Day 3 dawned bright and clear and off we went to visit the 16th century Hidimba temple barely 2-3 km from where we were. This temple has featured in many Bollywood films so we kind of knew what to expect but nothing prepared us for what we actually felt there. Tucked away on the slopes amidst majestic, towering deodar trees, the entire atmosphere permeates one’s being. From the moment one enters through the small iron gates down the concrete path leading to the temple, one’s transported to a different spiritual level altogether. It is easy to imagine the Devi meditating here hundreds of years ago.
Hadimba Devi was the wife of Bhim, one of the five Pandava brothers from the Mahabharata. Her brother Hidimb, a rakshasha, was killed by Bhim and she became Bhim’s wife. Many years later, their son Ghatotkachh fought alongside the Pandavas in the epic battle. Hadimba retreated to the forest of Dhungri to spend her time in spiritual pursuit. Years later, Raja Bahadur Singh had a temple built in Hadimba’s honour. It is a simple structure built in a pagoda style with mud-covered walls.

The wooden walls outside and doorways have carvings depicting various deities from Hindu mythology.

Inside the sanctum sanctorum there are no images—just footprints engraved on a stone.

The interiors have mud-washed walls just like those of rustic village homes. The temple is a protected national monument.

As we proceeded along the path, we were approached by local women holding the cutest, furriest, softest ever balls of white in their arms. On closer inspection, they turned out to be Angora rabbits.

Their keepers have made a business out of those furry balls by charging tourists Rs 10-20 for a photograph with them! We resisted at first, but a persistent old lady kept at it and eventually we succumbed to the temptation of holding the cute thing in our hands. Ooh, that’s the softest thing I’ve ever touched in my life.

The old lady offered to sell the little thing to us for Rs 600/- but I could visualise the poor mite suffering in the Delhi heat although Mintu was keen to take it back with us.

We looked around in wonder at the tall trees standing like silent sentinels with the rays of the early morning sun filtering through them forming a horizontal abstract pattern painted in gold. The hushed atmosphere adds to the dignity of the place daring anyone to violate its sanctity.

Even before we climbed the steps leading to the temple, we could see a crowd gathered there—not the usual devotee kind—and soon we realized that a film shooting was in progress.

In any case, the temple itself did not look like the usual ones (modern or ancient) which makes it so attractive in the first place. You could be visiting an ancient house for all you know due to its lack of grandeur and awe-inspiring architectural embellishments. There’s an absence too of the usual beggars and other vendors that one associates with temples in India.

The environs are clean and peaceful bringing you in touch with not only your inner self but also with nature around you. I wish we could have spent more time there but we did have to get back to Delhi the same day. We walked along another pathway leading to the Ghatotkachh temple nearby.

In a clearing just beyond the temple’s boundary stone wall, vendors were putting up their little stalls selling woollens, and other knick-knacks and souvenirs. There was a yak there too waiting to be clicked and make money for its keeper.

We looked around for the other temple and were surprised to see it right behind us—the simplest ever.  There was a tree on which was a simple board with the name of its deity written on it.

The only fact that gave any hint of its being a religious place were the little images and prayer flags at the base of the tree.

There must be thousands of such trees all over the country.

We left that mystical place behind and made our way back for breakfast. The road is lined with many interesting cafes and restaurants…we saw an Italian one and an Israeli one too. Another one interestingly called ‘Papa Johnson’s’ seems to be a popular place. We’ve decided to try it out the next time we’re there.

Once back on the main road we stopped yet again to look at the mounds and mounds of potatoes down near the river bank. These potatoes come from Lahaul-Spiti, apparently. From what we could see, they were being cleaned and sorted out in heaps.

Back at Manali Cottages, our genial host was there to bid us goodbye. He also made arrangements for us to try out river rafting at his friend’s adventure camp that’s one of the many that line the highway. We bid goodbye to the smiling staff at Manali Cottages and set off for the next bit of adventure. Once more we sped along the highway with the gurgling, swishing river on our left and our hearts filled with song.

We stopped at a government factory outlet cum Angora rabbit breeding farm on the way. Once again we were in the company of those cute cuddly creatures but this time they were in cages. I picked up some Angora wool shawls which were as soft as the source from which they’d come!

Soon we were driving down a dusty track which veered off to the left from the highway towards the Riverside Camp. We were told that there weren’t too many rafters that day so we’d be the only two apart, of course, from a guide and his two assistants. The river seemed a little tame compared to the Ganges at Rishikesh where we’d seen rafters struggling with rapids. But since we’d missed the opportunity at Rishikesh, we were determined to try it out here.

Our guide gave us some instructions and safety guidelines and we were off riding the waves! Even though the current wasn’t very strong and the waters pretty tame, we had a lot of fun going down on our knees every time our guide called out “high side!” The cold water splashed all around us but we didn’t mind one bit.                                                                                                                                                               The only time our spirits were dampened was when we saw a group of people near a funeral pyre on the bank to our right.

Soon our 20-minute rafting experience drew to a close. We stood on the bank shivering and wet but extremely thrilled. A pick-up truck was waiting for us, and as soon as the raft was secured on the roof we drove back to the camp. Our co-rafters chose to ride on the roof. Back at the camp, we changed into dry clothes in a little cluttered room behind the kitchen and after a cup of hot tea, we said our byes and set off on the highway once again.

Soon we were crossing Kullu, but this time we took the bypass which was in very good condition. We crossed a bridge which seemed to be of recent construction and to our right down by the riverside was a monastery, its colourful prayer flags fluttering gaily in the wind.

Just before we entered the tunnel at Aut, we stopped to buy some spices, red chillies and dry fruit from one of the several shops lining the road. There were a variety of mouth-watering pakoras in many of the shops but while travelling, one can’t be too careful. I don’t mind admitting though that I was tempted but Mintu was in a no-nonsense mood so….

We emerged from the tunnel on the other side and by now the highway was at a higher level than before. A little while later, we reached the same spot that we’d seen on our way up—the beautiful place where the waters of the Beas were emerald green and on the far side, cascading down the sheer rock face was a waterfall.

From above we noticed some people down by the river having fun and then we saw a rough track leading down. Camera in hand, we made a beeline for the inviting waters. That place is simply amazing—seems straight out of some set of Jurassic Park. waterfall-2There’s a lot of greenery and the vegetation in that stretch is quite different from what we’d seen earlier and later. If the bubbling river at Manali and Kullu had been in its childhood and adolescence, here it was a mature entity flowing with a confidence acquired with experience. It seemed more sober, hiding secrets within its deep soul. We spent some wonderful moments there taking in the beauty around us, trying to capture forever in our minds the sights, sounds and feel of the place. Too bad that we had our jobs to get back to…sigh!

We look back often on those action-packed three brief days reliving the entire experience and it never fails to bring a glow of pleasure to our hurried breathless city existence. We did manage to pack in quite a few activities in those three days, but it has left us with a thirst for more. Which is why we’ve decided to go back there and explore the other treasures that that wonderful place has on offer—Lahaul-Spiti, Malana, Manikaran—the list is endless.

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