15 of the Most Beautiful Sacred Sites in Nepal

Boudhanath Buddhist monument lit up with colorful lights at night

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Nepal is a predominantly Hindu country (81 percent) with a strong and visible Buddhist minority (9 percent), meaning it contains an attractive mix of religious sites. As Hinduism and Buddhism share common roots and histories, many sacred sites are actually important to both faiths. These sites aren't restricted to built structures: Natural features like mountains and lakes are also often considered sacred in Nepal. Wherever you go in this small, landlocked South Asian country, you will certainly see evidence of the Nepali people's deep and ancient culture and religious systems. Here are some of the most beautiful sacred sites in Nepal.

01 of 15

Boudhanath Stupa

golden Buddhist stupa strung with colorful prayer flags

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Address
Pawo Gompa, Road, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal

Boudhanath Stupa is the holiest Tibetan Buddhist site outside of Tibet, and certainly one of the most beautiful sites in Kathmandu. The enormous whitewashed dome is topped with an ornate gold-plated pinnacle, painted with the wise eyes of Buddha, and strung with thousands of colorful prayer flags. The present structure is believed to date from the 14th century (although it was significantly restored after the 2015 earthquake), although holy structures have probably existed here for much longer.

02 of 15

Pashupatinath Temple

Hindu temples set beside a river

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Address
Pashupati Nath Road 44621, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal
Phone
+977 1-4470340

Pashupatinath Temple, on the banks of Kathmandu's Bagmati River, is the holiest Hindu temple in Nepal. Many Indian, as well as local Nepali pilgrims, visit. Devout Hindus come here to die and be cremated on the banks of the holy river (which is, unfortunately, very highly polluted). It's not known exactly how old this Shiva temple is, but some of it dates from the 4th century B.C.E., and different buildings reflect different architectural styles. Only Hindus are allowed inside the temple buildings, but all visitors are allowed inside the grounds. Pashupatinath is especially crowded during the annual Shivaratri festival, when sadhus (Hindu holy men) converge on the temple.

03 of 15

Swayambhunath Stupa

white dome with golden spire and colorful Tibetan prayer flags

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Address
Swayambhunath, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal
Phone
+977 984-0165847

While the white dome and golden pinnacle of Swayambhunath Stupa look a bit like those of Boudhanath, this Buddhist site on top of a hill overlooking Kathmandu has quite a different feel. Swayambhu is smaller, but surrounded by lots of other interesting structures, as well as hundreds of monkeys (hence its nickname, the Monkey Temple). The holy complex has been in use since the 5th century, and is definitely one of Kathmandu's must-visit sites.

04 of 15

Namo Buddha

small white Buddhist stupas with colorful Tibetan prayer flags

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Address
Namobuddha Rd, Simalchaur Syampati 45200, Nepal
Phone
+977 11-683183

Located a couple of hours' drive east of Kathmandu, the small village of Namo Buddha houses Nepal's second-most holy Tibetan Buddhist site. The Namo Buddha stupa is small compared to Boudhanath or Swayambhunath in Kathmandu, but marks the spot where the Buddha is believed to have sacrificed himself to a hungry tiger during one of his incarnations. On a clear day, the Himalayan views from Namo Buddha are sweeping, and the newer Thrangu Tashi Choling Monastery is also worth checking out.

Continue to 5 of 15 below.
05 of 15

Budhanilkantha Temple

reclining statue of Hindu Lord Vishnu with orange marigold garlands

Bidur Prasad Shiwakoti / EyeEm / Getty Images

 

Address
Golfutar Main Rd, Budhanilkantha 44600, Nepal

The Budhanilkantha Temple on the northern edge of Kathmandu is a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu with a rare kind of statue. Vishnu is portrayed reclining in a pond, surrounded by (stone) serpents, and draped in bright orange marigold garlands. Its name actually has nothing to do with Buddha, as many English speakers assume: "Budha" refers to the Nepali word for old man, and "nil" means the color blue. Together, the name translates as "Old Blue Throat." Pro tip: Budhanilkantha Temple is a good place to visit on the way to the Shivapuri National Park.

06 of 15

Manakamana Temple

pagoda temple lit up at night

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Address
Manakamana, Nepal
Phone
+977 56-410012

Located high on a hill in Gorkha District, the Manakamana Temple can be reached via a challenging uphill trek from the Trishuli River, or a scenic cable car ride from Kurintar (on the highway between Kathmandu and Pokhara). The pagoda-style temple was badly damaged in the 2015 earthquake, but has since been repaired. On a clear day, there are good views of the Himalayas as Gorkha district is home to some of Nepal's highest mountains.

07 of 15

Muktinath Temple

black and white temple surrounded by trees

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Address
Muktinath-Chumig Gyatsa Pilgrimage Site, Muktinath 33100, Nepal
Phone
+977 985-1134950

Trekkers on the Annapurna Circuit pass the Muktinath Temple, located beneath the high-altitude Thorong La Pass, in remote Lower Mustang. Whether you get there via trekking or Jeep from the village of Kagbeni below, reaching the Muktinath Temple is quite an adventure. As it's more than 12,000 feet in altitude, the mountain views are unparalleled. Many Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims make the trip to this holy site. Followers of both religions believe it to be a place where liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth can be found.

08 of 15

Lumbini Peace Park

white Buddhist stupa behind a lily pond

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Address
Sandhikharka 32700, Nepal

This small town on the Western Terai (the plains bordering India) is where Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born in 623 B.C.E. The site of the Buddha's birth was "lost" for many centuries, but the archaeological evidence here is overwhelming. Unsurprisingly, Lumbini is a major pilgrimage site for Buddhists from around the world, along with sites just across the border in Northern India such as Sarnath and Bodhgaya.

Continue to 9 of 15 below.
09 of 15

Mt. Kanchenjunga

snow-capped mountains with clouds and blue sky

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Address
Kangchenjunga

The third highest mountain in the world sits on Nepal's eastern border with India. Like many other peaks in Nepal, it is considered sacred by the mainly Buddhist locals, who consider it to be a protector god. The 28,169-foot mountain can be climbed, but most travelers prefer to get a glimpse from an easier vantage point. Many short treks in eastern Nepal offer views of the mountain, especially those in the Ilam area, where tea is grown.

10 of 15

Lake Gosainkunda

blue lake surrounded by mountains

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Address
Gosainkunda, 45000, Nepal

Lake Gosainkunda sits in the Langtang National Park directly north of Kathmandu. The 14,370-foot-high lake is surrounded by beautiful mountains and frozen for about half the year. Hindu mythology states that the gods Shiva and Gauri lived here, and thousands of pilgrims flock here during the Gangadashahara and the Janai Purnima festivals. In addition to pilgrims, some travelers make their way here while hiking the easier Langtang Valley trek.

11 of 15

Mt. Everest

Mt. Everest. world's tallest mountain, covered in snow

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Address
Mt Everest

Called Sagarmatha in the Nepali language and Chomolungma/Qomolongma in Sherpa/Tibetan, Mt. Everest is sacred to the local Sherpa people who came over the mountains from Tibet several centuries ago. While the ethics of climbing the Mother Goddess are questionable (and the trek to Everest Base Camp is one of the more crowded in Nepal), the mountain can be seen from various other spots throughout the Himalayas, especially in eastern Nepal. On a very clear day, it can even be glimpsed from Kathmandu if you know what you're looking for.

12 of 15

Annapurna Sanctuary

people walking through snowy landscape and high mountains

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Address
Annapurna Sanctuary, Ghandruk 33700, Nepal

At the foot of the Annapurna massif in western Nepal, the Annapurna Sanctuary is a conservation area around the mountain's glacial basin that is also spiritually important. Because Lord Shiva, one of the most important Hindu gods, is believed to live in these mountains, the sanctuary is a sacred place to Hindus.

Plus, the local Gurung people, who are mostly Buddhists, worship these mountains for all they provide them with. Until recently, eggs, meat, women, and people belonging to the "untouchable" caste were banned from entering the sanctuary. While women and members of all castes can now enter, it's still a good idea to respect local beliefs and keep eggs and meat out.

Continue to 13 of 15 below.
13 of 15

Janaki Mandir, Janakpur

temple with decorative turrets at sunset

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Address
Janakpur 45600, Nepal
Phone
+977 41-522023

The city of Janakpur, on the eastern Terai, is believed to be the birthplace of Hindu goddess Sita, Lord Ram's wife, who is also referred to as Janaki. It's been a holy site for many centuries, but the gorgeous Hindu-Koiri-style temple that is the town's centerpiece dates from 1910. It looks like the kind of building you'd see in India's Rajasthan state, and is very unusual in Nepal.

14 of 15

Mt. Macchapuchhare

pointed mountain lit up at sunset

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Address
Machhapuchhare, Machhapuchchhre 33700, Nepal

Another of Nepal's sacred mountains, Macchapuchhare (aka Fishtail) cannot be climbed. In fact, at 22,943 feet, it's the highest peak never to have been climbed (officially). You don't need to climb it to enjoy it, though: The pointed peak looms behind the lakeside city of Pokhara, and can be seen from many treks in the Annapurna Himalaya.

15 of 15

Kailash Sacred Landscape

snowy mountains lake and colorful Tibetan prayer flags

 Rudolph Thalhammer / Getty Images

Address
Kailash 10500, Nepal

Although holy Mt. Kailash and Lake Mansarovar sit in southwestern Tibet, parts of the 19,200-square-foot Kailash Sacred Landscape fall in far-western Nepal. The whole area is culturally and biophysically significant and dotted with snowy peaks, high-altitude lakes, and religious sites. It's where the waters of four major South Asian rivers originate: the Indus, Sutlej, Brahmaputra, and Karnali. The area is holy to Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and followers of the Tibetan Bon religion.

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15 Sacred Sites in Nepal That Are Just As Significant As They Are Beautiful