Nepal🇳🇵 ~Holy Cremation Site of Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu”

We visited Nepal for our long awaited adventures of hiking the Annapurna Circuit of the Himalayas, plus many other ancient and holy site visits. We would fly over the Himalayas to get in and back out of one of the most dangerous airport runway approaches in the world; Kathmadue, Nepal.

Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport

BUT…..

Sadly, just before our flight day, a plane, arriving from Bangladesh, crashed. As a result of this accident, the Kathmandu airport was closed. We had been in Thailand for a good long while, and were set to fly out of Bangkok into Nepal. Just as we were trying to figure out another day of departure, based on the alert message we got, we would be told our original flight was a go. We would also learn, whilst on this flight, we would be the first airplane allowed to fly into Kathmandu, after the crash and airport closure.

US-Bangla Airlines Flight BS211 from Dhaka crashed on its second landing attempt at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport on March 12, 2018.

Fortunately, we had no issues landing at the KTM Airport in Nepal. We met our friend and enjoyed our Nepal visit very much! Kathmandu city is indescribable, and must be experienced!  A few days after our arrival, we planned a trip to visit Pashupatinath Temple. I will never forget our visit there.

3/15/18 *DISCLOSURE, THERE ARE SOME GRAPHIC IMAGESfrom the Hindu Holy Cremations

We were told that “anybody” who is Hindu ends up being here, in Kathmandu, at this Temple, at least once in their lifetime.  It is a very sacred place for the Hindu people. Whether this is true or not, is left to interpretation, but it was clear to us this is a very important holy site to the local Hindus.

Walking from the parking area through a market of some sore, to the Holy grounds
Holy Men, or “Sadhus” are seen all over the grounds. We were told if these colorful characters were wanting their photos taken, in exchange for money, they were not “real” Holy men. We did not see any of them wanting the photo taken in exchange for money.
Chicken Sacrifice or a Blessing. It was not very clear, which
Sacrificial Goat
The Hindu Temple called Pashupatinath. Non-Hindu visitors are escorted to the back entrance to the Ghat. It was all very friendly and casual for us.
Fuel needed for cremations

A SIDE NOTE: When planning for our future India trip, I tried to get us to the Holy City of Varanasi, but the train ride was over 15 hours and really off-the-beaten-path of the other places we are visiting. Because of this, we chose to not go to Varanasi. Here in Kathmandu, these Holy Temple grounds have ancient historic ties to the Varanasi Holy City in India. The sacred Bagmati River on these grounds, flow into the Gantze River of India.

Being witness to the cremation ceremonies, is not for the faint of heart.  Be certain, we obtained the proper permissions to be on the grounds, as well as payed our fees to enter. We were not allowed in or thru the actual Hindu Temple to access the Ghat area, as that is not allowed unless one is Hindu. But, it is allowed and common practice for non-Hindu, and/or international tourists (such as ourselves) to watch the rituals; respectfully, from a distance.  We watched as the family members of the departed, washed the bodies of their loved ones at the edge of the Holy waters, anointing and blessing them before cremation. 

Bagmati River
Bagmati flows through the Kathmandu Valley and is the river separating Kathmandu from Lalitpur. It is considered a holy river both by Hindus and Buddhists. A number of Hindu Temples are located on the banks of this river.
The importance of Bagmati also lies in the fact that Hindus are cremated on the banks of this Holy River. According to the Nepalese Hindu tradition, the dead body must be dipped three times into the Bagmati river before cremation. The chief mourner (usually the eldest son) who lights the funeral pyre must take a Holy River-water bath immediately after cremation. Many relatives who join the funeral procession also take a bath in the Bagmati River or sprinkle the holy water on their bodies at the end of cremation. The Bagmati River is said to purify people spiritually.
The Ghat and a the funeral pyre. The cremated are swept into the murky waters to plod along toward the confluence with the great “Mother Ganga river as they join other tributaries downstream.
Ceremonial side of the Bagmati River. We were on the opposing side of the river.

Incidentally, we happen to be there on the day when cremations were taking place for the passengers who did not survive the crash at the Kathmandu airport, just a few days before. We had no way of knowing any cremations would be in progress, let alone rituals being conducted over those from the ill-fated plane.

The air was thick with smoke, there were children splashing in the sacred river, and monkeys were running up and down the shores of the holy river.  While we watched the bathing rituals take place on one bank of the Bagmati River, young children were jumping in the river, on the other bank; playing as children do. Quite a contrast in emotions, if witnessing.

At one point, it was very emotional to watch the ritual over such a young boy, but I sat stony-faced and frozen in place, just the same. I had never seen anything like this in my life. I did turn away at times, to give my heart a break. The sights around the Ghat are ineffably sad, as I watched the grieving family members. But, I was able to take comfort and keep watching, because of what this all means to the Hindu believers. The grieving family members are very satisfied, and relieved that it is here, their loved ones are laid to rest.

FYI photos are allowed in Kathmandu at this Holy cremation site; unlike in India where the same connected Holy waters and cremation grounds of Varanasi. While visitors can also visit the Ghat there, we would not know of the no photo rule in Varanasi, until we were actually traveling in India. We also knew people who did go to Varanasi and were very disappointed the option of recording their own once-in-a-lifetime visit was denied.

I will never forget this experience at the Holy Temple and Ghats, and when I see my photos, it is an even more harsh reminder of just how precious and fragile life is for all of us.

History of Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal

One of the most sacred Hindu Temples of Nepal, Pashupatinath Temple is located on both banks of Bagmati River which is in the eastern outskirts of Kathmandu. Pashupatinath is the most important temple dedicated to god Shiva. Every year, this temple attracts hundreds of elderly followers of Hinduism. The elderly arrive here to find shelter for the last several weeks of their lives, to meet death, be cremated on the banks of the river and travel their last journey with the waters of the sacred river Bagmati, which later meets the holy river Ganges. Hinduists from every corner of Nepal and India are arriving here to die.

It is believed that those who die in Pashupatinath Temple are reborn as a human, regardless of any misconduct that could worsen their karma. The exact day of their death is predicted by astrologers of the temple. If you are attracted to the places where the spirit of death can be felt, then consider Pashupatinath as your first destination. It is a temple with special atmosphere of death; death is present in almost every ritual and every corner of it.

For those who may be interested, I have included a link to an article about the flight that crashed at the Kathmandu Airport on that fateful day: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.aljazeera.com/amp/news/2019/1/28/pilot-disoriented-before-2018-plane-crash-in-nepal