My Visit to Damodar Kund – Ambarisa Dasa
[17th June-1st July 2019]
Since years I had harbored the desire to go on a pilgrimage to the most sacred Damodar Kund, the origin of kali Gandaki river, the only place where shaligrams are originally found in this world. Damodar Kund is a glacial lake that lies high in the Himalayas in the restricted Upper Mustang region of Nepal (near the Southern Tibetan border). At 4890 meters, Damodar Kund is extremely inaccessible, largely due to rough terrain, high altitude and extremely costly permits, and thus only a handful can practically take this pilgrimage. A visit to Damodar kund needs proper planning and guidance from someone who is aware of that terrain.
For years I tried looking up for all sorts of info on the internet about travel to Damodar Kund. Blogs with first hand experiences of travellers and so on. However besides a couple of short videos there was nothing comprehensively covered that would give someone an idea about what it takes to go to Damodara Kund. There was only itinerary dished out by many trekking companies outlining a break up of different locations that they cover during the trek. And that too, it was mostly about Lo Manthang, a walled city which is the capital of Upper Mustang province [bordering the Tibet Autonomous Region of China], which falls on the same route except that from Tsarang you take the route to Yara and then on to Damodar Kund.
The scope of this blog is not to discuss the spiritual significance of Damodar Kund or Shaligram worship, it is for those who are already aware of the glories and are inclined in taking a pilgrimage to Damodar Kund. And also for the majority who might never get an opportunity to go on this most adventurous pilgrimage.
All the requisite permits to enter Upper Mustang have to be taken as per the requirement by the government. Sadhus are allowed passage in this prohibited land however one local travel agent friend warned that trespassers are dealt with strictly and upon getting caught by the authorities, they are put behind bars.
Damodar kund is situated approximately 4890 meters above sea level; that translates to over 16000 feet. At such high altitude there are many considerations that come into the play. Thanks to the weather, Damodar Kund remains inaccessible to the pilgrims throughout most of the year, being covered under snow except for the two months: mid-June to mid-august. It is during this time that a couple of Nepali sadhus reside there in a small settlement to offer some assistance to the traveling pilgrims – a handful helpings of warm water [stored in huge flasks] served in steel mugs and black tea made with lemon and ginger, warmed in aluminum kettles on slow wood fire which gives them a smoky flavor. There is also some rice and watery lentil soup [Nepali Dal Bhat] served in the evening [and perhaps in the afternoon]. Traveling pilgrims offer some donation being grateful for the timely help.
HOW IT HAPPENED FOR ME
I received a call from a devotee friend in Nepal informing that a group of Sri Vaisnavas were planning to go to Damodar Kund around 21st June, so if I wish to take advantage, I got to be in Pokhara by 20th June. Sure enough, I latched on to the invitation along with my godbrother.
We were a part of the second batch headed to Damodar Kund, a total of six Vaiṣṇavas.
Myself [Ambarisa Dasa] and my god-brother, Vijay Krishna Dasa, were the only two Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, who joined their 2nd batch of devotees from Pokhara.
There was an advance party of five devotees that had already proceeded to Damodar Kund a week in advance for the construction of a new steel-based temple being erected for the installation of a beautiful marble Deity of Damodar Krishna weighing 120kgs, carved from Jaipur.
On 21st June the Deity was flown down in a chopper to Damodar Kund with four other devotees. This group had already covered all the 108 divya desams of Śrī Vaiṣṇavas over the two months, and for some, the culmination of their yatra was at Damodar Kund.
Day 1 [21st June]
LOCATION: POKHARA TO KAGBENI [2800M]
JEEP: 15000 INR
DURATION: 9 HR
Road construction was perennially on everywhere in full swing. There was drilling and blasting, and frequently we spotted road construction vehicles like Excavators, Concrete Mixers, Dump trucks and bulldozers throughout the entire stretch from Beni to Jomsom and even upto Yara. The whole route has been practically dug out.
Tip: Perhaps give it another couple of years for the road work to be completed, if you wish your yatra to be less adventurous!
Although the distance in kilometers is just around 159, the road conditions were so demanding that is took us 9 hours including a 45 minute lunch prasada break at Galeshwar, Muktinatha Santa Seva Ashram.
Please note that Nepali drivers like to play music while driving. If you politely notify them, some may agree to put on their earphones [Only in case of a private vehicle. Public transport vehicles will not entertain your request anyways] and spare you the mercy of peacefully chanting Harinama.
Day 2 [22nd June]
LOCATION: KAGBENI TO CHUSANG [2962 M]
JEEP: 3125 INR
DURATION: 1 HR
After a comfortable night stay at Hotel Yeti in Kagbeni, we took a Jeep for a one hour drive to Chusang at 7.30 am. There is also a Muktinath Santa Seva Ashram in Kagbeni where simple Vaisnava prasada of Dal, Roti, Subzi and Rice is served in exchange of a humble donation. They have basic accommodation for 40 odd pilgrims as well. This ashram is right at the beginning of the town as you come from Jomsom by the riverbed side.
A jeep costs 5000 Nepali [3125 INR] and it can accommodate up to 8 travelers. At Chusang, there is a counter [before the foot bridge] where you can hire another jeep for your onward journey to Yara. Jeeps from Kagbeni or Jomsom only ply till Chusang, because the river there is too wide to cross over. So one needs to cross over a bridge by foot and get a pre-booked jeep on the other side of the bridge waiting for you. By the way, construction of a bigger bridge is under way, perhaps in a year or two, the cars should directly be able to go till Yara.
What kind of a driver you get is completely up to your luck. Some are co-operative and sweet while some are arrogant and incorrigible. They blare Nepali and Bollywood songs on their music system and it is a complete mayhem. While going to Yara we had Chakralama, a complete sweetheart, he stopped wherever we had to click photos and he listened to the music on his earphones. However on our return journey, we had a tangentially opposite experience.
TIP: The Chusang route is only open from 9-11am and 4-6pm due to on-going construction. If you don’t catch these timings, then you will have to simply wait on the road. So please check the timings from the locals before you head off.
LOCATION: CHUSANG TO YARA [3530M]
JEEP: 18000 INR
DURATION: 7 HRS
We began our journey to Yara at 9 am and reached there at 4.15 pm with one 20 min halt in between for a snack. Only 4WD vehicles ply on this terrain. For most parts, you can’t call it a road. Its just some rubble and stones stacked up together with mud and ditches and even waterfalls in small patches [for the most part]. You feel like you are part of some off-roading rally. If you keep the window panes down, be ready to consume loads of dust. But the drivers know these so-called roads like the back of their hands.
At Yara there is also Muktinatha Santa Seva Ashram run under the stewardship of Sri Rishi Swamy Prapannacarya, a kind hearted Sri Vaisnava who has ashrams at 5 other locations – Pokhara, Galeshwara, Jomsom, Muktinatha, and Kagbeni. This Ashram is again a humble setting which can accommodate up to 20-25 pilgrims with one toilet and a bathroom. There is always someone to make simple roti, dal, rice, warm water and tea. Traveling pilgrims whole heartedly offer some donation being grateful for the facilities provided even at such inaccessible locations.
Upon our arrival at Yara, we figured out that the ashram was already overcrowded, so we checked into New Damodara Kund Lodge across the ashram up a hillock – 2 bed attached bath with solar heated warm water for 200 INR per night.
Fortunately for us, we came across a devotee friend from Vrindavan residing in that ashram who cooked some rotis and subzi for us that night. He was waiting at Yara for a couple of devotees who had gone to Damodar Kund on foot, before he could head back to Vrindavan with them.
From Yara onwards, one has no choice in terms of food and accommodation. Its just better to always remember that you have voluntarily chosen this austerity for a higher purpose of reaching and accessing a sacred place like Damodar Kund!
We left some extra luggage at our hotel only to pick it up after three days so that we could travel with less weight. Because at high altitude every gram of weight counts!
Day 3 [23rd June]
LOCATION: YARA TO GHUMA THANTI [4800M – FIRST AND ONLY BASE CAMP]
OVERALL DURATION: 6 HRS
ON FOOT: 2.5 HRS
We hired horses at Yara at 4700 INR per horse. The jeep service counter at Chusang called up Yara and informed them about our requirement and gave us the relevant contact details. Yara-Damodar Kund-Yara circuit takes three days unless weather causes any impediments. Our two guides, Pema Tshring [+977 9867848557] and Kunga, both neighbors from village Ghara, who owned six horses between them, were very responsible, friendly and committed. And most importantly, they knew their job well.
There were at least 12-15 guides assembled at Yara with their horses.
We assembled at what I call the Yara Square, a valley like place located in the middle of the village, where all the 30 odd horses bound for Damodar Kund arrived at 8am and after systematically packing and loading all our baggage onto the horses, we eventually began at 8.45am. There were another 25-30 pilgrims from Nepal and India with the 6 of us traveling to Damodar Kund that day.
For the next three days we were subjected to constant tingling of bells hung around the horses’ necks, loads of horse feces’ odor and the intermittent whistling of the guides to maneuver the horses. Gusty winds were our constant companions, and miles and miles of cold mountains. We also sporadically spotted herds of musk deers and fatigued monks traveling on foot to Damodar Kund. On one side was Gandaki, quietly making her descent from the mountains.
The guides told us that even Lions, Zebras and Leopards are spotted around Damodar Kund.
After about an hour of riding alongside the river, we began our ascent, and I couldn’t believe that we were sometimes scaling 15-30 degree incline for stretches between 05-15 mins on the trot. On the way, the weather suddenly changed [as is expected] and we encountered 15 mins of strong rain and chilly winds. All our baggage including our extra set of clothes became wet. Make sure you have a raincoat and a plastic cover to drape around your haversack.
After about forty minutes of leaving Yara, there is no mobile network anywhere.
And even if you hire a horse, be prepared to cover at least 40% of the total distance on foot primarily because the horses cannot handle the weight wherever there is too much descent [slope]. Also, these intermittent breaks allow them to recuperate from the hard labor and carry on further. During the onward journey to Damodar Kund, there is approximately 60% steep and 40% descent as we cross over different mountains and on the way back the equation is reverse.
Please note that in case you are not capable of walking that much, you can continue to be on the horse even during the descent at an extra cost of 3750 INR. Nevertheless, you still have to cover 10-15% of the distance on foot, because there are certain sections where it is just impossible to be on a horse.
We reached Ghuma Thanti at 3 pm. Overall 6 hours of traveling time and 2.5 hours out of it where walking was involved. That short spell of rain had disrupted us a bit and upon reaching the camp, we straightaway looked for our accommodation, which was just a shelter made of asbestos where around 20 pilgrims could squeeze in. The guides had warned us, to first reserve our respective places before they get occupied on a first come first serve basis [there is another smaller shelter right next to the bigger one which perhaps can occupy another 15 pilgrims]. Many had to camp outside in their tents. I can’t imagine how that would have been for an experience. The journey was so tiring that we lay down at 6pm and rose out of our sleeping bags straight at 6am.
Ghuma Thanti was windy, overcast and relentlessly cold. As far as I can remember, most of us couldn’t sleep that night due to headache and the biting cold despite being tucked into our sleeping bags with an additional blanket to cover us. A few of them were vomiting throughout the night. The change in altitude was evident from the fact that even an act of passing water [urinating] made one experience an exertion of having climbed 15 floors in tandem, literally!
We had resolved not to proceed ahead if the bad weather persisted. We also met with a couple of devotee friends from Vrindavan who had already spent 2 nights there due to the bad weather disallowing them to proceed further to Damodar Kund and the news was around that it was snowing there heavily. I felt very disappointed, after all the planning and hard work, time, effort and money, and more importantly, sacrificing my commitments back in Vrindavan, there was a possibility that we might not be able to proceed further after having come so far. Added to the fact that each extra day came with an additional charge of 1250 INR for the horses, over and above enduring the bad weather and the meagre facilities.
There are no Vaisnavas at this point onwards who do the cooking. Two bold and generous women manage this base camp and provide everything from warm water to tea to basic rice and dal. But fortunately for us those two devotees from Vrindavan cooked, otherwise we were only planning to sustain on the dry snacks we had carried.
Our prayers had paid off, next day there was bright sunshine with no trace of rain. Our hopes renewed.
Day 4 [24th June]
LOCATION: GHUMA THANTI TO DAMODARA KUND [4890 M]
TRAVELLING TIME: 8 HRS
ON FOOT: 3.5 HRS
We began at 8am. This was supposed to be longer than what we had covered the previous day. The wind chill made us have only mantra snana at Ghuma Thanti, although there were a few bravehearts who ventured in the spine chilling early morning cold and took a full bath. There was more walking to be done than the previous day. But thanks to the weather, it was manageable.
On this day, there were many stretches with pathways only 1.5 to 3 feet wide and thousands of feet deep valley on the other side! The guides subtly hinted that we should just focus on the path, neither look left or right, and maintain our balance on the horse by firmly gripping the saddle with both hands. There was little or no margin for error. One slip and you are history! This made me realize my utter insignificance in comparison to the greatness of Lord’s material energy. The combination made me, at least circumstantially, more surrendered. I was constantly trying to chant the maha-mantra – Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. As one devotee at Yara who had just returned from Damodar Kund had pointed out to me, “Only the Lord will take you there and only He will bring you back. There is no other way. Just constantly take shelter of His holy name.” I felt as if my Gurudeva had reassured me through her prophetic words and I just followed her advice.
However at that altitude your mind is not as responsive as it normally is. Some even complained of delirium.
Whenever the horses ascend, one needs to lean forward to balance the weight, and when they descend, one needs to lean backwards by holding onto the back of the saddle. This is makes their job easier.
With a one-hour snack break, we reached Damodar Kund at 4 pm. A perfectly sunny day. We stopped briefly 15 mins before Damodar Kund and inhaled some oxygen from the bottles we had carried. But frankly I didn’t feel the need. I felt more comfortable at Damodar Kund than at Ghuma Thanti, although the latter is at lower altitude.
I myself couldn’t believe that I had finally made it to Damodar Kund. One sadhu pointed out, “Do not step inside the kund, just fetch some water and bathe outside.” So I offered prostrated obeisance, took snana and circumambulated the kund once. It came across as very shallow and there was certainly no sign of shaligrams in there. Locals said, that three hours [not as much for the distance but for the elevation] northward walk from this Kund is the famous Shalagram mountain. But I had no energy left to take that extra pilgrimage, although I met one sadhu who did manage to go there. He generously gifted me one shaligram.
Next to Damodar Kund is Sunu Kund, connected to Kṛṣṇa’s pastime. I took acamana there and came back to the camp. And rested nicely for the night after taking some snacks I had packed. One of our devotees prepared a quick upma using that sadhu’s facility.
As you are approaching Damodar Kund, there is Sesa Kund and Manohar Kund to your right, and just next to the base camp there is Tamra Kund where Lord Siva had taken bath. I bathed at Tamra kund the next morning before heading to Yara. So overall there are five kunds. All these details need scriptural validation though. I am just quoting what I heard from the local sadhus. Because generally it is observed that the details get saturated and mixed up over time.
At Damodar Kund there are two stone-walled rooms with asbestos roof which can accommodate up to 45-50 traveling pilgrims literally squeezed in next to each other, moaning and groaning from a grueling journey from the base camp – Ghuma Thanti. There are only a few blankets on offer on a first come first serve basis so make sure you are amongst the first few to reach the camp on a given day. If you reach late, chances are you will neither get a place to sleep inside the room nor a blanket to cover yourself!
Interestingly, it was a mixed bag of pilgrims. On that day, we had a group of 5 from Nepal next to us who were high on smoking Ganja and loudly absorbed singing a range of bhajans glorifying Lord Siva to Hanuman to Sitaram to Damodar Kund. While there were others who were continuously chatting about life and things in general. So be prepared to embrace all eventualities! However as the night grew colder, there was a pin drop silence.
There is another bigger structure 20 meters away from those walled rooms fully made of asbestos [which makes it colder than the walled rooms] where the guides rest for the night with their horses tied outside. However, sometimes, pilgrims who couldn’t accommodate themselves in the walled rooms also take shelter there. There is only one toilet and one bathroom. Needless to say, it is avoidable. Rather go out there in the nature at the expense of enduring some cold. But for the female pilgrims, they may still prefer the indoors.
Whether you reach there by foot or on a horse, you have to inevitably spend the night at Damodar kund before you head back, since it is practically impossible to begin from Ghuma Thanti [the base camp], reach Damodar Kund and get back to Ghuma Thanti on the same day. Unless you flew down on a chopper, in which case, you have around ten minutes to take a dip in the kund before you head back to Jomsom; the chopper engine remains on as it is difficult to restart the engine in such cold weather.
From Yara to the base camp and from the base camp to Damodar Kund, it is pure wilderness – a no man’s land!
Day 5 [25th June]
LOCATION: DAMODARA KUND TO YARA VIA GHUMMA THANTI
TRAVELLING TIME: 12 HRS
ON FOOT: 5 HRS
This is the longest but perhaps the easiest of stretches as there is more descent to cover. You need to have strong knees. Although the on-foot duration was 5 hrs, mentally it was relaxing as we were proceeding back to Yara which was practically not cold at all compared to Ghuma Thanti and Damodar Kund. It had snowed the previous day at Damodar Kund and there was 2 feet of snow everywhere outside the base camp and the kund itself.
Our advance party of 5 devotees had encountered -10 degree temperature on the night they spent at Damodara Kund a week back, and instead of spending two days, they returned the very next day.
On our way back, we stopped over at least on four to five occasions after long stretches of descent. I had trained well before the yatra. Every day I had walked for 3 to 3.5 hours and climbed 30 floors. So I managed almost at the pace of the horses and the guides during the descent, while most others were struggling.
During our first halt, which was also the longest, we could easily search for the shaligrams around the river. Many were bigger in size and hence impractical to carry. A few shaligrams came my way! Many devotees collected shaligrams but I could tell from the quality of shaligrams that the area was already cleaned up by the locals who sell the good ones to the shopkeepers. The kind of shaligrams with vadanas (mouth/opening) and chakras that you get to see on the internet are only available in the shops around Pashupatinath temple because of the ongoing high demand. It is quiet disappointing that even for those who take the efforts to reach such an inaccessible place with an intention to search for the Lordships themselves, hardly come across any rare shaligrams which are an ever depleting resource. Because most of the good ones have already been picked from the river. To spot a Narasingha or Damodar or Laxmi Narayana Shaligram is almost an impossibility.
We took around 12 hours partly because our group was delayed in their descent by 30-40 mins for each of the four occasions that we stopped over. Otherwise we could have managed within 10 hours. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link!
On the way back, I realized that some of the horses were off roading and moving towards greener pastures whenever they got the opportunity. Upon inquiring from the guides, I was told that this was their third successive trip to Damodar Kund from Yara and hence their hooves were beginning to wear out. However, I was assured that after our trip they would be rested, massaged and fed nicely for a few days to recuperate before they begin their drill again. After all, its a peak time for them. During winter season, these guides settle with their families at lower altitudes like Pokhara and Kathmandu and make a living by selling some things or getting some odd jobs.
One handy advice – Come prepared for the yatra. Do a lot of physical training and breathing exercises. Otherwise you will have a hard time!
There were many shops selling a variety of Shaligrams around Muktinath, Kagbeni, Jomsom, Pokhara and mainly Kathmandu near Pashupatinath temple. However, since it is not scripturally sanctioned, we never ventured into it. There are many who do not have the liberty of taking such pilgrimage themselves and perhaps consider buying as their only resort to begin worshipping a Shaligram.
Top to bottom: Varaha, Sudarshan, Pitambar, Hiranyagarbha, small Pitambar, Krsna Govinda, Govinda and Damodar.
We reached Yara at 8.15 pm, the farthest any group had taken to reach Yara as told by our guide Pema. The previous worst was 7.45 pm after having started at 8 am from Damodar Kund. Our last hour on the horse was in complete darkness. For the last 20 mins we had to put on our mobile flash lights which the horses are not naturally attuned to. Thankfully the last stretch was only the plains after having descended.
But it was all worth it. We had successfully managed to complete a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Damodar Kund.
After resting that night at Yara we left for Kagbeni the very next day by jeep and also covered Muktinath on the way [for an additional 3125 INR] before our night halt at Jomsom.
A visit to Muktinath and the sacred 108 dhara snana
From Muktinath we reached Pokhara the next day by Jeep and spent a couple of days to recuperate before we went back to India.
Our host Kundan is a very humble and a resourceful devotee. Besides attending college, he manages Muktinath Sant Seva Ashram at Pokhara. He attended to all our needs and saw to it that we had a comfortable stay. Although this ashram has basic amenities, their dealings with the pilgrims are very heart warming. All the devotees in charge of cooking and managing the ashram are very friendly. I would rather sacrifice the comfort of staying at a hotel and be in such Vaisnava association.
General Tips: On what to carry
2) Sun block cream
3) Petroleum jelly to keep your lips and nose lubricated
4) Woolen Monkey cap that covers your ears and neck
6) Good quality winter jacket
7) Woolen Scarf for extra padding if needed
8) Pollution mask
9) Thermals and wind-proof track pants
10) Trekking shoes and thin woolen socks
11) Snack bars, dry fruits, biscuits and small packs of juices or flavored milk
12) Keep something sweet and sour to pop in intermittently as it causes salivation in your mouth which generally goes dry due to high altitude. Locals sell pickle sachets. Lemon, dried mango slices are also a good option.
13) Instant Noodles are also very handy.
15) Medicine kit – Headache, loose motions, vomiting, fever, altitude sickness and whatever you anticipate as per your constitution
16) Electral powder for instant energy [Especially necessary after lots of vomiting]
17) Hand gloves
18) Walking sticks
19) Oxygen bottle
20) Personal set of plate, bowl, spoon/fork and a glass for the sake of your own sanctity
21) Thick shawl that can double up for a blanket at nights
22) Fresh bottle to take back sacred Damodar Kund water
23) A multipurpose Swiss Knife
24) Power bank – there is no electricity beyond Yara, so if you wish to take photos and videos. Its a must.
25) A Well insulated sleeping bag
Nepal is an expensive place although the currency is cheaper. It is only perceived as cheap, but it is not. Only accommodation is cheap but not food.
For instance, an MTR Canned Badam Milk is available for 30 INR in India, in Nepal it is 80 INR. You will have to pay more for all ready-to-eat snacks imported from India like Haldirams. So do your shopping in India to save costs. A 500ml soft drink bottle at Yara costed one of the pilgrims 140 INR! At Jomsom it was 220 INR! In India it costs 35 INR. Four Bananas costed me a whopping 50 INR near Beni.
A 200 INR Uber ride in India will cost you around 400 or 500 INR in Nepal plus complimentary smoke and dust in a non-ac local cab.
A 300 INR good quality meal in India will cost you 500 INR in Nepal.
But Nepalese in general are warm, friendly and service oriented.
Throughout our yatra we depended on staying at the temples for Vaiṣṇava prasada.
My entire trip [17Th June to 1st July 2019] costed me approximately 35000 INR from Vrindavan to Damodar Kund and back – food, travel and accommodation. Only 6 of us travelled in jeeps where 8 can fit in, so that should bring the cost down marginally. While going I travelled by bus and train, and on my way back, I took a flight from Gorakhpur to Delhi. It is always better to plan your trip in advance and fly directly to Kathmandu at cheaper rates as the roads are generally accident prone.
Places where you can get Vaiṣṇava prasada
1) Venkatesh Mandira, 32 Putali Road, Pashupatinatha Goshala, Kathmandu. Padmadhara Swami, Acarya of the Matha. [you will have to check in advance. They run a Gurukul and may not be able to entertain too many guests]
2) Aniyor Veg and Vegan Restaurant at Thamel run by ISKCON devotees: Santa Narasimha Prabhu +977 9843780040 and Gauri Mataji +977 9818887658. They have a good spread of Indian cuisine. Very hospitable and prompt. They also have a branch upcoming in Pokhara.
3) Vaiṣṇava Deli, Buddhanilkantha, run by Satyabhama Dasi, another ISKCON devotee, for a delicious range of Italian, Chinese, Newari and Indian prasadam +977 9811563225. She is extremely prompt and professional, and a very kind hearted individual. She also does home delivery within 4-5km radius.
4) Pokhara: Muktinatha Santa Seva Ashram [Kundan Prabhu: +977 984 6744420]. You can get contact details of all other ashrams on the way from Kundan prabhu – Galeshwara, Jomsom, Kagbeni, Muktinatha and Yara. Kundan Prabhu was the one who organized our entire yatra and sent one of the local devotees from his matha for all the co-ordination purpose, of course we had to bare his expenses, but it was all worth it. They have an excellent service mood and make very sattvic and simple prasadam for devotees. Their Pokhara Ashram is very basic and can accommodate upto 30 devotees. Needless to say, they need to be handsomely reciprocated for their service mood by paying kind donations. There is also an ISKCON in Pokhara, but I could not find time to pay a visit to see if they have prasadam and stay facility.
5) ISKCON at Buddha Nilakantha also serves amazing prasadam at their restaurant.
Although the fruit of visiting millions of tirthas is simply available in taking shelter at the lotus feet of a sad-guru and selflessly engaging in his service and hearing pure hari-katha from his lotus lips, I endured the austerity of taking this yatra simply to honor that place in this world which has given the supreme gift in the form of unlimited shaligrams, whose worship I have been blessed with and will always cherish.
The entire tract of land by the Kali Gandaki invokes pastimes of great personalities like Srila Gopala Bhatta Goswami who visited Damodar Kund on the instruction of Sriman Mahaprabhu, and from one of the shaligrams he carried back, manifested the darling of Vrindavan, Sri Sri Radha Ramanji; Bharata Maharaja who performed austerities here and eventually got attracted to a deer; Kakbhushandi, the famous crow sage who performed austerities at Kagbeni, and Galeshwar, the place where Sati’s throat fell, after she gave up her life in response to Daksa’s offence towards Lord Shiva.
As Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakura Prabhupada used to often quote – In reality, darsana is performed not with eyes, but with ears. ‘adhokshaja vastu sravanaika vaidha’ – hearing is the only method one can know an entity that is adhokshaja, or beyond material sense perception. In the absence of an opportunity to perform any pilgrimage in the association of Vaisnavas who are ripe in transcendental realization, one can depend on the various commentaries from scriptures like the Srimad Bhagavatam and other puranas which reveal the deep mysteries behind these most sacred places.
A trip to Damodar Kund will test your endurance and grit. And above all else, your surrender. For all these reasons and more, Damodar Kund, I feel, must be on the bucket list of every Shaligram lover, worshiper and enthusiast.
I sincerely hope that my documented experience will be of some help to the Vaiṣṇavas and all the pilgrims who ever plan to go on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Hare Krishna!
Sri Hari, Guru, Vaisnava Kripa Lesa Prarthi,