Myths and legends

Myths and legends >> The sacred river Kali-Gandaki

Kali Gandaki is yet another tributary of the sacred Ganges, originating in the Himalayas in Nepal. One of the attractions of the river valley is formally the deepest gorge in the world between Dhaulagiri and Annapurna.

The Kali-Gandaki Valley in Kagbeni region makes an incredible impression. It is an absolutely flat "band" up to a kilometer wide, covered with river pebbles. In the "dry" season, the river looks like several small streams, constantly changing their channels between the steep cliffs at the edges of this "band". And in the rainy season, the river spreads to its full width.

The name of the river "Kali Gandaki" can be translated as "Black River". The water in it is really quite dark from the large amount of silt. But there is also a version that the name of the river is associated with the name of the Hindu goddess Kali.

Himalayas are young mountains. And it is likely that the river is older than the surrounding mountain ranges. For millions of years the river was making its way through gradually rising mountain peaks. In addition to silt, the river carries with it stones washed out from the ancient rocks of the Himalayas. Since once upon a time these rocks were at the bottom of the ancient ocean, then among these stones in the river bed you can find fossilized mollusks.

The fossilized ammonites found in the Kali-Gandaka bed are called Shalagram-shila and are considered as one of forms of Hindu god Vishnu. But to be sacred, these should be fossils found precisely in the riverbed, and not on land. Moreover, one of the legends claims that only stones from the Kali-Gandaki bed are the sacred repositories of the divine essence. No other fossils can be called salagrams. Scientists estimate the age of ammonites from the Kali-Gandaki riverbed at 140-165 million years.

The legends about why shalagram-shila from Kali-Gandaka are considered sacred are diverse and contradictory. However, almost all versions have a love line. This is the love story of a girl and one of the incarnations of Vishnu. In order to never part with his beloved, Vishnu turned her into a river and now constantly dwells in stones in its bed.

A less romantic version says that shalagrams are a product of the life of the magical creature vajra kita, or "heavenly worm", which Vishnu also sometimes turns into.

Near the Kali-Gandaki Valley, in Muktinath, is one of the most revered places by Buddhists and Hindus. It is believed that this is one of the 24 most significant tantric places, where every pilgrim should visit at least once in his life. There is a Shiva temple, as well as a Buddhist temple in which the "eternal flame" is burning. In this place, natural gas very luckely comes out of the ground next to the water spring, which creates a unique combination of the four elements - water, fire, earth and air - right inside the temple. According to legend, Vishnu turned here into a stone, from under which one of the main tributaries of the Kali-Gandaki flows.

People have been living on the shores of Kali Gandaki for thousands of years. Thousands of man-made caves have been preserved here, which in different eras were used as housing, and as burial places, and as places for the solitude of hermits, and as utility rooms. Some of the caves are still used by the locals to this day.

The trade route from India to Tibet ran along the river since ancient times. From Tibet, merchants were bringing mainly salt, which was exchanged for food, grain, wood and so on. It can also be assumed that one of the routes of the Great Silk Road passed through the Kali-Gandaki valley.

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