A Summer Rendezvous with Kinnaur – I
This is a long-overdue post on my trip to Kinnaur, which I have mentioned earlier [here and here]. I have been too involved with BPL till sometime ago to even think of another blog post. In fact, I missed the first round of BPL because I was away vacationing at Kinnaur. Once BPL was over, a lot of other things had to be given priority, the foremost being ‘work’. 😦 But when recently a friend mentioned that he is planning a trip to Kinnaur and sought my expert (!) opinion, I realised its time to pen down my travel tales.
Kinnaur is beautiful; rather breathtakingly beautiful. Period.
I have never heard of the place until I booked the tour and read up about the place in the web. Every traveller seemed to gush about its virgin beauty, stunning locales and untouched nooks and corners. Kinnaur is all these and much more. I have never visited any place which is so calm and serene; and a perfect place for a quiet vacation.
We reached Shimla from Chandigarh by car, through places with lovely names – Panchkula, Pinjore, Solan, Dharampur and Parwanoo. I had visited it before, while doing the Shimla-Manali-Dalhousie-Dharamsala-Amritsar route in 1998. Its always refreshing to re-visit a place laden with memories. My most vivid memory of Shimla from that trip is that of being chased by three monkeys on the Shimla Mall road, while returning from the Kalibari. This time, I did not venture there, for fear of history being repeated.
Instead, I trekked up a narrow, circuitous route which led us up to the Mall straight from our hotel located in Lakkar Bazaar. It gave me immense child-like pleasure, to walk around the Mall – a place which I like in every hill station.
Its true that Shimla is crowded, but I always enjoy the sights and sounds of numerous shopping centres, food vendors, hawkers and the milling tourists in and around Mall and Ridge. [Read here what a friend has to say in defence of Shimla]. It was a Sunday and we found the Mall teaming with local people, all out to enjoy a nice afternoon. I could not help but notice their super fashionable clothes – boys with cool-dude attitude and girls making diva-type style statements! As always, there was a huge number of Bengali tourists, wrapped in sweaters and shawls even under the scorching sun at 4 pm! Its somehow a comforting feeling for Bengalis to meet fellow Bengalis wherever one goes for a vacation. The first question is invariably "Kolkata theke?" [Are you from Kolkata?] which usually leads to more conversations. We also landed up in the middle of the shooting of a Hindi television serial on the Mall. After watching it for some 10 minutes, I realised that they were filming 2 minutes worth of conversation between the lead pair and once it was done, the whole unit packed up their huge equipments! All the efforts for just 2 minutes of serial!
Shooting of a television serial (the heroine is the one in yellow suit, along with the hero)
The statue of the founder in the Shimla Mall
The teaming shops, off the Mall road
Next day, we set off for Sarahan. For the first time, we were heading towards places, of which none of us had any idea. Our vehicle arrived in front of the Shimla hotel sharp at 9 am and we met our driver Raj Kumar Sethi, also the owner of a fleet of small cars. He did not honk even once during the entire trip and even navigated blind curves silently. He used to reach us at the destination minimum of 1 hour before the other two cars of our group and while driving, he used to spend 80 percent of his time attending calls on his mobile phone! He comforted my mom by saying "Hum toh ’81 se yeh sab road mein gari chala rahe hain; tab toh bitiya ki janam bhi nahi huya hoga" [I have been driving in all these roads since ’81; your daughter must not have been born then] Despite such heart-attack-inducing moments, I strongly recommend him to any traveller heading towards north India. He is undoubtedly the best driver I have ever seen, especially on mountain tracks. Contact Raju bhai at 098165 16034, 098168 77721 and 098171 33421.
On our way, we stopped to admire the greenness of the Green valley and serenity of Fagu valley. It never ceases to amaze me to what extent people go to cash on the brand-value of a place. Apart from the numerous food stalls selling everything ranging from pav bhaji to chowmein (!), there were people promising us to show 5 points of tourist interest through a mounted telescope for 25 bucks, sellers with jafran worth 100 bucks for 100 grams, cherry for 200 bucks for a box and many more. Everybody seemed more interested in shopping and striking a bargain than the view around. Photographers were instructing couples to pose dangerously for the sake of intimate frozen moments. I say dangerous since the man was asked to lift his wife, thus risking his whole thin frame and especially his back! The newly wedded wife was too embarrassed to carry out the instructions in such a public place, while the husband was all willing 😉
Tourist attractions under colourful umbrellas
Leaving Shimla behind
On our way to Sarahan, we had a stop over for lunch beside the flowing Sutlej at a place called Rampur. The cooks in our group always managed to ruffle up awesome Bengali delicacies anywhere possible, resulting in stomach upset of almost everyone in the group. I was particularly ill at Sarahan, while many of our co-travellers became sick at Kalpa. We blamed the cooks, while they blamed our lack of digestion power and immunity.
River Sutlej at Rampur
At around 5 pm, we finally reached Sarahan. We put up at the guesthouse of the Bhimakali temple, which is, by far the best dharamsala I have ever stayed at. We could hear the evening and morning aarti right from the bed. It was evening already and hence we did not venture out anywhere. I was also determined to be fully cured before the next day, to be able to enjoy the sight seeing. Next morning, the full beauty of the place dawned upon me. This small village in the western Himalayas has a setting that only the Gods could have created. A chat with the caretaker of the temple revealed a magical history of the place.
King Banasura ruled Sarahan, which was historically known as Shonitpur. One night his beautiful daughter, Usha dreamt of a handsome and strong prince and told her friend, Chitralekha about him. Seeing the pining of Usha, Chitralekha vowed that she would search the world over for that prince and bring him to Usha. For a long time, Chitralekha wandered till one day she saw Aniruddha, Lord Krishna’s son and immediately knew that he was the prince of Usha’s dream! As Aniruddha slept, Chitralekha picked up the bed and brought him to Usha. But the moment Lord Krishna heard of his son’s abduction, he marched with his army against Usha’s father, Banasura and defeated him. When the story of the dream was told, Lord Krishna married his son to Usha and as dowry gave back the defeated Banasura his kingdom of Shonitpur.
Legend apart, this small village of Sarahan was made the capital of the princely state of Bushahr by Raja Padam Singh. Later in 18th century, he moved to the banks of Sutlej and made Rampur the capital. Bushahr used to be regarded as one of the wealthiest states of the region and was a major entry-point for traders from Tibet, Ladakh, Kashmir and Khazakstan.
We were told that Bhimakali temple is one of the ‘shakti peeths’, where the ear of Sati fell. [However this wiki article says otherwise] Many legends surround the origin of this temple and the most oft-cited one was that of Bhimagiri. He was a devotee from Bengal, who travelled to Himalayas to all the sacred places associated with Shiva and Kali. When he reached Sarahan, his staff sank deep in the ground and there lay buried the image of Bhimakali. She appeared to him and said that this was her true home and here she would live. Bhimagiri lodged himself in a cave on the hillside and after his death, a temple was built.
The temple complex houses one temple dedicated to Narasimha on one side of the courtyard and that of Bhairon and Bhimakali on the other side. Built in the typical Himachali architecture, this temple is the epitome of serenity, peace and prayer.
View of the temple from outside
Rose in the temple garden against the breathtaking mountains
Across Sarahan, lies Shrikhand and the other snow covered peaks. It is a land closely connected with the epic Mahabharata and the exile of the Pandavas. Alongside Shrikhand, there is a huge Shivalinga, the Bhimadwar that is visible from Sarahan and is said to have been built by Bhima.
The peak of Shrikhand Mahadev
We also paid our visit to the palace of Raja Padam Singh, which was actually a relatively small bungalow amidst thick, green forests. Well-maintained along with landscaped gardens, the rooms of the palace remain closed to visitors, since no one stays there.
Of all the places I visited then, I loved Sarahan the most. And next in my favourite list would be Chhitkul. More stories and descriptions from Kinnaur, especially that of Sangla, Chhitkul, Recong Peo and Kalpa would follow soon. [By ‘soon’, I mean really soon :-)]