During our trip in Nepal we had a day that took us on an emotional ride: we got the chance to witness an open cremation at Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu.

At first glance it may seem a dark and repulsive experience, but we didn’t find it overlwhelming at all; actually, this was a great experience to contemplate the impermanence of life. We’ve found something uniquely peaceful here, perhaps it’s something to do with the way the Hindus consider death as a rebirth and not as an ‘end’ like we do.

Located on the banks of the river Bagmati, Pashupatinath Temple is one of the most sacred Hindu temples in Asia dedicated to Lord Shiva. Above all, it’s the auspicious crematorium of many who die in Kathmandu.

The complex includes 518 temples, buildings and structures, so you can spend hours wandering in Pashupatinath. Please be aware that tourists will only be allowed to visit certain areas and temples.

Moreover, you won’t be alone in Pashpatinath, you’ll be in a good company of sleepy goats, cows and – of course – exuberant monkeys!

It is also very common to meet Sadhus here. They are religious ascetics who are trying to acquire liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth by meditating. Some sadhus are open to being photographed, just ask and they normally say yes and ask for a tip.

In conclusion, let’s focus on the main reason why you should want to visit Pashupatinath..

Things to know about open cremation at Pashupatinath Temple:

  • Hundreds of elderly Hinduists arrive here in the last phase of their lives, in order to die and be cremated on the banks of the river. After that, they can make their last journey in the waters of the sacred river Bagmati, which later joins the holy river Ganges.
  • It is believed that a Hindu cremated here would reborn as a human, regardless of any misconduct that could have worsen their karma.
  • The entire process takes from 3 to 4 hours: from the preparation of the body until the end when the body is set on fire and slowly burns for over 2 hours.
  • The temple and the ground are so sacred that only Hindus may enter. Therefore, you’ll be respectfully asked to watch the rituals from the bank on the opposite side of the Bagmati river.
  • You’re allowed to take photographs during the cremation. However, try to be sensitive and mantain sufficient distance as people would be grieving.
  • Don’t be afraid about the smell! We’re worried but the truth is that it didn’t smell bad at all. Be prepared to wash your clothes right away because that smell of “wood” and “ashes” won’t go away so easily!
  • Only members of the royal family can be cremated immediately in front of Pashupatinath Temple. Cremations of ordinary Nepalis take place daily on the ghats to the south of the temple.
  • Entrance fee is 1000 NR

Cremation ritual:

We arrived while a group of men was preparing the body on Bagmati’s river bank.

The deceased were washed with river’s water and covered in pure-white cloths and chains of orange marigolds. The head was the only part left uncovered.

When the body was ready the men carried it on a stretcher to a ghat and, finally, the deceased was placed on top of the pyre. The family’s oldest son then walked around the pyre and lightened the body from the mouth. The fire is set by putting sesame seeds or rice in the dead’s mouth and sprinkling the body with ghee (clarified butter).

The moment the pyre ignited into flames the body was covered with a mass of wet straw. After that, a cloud of thick white smoke hid the body and the cremation started. The body burned for a few hours and the family waited until the body had been completely cremated. Finally, the remains were scattered into the river.

Here below you’re going to see some of the most important moments of the ritual that we have witnessed.