Nepal: Janaki Mandir: A Rajput-style Temple on Nepal’s Plains


What?
A Hindu temple built in 1911, resembling the Indian Rajput style of architecture more commonly found in the desert states of India—but in Nepal.

Why visit?
Nepal is a country usually associated with high mountains, Buddha-eye stupas and trekking. 

But in a city just twenty kilometres from the India border, on Nepal’s southern plains, is the Janaki Mandir—a Hindu temple that is considered the finest example of Rajput architecture outside of India. It is unlike anything else you’ll find in Nepal.

Where?
Janakpur, 120 kilometres south-east of Kathmandu and just twenty kilometres from the India border. It is situated in the Terai, the flat plains sandwiched between the Himalayan foothills and North India. Map. 


JANAKPUR DOESN'T GET many visitors. Foreign tourists mostly come to Nepal for the mountains. But for a taste of North India without actually crossing the border, Janakpur is an excellent little town to spend a day, especially if you can tie a trip in with one of Nepal’s major festivals.

Janakpur is religiously important to Hindus, as it is supposedly the place where Lord Rama’s wife Sita (also known as Janaki, hence the town’s name) was born. It is a pilgrimage site for Hindus from both Nepal and India, and much of the central area of town caters to Indian pilgrims.

Immediately on arrival in Janakpur I felt as though I was in Uttar Pradesh, India’s massive northern state. It was flat, the only way of getting around was by cycle rickshaw (mostly beautifully decorated with variations on the local Mithila folk art) and the people spoke what sounded to me like Hindi, but was actually Maithili. The climate is that of Northern India rather than the hills of Nepal, so it is likely to be stiflingly hot in the summer and fog-blanketed in winter (during Deepawali in November, it was pleasant).

The main attraction of Janakpur, and the place around which the town’s life revolves, is the ornate Janaki Mandir (temple), built in 1911 and completely unlike anything else in Nepal. Built in neo-Rajput style, it resembles a Rajasthani palace, of the type found in Udaipur or Jaipur in India.
Inside the temple precinct is a small museum, which is worth visiting more for its comic than its informative value. In the basement are a few dusty cases of idol clothing, and upstairs is what was described as an “animation”, a series of moving dolls (in the non-static rather than the emotionally profound sense) portraying the life of Sita and scenes from the Ramayana.

Local Mithila Art on display at the museum inside the temple. 
The Janaki Mandir is worth seeing at any time of year. But during the annual 'festival of lights' the rest of the town is transformed. This festival is called Tihar in Kathmandu and many parts of Nepal, where the Nepali language is dominant, yet in Janakpur it is known as Deepawali

The predominant language of Janakpur is Maithili. Most Maithili speakers (32 million of its 35 million) live in India, but around 3 million live in Nepal, making it Nepal's second most spoken language.
The streets of Janakpur were decorated with these banana leaves during the Deepawali festival.
The busy Deepavali market outside the temple. 
Deepawali/Tihar celebrations are spread over three days in October/November. During the third day a large, busy market was held in the square in front of the Janaki Mandir, selling coloured powders, clay lamps, bangles, marigold garlands, coconuts, syrupy sweets, posters of deities... all of the colourful, scented items necessary for Hindu worship.
Sticky, syrupy sweets for sale.
Gods for sale. 

Best times to visit:
Being a pilgrimage town, it is worth visiting Janakpur during any major religious festivals, many of which fall around full moons: Parikrama and Holi in February/March, Ram Navami (Lord Rama’s birthday) in March/April, Tihar/Deepawali in October/November or Biwaha Panchami in November/December. The area around the temple will be at its most festive at these times.
Getting there:
Although only 120 kilometres from Kathmandu, Janakpur is a long, bumpy overnight bus ride away, as the roads in this part of the country are slow. But it’s only a short 30 minute flight. Although very close to the India border, only Indians and Nepalis are allowed to enter/exit at this crossing, not people of other nationalities.
The Janaki Mandir is in the centre of the city.

Useful links:Lonely Planet has more info on the town.

About the author:

Elen Turner is a Kathmandu-based travel writer and editor. Her biggest travel dilemma is how to see all the parts of South Asia that she hasn't yet visited, without neglecting the rest of the world. 

Elen writes about her travels at www.wildernessmetropolis.com

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