By Bhumraj Tiwari | Picture: Netra Tamang
Panchpokhari Valley, located at an altitude of 4100 meters above sea level, is an attractive yet less-travelled destination in Nepal. Panchpokhari, which literally means five ponds, is one of the important tourism destination as well as religious sites in Sindhupalchowk district which lies north-east of Kathmandu. Sitting on the lap of Dorje Lakpa Himal, the lake complex is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus. It is also regarded as the sister of Gosainkunda – the high altitude lake in Rasuwa district.
Panchpokhari is a mountain valley. It is one of the nine most important high altitude wetlands and can be visited from April through September. The area remains covered by snow rest of the year. This cluster of freshwater lake is the originating point of Indravati River – one of the important tributaries of the mighty Saptakoshi River.
The place is also rich in terms of flora and fauna. About 250 species of wildlife, including the endangered Red Panda, and 350 species of flora have been recorded in this area. Similarly, the culture and lifestyle of Hyolmo and Tamang people are the other attractions of the area. Rainfalls are common during the month of May to September. Varieties of colorful flowers can be seen at large plains, or Patan, of this mountain valley which adds to the beauty of this place.
Apart from the pristine lakes, the area is also famous for mountain views. The place offers magnificent views of mountain peaks like Ganesh Himal, Yangri Himal, Dorje Lakpa and Gaurishankar, among others. The place wears a festive look during the Janai Poornima festival when hundreds of pilgrims reach this holy area to offer prayers to Lord Shiva.
Five lakes — Bhairab Kunda, Saraswati Kunda, Ganesh Kunda, Surya Kunda and Nag Kunda – form the Panchpokhari Lake system. Local people name these lakes as Jethi, Mahili, Sahili, Kahili and Kanchi kunda — or literally the five siblings, eldest to youngest. Largest of them, the Jethi Kunda, is the most valued one. Pilgrims circumambulate the lake offering prayers to deities. Te second point, Maili kunda, is regarded as the home of evil spirits. This is why shamans, or Jhankris, who make pilgrimage to the site in large numbers, do not circumambulate it. Panchpokhari Development Committee – a local agency overseeing preservation of this site – has built a trail around the pond for the ease of pilgrims and visitors.
According to an inscription on the lake premises, the temple of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati there was built around 2335 years ago by a hunter named Bumba Ruwa Waiba. The inscription also tells the story behind the establishment of the temple. As per the inscription, one day the hunter Waiba spotted some unusual sightings in the area. He saw few people planting rice saplings in such a high altitude. Curious, he reached the plantation site and saw Lord Shiva himself planting saplings. But as the hunter moved closer, everyone there vanished. So, with a strong belief of having spotted Lord Shiva, he took off a bell from his dog’s collar, he built a temple there. Recently, locals have built a stupa on the hilltop from where the hunter is believed to have spotted people planting rice.
The temple at Panchpokhari is highly regarded by people in surrounding areas, especially the farmers. Farmers offer fresh crops and milk at the temple and pray for better harvests. Cow herders also seek blessing for better production of milk and better health of their livestock. Those who does not have child also reach the temple with the belief that they conceive after worshipping at the temple.
Jugal Himal, the closest mountain from Kathmandu, lies just above Panchpokhari. The place bears festive looks during Janai Poornima festival and it is also one of the prime destinations for shamans to hone their skills. During the festival, aspirant shamans can be seen practicing along with their masters without even wearing slippers and dancing to the tunes of their drums or dhyangro. People of Hyolmo and Tamang community are specially seen fond of the practice. People from Brahmin and Chhetri community also reach the place to remember their deceased family members.
Trek to Panchpokhari begins from Chautara — the district headquarters of Panchpokhari – as well as Melamchi. If you don’t want to walk much, you can use bus to travel all the way to Bhotang – the last settlement before Panchpokhari. However, you can find yak sheds along the trail which offer boiled noodles, tea as well as boiled potatoes.
The trail lacks basic infrastructures. It, however, is pleasing as it passes through dense forests, crossing several rivers and rivulets on the way. The trail goes along the banks of the Indravati River. The river becomes smaller and water becomes whiter as the trial climbs higher. Before reaching Panchpokhari, you will come across a heap of sticks. It is the place called Lauribina Hill and it is customary to leave your walking sticks here.
The environment and natural beauty of Panchpokhari is sure to take your breath away. The combination of chilly mountain breeze, hills and mountains, greenery all around, and the cluster of five ponds make the place a most-visit place in the Himalayas. On clear days, blue sky and clouds can be seen reflected on all the ponds. A hike of around half an hour takes you to a nearby hill which offers mesmerizing views of the ponds and mountains all around.
Even though the place holds huge potential for tourism development, lack of infrastructures, communication and other facilities are making things difficult. Camping is the only option to reach the place. It takes around 8-10 days to complete the trek from Kathmandu. As most of the trekking trails are getting shortened, the government and trekking companies can divert trekkers to this area by building necessary infrastructures like lodges and communication facilities.
About the Author
Bhumraj is a multi-tasking personality. He is a journalist, Tour/Trek Leader, Researcher, Social Activist, Trainer and Traveler among others. Originally from Nuwakot, he is an expert in village tourism and has been teaching people of the rural communities on benefits of community homestays and rural tourism. He is also an active volunteer and is the editor of an online portal Alwaystourism.com. Tiwari can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org