After a considerable fall in the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in Nepal lately, the government has begun reopening temples, monasteries and mosques gradually. The Pashupatinath Temple, one of the most sacred Hindu temples in the world, has reopened since December 16. The UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site remained closed for nine months because of the coronavirus pandemic. The famous temple welcomes hundreds of thousands of devotees from home and abroad every year. The Pashupati Development Trust (LDT) has made it mandatory for every visitor to abide by necessary health safety norms to ensure that their movement does not lead to the spread of the deadly virus disease.
Needless to say, Pashupatinath, which is dedicated to Lord Shiva, is one of the four most important religious sites in Asia. Built in the fifth century, the pilgrimage site is also home to numerous other temples such as Guheshwori, Bhuwaneshwori, Dakshinamurti, Tamreshwor, Panchdewal and Bishwarupa. Similarly, the local authorities have decided to reopen another famous Muktinath Temple, which is located in Mustang district. As this shrine is popular among both Hindus and Buddhists, it attracts many pilgrims from Nepal and overseas annually. Surrounded by amazing snow-clad mountains, Muktinath is part of the world-famous Annapurna Circuit. Thousands of foreign trekkers pass through this area every year.
But like other much sought-after tourist destinations, the Muktinath area and its surroundings did not record the visit of any foreign as well as domestic tourists following the imposition of the nationwide lockdown on March 24 last year. The fresh decision to reopen the Muktinath and Kagbeni temples has brought a lot of cheers to the local residents, especially hotel and lodge operators. They are now quite optimistic that their business will revive and rebound. According to a news report published in this daily on Monday, the Upper Mustang residents' happiness now knows no bounds with the reopening of hotel business and temples. As most of the locals depend for their livelihood on tourism, the year 2020 remained the worst for them because no tourist turned up there for months.
The scenic region has not seen any movement of people recently, especially pilgrims, trekkers and nature lovers. In the past, the locals of Upper Mustang would migrate to the lower parts in the winter to avoid the extreme cold. But this year, most of them have been staying in the upper areas. They are now happy to see the district open to domestic as well as foreign tourists. They are eagerly waiting for tourists to visit the region. Over the years, Mustang and its neighbouring district Manang have gained popularity among domestic tourists. The trans-Himalayan districts have witnessed a remarkable rise in the arrival of domestic visitors.
The Tibet-like landscape and the local people's distinct culture and lifestyle are a major tourist attraction there. Many tourists have explored the renowned Mustang caves as their major choice during their trip to Mustang. The Chhoser and Chhonhup caves are regarded as one of the most important anthropological sites to study human civilisation. Having 108 rooms inside the Zhong Cave in Chhoser of Lomanthang Municipality of Upper Mustang, it could be an excellent destination for tourists. In ancient times, local people are believed to have built the cave using home-made materials with great effort to escape the Chinese and Tibetan invasions at that time. With such unrivalled attractions, the entire region could emerge as a tourist hotspot.