Along with the Muktinath Temple, the Pashupatinath Temple is one of the top religious sites of Nepal and definitely the top Hindu temple in the country. Hence, it is a given that as a tourist, you would visit this temple for sure. However, there is a catch here. Only Hindus are allowed into the temple (they get in for free) and all non-Hindu tourists are not allowed even though they have to shell out NPR 1000 rupees as an entrance fee. And for the entrance fee, you just get to see the temple exteriors, funeral ghats and the river.
If you plan well, you can see all of this for free. All you have to do is reach the other bank of the river Bagmati. From here, you can see the Pashupatinath Temple, see the ghats where the cremations happen, meet the Sadhus and participate in the Aarti ceremony that is held every evening at 7 pm.
Held on the river bank that is opposite to the Pashupatinath Temple, the Aarti ceremony is similar to the Aarti ceremony that happens by the Ganges at Varanasi. The concept is the same. Offerings are made to Goddess Bagmati (the river Bagmati), the Lord Shiva (Pashupatinath), his consort Parvathi and to all the other Hindu gods and goddesses who are at the temple.
The best time to get to the other bank is at 6 pm and to find yourself a nice seat from where you can see the entire Aarti ceremony, listen to the chants, hum with the locals, dance with the Sadhus and make a connection with your spiritual self. And before the entire ceremony starts, you can watch the cremation ceremonies taking place at the opposite bank. And if the crowds are less and you are not in any threat to lose your favorite seat, you can even indulge in some photography.
The Aarti ceremony lasts about 60 minutes and takes you through the customs and traditions of Hinduism in a very structured way. When I was there for the Aarti ceremony, I felt a stronger connection with the local people who sang their heart out and danced in the steps of Lord Shiva. Let me warn you that you will definitely find the energy levels high and infectious here. And hopefully, you will experience a rich spiritual connection.