Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Killer Kinnaur - Sarahan

After the initial stopover at Shimla, our real tour started on 23rd May as we got ready to drive to Sarahan. We had booked a tempo-traveller with 12 seats from Shimla for the rest of the journey back in Kolkata itself via Diamond Tours and Travels. However, the one that reported to us had its back seats facing sideways and the worn out tyres looked ominous for the dreadful roads which awaited us. After an animated argument, it was finally changed but only after intervention of the original tour operator. Since this furore continued for almost an hour, our journey also started late. The newer tempo-traveller was in excellent state and the driver was also a good one.  The credit goes to Runa and Chhotomasi for doing all the hard talk and ensuring us a comfortable journey. 

The road until Narkanda was in an appalling state but the view outside alleviated all discomforts. After Kufri we first noticed the snow capped mountain peaks. And there after the pine and fir trees were keeping us company. We had a meagre lunch at a roadside eatery after Narkanda and in the afternoon reached Rampur. The stretch of road between Narkanda and Rampur was first-rate.

Rampur (135 Km from Shimla on NH 22) was once the capital city of the princely state of Bushahr and is now one of the biggest commercial towns of Himachal Pradesh. We stopped for a while to visit the Padam Palace which was located amidst the hustle-bustle of a busy market area. Only Bappa, Abhishek, Chhotomasi and I ventured out to visit the palace and the rest preferred to wait in the car but we were not disappointed. The near century old palace was built by Padam Singh and the large edifice made of stone and wood with a sprawling lawn is a place worth visiting. The second floor of the two storied building has intricate woodwork with floral designs and the front door is beautifully designed with glass fittings. Unfortunately one cannot go inside the palace as it remains locked. Later we came to know that since the palace is still a private residence of Virbhadra Singh, the erstwhile King and presently a cabinet minister of the central government, entry is subject to permission only. And a normal tourist cannot obtain permission I guess since there was no office in the vicinity. 

After Rampur, we had the Sutlej flowing by our side for the rest of the journey but we were puzzled that unlike rivers in the mountain, it was muddy. Probably it was due to the work going on for a hydel power project that was coming up. When we reached Sarahan finally, it was around six in the evening. After checking into the hotel, we made a brief visit to the Bhimakali Temple which just beside the hotel. However, I had to wait in the courtyard and could not enter the abode of the deity as I was carrying many leather items and camera and did not have a headgear. On the way back to the hotel I bought a Kullu cap and Chhotomasi bought some designer jackets as gift items. 

The HPTDC hotel, Hotel Shrikhand, was located in an excellent position with exquisite view. At first we thought staying at the guest house inside the Bhimakali Temple itself. I had read in some fellow traveller’s trip report that they have the best view in Sarahan and comes at a cheap price as well. But it was already booked when we inquired by calling a Rampur number. While waiting in the courtyard I made a sneak peek into what seemed to be the temple guest house. The arrangements looked basic and our hotel did not seem to provide any less view of the mountain peaks, but I am not absolutely sure on that. Trehan Guest House was our next choice and we even booked rooms in that hotel. But then Runa’s friend who visited the place last year and stayed at Trehan’s gave us some very negative feedback of the place and hence we cancelled that booking and booked the tourism hotel. Luckily the tour operator forgot to charge us any cancellation cost. 

The next day the alarm went off at five o’clock in the morning. Although we could not behold sun rise as such but the golden orange rays of the morning sun burning down the snow capped peaks and watching the mountain ranges changing their colour from mystery blue to milky white was mesmerising.  Shrikhand and Kartikeya are the eminent peaks that are visible from here.

When the sun was out properly we visited the Bhimakali Temple again. This time round I was only carrying the camera which I deposited before entering the main temple building. The newly bought Kullu cap served as a perfect headgear. The goddess Bhimakali is consecrated at the top floor of the three storied building and one has to watch one’s head while moving up and down the narrow stair cases. 

The temple is dedicated to the presiding mother goddess Bhimakali of the former princely state of Bushahr and the town of Sarahan which was earlier named as Shonitpur was the capital city of this former princely state before it was moved to Rampur. According to a legend the temple is associated with the Daksha-Yagna incident when the ear of Sati fell at this place and became a place of worship. It is accordingly considered as one of the 51 Hindu peeths.

The temple built with stone and wood manifests conspicuous woodwork with carved designs. That apart the mere location the temple itself amidst the mountains is fascinatingly magnificent and perhaps has no parallel. 

After breakfast, we went to a view point and while others returned after some rampant photo sessions, I stayed back to take some snaps of the temple from this side. The temple looks all the more beautiful from here as the mountain ranges form the backdrop and one can have the full view of the temple. To have a better view, I took off the road and entered a private property which looked dilapidated and abandoned. Though there was a main gate locked down, one could easily sneak through by a side gate which was open. I was getting curious to explore more but then it was getting late and I was also worried that I might be charged of trespassing.

After an early lunch it was time to say good bye to Sarahan and start for Kalpa. The food was wonderful which adds to the terrific location of Hotel Shrikhand. 

According to a legend, it was believed that the country of Kinnaur was the Kailash mentioned in Puranas, the abode of Shiva. In fact Lord Shiva disguised himself as Kirata for some time at this place. The town of Sarahan, once the capital city Shonitpur, is considered the gateway of Kinnaur and we were delighted to be on our way to behold the Kinnar Kailash.