I have traveled along Nepal's "East-West" highway many times from its capital of Kathmandu to the popular lakeside town of Pokhara, but I am usually fortunate enough to sleep for most of the 5 hour journey – spectacular for the first few times, but redundant otherwise. The last time I came to Pokhara, I saw a curious sight that seemed a little out of place in this country – a cable car. It stretched from the Trishuli River that runs along the highway and extended up the steep slope of a surrounding mountain, how I missed this on one of my non-sleeping trips before is a mystery to me.
"What is that for ?!" I practically yelled, waking up all of my fellow passengers. My aunt informed me it takes you to a hilltop town where people go when they have an important wish they want granted. The steep walk to the top used to take a whole day so the cable car really saves you time (and helps protect you from exhaustion). Even though Nepal has numerous temples and deities that are said to be ideal places to wish for different things in your life – Manakamana and its goddess in particular are said to really grant wishes.
In Nepali, Mana means heart and kamana means wish, put it together and it means wish from the heart.
At this point I was not all that convinced that the place was genuine about the wish-granting but you never know. I was determined to see for myself. I wasted no time trying to get a group together to go to the temple. I had a wish that I desperately wanted to come true and I suspected I was not the only one!
The day I finally organized a group to go, also happened to fall on one of Nepal's many holidays – Teej – also known as the Women's Festival. For this festival, women dress up in red sari's or curta's and pray for a long life for their husbands and brothers or if you have no husband you pray for a good one to come along. I have many brothers (and cousins count as brothers in Nepal) and I had recently gotten married so it was the perfect opportunity to indulge in the local traditions of wearing red and to pray for their long lives as well as make my important wish at this sacred Hindu temple.
I brought along with me some of my family members who had their own profound wishes, my cousins wife, my aunt and my husband. We cruised to the top of the mountain in the cable cars. The ride was surprisingly longer than expected because when we reached the 'top' there was a second incline waiting for us to climb to get to the end of our cable car journey.
As we approached the peak of the first summit, we were nearly 20 feet from a small village and passed over property of some of the homes. My first thought was that I would not want to live right there and have strangers passing through my life looking at me through a plastic box. But that was just my opinion and the cable car did not stop for me to change my idea. We sailed over lush green rice fields, dirt ground and orange trees, and as we got higher, the vegetation turned into long-grass covered floor with puffy pine-like trees that had a distinctly different color of green from the forest we had already passed .
As we stepped off to the mountain top town we were greeted by the sweet scent of incense. Merchants lined the pathway selling baskets filled with ritual-necessities for puja (prayer) that were especially spruced up for the Teej festival. There were also stalls of goats and chickens for sale if your wish requires a sacrifice to the Goddess. Each of us bought one of the pre-made baskets for our wishes and we all started the stair climb to the temple.
Our route wound through narrow rock slab streets with brightly painted restaurants offering the traditional Nepali meal of dal bhat and souvenir shops selling unique gifts and beautiful woven handmade baskets.
After the semi-quiet walk up through the town with not many people around, the temple suddenly appeared and was surrounded with tens of wishers all gathered in this one area. Devotees were circling the temple, some chanting and others ringing the hundreds of bells that are found around the structure and courtyard creating a pleasant harmonious atmosphere. Women were dressed in their lovely vibrant red saris and curta's while some sadhu men were sitting in the shade of a massive tree along the courtyard perimeter taking in the sight. The overall feeling of the place was surprisingly magical and upon walking closer to the temple itself you could feel a strong energy – a spiritual pull. At this moment I silently believed that the rumors could be true and the possibility of my wish being granted was very likely. I started imagining my wish and concentrating all of my vigor on why I had made this trip and what I really wanted.
I placed a small donation on my puja basket and gave it to my cousin to carry it for me into the actual temple. Imagining what my life would be like when my wish came true I started to circle the temple clockwise. I walked around the outer border of temple grounds while my cousins wife walked our baskets to the edges of the temple where she would wait in the line with the other Hindu devotees to bring our wishes to the Goddess. I proceeded to walk around the temple and noticed on the back side through the clouds, I would have had spectacular mountain views had I visited during a clearer season. I kept to the right and passed the protected area where devotees make their sacrifices to Shakti the Goddess.
After coming full circle, I again noticed the massive lone tree that provided the only shade for the courtyard and to the left of this giant there was a designated 'pigeons for sale' area. Apparently, some wishes require not a sacrifice but to buy a soul and and set it free. You could purchase one of these fat over-sized birds and set it free which also makes the Goddess happy to grant wishes. The bird sanctuary (I use this term lightly) is ironically just on the other side of a low fence from the sacrificing grounds and I am sure that after they are purchased and freed, they come right back to their same perch.
When my cousin came out of the temple from bringing our prayers to the Goddess, we all gathered together again to make our Teej prayers. We lit our candles by using the flame from the countless number of other candles that had been burning all morning from other wishers. We then continued to light a hand-sized bundle of incense that had been tucked away in our goodie-prayer baskets. We moved our hands over the smoke from the incense to offer blessings to the Goddess and then we pulled some of them back towards ourselves. It felt like I was in a trance and the smell of the wax, the sweet incense and the gentle smoke that surrounded us kept me conscious and in the moment, making me really think about what we were praying for. Our husbands 'and brothers' long life.
At this point I got lucky and received permission from some of the local wishers and was able to walk on the temple grounds. Here, I tied a ribbon on one of the many bells, for my husband and brothers. I rang it proudly.
After we collected our belongings, we headed back down the steps to the top of the cable car to the line-less ride ready to take us down the mountain. We sat in a peaceful silence and thought about the wishes we had asked for while we passed the changing vegetations.
We approached the hilltop homes that I had criticized on the way up and with one quick swoop over the last edge before the end of our journey, I realized that living here would not be so bad. Their view of the valley below, the Trishuli River, the curves of the "East-West" highway that cut in and out of the opposite mountain side, and the orange trees made the plastic boxes of strange people not seem so bad. I again imagined what it would be like to live here and I realized the villagers are privileged to live here. They are surrounded with unique beauty and just below a powerful energy-filled temple with a wish granting Goddess that allows hope and beliefs to thrive.