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Published: December 8th 2007
One trip sows the seed for the next. A lazy afternoon at a hotel in Sanchi sparked our plan to go to Manimahesh. A travel documentary in TV was covering the temple complex in Bharmour, and the host left us longing for more by telling about the trek to Manimahesh. Thus it began - planning for Manimahesh. It is said that till the Lord calls, Manimahesh remains unreachable - it was a message conveyed through television for the two of us, Nilanjan and myself. Despite our best efforts to include quite a few others for the trip, everyone else dropped out in the end, some lacking in interest, others for reasons that can only be termed divine intervention; the message was definitely just for the two of us!!
The route is simple. An overnite train ride to Pathankot in Punjab. Pathankot is the gateway to the Himachal hills. From there, it is an estimated 6 hour drive to Bharmour via Chamba, which is the district capital. Bharmour is the town nearest to Manimahesh where you can find proper accommodation for the night. Don’t miss the ghee-soaked aaloo paratha breakfast at Pathankot before you leave for the long drive. The drive
usually takes beyond estimate because of several slowdowns; you will often be stopped because a herd of sheep will be guided from one hill to the other by the shepherds. The local people here are called Gaddis, a shepherd community. But the uniqueness of the situation, along with the view along the route is splendid enough to keep you engrossed. However if you suffer from mountain drive sickness, like me, then you will have to keep yourself drugged, and might miss much of the scenery as you safely settle yourself in a forced slumber. After a nigh halt at Bharmour, it is advisable to start early next morning for Hadsar, an hours drive from Bharmour, to start the yatra on feet. For amateurs, like us the 13-km long trek was expected to last the whole day.
On our part, though we were aware of the early start advice, we still wanted to visit the temple complex at Bharmour, one that we had watched on TV. This is called the Chaurasi temple for the 84 shrines that are there in the perimeter. The main temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, but there is also a temple for Dharmaraj (the Lord
of Dharma). As the locals would tell you, this is the only temple dedicated to Dharmaraj anywhere in the world. Another deity quite widely worshipped in this part of India is Kartik (the son of Lord Durga). I have not seen a temple dedicated to Lord Kartik anywhere before. We hurried with our homage to the gods and goddesses, skipping quite a few shrines in the process. Manimahesh
Manimahesh is a high altitude lake perched at a height of more than 4000 metre. There is a shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva, who is well-known to have picked up some of the most inaccessible spots up in the mountains as His abode. Every year in the month of September, around Krishna Janmastami devotees undertake this journey, known widely as the Manimahesh Yatra. The Himachal Government makes good arrangements for the pilgrims for about 14 days centered on this yatra by providing with tents at intermediate points in the trek, as well as at the final destination of Manimahesh. We reached couple of weeks after the Yatra. The downside of this was that we were getting mixed information about what type of accommodation, if at all, we might get up at
Manimahesh; which meant we should carry tents from Bharmour. On the brighter side, we could avoid the crowd that usually spoils the serenity of such a place. To our surprise, there was hardly another soul throughout the entire trek, so much so, that there wasn’t a chance to take a snap of the two brave souls together. We took our chance on the assurance that we will find at least one person who stays up at Manimahesh till the end of October, and provides food and shelter to the unexpected visitors like us.
The walk began from Hadsar at a height of 2280 metre. Fresh legs and the promise of a view of the snow-clad peaks carried us forward quite briskly through the first half hour. But soon we could feel the strain of this journey. Nilanjan wisely picked up a stick lying on the path. It turned out to be useful as the gradient kept increasing. The pace reduced, the pauses to catch our breath back increased. The reward was as good as it gets when we caught the first sight of the Chamba Kailash, with a cloud standing still on its peak like a canopy. Even we
Road doesnt belong to cars only in these parts
could spot the glaciers shimmering under the sunrays. From Manimahesh one gets a much more majestic view of this peak. Motivation enough to send a burst of fresh energy. Next couple of hours we trudged on enjoying the view on the way till we reached Dancho. Dancho is at an altitude of 3950 metre, and the only rest stop on the way. It has just a couple of shops where you can have warm maggi noodles and tea made of goat milk. Pappu-bhai, the chatty shop owner used to be a guide for treks before he settled in his current work, and fed us plenty of ideas for future treks.
The part after Dancho gets even steeper. The trail just spirals up testing the lower limbs bitterly. With the calories replenished at Dancho, we started off quite well. The trail was getting more and more desolate, with only some sheep grazing on the mountain side for company. This period of a trek is always the hardest; you start feeling the strain of the walk, but still know that there is quite a bit to cover. This is the time when you see some trekkers coming from the other direction,
From a distance
you cannot resist asking how far is it, and mostly get the encouragement that it is not that far. Finally, we saw a red speck in the blue sky -- a red flag marking the temple at Gauri Kund, 1 km from Manimahesh. But what looked dreadful was that the trail going towards it simply vanished after hitting a mountain wall. Soon enough we reached the point and one of the most grueling parts of the trek began. These are like natural stairs carved out of boulders. We started climbing the rocky stairway to heaven. The light was fading, and the wind chill had increased considerably by the time we reached Gauri Kund. But we could not have reached Gauri Kund at any better moment, as we were greeted with a magnificent display of light and shade. We stood spellbound staring in silence at Nature’s own canvas. This is what makes it worth enduring the pain.
Finally, when we reached Manimahesh, it was already dark. The most welcome sight was the shelter of Khemraj-ji relieving us of all our anticipations. The rajma-chawal brought us back to life, and then his tent, which was big enough for 8 people was
to be our resting place. Khemraj-ji is one soul whose way of life is as close to a yogi I would ever see. He spends 6 months, starting from April to October each year at Manimahesh. He is probably the first one to reach there when the snow melts, and the last one to leave. He takes care of the pilgrims, specially the odd ones like us, who reach there after the yatra season is over. There was also Baba-ji, who also spends a similar amount of time at Manimahesh. Post dinner we gathered around the dhuni-fire Baba-ji had set up. The night became mystical with Baba-ji’s anecdotes and puffs of holy smoke. Gradually everyone went quiet and we were left to marvel at the inexplicable nocturnal beauty. The crystal clear sky formed a canopy dotted with stars, and in the backdrop we could see the silhouette of the Chamba Kailash, the glacier on it glistening under the soft rays of the moon.
The tired body was begging for some rest. In the middle of night, I woke up shivering. The wind outside the tent was howling, and I was wondering whether the tent can withstand this. It somehow
did. The next morning we woke up early with a plan set off on our return trek. But the night time flurries had spread a nice white cover, which is impossible to tread on especially on the steep slopes. Next couple of hours we walked around the Manimahesh lake. There are no shrines per se; the holy flags denoting the sacred site, and the most important ritual for the devout is to take a dip in the icy cold water of the lake. A touch of the water was enough to turn us into atheists.
The trek downhill was no less arduous compared to the previous day. However, we carried on quite well in our slow and steady pace. It took its toll on our limbs. At some points I was not able to feel my knees, or ankles. I had also picked up a walking stick and it often provided the support when the legs gave in. We took a pit-stop at Pappu-bhai’s rest area, and bid adieu to him with the promise to be back for yet another trek next year. Dalhousie and Khajjiar
From Hadsar we headed for Dalhousie, and most of this drive
The trail after Dancho
You can see the rest area at Dancho down below
is lost in my memory because I was too busy tending to my aching legs. Dalhousie is a well-known tourist spot.
But with Manimahesh fresh in our mind, any view of the hills pales before it. We did the usual tourist site-seeing. A notable getaway spot here is Khajjiar, 24 km from Dalhousie. It is a nice place to chill out for a day. We certainly enjoyed relaxing at Khajjiar before we had to head back to the plains.
The entire trip took us 4 days, starting from Delhi on Friday night and returning on Wednesday morning.
Tot: 2.085s; Tpl: 0.089s; cc: 14; qc: 64; dbt: 0.0383s; 1; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 4;
; mem: 1.5mb