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Kullu-Manali - The Abode of God

Spiritual wisdom lies beneath appreciation of natural beauty all around. Atop Kullu Valley lies the picturesque hill town of Manali hemmed with the silence of the mountains, a noisy river, calm meadows and bountiful orchards.

Kullu Valley belongs to the Gods and sages and heavenly happenings are ‘daily encounters’ for the innocent villagers who smile and cry within the ambience of the mystic land. Their ‘belief system’ is deep rooted. Every village has it own God and every day is planned by His wish as local MLA and HPCC Chairman Chander Sen Thakur laments!

Some two kilometers away from modern Manali town which was earlier known as Dana Bazar there are two villages, Aleo and Chooga, whose ishtadeva is Brahman named Shristi Nangji. It is a matter of anthropological interest that there is a living medium called ‘Gur’. In a state of trance he dicates the ‘wish of God’. Roshan, a local village boy narrated that this place is even used to ‘vouch’ or take the ‘oath’ of truthfulness. When judiciary is doubted they refer people to take oath before the Gur.

According to mythology Brahma, the creator of the universe, created first Manu and Manu in turn created all the creatures of the world. Initially there was water all around. Manu and his wife were afloat in a boat cruising in search of land. The first land sighted came to be known as Manualaya. It was later accepted as the gate of creation. Today there is a unique new temple called Manu Mandir.

The temple has a monolith stone statue of Vishnu on the left of Manu and on the right is Brahma. The latest addition is Shiva to complete the Trinity of the gods. There is a pyre beneath the temple which is perhaps unparalled in the temple tradition of India. The story goes that there used to be a demon called Tundi who used to kill human beings. Manu intervened and said the demon could have dead bodies if he desisted from killing living beings. Furthermore Manu promised to worship him as well. Since then 11 logs of wood are kept beneath the temple on a pyre to appease the demon, Tundi. People say some 70-80 years ago people used to burn the dead here as ordered by Manu.

In the month of Magh (January), an eleven day fair called Fhagli is celebrated to appease the demon Tundi. On this day liquor is offered followed by dance and festivity. The Manu temple is also linked to another festival called Chatt festival which celebrates the birth of Manu. It is held after the festival of Diwali.

It is interesting to note that the people of Manali go in procession to a village called Goushal every alternate year and people from Goushal come to Manali. In this three day festival Manu Rishi and Mata Hiramba go in a palanquin to Goushal village. The whole village follow them in procession. After a community feast they return to Manali. Similarly, form Goushal, Gautam Rishi, Vyas Rishi and Kanchan Naga are brought in procession to Manali. The festivity of God and Man has been continuing since time immemorial. Through festivity the ecclesiastical spirit lives on the temple remains the epicenter of spiritual vibration.

A little up in the woods is Dhoongri Temple also known as Hidimba Devi Temple. According to hearsay she was a mountain belle rescued from her evil brother by Bhima. One of the Pandav brothers in the epic, Mahabharata.

The temple symbolizes the Mother Goddess. Till date animal sacrifice to appease the Mother Goddess is in practice. The temple, made of timber, is unique from the architectural point of view. The pagoda type structure was erected in 1553 AD. It is said the Pandavas spent their period of exile in Kullu. The world famous Kullu Dussehra is linked with the ceremonial opening or closing of Hidimba Devi Temple.

There are masks and antler horns hung around the temple. The series of wooden carvings animal motifs are exquisite. One can see a unique symbolism where there is a body of a jumping lion with the face of an elephant, an unparalleled factor in temple motifs and designs.

A little away from old Manali, in the hills amidst nature, is the Vasishtha Temple.Vasishtha was an ascetic who meditated here for a thousand years. He was the Kul Guru of Shri Ram of the Ramayana era and a worshipper of Shakti.He worshipped near the Arjoga river (now known as Beas) during the Satya Yug (Golden Age). It is interesting to know that the sulphur kund (hot spring) sprang up out of Vasishtha’a meditation.Desh Raj Sharma whose family has been worshipping Vasishtha for five generations said that this land has remained a seat of meditation for sages. People down the ages come here to get blessed and besmear themselves with mineral water. There is also a small akhara where ascetics gather for a religious discourse.

In Manali Gods and sages remain part of the people’s ethos.

Walking in the Shadow of the Woods

Take a walk through the Nature Park where there area some three thousand trees on 29 acres of land strewn with boulders. I ventured out on an afternoon. It was windy pre monsoon June. As soon as you step in you are faced with gigantic sky high trees. The light remains minimum and the sun is allowed to peep whenever a tall tree permits a vision within her. Arrows direct you to different parts of the woods. One takes you to see a rare endangered bird, the Himalayan Monal. Retracing your steps, a small wooden bridge takes you to an arrow marking that reads ‘River View’. Following the arrow mark I walked into the woods. The shadow of the trees overcast a serpentine path. The sound of silence is the thing to be discovered here. It is the perfect spot for meditation. There was a young man in his mid-thirties in deep pranayam (meditation).

Suddenly some naughty crows dived out and banged against my head! Covering my head with a handkerchief I walked up to another locale strewn aesthetically with boulders. One large boulder had chhupa chhupi (hide-and-seek) written on it. Children can play here all day without getting tired. However, one can feel thirsty. There was no water in the midst of the woods. (Better carry your water bottle). A narrow serpentine path led me to river splashing youthfully over large boulders. The scenic beauty of the gushing water, the mountains, boulders, shrubs and wild flowers all maintain their identity with a touch of harmony. After walking through the woods man can only get tired yet the quest remains to understand nature which is a rare commodity today.

Sporting Manali

Manali provides all kinds of adventure activities: skiing, trekking, angling, river rafting, mountaineering….

Travel agents offer a variery of ‘scopes’ for various seasons with varying ‘price tags’.

The Mountaineering Institute in Manali remains the centre for training and guidance. One can go trekking from April to October. Rock climbing is a popular sport here. Paragliding can also be arranged with prior coordination.

Popular trekking routes are to Beas Kund, Hamta Valley, Bhrigulake, Laomadugh. One can also trek to Malana village or Parvati Valley. The charges for these routes are Rs.700-800 per day or $200 per day. It is interesting to note that when Manali comes under the grip of the monsoons then can trek to Lahul Spiti which is a rain shadow area where trekking is possible.

Himalayan Adventures Pvt. Ltd. in Manali organizes a 21 day trek from Manali via Lamayuru to Leh. This trek takes you through high mountains deserts, rivers and gorges and the wide, deep valleys of Zanskar and Ladakh Himalayas. There are also many Buddhist Monasteries on the way. A 21 day trek and jeep safari combination takes you through Ladakh-Lahul-Spiti-Manali. The time period is July-September. There is also the Great Himalayan Jeep Safari that covers Shimal-Kinnaur-Spiti-Lahaul-Ladakh.

For professional fishing and amateur angling try the tour circuit of Kullu-Manali-Dharamsala-Nadaun-Dehragoppipur-Pong Dam. The rivers Tirthan, Sainj, Beas, Parvati, Garsa are ideal for angling.

For skiing Manali remains a hot destination between January and April. Then again in winter from January to February one can ski in Solang Nallah. There are institutes that organize orientation courses for beginners. Apart from skiing there is scope for rafting in the Kullu-Jeri stretch. The rivers Chandra Bhaga and Sutlej are rafting destinations.

Paragliding is another prominent sport in Manali which is the biggest centre for paragliding in India. The Solang valley is the place for even amateur paragliders.

There is also scope for mountain biking between mid-July and mid-September. The gradation is medium to strenuous high altitude terrain. It is generally 12 days from Manali-Lahul-Ladakh which encompasses 475 km per day.

Manali provides many avenues for a spirited journey in the lap of the great Himalayas.