We started from Sarahan at around 9.00 A.M. in the morning after partaking some light breakfast at the Hotel Hatu. We retraced our journey till Jeori, where the side road meets the National Highway 22. On the way down, we found abundance of fruits strewn around on the roadside; we collected some ripe apricots and I struck up a conversation with two local ladies who were collecting the same from their orchards. It transpired that the apricots being highly perishable did not command a good price, therefore, the apricots whose seed kernel was sweet fetched a higher price as the same was mixed with inferior quality almonds. However, the apricots whose seed kernels were bitter was now being used to extract apricot oil and also to produce scrubs by the cosmetics industry. As we were approaching Rampur, we again wanted to partake some delicious ‘Kulcha & Chola’, however, when we stopped at the location we found that Anokhey Lals’ father had expired and he had left for Bareilly, the other vendors were not up to the mark and seeing vehicle approaching, immediately started asking for exorbitant rates, that too for stale Kulchas, we dropped the idea and only had some Chola (Bengal gram) and continued ahead.
Sunset from Chail
As we approached Narkanda, we caught glimpse of Griffons feeding on something on the road, but just as we slowed down, two local bikers ploughed through and the Griffons flew away. Further ahead, my children were delighted when we caught a glimpse of a pair of fox that appeared right on the road ahead. We had planned ahead to buy some delectable Cherries that are locally grown. But we were caught up in the first monsoon showers at Narkanda and found the shops closed, as rain water can damage the packed fruits. Our driver was more dejected than us, but as we went past Narkanda, we found some local villager was putting up his wares on a table by the road side, we bargained a bit with him and purchased five packs of Cherries from him. The road towards Chail bifurcates from the National Highway and one has to drive towards Kufri and continue on this road and having gone past Fagu and other small villages and many a resorts we reached Chail late in the evening.
Griffon on the road
This is where we spotted the pair of foxes - below the tree standing ahead
Chail in Himachal Pradesh lies at a height of 2,250 metres above the sea level. In 1891, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala incurred the wrath of Lord Kitchener and was send in exile. He was banned to enter into the summer capital of the British Raj, Shimla. Thus, to avenge the dishonor Maharaja Bhupinder Singh decided to build a better summer capital than Shimla. The little village ofChail was perfect. It lay surrounded by magnificent deodar forests, Shimla was in direct vision and most important, the hill of Chail at 2226 m was somewhat higher than British-controlled Shimla. To ‘cock a snook’ at the Britishers, he decided to create his own summer capital, which was Chail. Chail is also famous in the history for having the highest Cricket and golf fields, which too was built by the Mahajara. The ground surrounded by tall trees is a beautiful spot in itself. The architecturally magnificent palace of Maharaja is now used as a heritage tourist hotel.
Passing by Theog - rain clouds looming
Passing by Fagu
The journey from Fagu to Chail is through one of most green environs I have come across in Himachal Pradesh. Nature is at her exuberant best and words like pollution and deforestation is no where to be found. Chail was accordingly, designated as the summer capital of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala. With the eye catching snow-capped Shivalik peaks in the background and the beautiful orchards and pine valleys around reminds the visitors of the uncharted beauty of this place.
The Chail Palace
Inside view of Chail Palace
The view of Kali temple at Sidhi Baba hilltop
The palace (now heritage Hotel) of Maharaja is on Rajgarh Hill, which is surrounded by three hills. On the third hill, Sabba Tibba, is the small township ofChail. However, there is a small anecdote associated with this place pertaining to the Sidh Baba Ka Mandir. It is said that the Maharaja had originally intended this to be the site of his palace, and had even started building it, but as is believed, a 'sidh', saintly person appeared in the Maharaja's dream, and declared that this was the place where he had meditated. Consequently, Bhupinder Singh shifted his venue and built a temple on the spot. This temple dedicated to Goddess Kali is at a vantage point and offers a bird’s eye view of the valleys below.
The distance from Kalpa to Sarhan is about 110 Kms. and thus, we started from Kalpa leisurely, after having partaken our Breakfast. The roads are so narrow & steep at places that even two small sized vehicles find it difficult to negotiate, side by side. We encountered such a situation just as we left Kothi, a Maruti Car was moving up-hill and we were going downhill towards Reckong Peo, due to miscalculation on either part the uphill bound Car had to apply the brakes, as he was unwilling to place his car on the Kuttcha side, despite our having done so. The Car, thereafter, could not garner enough power to move uphill and its occupants had to get down, except for the driver and everyone lent a hand to push the Car upwards, whereafter it accelerated on its own. We stopped by briefly at Reckong Peo to explore the possibility of buying some Chilgoza/Neoza, but the same was not available. However, I laid my hands on a music CD with local Kinnauri Songs, which I purchased for using in my Video.
Sunset view from Sarahan
Weeping Willow tree at Sarahan
Having retracted our steps back to the NH-22 at Powari, we headed back via Karcham, Wangtoo, Bhabha, Naptha, Jakhri and other nondescript villages. Just before we reached Jeori, we saw two huge hen like birds right on the road, but as we were getting ready to take a shot, a local biker shot ahead and the birds flew away, only to reveal that they were the famed Griffons (a kind of vulture species) of Himachal. The road towards Sarahan bifurcates from Jeori and heads uphill till it reached Sarahan perched at an altitude of 1920 meters or 6336 meters. As you gain height, you pass through fruit laden orchards, with ripe Apricots strewn across the roads. Placed in the foothills of Himalayas, close to Rampur town, it was once the summer Capital of the Rampur Bushair. The geographical placement of Sarahan makes it an unique hill station, with breath taking greenery, series of mountains & snow covered peaks, juxtaposed with the SutlejRiver flowing deep below in the valley. The majesting Srikhand mountain ranges, housing the reverend Srikhand Mahadev peak, that resembles a ‘Shivlinga’ is situated just across Sarahan. Mythological belief as regards this peak is that it is a place where Lord Shiva meditated and the Pandavas of Mahabharata era also used to visit this place for offering their obeisance. A major pilgrimage takes place through a difficult terrain during July & August every year, to make offerings at the small shrine situated here.
The famed Bheema Kali Temple
The front facade of the temple
Inside the temple complex
The main temple gate embossed in gold
Close-up ot temple gate
Sarhan is also the seat of the famous ‘BhimkaliTemple’ complex and was the reverend destination of the erstwhile Bushair rulers. The temple is stated to be about 800 years old and is dedicated to the Mother Goddess Durga or Bhimakali and is one of the 51 Shakti Peethas. A Shakti Peetha is a place where the body part of Goddess Shakti, wife of Lord Shiva, fell when he started the Thandava dance (the dance of death & destruction). As per mythology, Shakti was daughter of King Daksha and married Lord Shiva against his wishes. King Daksha had organized a religious ceremony at his Palace and had deliberately not invited Lord Shiva. However, Shakti went to the Palace of her father uninvited and her father used derogatory language for her husband, Lord Shiva that hurt her emotions so much, that she threw herself into the religious pyre and died. Consequent upon her death, Lord Shiva became enraged and picked up her body on his shoulders and started the Tandava, fearing total destruction, all Gods approached Lord Vishnu, who slowly started taking out pieces of Shakti’s body by using his ‘Chakra’. Wherever, the body parts of Goddess Shakti fell on the earth, a temple was constructed at the site. It is said that in Sarahan, the left ear of Goddess Shakti had fallen.
The gateway to temple - outer facade Silver embossed
Temple dedicated to Narshingh Avatar
As beautiful the temple may be, but its history is steeped in blood & gore. Within this temple precinct, is the temple of Lanka Vir, placed just opposite the main temple across the central courtyard, where human sacrifice used to take place right upto the 18th Century. The temple now houses the statue of Narsingh Avatar. The main temple complex is a typical Kinnauri architecture, built with layers of stone & wood interspersed, to avoid destruction by earthquakes. The inner temple complex contains two towers, one built in the 12th Century A.D and the other in 1920’s. The older structure is now replaced with a new resplendent structure, but the Goddess is still housed in the old 1920 built temple, on its third floor. The temple itself is a fort like structure, with a main door made of metal cast, with figures of Gods & Goddesses adorning it, made up or either Asta dhatu (mixture of eight metals) or Brass? Through this door one enters the inner courtyard, which houses the temple guest house, administrative block etc. of the temple. In this courtyard, there is a raised platform that has a history, it is stated that centuries ago the rulers of Kullu had invaded Rampur with the intention of annexing it. However, after protracted battle the rulers of Bushair managed to defeat the King of Kullu and he was beheaded and the severed head was brought back alongwith other trophies and the head of the slain King was placed on this raised platform. The family members & vassals of the King of Kullu pleaded with the Bushair rulers to return the head so that his religious ceremonies could be completed. The rulers of Bushiar laid down three conditions – (i) that the land annexed by them acrossSutlej would be retained by them; (ii) the rulers of Kullu would never again attack the Bushair kingdom; and (iii) that the statute of Lord Raghunath, the presiding deity of Kullu would be retained. The rulers of Kullu accepted all the three demands, but requested the rulers of Bushair to celebrate the festival of Dusshera every year as was the practice in respect of Lord Raghunath. This was accepted by the rulers of Bushair and till today the festival of Dusshera is celebrated with pomp & glory every year. The idol of Lord Raghunath is installed in the temple just above the first entry gate to the Bhimkali temple and can be accessed only early in the morning and evening when the ritual aarti takes place, at other times it remains closed for public viewing.
The stone piece removed from roof of house and placed on temple gate by the Rulers of Bushair
The place where the head of the Ruler of Kullu was placed
Another anecdote that reflects the gory & bloody past of the Bushair rulers relate to the diktat issued at that point of time in history, when the Bhimkali temple was built, wherein it was stated that no one was permitted to replicate the temple design in any form within the Bushair kingdom. A person called Masoi, who was a resident of the nearby village, thought so otherwise and built a house for himself, having similar design. This was taken as sign of rebellion & disrespect towards the royalty and an army was sent to his house, which demolished the house and killed all the occupants. A flat stone from his roof was taken away and placed near the temple door, which is crossed by all the visitors even today, as a mark of disrespect & reminder for the masses not to question the diktats of the Bushair rulers.
Apples growing in Sarahan
Having paid our homage at the reverend Bhimkali temple, we headed back towards Chail that is at a distance of about 190 odd Kms. While driving downhill, I noticed quite a few kinds of birds flocking & frolicking around in the undergrowths. I also saw quite a few ‘weeping Willow’ trees growing around Sarahan. As I had found quite a few Apricots strewn around on the road on the previous day, while returning I found some ladies picking them up into a basket, I was intrigued and asked them about such apathy towards the Apricots. The ladies told us that the variety of Apricots strewn around were small in size and being a highly perishable good, did not command a good price coupled with the fact that the kernels were bitter, these Apricots were used only for producing Apricot oil from the kernel. The fragrance of the fruit laden trees growing all around mixed with the fragrance of pine trees, lends a surreal feeling to the environ of Sarahan.
The majestic Kinner Kailash range as seen from Kalpa
We started back from Kaza at 6.00 A.M. in the morning as it was a long drive ahead to Kalpa, we had to cover about 210 Kms. distance over mountainous roads. The roads are forlorn and as we were basically retracing our steps, I committed the mistake of placing my good camera in covers to save it from dust. However, just as we passed by LariVillage I suddenly spotted a Himalayan brown woolly Hare scampering towards the hill side. It was bemused as no human activity takes place this early in the region, I quickly took my Son’s digital camera and took a shot. This sudden encounter lifted our spirits and we kept out eyes peeled out for such sightings. After having traversed half of the distance, we reached Nako at about 10.00 A.M. and stopped for Breakfast. After this short break, with a sigh or relief! Having re-crossed the Malling Nullah region without any ado, we proceeded further. Just as we were about to reach Khab, a massive traffic jam greeted us. Intrigued, I got out of the car and walked ahead and found out that a truck had a break-down and being a very narrow road, the Bus ahead of us was having difficulty negotiating it. As the Bust scraped past the truck, I too jumped back into the Car and got past the jam without much of a delay. Thereafter, we retraced back our steps upto Powari to get the tank filled up and then headed back to the junction on the NH-22 from where the road bifurcates towards Reckong Peo & Kalpa.
The Himalayan Brown hare suddenly appeared on the road near Lari
Bifurcating from the Hindustan Tibet Road i.e. NH-22, Recong Peo (2670 meters) is situated at a distance of about 7 Kms. from the road head and it is the district headquarters of the Kinnaur district. It faces the majesty of Jorkanden (6473 meters) and the reverend KinnerKailash Mountain (6050 meters). The latter is regarded as one of the mythical homes of Lord Shiva and by its side is a 79 foot high rock formation that resembles a ‘Shivalinga’ that changes color as the day passes and is visible to the bare eye on a clear day. The ‘Parikarma’, circulation around the base of the mountain is a seven to eight day trek and starts from Thangi and ends at Chitkul. Also visible on the stretch is thepeak of Raiding (5,499 m), the locals here believe that the spirits of the dead people of Kinnaur reside on this mountain. The Drug-pa, Nyingma-pa and Geluk-pa sects are well established while in 1992, Dalai Lama held a 'Kalachakra' ceremony in a newly built Gompha in Reckong Peo. The whole township has a backdrop of pristine snow capped mountains and hillsides are dense with woods, fruit orchards, picturesque villages and hamlets.
Passing through Reckong Peo
Half an hour’s drive from Recong Peo, takes you to the Kalpa (2960 meters), which was once known as Chini. Kalpa is one of the biggest and spectacularly beautiful villages of Kinnaur and lies 13 Kms. ahead of Reckong Peo. The massive snow clad scene dominated by the peak of Kinner Kailashranges towering over it, provides Kalpa with a regal dignity. Situated at an altitude of 2758 m above the sea level, Kalpa is a nature’s splendor and also one of the main villages of Kinnaur. Across the Sutlej River, rise the majestic mountains of the Kinner Kailash range. These mountains are the grand theater for display of spectacular sights early in the morning as the rising sun touches the snowy peaks with crimson and golden light, as well as equally mesmerizing evenings.
Close-up of the famous Shivling
The majestic Kinner Kailash range - early morning
Kalpa still holds a traditional ambience and retains much of the old architecture style of buildings. The Narayan-Nagini temple is an exemplary example of local craftsmanship and a copy of painting by British painter in 1864 establishes its antiquity. There are couple of Buddhist monasteries at Kalpa – including the Hu – Bu – Lan - Kar gompa said to have been founded by Rinchensang-po (950-1055 A.D.). Blessed with some of the most spectacular and beautiful landscapes anywhere, it is a travelers paradise - lofty snow peaks, deep gorges, lush green valleys, fast flowing rivers, enchanting mountain lakes, flower bedecked meadows, beautiful temples and monasteries steeped in time, coupled with fruit laden orchards of pristine Apples, Pears, Apricots et al.
View of the Nag Nagin temple in Kalpa - aerial view
The front facade of the Nag Nagin temple
Close-up of the temple architecture - typical Kinnauri style wood carvings
A painting of the temple by William Simpson in 1864 - very little has changed
Tne monastery in Kalpa
Ladies engaged in making some ceremonial items in the Monastery
Kothi, another small village just 3 km from Recong Peo, has a temple dedicated to the goddess Chandika Devi. Set against a backdrop of mountains and grove of the deodars, the temple has an unusual architectural style and fine sculpture. An exquisite gold image of goddess is enshrined in sanctum. The Goddess is worshipped with great reverence amongst the locals. It is believed that she was the daughter of demon God Banasur who presided over Kinnaur. The temple has been in existence over the eons.