Summer ’09 – Dharamshala (June 03 to 08)
It is refreshing always to break free from the routine and what better way is there to find freedom for the soul and body than to visit new places. I am no adept person at planning but these days at my age and standing at the society, there are persons around, who are overly anxious that my creature comforts are reasonably well attended to. It was a long journey over 280 kms from Chandigarh to Dharamshala. We struck anchor at Chintapurni temple in the first fringe of the Himalayan range, after about 4 hours of drive. The temple is decked at the ‘fourth floor’ and it almost seemed like visiting an apartment house reaching the temple through a lift taking you vertically up from the ground floor. There is also steep climb to the temple that one could do by foot . The temple is dedicated to Mata Chintpurni and located in the Una district. The deity has derived such a name from the idol of goddess Durga in the temple, which is without a head. According to the Hindu mythology, Lord Vishnu cut the corpse of Sati in to fifty one pieces with his chakra to quell the wrath of Lord Shiva. It is believed that the feet of Sati fell in this place where the temple has been built. Local people pray at a stone carving of a foot smeared with red kumkum paste bedecked with flowers and golden shawl with enormous religious fervor.
After noon was still hot and we stopped by to cool ourselves at a Guest house at a place 25 kms away and after lunch (with an appendage of sleep) , we headed to Jwalaji, a picturesque temple town built in the Indo-Sikh style. The temple is a modern building whose dome is of gilded gold and possesses a beautiful folding door of silver plates, presented by the Sikh Raja Kharak Singh. There is a large cement pit, where a panditji is sitting with fire billowing from 3 places along the walls. The panditji is dripping in sweat with fire around him and
he is offering deepam to each of the fiery bursts, treating them as fire goddess, Jwalaji. On seeing us, he is signaled to get up to identify the 4th place outside the cement pit and approach a place that resembles maadam or pirai in old houses of south India. The pandit held a burning oil wick inside the pirai, and presto, there was blue soft flame catching up along the wall. I patted my cheeks with crossed hands in reverence. That was Jwalaji-IV. My science experts (who, but my wife & son?) tell me that there must have been a volcano several thousands of years ago but our people would care no hoots for such scientific explanations. It is nice to approach gods with childlike qualities of innocence and not through reason. It is only when you transcend reason that you see god, don’t you? Legend has it that after Daksha Yoga Bhagna, Lord Shiva placed the burnt dead body of Sati on his shoulders and started wandering about in a state of wild rage. To save the world from the destructive wrath of Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu started cutting the limbs of the dead Goddess Parvati one by one. The places where they fell became sacred centers for the worship of Shakti. The tongue of Sati fell at the place where the temple of Jwalamukhi is situated. The flames that come out of the openings in the earth?s surface are regarded as the manifestations of the fallen tongue of Sati and are worshipped as "Jwalamukhi Devi" (Goddess, who emits flames from her mouth).
We were received at the border of the town at Dharamshala by the driver of my judge friend, Ajay and piloted our way to Ajay’s father-in-law’s house for a cup of tea. It was 5 pm and still hot. The old lady in the house pulled a table fan to lavish a gush of air to cool our burning collars. Ajay drove along with us to drop us at McCleodgang, the upper Dharamshala, at his firend’s bungalow. The bungalow was perched at the precipice of a large rock, adjoining the Dalai Lama’s official residence and on the parikrama of a Buddhist monastery. It was at once a scenic place with the valley under your feet and abutting the parikrama, the place pulsates with spiritual energy. The monks wear bright red tunic overalls and look solemn. Old men and women, with walking sticks in their hands as props for slow ambulatory gaits, young men and women, boys and girls, all with beads in their hands counting their repetitive prayers. The redemption of Tibet from the hands of the Chinese is among their prayers, as well. The prayer flags hung between trees and flapping in the winds are eternal human messages to gods in heavens to hear their supplication.
Ajay took us around the ups and down of Dharamshala. It is a large town that stretches from about 2000 ft above sea level to nearly 11000 ft. The town is hemmed in by mountains that raise to eternity like walls vertically, at once imposing and breathtaking in their effect. In summer, the terrain looks dry, but Ajay’s father in law tells us that Dharamshala records second highest rain fall in India, next to Maw Syn Ram (where have Chirapunji and Agumbe gone?). we drove to high points of Dharamshala but the sun seemed sharp.
The next day, Ajay and I decided to trek to the high point, Triund, situate at 9000 ft above sea level. We drove about 3 kms and began our trek. Ajay’s driver, a young man with a paunch and his personal security officer joined us. It is puffing of breath and pounding of heart that accompanies you all the way through. Along the rugged path, you turn to one side, to catch the glimpse of the distant valley that you have come away from and look at the other other side, you have the imposing mountains that hold
you in disbelief of the distance that you have to still climb and heaven that it promises. After two and half hours continuous trek, we stopped by to have chocolates, (yummm, that melts to give you instant energy) and tea to warm the pounding heart. At 10.30, after 4 hours of trot, we arrived at Triund. There were already few campers, stretching themselves, earning their rest.
Ajay said, it was not all; if I had the pluck I could walk another two hours, I would come by Chamba valley and I would have arrived at the most charming sight ever, at the Dhauladhar range. He was not himself in any mood to join in. With relatively good health that I enjoy, with regular gymming, I decided that I would prod on. Ajay’s security person was prepared to go along. It seemed a steeper climb or maybe, the continuous walking for over 4 h ours was having its toll and made me feel so. We puffed and chugged, rolled and went on all fours and tumbled to a flat ground from where began a steep incline. We checked ourselves from further trek, still unable to consume all that nature had to offer. I seated myself on a tiny rocky stone, amidst a bed of button roses, yellow, purple and white, dotting the velvety green grass. It was eerie silence, with the tall mountains absorbing all the wind and the sounds that the trees were generating. Even the rumbling sound of water flowing down from the snowy peaks seemed to happen at a distance. I lied down facing the snow peaked mountains for nearly 30 minutes and we decided to return to Triund to have lunch.
There was a small coffee shop, where three persons from Israel had been engaging the shop-owner in some of communication through some language that sounded like English. The shop owner seemed better in his proficiency in English than the Israelis. As we saw them going away, we occupied the tarpaulin covered front space of the shop and energized ourselves with chocolates and coffee. We readied to go down again to Triund and we galloped down the in an hour, triggered by hunger to wallop the lunch that I knew Ajay was carrying. Black clouds capped the mountains and there was slight drizzle when we spread lunch on the carpet that the driver had spread. The paranthas and curry had been made hot again, thanks to the shop keeper’s munificence of lending his gas stove.We feasted on the gourmet as if it were the last meal of a life time. The shopkeeper warned us to get treading along down the hill before it rained heavily. We started the climb down, with rain gods accompanying us, not lashing out in torrents but with gentle caress of a bath room shower for nearly an hour. We also had umbrellas with us to spare us from being wholly drenched.
I had a shower at our guest house and went out again for a dinner arranged by Ajay’s cousin, who was celebrating his wedding anniversary. There was chilled beer to quench our parched throats but Ajay and I were too tired to hold out for long at the dinner. I got back to early and hit the bed. Only on rare days could sleep be death. I was dead for 6 hours.
McCleodgunj has a nice market and eateries. We ate well, shopped well and went around the local sights leisurely. Dal lake was pathetic, but the deodar trees surrounding the lake, what seemed like puddle, seemed a lovely spectacle. Ajeya got himself a telescope that seemed a vintage stuff. I browsed through some books at a Tibetan book shop and Raji got some precious stones. Late in the evening, we bought some CDs and Kangra Tea at the local market. Most of the shops have stickers declaring that Chinese goods are not sold. We stayed at the Circuit house that is located near tea plantations and after a leisurely day spent at the guest house, we readied ourselves to go to Manali.