Day 3 – PART 1
For an account of the previous days, click below for…
Ah, the big day …the busiest day by far and the part of the report I have been dreading to write! 🙂 Anyway, here goes nothing!
Last night, around supper time, the hotel manager (or rather, the guy behind the front desk!) had gamely tried to market a pretty little tourist lodge on the shores of Khajjiar (up in the hills – about an hour’s drive from Chamba) Turns out, I was invited for coffee with the owner, a stately Punjabi lady who was running the hotel after her husband’s death, determined to try and make it a profit making business for her son, who was not the least bit interested in running it…and to all intents and purposes, sounded like a kid who loves rolling in the dough rather than earning it. To cut a long story short, I spent about 15 minutes getting some of my questions answered about Chamba in general, and also hearing platitudes about the beauty of Khajjiar, that I agreed to visit it in the afternoon on my return from Bharmour. (I was anyway planning to do so, since the pictures were very pretty) By the time we ran out of coffee, and topics to talk about, the vehicle to take me upto Bharmour had arrived.:D
The road to Bharmour leads Northward out of Chamba, along the river and then crosses over it once to the East bank where it carries on for quite a while until later in the journey when the river has receded , the road crosses over again to the West before the final climb up. The sun was a pale disc shining above the surrounding hills as we tracked along the gently flowing blue river that gave us coonstant company three-fourths of the way. The journey from Chamba to Bharmour takes about 2.5 hours (if my memory serves me right) and that is mainly due to the condition of the roads. The mountains of the region are famous for the traditional slate tiles used by the Himachalis for their roofs and the composition of the rock is stratified, which means excessive rain and snow causes landslides easily and parts to crumble off along the seam, especially the parts where people have mined the rocks for their roofs. Quite a few places enroute had the “warning, falling boulders” sign and it wasn’t a surprise, given the crazy manner, the hills were dug. Many times, I noticed people a few feet up along the hillside busily poking and prodding away to get tiles for personal use, unaware of the dangers of unplanned mining and the consequences.
Back to the narrative…a few kilometres down the road, the river (which was a stream at Chamba) starts gathering volume and speeding up. You also start noticing heavy vehicles rumbling along and if you are a frequent Himachal traveller, you can easily guess what to expect next… yes, the infamous Jaypee Group – Dam Builders. Chamba is no exception and they have done it here as well…“moved mountains, changed the course of rivers” (and I do not mean it as a compliment)
After you have passed the dam, you finally see the true nature of the river, a gushing white water rapid driving on through the narrow canyon walls. Its along this point that the climb that had been gradual, starts getting steeper and every
bend seems to take you that bit higher. A few snow clad peaks start nipping over the shoulders of the neighbouring mountains every now and then as the elevation increases.
A short while later, you have left the river behind and are now in a fairly steep gorge, moving along constant bends with no real railings at the edges to stop you from toppling over 🙂 I take a halt past a bend to see how deep the ravine is and to click a few pictures. The gorge is tremendous…steep and inspiring 🙂 but the photo is NOT!! 😀 The Himalayas have a way of truly astounding you in person and slapping you down when you try to capture them in a photograph…since nothing can truly capture the grandeur and the depth of the rugged terrain in 2 dimensions, without any factor of scale to compare against.
Anyway enough rambling…a few kilometres further on, we came across the sign I had been looking for. The one bend in the road where the elusive Manimahesh Kailash is visible. As you proceed further, the peak gets hidden behind the mountains surrounding Bharmour and will not be visible anymore till you have gone on past Hadsar and trekked further. I stopped by and tried to capture it in my head so that I can forever remember the image 🙂 I of course clicked a few photographs as well to help geriatric old me in his later years 😉
After that awe inspiring moment, the remainder of the journey started getting more picturesque as we started getting higher…and colder. The mountains around us were now blanketed with snow in places where the sun did not reach and it was magnificient 🙂 Snow on one side that was in shade (to the right) and bleak dusty slopes on the left, with snow in the dark crevices and at the peaks. After a while of driving through such wonderful scenery, we finally reached Bharmour.
(Some pics of the scenery enroute to Bharmour)
The car park and bus stand is the first thing you encounter, just off the side along the highway with small shops and a couple of guest houses (closed for winter) around it. The entire area was in various stages of snow slush and super slippery ice as it had snowed a couple of days back, followed by two chilly nights but surprisingly sunny days and blue skies, causing melts and run offs. Most of the town however was still blanketed by snow, so it was quite tricky walking up the narrow sloping street towards the Chaurasi Mandir (84 temples) Slipping and sliding along (yes I was grossly unprepeared and had left my stick in the hotel) I finally reached the temple complex after about 5-6 minutes of trudging gingerly up the incline.
The temple complex is located probably centrally from all axes of the town…what I mean is that its centrally located lengthwise and also in terms of elevation. (There is also no ticket needed) Almost the highest point of the town, there are a couple of paths that lead off from it downwards in either direction with houses and shops along these narrow lanes. The first and most amazing sight you sse as you enter is an ancient Deodar tree (I underlined ancient cos this was the oldest Deodar I have ever seen for sure!) with 5 big finger like branches that are pretty much trees in themselves!
The tree seems to go up forever into the distance as you crane your neck to maximum extension! Immediately flanking it is the most impressive of the temples in the complex. All the temples here are dedicated to various Gods and are built with intricately carved stone blocks and each is a masterpiece in itself. Just to the right of the main temple lies (to my mind) the most amazing temple. Its deity is a Goddess (I believe Mahakali) and the temple doorway has one of the finest examples of woodwork I have seen. This carries on within the temple … beautiful examples of ancient Indian art…a 1000+ year old temple complex with perfectly preserved art and architecture…quite amazing and rare to find. This temple complex of course is a “living” complex and is used by people from the village everyday. What makes the location even more beautiful is that it seems like a bunch of jewels have been placed within a bowl, surrounded by snow capped mountains on all sides like a snowy crown.
(Pics of Bharmour town and the temple complex)
I spent some time in the complex and then carefully slid my way (yes, literally slid down!) along towards the North, towards Hadsar, just to have a look at the beautiful vistas that lay ahead…promising that I would come someday and attempt the Manimahesh trek that lay along that way – just 35 kms away, and yet impossible due to the heavy snowdrifts and danger of avalanches.
(Looking towards Hadsar and Manimahesh far beyond)
I then bid my final adieus to the town, knowing that I had been very lucky to manage to get the road open at this time of the year with some lovely blue skies. A couple of days later, heavy snowfall would again block this town for months,
till the summer finally started thawing the snow, around yatra time – May/June.
My next destination was Khajjiar but that will be in my next post… this one is way too long as is! 🙂 Hope its as enjoyable to read as it was painful to write 😀 … a labour of love for a lazy person like me 😉