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Sunday, 30 July 2017

Sarahan (Kinnaur Valley)---Why you should include it in your itinerary.

   As I write this post and go through the pictures of this hamlet in the lower Kinnaur valley,a beautiful picture fills up my mind.I realise that Kinnaur had kept up to its promise of presenting  a different picture in every halt of ours.This was our last destination in the valley ,nevertheless proved to be as exciting as the others.

I had dozed off in the car when the car screeched to a halt.As I opened my eyes,the majestic structure of the Bhimkali Temple stood before me.We enquired about the availability of rooms at the temple rest house.To our disappointment,we had to book a room elsewhere.
A light drizzle accompanied us as we walked from the hotel to the temple that evening.This time we did not pay heed to it.Each one of us was in low spirits now as we were drawing close to the end of this memorable trip. Quite in contrary to the other tourists around us, the majority of whom were just starting with their trip to the Kinnaur valley. So we decided to spend time outside, to soak in the last few memories of this magical fairyland.
   Next,with the temple behind us, we tried exploring the place on foot. Saharan is  a small hamlet, so it goes without saying that everyplace is approachable on foot.
 We whiled away the rest of the evening at tea stalls and buying knick - knacks, listening to folklore of how a little girl was born following an explosion and grew up to be a  very strong female power  known as Bhimkali. There was a lot to listen to,and even more to be perceived,as the owner of the local shawl shop preferred calling the place Bushahr (Sarahan was the capital of the princely state of Bushahr) even today,his pride very much palpable in his tone.

The Bhimkali Temple
  This  has been the most intricately carved temple I had seen so far in my two visits to the state The temple was the abode of Bhimkali or the incarnation of Goddess Kali the presiding deity of the Bushahr kings.As per mythology, goddess Bhimkali  was called upon by the ascetics practising meditation here ,to ward off the demons who disturbed them.

 The temple is unique by its own rights ,the intricate wooden carvings on its walls are worth seeing.
The architecture of the temple was an interesting mix of the Buddhist and Hindu features.The ancient Indo Tibet road passing nearby, this fusion was nothing but obvious.Few of the sculptures in the temple  even showed  a Kushan influence. My scarce knowledge of history relates this to the fact that  the Kushan kings were instrumental in the spread of Buddhism to far off. lands.  Yet,  for the regular tourist ,the temple was an awe inspiring structure in a very fitting set up,of the serene landscape.


   The temple consists of a twin tower of wood and stone.It is believed that one of the towers got tilted in an earthquake and again got back to position in another quake.The other tower was built later and the idol of the Goddess was shifted here.
   The twin towers  are visible from almost any part of Sarahan. .The steps to the main idol of Godess kali  are not visible from outside but a climb of few steps are required inside the tower ,as the main idol is at the third floor.The temple kept us engrossed for nearly two hours ,as we went around viewing the small rooms and the museums inside the temple complex.The entire structure was built with wood and interlocked stones,which made it strong enough to resist earthquakes.The small rooms around the towers were places where the kings themselves resided  before the palaces were built.The Bushair kings were dynastic  priests at the temple.
Very interestingly ,the towers also have many other idols other than Goddess Bhimkali   ,who are also worshiped there. It is so believed that as the kingdom saw different queens coming from other kingdoms, they brought with them idols of the family gods of their parents kingdom,who were given a place in this temple.
The temple is also one of the 51 Shaktipeeths. According to mythology,this was the place where Godless Sati's ear fell,after the Daksha yajna incident.

   Be it the misty mornings,with the temple standing in sharp contrast to the haze,or the beautiful paths that led to the palaces ;  the temple,the palaces, the landscape or the local people seen around,  all weaved a beautiful story connecting us to the past.

History of Sarahan
Kamru was the first capital of the princely state of Bushahr,and then the capital was shifted to Saharan   Read about the Kamru Fort here.
The capital was then shifted to Rampur (another hamlet 24 kms from Saharan).The palaces at Sarahan are still functional.The members of the royal family (the present Hon'ble Chief MInister  of the state Virbhadra Singh,himself is a member of the royal family) though do not stay here all through the year, they come back during the festivals. So the palaces are not open to the tourists.The temple and the whole of Sarahan can be seen in a different mood in the Navaratras ,as it is the prime festival here.

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    The lanes in this place were perfect for a morning stroll.With the Shrikhand ranges overlooking the place  and apple orchards and deodars dominating the scenery,Sarahan glistened in its glorious past..No matter where we walked in Sarahan ,a distinct aura of  a mountain kingdom was felt .The palaces looked so well maintained that they gave us the feel that the kingdom were not too many years old.WE later learnt that the palaces were relatively newly built ,only after the kings shifted from their residing place inside the temple.

Places to visit apart from the temple

Apart from the palace one can stroll up to the stadium or the pheasantry a little uphill (however, not many birds can be seen there). These are places which are barely 500m from the temple.We walked up only till the stadium , as we had to leave for Shimla soon. As we walked on these paths, we saw men and women rush to there workplaces.Quite a large number of local people could be spotted in their traditional attire.
   The place seemed to hold on strongly to the traditions ,as well as keep themselves well braced with modernity.

You might like to read- Kalpa,a complete guide
                                     Our successful itinerary to the Kinnaur Valley of Himachal Pradesh
                                  How to travel with small children.-Few useful points

                                           Rakcham .Why we preferred it to Sangla (Kinnaur)

Vessels  at the museum inside the temple

The houses of teh priests in teh temple premises

 It was quite pleasing to note that everywhere in the valley ,we were always greeted with cheerful smiles. People ,though busy in their chores did not miss sharing a few words with us.They even paused to complement us ,as we tried out the Kinnauri caps while in the morning stroll. I think though rarely noticed ,these anecdotes  make a trip so memorable at times.


 As we drove down the slopes to Shimla (our next destination),this marriage procession with the groom was on its way.Now that was some luck ,I must say.

About seventeen km,from Sarahan as you go down the slopes is Jeori, a place where a temple houses a hot water spring ..We took only a brief pause here.The nearest petrol pump is at Jeori.

   And then the roses...I can actually go back to Sarahan only for them.They grow everywhere,and did not seem to be well cared for. These add to the show of the enchanting path down the slopes.In fact,the drive down the mountain till the deviation for Sarahan from the highway is a very charming one. Flower laden trees and cute houses,bid that lasting adieu ,as one climbs downhill.

This picturesque hamlet of Sarahan  is the first destination after Narkanda as you step in the Kinnaur valley. It is at a distance of nearly 200 kms. from Shimla and takes about 6 hours on an average day. We visited Sarahan on our way back as per our itinerary.Since we were there in the month of May,we saw Sarahan covered in green. Sarahan also gets good snowfall.If you visit in the months of February and March you can see Saharan covered in snow.  The temple amidst snow forms an excellent picture!

Stay options 

The temple rest house rooms

   I shall always regret not getting an opportunity to stay in the temple rest houses.The temple rest houses are in the temple premises itself. The rest house consists of 8 spacious rooms and 2 dormitories.They are very economical and provide an excellent view from the balconies.moreover ,a stay here ensures that you don't miss the evening arti at the temple.Footwear camera or mobiles are strictly prohibited inside the main shrine.Special lockers are provided in the temple for this purpose.The same premises houses a canteen serving simple vegetarian fare.It is difficult to get a booking , as they are always prebooked by the travel operators,but you can always try your luck!

The other stay options include The PWD circuit houses located very close to the temple.
The Shrikhand is the HPTDC property in Sarahan located at the Srikhand peak, with a magnificent view of the temple and snowcapped ranges .This place can of course   be booked online.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Kalpa ..a complete guide to the mesmerizing hill station in the Kinnaur Valley

   We sat leisurely at the cafe at Chini Village sipping steaming hot thupka ,deciding to give our itinerary a brief pause for the day.A short chat with the owner of the cafe was in progress,who talked about how he settled there three decades ago, as he served jasmine tea to a group of foreigners at another table. Our conversation was frequently interrupted by his inputs  in English to the foreigners about the tariffs of the dormitories around the place ."You get everything here ,even if it snows  all the shops are  open,there is no reason to go back to the plains." he says ,as he reverts  to fluent Bengali this time. It seemed that the magic of the place had just begun to dawn on us.

   For years this place remained secluded from the rest of the world ,till the Governor General of India, Lord Dalhousie constructed the Hindustan Tibet road. With the relaxation of the inner line permits in the mid nineties Kalpa got its rightful place in the tourist map of India.

  As a consequence, in spite of its splendour ,Kalpa could escape rapid commercialization for a very long time and hence could retain the beauty to be rightly called Dev Bhumi .

 Cradled by the mighty ranges of the Kinnaur Kailash,  Kalpa has retained its innocent charm that can enthrall any mind.

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You might also read    A complete itinerary to the Kinnaur Valley of Himachal Pradesh
                                                     A walk in the Himalayan village of Basteri

Workers busy working in the apple orchard right next to our resort

The ranges from the sit out in front of our room

The view of the mountains from the many hotels

   Chini village as said above is now only a small locality in Kalpa.We were told that Kalpa was earlier called by the name Chini as the influence from the people of Tibet grew here.It was later named Kalpa. Chini village is the place where most of the shops are located .The hotels are built a little above the slopes,thankfully,still in very less crowded places.

The main attractions apart from the scenic beauty 

The two main attractions of Kalpa are located here in Chini Village.The monastery and the Chandika Devi temple temple.The monastery definitely gives us an aura of the olden days and the temple can be an ideal place to sit and spend some time admiring the beauty of the place.

These were the places we had already googled and therefore were not surprising .As we proceeded towards the temple we came across  a landmark which makes Kalpa proud for the second time,the first one being the obvious charisma it owns.
 We happened to see the government primary school where the first  elections of independent India was held .Shyam Saran Negi ,a teacher at this primary school being the first voter to exercise his franchise is from Kalpa.  That makes us wonder, why should such  a remote place be chosen for the first polling booth. Since the mountains are covered in snow ,it was decided that the elections be held here in October  a little earlier than the rest of the country. Now,that is  a bit of general knowledge only for those who are interested.
The other two places usually visited from Kalpa are the villages of Roghi and Kothi .One can get a glimpse of the architectural styles of the region or can come very close to the rural lifestyle of the region.Stay tuned for a well deserving post on the villages soon.

     Read here---Rakcham .Why we preferred it to Sangla (Kinnaur)
Chandika Devi Temple

 Can you spot the Shivling on the ranges.?It is a 79 feet elongated vertical rock structure  visible from any place in Kalpa to the naked eye. Kalpa actually forms the base for an annual trek to the Shivling which takes  four to five days.The Kinnaur Kailash ranges are said to be the temporary abode of Lord Shiva,and hence the Shivling.

  Strolling around Chini village we got a glimpse of the ladies hurriedly going somewhere in their traditional attire.I found it so appropriate for the cold climate of the place.( that was  a very quick click to keep to  their fast pace).When they came close I noticed something which looked like incense sticks in their hands. So were they going to the temple? Was it a special day,which I had forgotten as I was on the tour? Whatever was their purpose ,they looked stunning in those clothes.Most remarkably, they looked very happy,and each one seemed to know the other!

What not to miss in Kalpa
A stroll down the paths along the deodars and and apple orchards.So reserve  a morning exclusively for that.It would not be incorrect to say that one can discover the essence of the place only while strolling down the paths of this hill station.We strolled down and enjoyed our morning tea at one of the roof top of the house selling tea.
I wonder why it is always so much fun to do the atypical.Do you have the answer...

Read here----
How to travel with small children.-Few useful points

Early mornings could not have been better....

All said and done, I shall always remember Kalpa for its bountiful natural beauty and its very laid -back attitude.

Rekong Peo near the bus stand.

  This mesmerizing hill station of Kalpa is about 8 kms. from the district headquarters Rekong Peo.
As a matter of fact I loved walking at the market place in Rekong Peo.We treated ourselves to apple juices from the HPMC outlets there.While in Kinnaur do not forget to get one of those Kinnauri caps.They are stitched out of green velvet like material and are worn by both men and women.You just cant place it anyhow,their  is a particular way of wearing it. As far as I can remember ,the open end of the green portion has to be above your right ear.I learnt this from my nine year old daughter ,who is a very keen observer.

You can also find the Tourist Information Centre at Rekong Peo,in case you are in need of authentic information regarding the tour.

 If you wish to go shopping ,Rekong peo is the best place.You can chose from  a variety of shawls,or you can also take a look art the silver jewellery at the jewellery shops in the market place.I brought home some products made from apples . Do not miss the dry apples ,and the dry paneer.You can also look around for the Kinnauri rajma,which is a little different from the regular ones.While shopping for shawls take along someone who is good at haggling.

  We had booked the HPTDC resort of Kinnaur Kailash,but their are numerous other stay options too..A good number can be booked online. Most of them come with their own restaurants as the places are secluded along the mountain slopes.Be it  a nondescript stay option or the resorts ,each one can boast of  a beautiful view from the balcony.The hotels vary from dormitories starting at Rupees 250 ,mid range ones or well maintained resorts.

Apart from being a very coveted tourist destination,Kalpa also serves as an important break for the  trip to the Spiti Valley.You can check here for some details  The complete itinerary to the Kinnaur Valley

Monday, 3 July 2017

A walk in the HImalayan Village of Batseri,Sangla (Kinnaur visit)

    The path sloped up from the banks of the Baspa and narrowed down to the houses in the village.Not many people could be seen around,the village seemed to be still in slumber as we walked our way up the path.Or were we too early?Only a few small shops were open,who helped us with the direction of the temple.

       The apple orchards shielded the temple from our view.There was silence in the air.Few lone villagers could be spotted busy with their daily chores. But the temple door remained wide open.This was the intricately carved temple of Badri Narayan Ji. The temple was no less than an architectural marvel .Moreover with the beautiful scenic location ,the place lent  a very serene feeling.
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There were carvings of Shiva,and other Hindu Gods and Goddesses along with Guru Nanak ,Swami Vivekananda,and Jesus. Carvings of erotic figures also formed  a panel on the walls.The temple gate,or the carvings on the walls of the shrine in fact, give a very secular feeling.
We met Roshan Lalji ,who could be seen busy at his workshop,carving more panels for the temple. The temple was a very old one but was destroyed  in a fire in 1998.So it was slowly being rebuilt and hence the very new look. Roshanlal Ji patiently takes the onus of giving back the temple its same glory.

You might also like  How to travel with small children
                                  Our successfull itinerary to the Kinnaur Valley of Himachal pradesh

The influence of Tibetan Buddhism is marked here

  The village of Batseri can only be accessed on foot.So we had kept the car waiting at the bank of the river as we walked through the village.

  This particular Himalayan village seemed to be a little congested than the others that we visited ,nevertheless, the paths were strikingly clean .Among the houses that lined our paths a good number had embraced modernity with concrete houses while the others preferred to continue with the traditional stone and wood structures .It seemed to me that this village was a little older than the other places we had visited.


 Firstly an invasive attack by the neighboring Himalayan country of Nepal who captured many places of the state,followed by the British interference to expel them ,these regions of the valley had gone through  a lot of political activity,with the people in the rest of the country hardly knowing about it.


Read here  Raksham,another Himalayan pearl
                The best place to visit in Sangla
                You cannot miss this place while in Kinnaur...Papu Dhaba 

..And then  the infusion of people from  Tibet with a different culture , had all left behind marks that defined the landscape of this village today. Be it  a very old temple of The Badri Narayan,or a monastery hundreds of years old ,such evidences of inhabitation and existence of a well structured society since long, urge us to learn more about the place.Though we could not spot it but it seems there is a prayer wheel in Batseri which is rotated by the waters of  a flowing stream.

                             The monastery at Batseri,a little disappointing though to see the present neglected state.                         

 Very noticeably the villages in the Kinnaur Valley were well off financially.Apple being the major cash crop here,the population with a very high literacy rate here are employed in the apple cultivation or the allied industries.

 Batseri is a village in the Sangla valley if the Kinnaur district of  the state.It is only 7 kms from Sangla ,and lies on the opposite bank of the Baspa.Though Batseri has many camping options,a stay at Sangla is recommended as the stay options are varied there. Batseri can be visited on the way back from Chitkul or Raksham. Initially we had not decided to visit Batseri,so we had to take the detour while on our way to Kalpa.
The best time to visit the place would be around September,to see the trees with the apples and the landscape takes a pink hue due to the buckwheat cultivation in the region.