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