Saturday, 1 November 2014

Himachal Travel Diary - Part 5 (Manali, Jagatsukh & Kasol)

"Let’s find some beautiful place to get lost"

The Prayer Wheels

I was pretty excited for this day. A few months ago an ad of a telecom service provider started airing on the TV which showed a foreigner travelling through Himachal using public transport and his GPS on phone to locate a particular pine tree filled beautiful camping area which was Kasol. The view of the dreamy backdrop for a few seconds in the ad made me fall in love with the place. When the Himachal plan started taking shape I knew this was my chance to visit the place for which my heart was yearning from long.

So this was the day. But there were a couple of other places to see before reaching Kasol. The first thing was to see the Buddhist Monastery of Manali. We heard about it so much but were not able to locate it in the market area.
Monastery seen from the Parking
Shops outside the Monastery
Outside view of the Monastery
Inside View of the main Gate

Entrance of the Monastery
 Vijay turned right from the Van Vihar junction and drove through a by-lane. The by-lane led us to an opening where on one side was the Buddhist Monastery area and on the other was a multi level paid  car car parking complex. It was a bright and sunny day. We brought out our hats that we had purchased the previous night. It was a square area and we walked around all the way to reach the entrance of the monastery. There were a couple of shops selling Tibetan goods just outside the entrance of the Monastery.

The name of the monastery is a pretty difficult one:  Gadhan Thekchhokling Gompa. This is one of the oldest and famous places in Manali. It was built in the year 1969. One may wonder why a Monastery in Manali? It is due to the large number of Tibetan population residing in here. Just like other Tibetan monasteries, the entrance to the Gompa is pretty ornate with vibrant colors. The’ Kalachakra’ or the wheel of life is painted on the outside wall of the monastery depicting Lord Buddha’s life.

Garden of the Monastery
 We purchased a ticket of Rs. 20/- for taking photographs inside the monastery. It was a small monastery compared to what I have seen in North eastern India, but had a big Buddha idol spanning two floors. The tankhas and everything inside had signs of ageing. We took a few photos in the first level and then went to the second level. The face of Buddha could be seen from this level. Butter lamps were placed all around. Idols of Tara and Padmanava were also present alongside Buddha. After taking a couple of photos we went out. The prayer wheels surround the monastery. We went around spinning the wheels which had the Tibetan mantra “Om mani padme hum” written on it.

Lord Buddha
Flowers in the garden
The monastery is situated in the middle of a beautiful garden with lots of colorful blossoms. One can sit here for long and enjoy the serene atmosphere. The snow capped mountains could also be seen in the backdrop.
Banner of the Bengali Dharmashala
While going around the park a banner put up along the fence came to my notice. It said in Bengali “Gumpa Dharmashala – Monastery Bengali Restaurant”. I can understand the omnipresence of travel crazy Bengalis everywhere in India but a Bengali restaurant right inside a monastery was crazy! The menu list advertised piqued my interest – thin grained rice, masoor daal, chutney, subzi, fish/meat/chicken/egg curry. As if the presence of a Bengali restaurant was not enough, the information that they served non veg in the monastery premises was pretty amazing. Later we reasoned maybe there was also a guest house along the boundary of the monastery which housed all sort of travelers, hence the restaurant was catering to non-veg as well.

It was breakfast time and we decided to have a peek in this restaurant. It was a very small place with 3-4 tables. I asked what was available for breakfast and finally ordered two egg parotas to-go. A was busy taking photographs of the flowers in the garden. I asked him to take the parcel while I made a quick visit to the shops outside. I was mainly looking out for some bowls with Tibetan design. I did find a couple of them in one shop but it didn’t look good enough. In the next shop though I didn’t find a soup bowl but the shopkeeper showed me another interesting thing known as the “Om bowl” or singing bowl. Singing Bowls are used in meditation and ritual practice. If you strike the rim of the bowl with a wooden mallet and then continue to rub the rim in a circular motion with the mallet, the rim creates a vibration which increases with the uniform rubbing and produces the sound of “OM”. There is a particular way to hit the bowl which takes practice. I was not able to produce a constant sound but the shopkeeper could. The bowl had pretty intrinsic design which I liked very much. Though it was a bit heavy I decided to buy it as a memento.

By the time I came back to the monastery the parcel was ready and we left for the car. Our next destination was Jagatsukh. We had the egg porota in the car. The porota was made in a pretty unique fashion. Usually the parota is made and on top of that the beaten egg is poured and fried. But in this one the layer of egg was in between two layer of parota. It was very yummy and wholesome.

On the road of new Manali
We took the road through New Manali to reach Jagatsukh. I never knew that Manali spanned beyond the mall road. The beauty of new Manali is much prettier than the main Manali area. This is a relatively new place which extends beyond the Mall road limit and is much peaceful. There are a number of quaint  hotels alongside road having nice wood work. The entire stretch of the road throughnew Manali is so beautiful and serene that we promised to ourselves if we ever happened to visit Manali again we will definitely stay in the new Manali area.

Jagatsukh is a small peaceful hamlet at southern flanks of Manali which is approximately 6 km away from Manali on the left bank of Beas. The place is famous for ancient temples of Lord Shiva and Sandhya Gayatri. Originally known as Nast, it remained the ancient capital of Kullu for about ten generations.

We reached Jagatsukh in about 20 minutes. Maybe there was a time when so many buildings were not present and the temple could be seen from the road. But as of today you need to walk past some roadside stores into a narrow gully and then reach the temple. The gates have yakshis carved in stone. The Sandhya Gayetri temple is built in wood and stone in the Shikhara style. It’s mentioned on the temple wall that the idol dates back to the times when Pandavas came here almost 5000 years ago. Both Gayetri and Shiva Idols are believed to be “Swayambhu”. We remove our shoes and walk inside the sanctum. Inside along with the main idol of Sandhya Gayetri there is Lord Anjaneya and Lord Ganesha along with Siddhi Buddhi and Lord Shanmukha. A middle aged lady sat there handing out the Charanamrita. There was no priest around. She explained the story of Sandhya Gayetri and then asked us from where we have come. When she learnt we were tourist she started discussing the tragic accidental deaths of the students that happened in Beas. We talked for a while then left.

Sandhya Gayetri Mandir
After this we walked down to the back end of the Gayetri Temple. The temple of Lord Shiva is a tri-ratha sanctum roofed by a Shikhara. This temple dates back to the 8-9th century. A very old Himachali lady was present here. She said she was the priest and told us the history of the temple in detail. It is believed not only the idol but the stone temple as a whole had come out of the ground as is and from then on it has been worshiped. It’s a very beautiful temple with intrinsic architecture. The lady priest was also very friendly and knowledgeable. We talked with her for long; she also told us she had come to Maharashtra to visit all the Jyotirlingas.

The Shiva Temple
Shivlinga & the old lady priest by the temple

The next destination was Kullu rafting club. That’s right we decided to redo the entire 7 Km stretch and this time make sure we had a video of the same. From the morning onward the sky looked a bit overcast and by the time we reached the rafting point it had started to rain. There was hardly any tourist present. The river looked pretty rough with the onset of rains. We were speculating when the only official present there said we should decide fast, because as the rain increased the waters would become more choppy and dangerous and they would stop the rafting. If we wanted to go for rafting we should do it quickly. Not doing was out of question, because that is why we had waited from a day before. We paid the ticket amount and went to change. That day we did bring change of clothes.

This time we were taken to a different rafting group who had their own photographer. Apart from us there was another couple. We quickly wore our life jackets and helmets and posed for the photographer.  Another couple joined us in our sojourn when we were about to start. The journey started with the six of us. The water was below freezing level we soon found out and that made the adventure more challenging. Regarding the journey I can only say, this one was more thrilling, chilling and exhilarating than the first one – rains and turbulent Beas – the combination is totally lethal. Even in such choppy waters we didn't feel scared for a second. We enjoyed it to bits and this time we did have the video clips of the entire journey. After all the excitement we were feeling hungry again. We got some roasted corn on the cob. Rains and corn on the cob reminded us of Lonavala.


The next and last stop of the day was Kasol. It was a long drive from Kullu to Kasol and took us around 2.5 hours. We passed through many beautiful areas filled with pine forest. Then there were many quaint wooden homes strewn across the valley. We saw the Naggar palace up on a hill, but Naggar was planned for the next day so we didn't stop. We carried on the Bhuntar-Ramshila Road while the Beas accompanied us all through. Near Buntar there was a check-post where I bought 6 small apricots for Rs.10.
On way to Kasol
From the Bhuntar diversion we turned left at Hathithan and followed the Manikaran Road. We saw the confluence of two rivers at the diversion – the Beas and the Parvati. From hereon it was Parvati that accompanied us till Kasol. It was a gradual ascent through another river valley to the mountain village of Kasol. The weather had cleared up a bit but the sky was still overcast. Beas had always looked sparkling clear but Parbati looked Toffee colored. The overcast sky also contributed to the dark hue of the water. But one thing was Parbati seemed much turbulent and deep than Beas. The drive through the narrow mountain road with sharp turns and blind spots was dangerously beautiful. And Vijay drove like Michael Schumacher in those roads also. Whenever two vehicles were parallel at any point it was pretty scary as the left hand side was always open to a sheer drop of thousand feet below. We saw many Sikhs driving along the Manikaran road. They wore the typical saffron turban and had the saffron signature flag of Manikaran gurudwara. We also came across a group of young Sikh ladies in a tempo who sang in Punjabi and chanted the name of Guru Nanak. It was really nice to hear them as they sang.

On way we crossed Jari, a small mountain village and the Malana Hydro Electric Project . The long shining pipe snaking through the mountain makes Jari easily noticeable. Malana is another quaint little village in the Parbati valley which is gradually gaining tourist attention because of its beauty. We couldn't plan Malana due to shortage of time.

By the time we reached the limits of Kasol, the weather had again turned rainy. The phone tower was mostly unavailable. At one time when I had enough tower I called the hotel to ask for directions. Thankfully so because after that there was no signal of IDEA or Reliance till the hotel. We had read that Kasol was a small village but we didn't know that it was so small. It’s very easy to locate your hotels in this small place. We were staying at the Alpine resort which was a bit way off the main road, a minute through a mud road. The moment we entered the mud road and saw dense forest all around us I felt really nice about choosing this particular hotel. However later we discovered that Alpine was possibly the hotel with the best location and amenities in whole of Kasol and that too at dirt cheap prices.

It was a beautiful, cozy resort. The reception area was right in front of the entrance. It had flowing boughs of a crimson blush coming down one of its sides. The blossoms resembled China Rose. The combination of deep crimson and green painted a pretty picture. As Vijay parked the car we were greeted by Mrs. Mukherjee who is a very cordial lady and the co-owner of this resort. She and her husband had started this resort. We were quickly checked into our rooms.

The restaurant
Let me mention over here how we had booked this resort. When we were searching for resort in the Kasol area, we had queried a couple of places before contacting Alpine. The price of the other’s were pretty steep compared to Alpine, hence we almost zeroed in on Alpine. The problem is they don’t have an online reservation portal where you can check availability or make payments, so you need to call the hotel and ask about the availability. Moreover we had heard that since Alpine gave verbal confirmation of booking a few tourists had faced trouble when they landed up in the hotel and were told the booking is not there. When my husband called the hotel, someone who attended the call informed him that the booking was full for the month when we were travelling. A bit disappointed we started re-evaluating the stay options for Kasol. A couple of days later when we were about to finalise some other hotel I thought of calling up Alpine once more. This time Mrs. Mukherjee herself had received the call and to my surprise she informed that there was no booking around those dates. Immediately I made the verbal booking. She said we need to pay the dues once we came down to the hotel. I asked her for a mail confirmation but she informed that the net connection was not available most of the times so a verbal confirmation is fine. However just to be double sure I had called Mrs. Mukherjee once before leaving Pune and once before reaching Kasol. But once we were at the hotel, we were given a very warm welcome by the owner herself.

The tiredness of our journey wore off by seeing the beauty of nature all around. We decided to have lunch and rest for a while before we explored the village.

Continued in Himachal Travel Diary - Part 6.

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