When a temple is befittingly titled Muktinath (a place of liberation), you can be certain of two things. Witnessing it in the flesh will be a magnificent experience. And it will certainly not be easy to attain. Nestled at a daunting 12,500 feet, this unique temple is one of the earliest Hindu temples dedicated to God Vishnu. It is among the very few places that sees an equal devotion of both the Hindu and the Buddhist community.
Despite being at such an intimidating height, it is, somewhat fortuitously, motorable through the Thorong La mountain pass.
Our journey commences from Kathmandu - the capital city of Nepal. Although motorable, we decided to take a 30-minute flight out of Kathmandu to Pokhara, our first stop on the destination. After a quick stretch of the legs, we were off on to a 175 kms drive from Pokhara right into the Annapurna Conservation Area.
The journey from Pokhara to Muktinath temple is both challenging and visually breathtaking. In addition, it asks of you that you be prepared. Which is why we picked a Tata Safari Storme for this journey. Although the term 'best SUV' is used loosely in current times, most cars are not genuinely geared up for this kind of journey. The Tata Safari Storme credentials of being "the real SUV", and was the ideal choice for the terrain.
The next stop on our voyage was Beni. A cool 100 kms beyond Pokhara, the journey was swiftly covered in just a matter of 4 hours. Clearly, there was tougher terrain ahead.
At our halt in Beni, we were greeted by the friendly staff at the Tata Motors Service centre. They promptly gave our Tata Safari Storme a thorough once-over and declared us fit for the road ahead.
We then proceeded towards Jomsom - a small town at the base of the Nilgiri Himal (23,166 feet). A town often used as base camp for climbers to the mountain; it also hosts a small airstrip, which sees daily flights from Pokhara.
Jomsom is a reasonable 95 kilometers from Beni, but can easily take more than 7 hours depending on the weather conditions. The roads are mere hints of tracks in many places and they snake along the Kali Gandaki River. The Tata Storme, however, went some way in making the journey seem easier than it actually was.
The Nepalese mostly commute on these tough roads on Tata Motors UV's like the Tata Sumo and the Tata Safari. Most locals believed that the Tata Safari Storme was the best SUV we could have gotten for the course. Apart from these, the locals only recommend 4x4 SUV's and other vehicles with high ground clearance.
To give you a lay of the landscape, the Kali Gandaki River separates the two major peaks of Dhaulagiri (26,795 feet) and the Annapurna (26,545 feet). The Gandaki River flows through some of its deepest sections. At one point along the way, a short 7 kms from Tukuche, the gorge trespassed by the Gandaki is claimed to be the world's deepest.
After a rather chilly night in Jomsom, we leave fresh in the morning for our destination - Muktinath (12,500 feet).
Although just a mere 20 km from Jomsom the ride takes us no less than two and a half hours. Owing to the bridge construction being underway, we had to cut across through the Kali Gandaki riverbed. A convenient shortcut for those riding a Tata Storme or equivalent.
We finally arrive at Ranipauwa (12,200 feet) - a small settlement with quaint cafes, restaurants and souvenirs shops. A nice hot cup of coffee later, we finish our trip with a pleasant 40 min trek up to the Muktinath temple.
And as imagined, the experience was truly liberating for the mind and soul.
-Mr. Sachin Sawhney