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shAlagrAmO harer mUrtir jagannAthashca bhAratam|

kaler dashasahasrAnte yayou tyaktvA hare: padam ||

Going by the above saying and witnessing the way shaligramas are handled and treated, one can be sure, Lord’s holy presence is reducing by day. Already we have passed 5000+ years in Kali yuga and considering a gradual decline in presence, we will have only 50% presence at this moment. Considering steep decline only near the 10000th year, there could be more presence but it can’t be 100% at this time.

I have few shaligramas at home worshiped for generations and have always wondered seeing the chakra formation inside and outside. Also, heard some tell tale stories about them like ‘shaligramas come floating when tulsi leaf put in gandaki river stream’, ‘shaligramas have gold inside them’ and ‘all shaligramas will spin when put in milk’. Though none of them are true, they too created a curiosity in me to find them in their natural place. A decade back, they were not available in Bangalore for sale. I have checked in many places and not able to find a single one here. All this put together, i decided to go to Kali Gandaki myself. I had no one to go with me with similar interests etc and hence I traveled alone.

Reaching Gandaki

There are two ways to reach Kali Gandaki from India. One can travel up to Gorakhpur and catch a bus from there to Pokhara and then hike up to Gandaki. The easier route is to take a flight up to Kathmandu and change two flights from Kathmandu and Pokhara to Jomson and then hike for about 9 hours.nepal0001_1

I hired a tourist guide at Kathmandu to accompany me through out the trip to Gandaki. We took a small 20 seat, 30 minute flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara. The guide helped me get us a beautiful lodge to stay.  nepal0001_2

Pokhara is a very beautiful place with lot of lakes and natural setting for sight seeing activities but my interest was different – yes – only shaligramas. So, didn’t spend much time in Pokhara only to get the next morning flight to Jomsom. This is again a small plane which can seat about 20 people. In about 20 minute flight we were in Jomsom.

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Jomsom

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Jomsom is the starting point of the trek. Up-to this place there are transport and lodging facilities available but beyond it we are on our own. From this point, one can trek along side the river and trek up to its starting point Damodhar Kund. The trek is mostly plain but very gusty wind makes it tough for the trekkers. As per google, the Gandaki gorge is the most windy place on earth and one could witness that. High speed wind is almost constant through out the day. Flights get cancelled frequently due to the wind

nepal0023_1factor. Flights operate only between morning 6 to 10 AM, when the wind is at its low. Many times even these flights get cancelled. If you have booked a flight back from Jomsom or Pokhara, need to confirm with the airlines on the day of travel. Since many flights get canceled and limited service, passengers will be prioritized on their delay from schedule (read days not hours – yes DAYS !!!! ). Before you checkout from lodge, go to the airport (just a very small airport at a walking distance) and confirm if you are scheduled to go that day (read, plead and beg for their mercy)

Trekking alongside Kali Gandaki

A slow, watchful stroll from Jomsom in the early sunny morning, looking out for Shaligramas is a delight few can have in their lives. This is a such a natural beauty to behold. But one has to ensure they reach back Jomsom before sunset or reach Kaghbeni, which is about 5-6 hours of walking from Jomsom. There is one lodge in Kaghbeni. In the beginning of the trek there is a Shri Ganesha temple. Do your prayers there before starting the trek for its success.

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The walk along the river side is either deserted or full of water flow depending on the season. It was dry (around May or June). It gives the opportunity to look for the Shaligramas in the river path. It requires a trained eye to spot and there are few of them (regular pickers) already would have spotted them. Our chances of getting one is pure luck or grace of God only.

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In this place Shaligramas are found a midst many other pebbles. I did not have the luck of spotting one until the end of day, when I was about to break down. I ran to many stones that appeared like Shaligrama with excitement but had to put it back in its place as it was just a stone. A passer-by informed me that there are only few Shaligramas God has gifted us here and hence do not throw or break one if I find 🙂

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End of the day, in deed, I found couple of them and I was so excited with tears in my eyes. After all the difficulty I was not returning empty handed, right. After 9 hours of walk, reached Kaghbeni and stayed in the single lodge out there. I had quit eating at hotels long before my Nepal trip and hence I had to live with the dry fruits I had carried with me from home. I was forced to stay in Jomsom for 4 days due to cancellation of flights and each day was a difficult one beyond the first day. I ran out of my stock dry fruits and had to take rotis at the hotel on the 3rd day. Damodar Kund is another 2 days trekking and I had no energy to take up this trip and had to be content with just Gandaki.

Kaghbeni

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This is the place where trekking route branches out to Damodhar Kund and Muktinath.

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It has few houses in the neighborhood. I inquired most of the houses there for the availability of Shaligramas and most of them had a few in their personal collection. Few even gifted to me, knowing I have come all the way in search of this stone.

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surrounding areas

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Muktinath

In this place there is a temple attributed to Lord Vishnu. I am not sure about how ancient this temple is but this was not covered in the yesteryears Madhwa pilgrimage but recently people are visiting this place. If you have gone in groups (15+) and wind permitting, you can get a helicopter ride to Muktinath from Jomsom. The operators are happy to club different groups and make a round trip. It is expensive though. Other alternates are either to walk or take bike ride (24 kms one way). Plenty of bike riders are available at Jomsom to take us to Muktinath and drop back in Jomsom but take it at your own risk, no – your own life. The bike ride to Muktinath and back is a 3 hour circus full of do or die situations. If you want to bet your life and okay to leave this world without anyone noticing you, take this tour. The bike riders are excellent gymnasts and you have to just ‘cling’ on to them while they negotiate their way up or down on gravel filled mud road (or no road). They drive at full speed so as not to lose the momentum and no brakes applied for whatever. It is only maneuvering and their skill takes one up. For any accidents or fall, I am sure there will not be any help as the place is barren. I would count my life as the third one now leaving two for this trip.

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This place has religious importance to both Hindus and Buddists. We could see both pilgrimage people here. Once you reach the top, few steps climb is required to reach the temple.

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Muktinath Temple

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Kathmandu and Shri Pashupathinath Temple

Kathmandu is one of the tourist attractions of Nepal. However, it is a very old city with non existent, narrow roads with full of shops on both sides. Darbar Square is one of the landmarks in the city. Stay at lodge Hotel Sankar is decent and comparable to western Inns. Near Shri Pashupathinath Temple there are many shops (20+) selling Shaligramas. Few shops are genuine and most cheat casual visitors wtih m-seal and joints. If you are looking for a pure vegetarian eatery, check out Aangan Restaurant.

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End of the trip

The trip was very satisfying but very tiring. It had made me see the limits of hunger. I was able to get many Shaligramas at a fraction of the cost when they were not available in Bangalore. When I made this trip they were not available even for a cost here and hence this was a blessing trip to me. It was more enjoyable and might be more punya also to pick one shaligrama from Gandaki exclusive to oneself,  with one’s own effort compared to buying with money or owning by inheritance. The sight of Gandaki and touch of its holy water were heavenly and surely they will get rid of us from our sins.

The following pictures are downloaded from 1008 shri sode Vadiraja mutt (earlier and current) swamiji’s trip to Kali Gandaki

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