Friday, September 13, 2013

Rising High to the Manakamana Temple

This is Day 8 of Nepal Travelogue (May 20, 2013)

Manakamana Cable Car
After 3 days of jungle excursions, it was time for us to go back to Kathmandu to explore capital’s cultural treasures. We had two options; either to go directly, the same way we came here, or make an enroute stopover to visit the Manakamana Temple.

This Hindu temple is one of the major ones in Nepal and attracts a great number of devotees. Located in Gorkha Hills, it can be approached through a steep cable car; main reason why we were interested in the pilgrimage.

And a pilgrimage is not complete without a sacrifice. Ours was to wake up in the wee hours to catch the pre-dawn microbus; the only reasonable alternate to the afternoon tourist bus from this logistically cut-off town. But that was not the only sacrifice as after an hour of smooth sailing we got stuck in a land sliding on the Narayanghat-Mugling Highway disrupting the traffic for 2-3 hours.

It was getting more humid with every minute and with the AC turned-off and two kids in the tow, it looked like Gods were not happy with our sacrifices.

From Sauhara to Kurintar, cable car’s base station, we did 70 km in ~5 hours, showing that traveling in the hill country can be frustratingly slow on a bad day. From the drop-off point the base station was also an extensive walk so I deposited the heavy backpack to a roadside shop first thing after getting alight from the hi-ace.

The gentle drizzling was a welcome change for us. Green hills were adding holiday flavor to the surrounding while the ambiance was also festive and colorful. Enthusiastic local families – lined up at the ticket counter – were enjoying best of both worlds; religious journey and the picnic!

The ride itself was an experience worth the post morning hassle. The coupé elevated from 250m to 1,300m, an amazing 1,000m, in ~10 minutes. Interestingly there was a cloud cover, both above and beneath! Change in temperature was also remarkable; in fact the quickest in my life. It was like moving from humid Karachi to chilly Naran in 10 minutes!

Uphill it was more joyous and sacred. Devotees were pushing themselves towards the temple with fervor while the vendors on both sides of the walkway along with photographers were distracting the devotees with even more fervor. 

In this happening environment, presence of black goats and that too for sacrificial purposes was a surprise for us, as we could only think of Dharmic religion as of vegan. However, later in Kathmandu we got more enlightened knowing that unlike most of India, animal slaughtering is a common practice around Nepali temples, so much so that one of the temples claims conducting biggest animal sacrifice on earth including 15000 buffalo plus other animals! Safe for beef, Nepali Hindus don’t mind having meat either; chicken, mutton, buffalo, etc.

Unfortunately, we could not make it all the way to the temple and had to come down, through the same chairlift, because of the drizzling was getting heavier and then we wanted to make it back to Kathmandu before sunset – which proved not an easy task.

After a some effort and Urooba’s resilience we managed to reach Budhanilkantha’s Family Kitchen where we would stay for one more night before starting Part 3 of Nepal trip from the next day.

It Was This Early That Even Hotel Gates Were Closed
Stuck in the Land Sliding
Long Queue
Reached Kurintar - Cable Car's Base Station
Vendors on the Main Prithvi Highway
Deposited the Backpack Here
First We Had to Go Down
Sign Board
Devotees Started Coming In
Rush at the Ticket Station
Aesthetic Walkway to the Cable Car
Manakamana Ticket: NPR 475 for SAARC Nationals
We Were Waiting for Our Turn
Now Seated Inside
It Was Really Steep
Add caption
Banana Tree on the Hill
Trees and Clouds
Will Heaven Be Like This?
Cloud 9!
Up the Hill
Pilgrims Included People of All Ages
Showers Were Getting Heavier
Vendors On the Top
Manakamana Temple
Coming Down
Back to the Base Station
It Was Picturesque All Around
Black Goat For Sacrifice

Today’s Bills – in Nepali Rupees

Bus Ticket - Chitwan to Manakamana
Sight Seeing
Cable Car Ticket - Manakamana 
Luggae Hold - Manakamana
Tea, Paratha, etc
Bus Ticket - Manakamana to KTM
Microbus - KTM to Budhanilkantha
Milk, etc
Total for May 20, 2013

Total as of Today

Traveler’s Tip # 16: Manakamana Cable Car Enroute Chitwan or Pokhara
If either of Chitwan or Pokhara is there in your Nepal itinerary, then stopping by at Kurintar for Manakamana cable car is highly recommended for a rich combination of natural and cultural experience. It is advisable to reach the base station as early to avoid the rush of followers which grows as the day passes and can result in long queues. Two-way ticket price is NPR 475 for SAARC nationals and USD 15 for foreigners. And if you would also like to take a sacrificial goat along, keep NPR 180 extra bearing in mind that you may not bring it back!

Logistics is a challenge though because both Chitwan and Pokhara are best done by direct tourist buses from Kathmandu and breaking the journey for Manakamana means you have to do the onward travel at your own which might not be the easiest thing albeit it is located right on the Prithvi Highway. We also found it difficult to find a couple of seats in the passing-by microbuses, our best bet, as other buses, especially coasters, were more of a tourist trap and should be avoided at all costs.

Getting a transport from Chitwan was also not easy, especially when we wanted avoid the afternoon tourist bus, due to time constraints. We had to do a little effort to find out that there would be a hi-ace early in the morning which would be our best bet. The extra effort was more due to the unavailability of information as everyone we asked looked like making a commission rather than directing the relevant person, whom we finally found around Rhino Chowk. Just to mention, they charge the full ticket to Kathmandu, i.e. NPR 400, no matter we dropped off half the way, but we didn't mind that due to no other options. Good thing was that the hi-ace came to pick us up right from the hotel. It is another tail that it then picked every other passenger from their homes!

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