were wonderful.
The temple town
As soon as we alighted we realised that this was no relaxing viewpoint! Instead we were faced with a real assault on the senses, the town that has grown up around the temple. And we loved it! So much colour, so much activity, so much buzz.
The streets were lined with stalls selling everything from the most obvious (garlands, temple scarves, beads, images of the gods, lamps and incense) to the more surprising such as children’s toys. When we asked a guide about the latter later in the trip he had a simple explanation. Parents often need something to pacify a fractious child on a pilgrimage they are too young to understand or appreciate. There were also items aimed more at the tourist market, such as wood carvings, but they were in the minority. This town clearly caters primarily to worshippers.
The coloured scarves worn by many temple visitors were, I also learned later, a more durable substitute for the traditional marigold garlands. Many pilgrims like to collect scarves from every temple they visit as a record of their devotion.
With no idea where we were going we simply followed everyone else, taking photos as we went. Come along with me on a very lively Monday Walk!
Eventually our steps led us to the temple, as we had hoped. It was surrounded by people and pigeons, full of noise and activity, as my short video may show. Make sure your sound is on to hear the almost constant ringing of the prayer bells.
There has been a temple on this site since the 17th century, although the current building dates primarily from the 19th. It has been often restored, most recently after the 2015 earthquake. The temple is dedicated to the goddess Bhagwati, an incarnation of Parvati. The name ‘Manakamana’ means ‘wishes of the heart’; pilgrims visiting here believe their wishes will be granted by the goddess. I found the following story about the founding of the temple:
The Queen of the 17th century Gorkha King, Rama Shah, was said to have magical powers that only her devotee, Lakhan Thapa, knew about. One day the Queen’s husband became aware of her secret when he saw her in the form of a goddess and Lakhan Thapa in the form of a Lion. Soon thereafter the King mysteriously died and the Queen, as was the custom of the day, committed sati (ritual immolation) upon her husband’s funeral pyre. Prior to her death, the Queen had promised her devotee Lakhan Thapa that he would soon again see her. Some time later while plowing a field, a farmer discovered a stone from which blood and milk were pouring. When Lakhan Thapa learned of this he was convinced it was a sign from the dead queen, and at the site where the stone had been discovered he constructed a temple in her honor.Source: Sacred Sites
The views from the terrace where the temple stands are awesome, as you can see in my feature photo and below.
When I reviewed the shots I took here later, I found I had been photo-bombed. Yes, I could easily crop or clone the fly out but I thought this was rather fun!
Pilgrims, tourists and sellers
As so often when I travel, I found myself taking as many photos of the people here as I did of the temple itself – no, more photos! I’ll finish with a selection of my favourites. You may recognise one woman from one of the ‘postcards’ I sent while away.
I visited Manakamana in November 2022
I’m still not receiving notifications when you post Sarah, as I used to. I’ve picked this one ujp from Jo’s Monday walks (she’s the only post I seem to receive nowadays so I’m missing everyone. I’ve re-followed you in case that helps but it hasn’t helped with other posts I want to receive. I can’ spent much time on the computer nowadays, just a few minutes as the glare hurts so muich despite having changed to white n black, but hey, it may one day get better. Lovely pictures, as usual from you. I loved them all.
It’s lovely to hear from you Marie, however you find your way here. In what I assume is a related issue, I had to approve this comment which I shouldn’t have to do (I have it set that I only need moderate the first comment from anyone). I’m sorry you’re still struggling with your eyes and I really appreciate you making the effort to hunt this out and comment on it – thank you 🙂
Your views from the cable car is lovely and it all looks so quiet and serene … until your photos and video of the town – what a surprise it must have been! And the photos of the people – great, as always.
Yes, that’s exactly it – the serenity of the views from the cable car, then alighting and walking on to those colourful bustling streets!
Beautiful colors everywhere- walking through those streets must almost seem dreamlike with the swirl of color everywhere. 🙂
It was slightly strange, mainly because I’d imagined something so very different!
Mike and Kellye Hefner
This has to be the most colorful collection of photos I’ve ever seen! You captured the markets beautifully, and I love that you left the fly in the mountains shot. I think my favorite shot is the feature photo.
Thanks so much Kellye, I’m very glad you liked these shots 😀
Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter
So colourful and so noisy! Great photos, thanks.
Thank you Anabel – yes, very noisy around the temple in particular!
Ah, one of the essences of travel – making a detour on a whim and stumbling on a lasting memory. The very meaning of serendipity. Don’t we all love it when that happens. This little town clustered around its raison d’etre looks like the temples of Bangkok but so much more intensely colourful. What a great detour it turned out to be.
Yes, absolutely – I’m so glad we decided to stop off here!
Obviously a fantastic destination for a photographer with your skills Sarah..I wonder thoigh if the temple’s spiritual meaning will gradually evaporate now that the cable car will bring more tourists into the town. It’s happened in many places over the years of course, but I’ve always thought that places like Nepal are expecially spiritual. Great photos as usual 🙂
Thank you Malcolm 🙂 The cable car has been operating now for 24 years and it still seemed that the vast majority of visitors were Hindu pilgrims or at least believers. Most tourists go straight from Chitwan to Pokhara, either flying or on a full day road trip with (probably) no time to spend here. It was only because we broke that drive with two nights in Bandipur that we had plenty of time to break the drive here for a few hours.
This must have been a simulating and fun day. I’m surprised by the dolls though. Their faces look distinctly northern European!
Yes, that struck us about the dolls. The other surprising thing is that the baby boy dolls are VERY anatomically precise 😉
Haha! I don’t remember that ever being the case with dolls. Maybe they are here too these days.
I guess maybe?!
Ah yes, some it seems: https://www.trouva.com/products/miniland-baby-boy-doll-21cm
Well you know me… I so love the vibrance of this place 👍 And I am with Jo, I do also like the golden lion!
Thanks for sharing a place that I don’t think I will be able to visit in my life time.
Thanks Teresa, I know you would love all the colour and activity here 🙂
They do love colour, don’t they? Not exactly a peaceful temple but it’s not every day you have a fly’s eye view! I really love the gold lion, Sarah. He wouldn’t fit at all with my home, but still…. Thanks for the ride!
They do indeed! Glad you liked the lion, I was rather keen on him myself 😀
It looked like your cable car would be taking us to wilderness! What fun to find a vibrant and color town on top!
Yes, it was a bit of a culture shock but a good one!
Amazing colors. Thanks for the tour Sarah!
Thank you Anne, so glad you enjoyed the tour 🙂