10 Things you need to know before you get to Janakpur Dham
By Suraj KC
Janakpur Dham is the capital of Nepal’s Dhanusa district, located about 123 km southeast of Kathmandu. The city, also known as Janakpur, was founded in the early 18th century, but is believed to be the capital of the Videha dynasty that ruled the Mithila region in ancient times. It is said to be the birthplace of the goddess Sita, the daughter of King Janak and wife of Lord Rama. Janakpur plays a prominent role in the Hindu epic Ramayana, and is considered one of the holiest cities in Hinduism with several world-renowned temples.
The city offers visitors a snapshot of Southern Nepal’s Terai culture, a vibrant art scene, lush vegetation and much more. Before you pack your bags and head to this ancient city, here’s what you should know to get the most out of your stay.
1. Getting there
Janakpur is about 123 kms southeast from Kathmandu and takes 10 hours to get to by road. The bus tickets are available at Gongabu Central Bus park and tickets can be arranged from several ticketing agencies or directly from the station’s ticket office. The route, though long, will allow you to experience the flavor of Nepal’s streets, and you’ll be observe the changes in geography along the way.
If a long-distance ride isn’t your thing, you can opt to take a 25-minute flight from Kathmandu’s airport.
Janakpur is characterized by a warm, windy and dry climate between April and June, frequent rain showers July to September, a cool, dry season between October and January, and a brief springtime period from February to March. Humidity is fairly high as well. Pack some thin, light clothes for summer and warm, insulating ones for winter.
3. People, culture and language
As you stroll through the vibrant, colorful streets, don’t be surprised if you hear a multitude of tongues. Janakpur is home to diverse ethnic groups such as Yadavs, Teli, Brahmins, Kyastha, Tharu, Musahar, Rajput, and Chhetri, each with their own distinctive tongue in addition to the lingua franca Nepali. The region is also considered the center of Maithali art and culture, and the indigenous inhabitants communicate in Maithili. Many locals also have conversational English and Hindi.
4. Where to stay
Janakpur has a variety of decent hotels at very affordable prices. Cheaper options include ‘Dharmasalas’ which offer no-frills lodging at rock-bottom rates. Keep in mind that Janakpur is inundated with tourists during major Hindu festivals such as Dashain, Ram navami, Chhat and Deepawali, so do book well in advance if planning a trip at those times.
5. Eat and drink
If you are a foodie with an adventurous palate, then Janakpur is the place for you. Enriched with Mithila culture and Terai climate, the local foods have their own unique twist. The city is famous for different varieties of fish and sweetmeats. Must-haves include Bhusuwa (a sweet made of powdered rice with nuts and other condiments), Thakuwa (made with wheat and jaggery over the base of a leaf shaped wooden saanch), Ghugni (assorted mix of puffed rice, ghugni ‘chickpea curry’, spicy pakoras, potato chop) Rashiyaw, Panipuri, Lassi and many more.
6. History - the birthplace of Sita
Sita, also known as Janaki, is one of the most popular goddess in Hinduism and Janakpur is said to be her native city. It is full of temples and monuments celebrating the goddess, with Janaki Temple being the top attraction with its lively ambience and architecture that marries the Mughal tradition with the design ethos of Mithila. The place where Ram and Sita are said to have wed is now called Vivah-Mandap and it’s another major attraction.
7. City of water
You’ll be amazed by the number of sacred ponds you’ll see while traversing through the city. The place where Ram broke the bow for a challenge to marry Sita is Dhanusadham. It is believed that after Ram successfully strung the giant bow, the broken pieces of it fell into Dhanush sagar and Ganga sagar.
Other ponds worth checking out include Aragajasar, Dasharatha Talau, Kapal Mochinisar, Vihar Kund and Bisaharasa. Though some have unfortunately been polluted, the government and local nonprofits are working together to revitalize them. Read more about the ponds of this city.
Mithila art is one of the most important component of Maithili culture. You can see its influence on the walls of houses and hotels. In Mithila art, different symbols are used to depict culture, emotions and situations, which range from simple sketches of of animals, fish, plants, and people to complex scenes from Hindu mythology.
9. Agricultural hub
Janakpur is home to Nepal’s National Rice Research Program, located just 11 km north of the main city. Different types of varietal development trials are conducted there along with variety improvisation and seed distribution programs, providing an interesting pit stop for rice and agriculture enthusiasts.
10. Girl power
Janakpur women’s development center is located about 1 km away from the city. It was established to improve lives of Maithili women through income-generating activities like producing paper paintings, papier-mâché boxes and mirrors, screen printed fabrics and hand thrown ceramics. Souvenirs are available!