Saturday, July 07, 2007

Visit to Heaven and back - II

Next day was a new day. The plan was to visit Manikaran near Kullu in the Parvati valley. A famed Gurudwara and an ancient Shiv Temple sit majestically on the banks of the Parvati river.

We left kullu quite early in the morning with the plan to have breakfast on the way in one of the many eateries lining the road. For going to Manikaran from Kullu we need to head back to Bhunter which is downhill from Kullu towards Chandigarh. Bhunter also has an airport which serves the entire tourist circuit. Anyway we left Kullu and turned left at Bhunter. After crossing the Beas we started the climb towards Manikaran. Now the road to Manikaran is not at that good if you compare to the NH-21. It is very narrow at places and also damaged in many stretches. The climb is also very steep and as we found out very soon into the drive it is dangerous too.

What happened was that a Bus and a truck coming from opposite sides had tried to negotiate a naroow stretch which was nogt made for crossing to two vehicles. The result was that they were now in a position where if anyone of them moved the windows of the Bus were definitely going to shatter. We plains people thinking high of our driving skills were still debating what to do, when a simple man from a nearby village cam and took charge. He asked volunteers to place a large rock under the back right wheel of the bus and then asked the bus driver to inch ahead and climb the back wheels on the rock. What this did was to tilt the bus (It was very scary) away from the truck and the truck easily managed to come out of the jam instantly.

This gave me an important lesson... whenever heading for the hills never drive yourself - hire a professional instead - This might be a life and death decision.

After driving through such treacherous roads we reached manikaran. I had heard of the Gurudwara and the temple as well as about the hot springs - but nothing had prepared me for the scene I saw as I entered the Manikaran town - Signboards in HEBREW... I saw Israeli settlements with many israeli youngsters moving about in their Harley-Davidsons and even local contraptions. Our driver told us that these guys come here for Hashish and other drugs which are available in this area. And because of the constant coming and going of these people an Israeli township has grown here.

Anyway, back to the task at hand. Manikaran proper is a typical Indian pilgrimage town with hordes of shops selling 'prasad', religious audio cassettes, flowers, 'kadas' and many other knick knacks. We also bought prasad from one of the shops which incidentally was advertising facility for the safe keep of your 'jodas' (shoes) and the prasad and other things were a bonus.

Both the Temple and Gurudwara are built side-by-side and each one is accessible separately from outside as well as connected from the inside too. We entered the Temple first. The first thing to notice is the smell of Sulphur which is predominant. I instantly had a recollection of the Chemistry laboratory in school when we did experiments with H2S. The next sensation is the intensely HOT floor. I had to carry my 5 year old in my lap as she just could not bear it. Even I had difficulty in walking on the floor. The heat was probably due to a combination of Sun beating from the sky and the hot spring water bubbling below. Although the authorities have put jute carpets all along the pathways, but the heated marble was too much even for that.

After we did our darshans we went to the back of the Temple and saw a very beautiful site. Water from the hot springs was draining into the Parvati river alongside the Temple and steam was hssing at the confluence. The hot water had infact corroded a big stone at the spot where it met the gushing water of the Parvari tumbling down the mountains. We had an extended photo session here . In the verandah of the Temple another site greeted us and that was of the food being cooked in the same hot water springs. We could see food utensils inside the bubbling 'Kund'. Incredible site!!

Afterwards we entered the Gurudwara from a small and narrow connecting path. It was also very hot and when we entered the Gurudwara we saw a small room where pilgrims actually take a bath in the hot-springs. It is supposed to cure many diseases. But since we were hale and hearty and more importantly did not have the courage to enter a pool of boiling water we let go of the urge for ablutions and entered the sanctum-sanctorum of the Gurudwara. Now whenever I go to a Gurudwara - apart from the salvation - the thing that attracts me is the selfless devotion with which the people do the 'Seva'. I could see well-to-do people brooming the floor, managing the show rack outside, serving food in the 'Langar'. It is really a humbling experience. After getting the 'Karah Parsad' we went to the 'Langar' to partake food in the community kitchen. Speaking of Karah Parsad - My wife has tried to make Karah many times at home but I have never eaten what you get in a Gurudwara... I have come to the conclusion it is virtually impossible to get what you get in here, because there are some ingredients here which you cannot get in your own kitchen at home. Even the Langar food is something which is very simple - 'Karhi-Chawal' - but is the tastiest I have ever eaten anywhere.

After the darshan was over we crossed a bridge on the Parvati river to start back and we had a few snaps on the bridge itself...

After this we started back towards Kullu passing through the same scenery and some more OOOOOHS and AAAAAHS. On reaching kullu the plan was to go straight to Manali which is about 50 kms from Kullu. But we decided to stop on the banks of the river Beas and just laze around. The water was very cold - infact minutes the water made my legs go numb. There is a facility of white water rafting there - but it requires something called GUTS which all of us were running low on so we decided to give it a slip and just gaze at the others doing it. We also saw a local dredging the river bed for sand.
After sometime we left for Manali which was reached promptly in 1-1/2 hours. As we were going in the peak tourist season we were a bit apprehensive about getting accommodation in Manali. But surprisingly we got a good bargain in the very first Hotel we tried. More about our adventures in Manali and beyond in the next post...

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