Like the other border towns in the Terai, Janakpur’s way of life is unmistakably Indian, but there’s a lot more going on here than rickshaws and bustling bazaars. What makes Janakpur (also referred to as Janakpurdham) one of the most fascinating towns in the Terai is its electrifying religious atmosphere mixed with a rich historical and cultural heritage. Even though there’s no architecture predating 1880, it manages to evoke an aura of grandeur not found elsewhere in the Terai.
Janakpur is known foremostly as an important pilgrimage site for Hindus all over Nepal and India, who come to pay homage to the city’s connection with the Hindu epic the Ramayana. Legend has it that it’s the site where Sita was born, and where she was married to Rama.
The other lure in Janakpur is its Mithila culture. Janakpur was once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Mithila, a territory now divided between Nepal and India: more than two million people in the area still speak Maithili as their native tongue. The people of Mithila are famous for their wildly colourful paintings.
Janakpur is actually the third city on this site. The city mythologised in the Ramayana existed around 700 BC, but it was later abandoned and sank back into the forest. Simaraungarh grew up in its place, but this city was also destroyed, this time by Muslim invaders in the 14th century.