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:: Indian tourists flock to Muktinath

At least 5,000 Indian tourists visited the temple since the middle of March last year, a staff at the Muktinath Area Development Committee, Rudra Nath Sharma Poudel said. Their visits had dwindled during the conflict, he added. A pilot with Manang Air, Sarina Gurung said as many as five flights were made now-a-days to Muktinath when weather remains fine. Most of the flight passengers are from India and each flight carries two-dozen passengers, she added. Normally, it takes 35 minutes in a helicopter to reach Muktinath from Pokhara.

Gurung underlined the need for greater publicity for Muktinath abroad. In addition to Manang Air, Sri Air is also making charter flights to Muktinath. Its helicopters make four to five flights a day. The helicopter returns from the temple with the same passengers after a gap of an hour, allowed for visit to the temple. However, a hotelier at Ranipauwa bazaar near the temple, Laxmi Tulachan says that business is not good even after surge in the number of Indian tourists. They return by the same flight without strolling around, Tulachan who is also the owner of Hotel Muktinath, says. Muktinath temple lies on the bank of Gandaki River in Muktinath village development committee, 26 km east of Mustang district headquarters, Jomsom.

Muktinath is reachable on foot from Pokhara through Myagdi district headquarters in Beni or through Tatopani of Myagdi's tourist area in Ghorepani. Visitors to Muktinath on regular flights include only a few as it is difficult to buy air tickets, head at Jomsom airport Rajan Pokhrel said. Some Indian visitors choose to travel by road. Beni-Jomsom road is under construction at Mustang and Myagdi districts which has made it convenient for pilgrims to visit Muktinath, said president of the Jeep Entrepreneurs' Committee Jayendra Thakali. Jeeps and motorcycles ply on the finished section of the road which has eased the trip. A housewife from Bangalore, Sudha Shankar said it was great to visit a place like Muktinath. The place is sce-nic and panoramic, she said. A shopkeeper at Ranipauwa near the temple, Rangaraj Shastri said most Indian visitors come from South India. There are more visitors during Dashain and Janai Purnima, he added. According to Poudel, the temple receives 35,000 visitors annually, out of which 10 per cent come from India.

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