Places of pilgrimage, spirituality, religious festivals, staying at a Buddhist Monastery, Yoga Retreats and Luxury Wellness. Here’s how you can achieve your own spiritual high
Enjoying a spiritual holiday in Nepal is almost part and parcel of being in Nepal by default.
Such is the power of the majestic Himalayas and the ever present influence of both Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal, that even the most fervent un-spiritual often say they found their time in Nepal to be……..life-changing!
Indeed it is very hard not to be moved, and perhaps even feel a more spiritual presence simply through trekking amongst the highest mountains in the world, many of which are sacred to the local people too. You can certainly find out a lot about yourself whilst trekking in the Himalayas and far removed from your ‘usual world’.
Still, far-eastern practices are becoming increasingly popular in western society. Yoga has long been one of prevalence and in recent years ‘Mindfulness’, which has its roots in Buddhist meditation has taken off big style too.
So, just as fervent golfers need to pay homage to their passion and play a round on the Old Course at St.Andrews once in their life, more and more people are coming to Nepal to follow their spirituality passions too.
There are in fact many ways that one can indulge, explore and expand upon their own spirituality. Whether you’re a curious beginner or experienced practitioner.
In Nepal Hinduism and Buddhism flourish and co-exist peacefully and in harmony with one another and including spiritual aspects of both on a Nepal Spiritual Holiday is a good idea.
Here’s some ways you can enjoy a spiritual experience in Nepal, returning home relaxed, refreshed and re-vitalised.
Do what the locals do and undertake a ‘trek with a purpose’ to places of spiritual significance. Providing you don’t ‘bite off more than you can chew’, trekking in itself is good for you both physically and mentally anyway.
Sacred to both Buddhists and Hindu’s, Muktinath lies at around 3700m in the Annapurna/Mustang region. Those trekking the Annapurna Circuit may also consider Muktinath somewhat sacred too, as it’s the overnight halt after the long and hard crossing of the 5416m Thorung La!
Traditionally, pilgrims would trek up to Muktinath and through the Kali Gandaki Valley, beneath Annapurna and Dhaulagiri. Although nowadays, it’s much easier (and quicker) than that, as you can fly to Jomsom from Pokhara in just 18mins and then be taken up to Muktinath by jeep!
High in the Langtang & Helambu region, is sacred Gosainkund Lake (sometimes also spelled as Gosain Kunda). Pilgrims come here to this 4380m alpine lake as in Hindu mythology it’s the abode of both Shiva and Gauri. The lake is considered holy and of particular significance during the Gangadashahara and the Janai Purnima festivals when thousands of pilgrims from Nepal and India visit the area.
But pilgrims make the trek up to Gosainkund Lake at all times, and as far as western tourist trekking goes it’s a lesser trekked route and a rather nice experience sharing the trail with pilgrims. Our Langtang and Helambu Trek visits Gosainkund Lake.
Many pass by it on their way to Everest Base Camp and indeed Everest climbers often will “drop in” to receive a blessing for their summit bid, but Thyangboche Monastery (also spelled Tengboche) is the most important Tibetan Buddhist site for the Sherpa people too.
It’s also the biggest monastery in the entire Khumbu region. As well as having strong links with the Rongbuk Monastery on the other side of Everest in Tibet, it’s had a couple of re-builds, due to fires, earthquakes etc.
Under the guidance of the Rinpoche, there’s about 60 monks at the monastery and its location at 3867m beneath iconic Ama Dablam and in sight of Everest is pretty hard to beat. Although the Mani Rimdu Festival (see festivals section below) is a good (but busy) time to be here, if Base Camp doesn’t float your boat, this is a pretty good place to hang out and soak up the monastic atmosphere .
Whilst many come to Everest to tick the bucket box just to say they’ve been to Base Camp and seen the world’s highest mountain, Sagarmatha to the Nepalese and Chomolungma to the Tibetans, Everest is sacred.
Although there are various meanings for these, “Mother Goddess of the World” has particular spiritual relevance. Everest Treks can indeed be a spiritual pilgrimage experience.
Then again, it’s pretty hard not to be moved by the wonders of the natural world and something as relatively straightforward as witnessing the sunrise on the Poon Hill trek can be very spiritual if you put everything in the realm of life into context.
Although most people set off to make the short walk to Poon Hill from Ghorepani just before dawn, we reckon this would be a pretty cool place to contemplate and meditate at through the night.
Yoga is big business in western civilisations and thus Yoga Retreats have become common in Nepal too.
In Pokhara alone we reckon there must now be at least 50 Yoga Retreats, some good……some not so good.
Some of the luxury hotels, and even some smaller places have also cottoned on that providing Yoga classes means that tourists who’ve never tried yoga before in their lives can be found contorting and stretching themselves in the hotel gardens and then wishing they hadn’t.
Of course if you’re yoga experienced pretty much any quiet place will do when you feel the need. Social media is now full of selfies of “look at me doing yoga in some cool place”.
Certainly if you’re wanting to spend some time at a Yoga Retreat in Nepal as part of a spiritual holiday it’s best to have a chat with us first, so we can match you with the right sort of place.
Luxury Wellness Retreats
Expensive “Wellness” resorts are already found throughout Europe. And, there’s nothing wrong with having a lot of pampering and “me time”.
Add the faith and religion aspects and practices of the east, throw in the Himalayas and an arguably more authentic spiritual location than by some lake in Europe and you’ve got the wonderful Dwarika’s Resort and Himalayan Spa
This most luxurious of all Nepal “Wellness and more” resorts is about a 45 minute drive from Kathmandu at Dhulikel. It’s pretty exclusive and by Nepal standards not cheap either, but probably better value than somewhere in Europe.
There are all sorts of “Himalayan” treatments that you can spoil yourself rotten on. As you’d expect from Dwarika’s the cuisine is outstanding, and a range of individually styled suites afford the utmost in Himalayan luxury.
Sip a cocktail by the pool, enjoy yoga or even pottery making. The Dwarika’s Resort is surrounded by beautiful countryside and if there is such a thing as the ‘perfect’ place to end your Nepal holiday, then perhaps this it.
In true Dwarika’s style, being here is as much a lifestyle experience as it is a first class place to stay and also enjoy the magnificent views of the Himalaya.
Indulge yourself in a mix of Hindu and Buddhist health and wellness philosophies and get closer to your inner self.
To be honest we really do like this place and the way they go about things……just so long as someone else is paying!
Stay at a Buddhist Monastery
Back down to earth, we think we have saved the best for last.
Neydo Monastery is not just a Buddhist monastery you can visit, but one that you can stay at and become involved in the daily prayers and rituals, chat with the monks, enjoy peaceful nature walks and simply just “be”
The location of the Monastery is both tranquil and rural. It sits atop a hill on the edge of the Hattiban Forest (about an hours drive from Kathmandu) and is close to the Asura Cave where Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche, as he is known affectionately, meditated and achieved the highest realisation. The Monastery has around 200 monks. A short walk away is the Dakshinkali Temple outside the village of Pharping. It is one of several “power places” of the Kathmandu Valley and one of the most important temples in Nepal dedicated to the goddess Kali.
Within the grounds of the monastic complex you can stay in a welcoming guest house, which provides very comfortable accommodation, a bit like a hotel, but clearly not a hotel. Rooms are en-suite too.
We include stays at this monastery in our example Nepal Spiritual Holiday
Visit sites of faith and religious significance
Lumbini is the birth place of Buddha and thus is a place of pilgrimage for the faithful. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site (and rightly so). As well as the Ashoka Pillar and the Maya Devi Temple there are tranquil gardens to enjoy being at peace in.
Plans were drawn up in the late 1970’s by a Japanese architect to make Lumbini a place of both pilgrimage and a tourist attraction too. So now there’s a Japanese stupa, a Burmese style pagoda, a Chinese style temple, some fairly formal gardens and a museum. The exact spot where Buddha is said to have been born hasn’t been moved to make way for the newer developments.
Bouddha, Boudhnath, Bodnath (choose your own spelling variation) is already a tick lister for most tourists in Kathmandu. As a sight in itself, the giant Stupa here is pretty awesome.
But, it is and always has been a place of power and peace and where the local Tibetan population come to to perform their daily prayers and rituals.
Visit here from late afternoon onwards, as this is when the locals come and from a cafe balcony you can discreetly observe them doing the Kora around the Stupa.
Full moon is a pretty special time. At night thousands of butter lamps light up the Stupa.
Pashupatinath is usually visited in the daytime by hordes of tourists as part of their ‘Kathmandu Tour’. We recommend visiting Pashupatinath in the evening. The faithful congregate for evening prayer, the tourist masses are gone and it becomes a much more personal and spiritual experience.
Located on the banks of the Bagmati River (which separates Kathmandu from Patan), Pashupatinath is the most sacred Hindu site in Kathmandu. Whilst cremations do take place here, many Sadhu’s (holy men) congregate here too.
Include a Festival
Nepal isn’t short of a festival or too and when you’ve got both Buddhist and Hindu festivals in the mix, the country seems to be almost in permanent festival mode!
Of course the locals are the ones celebrating the festivals and as this often happens in the privacy of family homes or temples where non-Hindu’s aren’t allowed.
The precise dates for festivals usually varies from year to year, particularly religious festivals as they are determined by astrologers in conjunction with the lunar calendar.
It would be impossible to list them all here…..there are so many….but, example ones that you can at least observe are (and not limited to these either):
Holi: This festival of water and colour that falls between February/March is also known as “Phagu” in Nepal. The day is observed to celebrate the extermination of the female demon Holika. It’s a really fun day that you can also join in with as the locals (especially younger children) will throw colourful powder over one another and burst water balloons. You’ll be a right colourful mess after a day partaking in Holi.
Mani Rimdu is a Tibetan Buddhist Festival that tales place between mid-October and mid-November and Thyangboche Monastery (featured previously above) is one of the best places to observe the 3 days of the public side of this event. Elsewhere in the Khumbu (Everest) region is also good too, as Thyangboche being on the Everest Base Camp route does get a little busy.
Dashain (Bijaya Dashami): The biggest and most anticipated of Nepal festivals. It lasts for 15 days and takes place late September to early October. Dashain is the longest and the most auspicious festival in the Nepalese annual calendar, celebrated by all, regardless of caste and following. Dashain occurs during the lunar fortnight ending on the day of the full moon. Whilst the tourist industry carries on virtually unhindered, for almost the rest of the Nepal people it’s almost one long, great public holiday. A time for shopping, feasting, fasting, prayer and more. Each day of Dashain has different significance and is marked accordingly to tradition. It could perhaps be best compared to our own Christmas period. A time when friends and family from afar reunite once more for the duration. It is also a time for both sacrifice and large scale slaughter and many foreign visitors find this particular aspect difficult to deal with.
A bit more (well….a lot more) off the beaten track there are festival like the Tiji Festival that takes place at remote Lo Manthang in the restricted Upper Mustang region. This three day Tibetan Buddhist festival usually takes place in mid-May, but now that Lo Manthang is reachable by road (OK….a bumpy, long road) it’s no longer restricted to just the locals and the handful of hardy trekkers who make their way here.
Certainly whether you are intent on getting spiritualised or just going trekking, Nepal really does help re-vitalise and re-juvenate the soul.