Thursday, November 20, 2008

Manali - Day 1

The night journey from Mcleod Ganj to Manali was uneventful (mercifully). I reached early in the morning – I think 6.

As soon as I alighted from the bus I caught sight of a snow covered mountain which was creamish-peach in colour – the kind you see on magazine covers and tell yourself it is the work of photoshop.
You can get this view only at dawn. I had observed the mountains at dusk several times and at several places, hoping to see them turn golden but they only turned ashen. It is only at dawn that the magic happens.

I still remembered, though vaguely, my previous visit to Manali with my parents in October 98. We had stayed in a very calm area. I did not, of course, remember the name of the hotel or the locality. But I did remember that it was very close to a certain Hidimba temple which we had not visited then. We had been content with the amusement provided to us by the idea of a temple devoted to Hidimba – totally unheard of!

Of the several taxi/auto drivers that surrounded me as I alighted from the bus, I chose one randomly and told him that my budget was 250 – 300 rupees per day. He drove through new Manali (as he said old Manali would be more expensive). To my disappointment, I observed that it had become such a shabby town with mean looking hovels and unaesthetic concrete structures everywhere. He drove from one hotel to another and I simply shook my head. I asked him if he could recommend some calm, quiet area – some place near Hidimba temple – to which he said that it would be old Manali. My nostalgia got the better of my calculative mind and I decided to go to that haunting place, where there still lingered a fragment of my past, my visit to the place, the four of us together – me, my mom, dad and brother.

As the taxi drove on, there appeared dense grooves of Devdar, winding rows flanked by rose shrubs, picturesque cottages and more Devdar. Here was the Manali of my memory, the Manali of my past. My tormented soul found some respite having found a place long lost.

The hotel ‘Gulmarg’ happened to me by good fortune. It was owned by the taxi driver!
This was the last of the tenements on that road. Behind this hotel and beyond, there was pure wilderness.

On the right of the hotel was a small kitchen, I was to learn soon, not to be judged by its appearance. Further there were vast spaces, Devadrs and a snow mountain beyond. In the front was the lawn and a row of rose shrubs…bright pink, crimson… on the left was the huge shrub of wild roses, as tall as the two storey hotel and laden with white roses. It was the first thing I noticed as I arrived here.

The surrounding air was diffused with the fragrance of white wild roses. Superlatives fail me and I shall not try to eulogize. It was simply heavenly.
This romance was interrupted only by the insolence of tobacco smokers to whom it does not matter an iota that they are in the midst of mountains, Devdars, roses and pristine air.

I set out, Alice in wonderland, kid in a candy store, with a spring in my step, camera in my pocket and a song in my heart.

It was the season of bloom. After a really long time, I saw sooooo many roses all at once…in pleasing colours and unbelievable numbers, all over the place.

Some double coloured roses. Pink and yellow petals in one single flower.

My first destination was the Hidimba temple.
On my way I found what I was looking for – a group of women offering to dress you in traditional Himachal attire and jewelry for a photograph. Ten years ago, when I had been accosted by them and my father had asked me if I would like to have such a picture taken, I had refused flatly thinking it was silly, perhaps laughable. What illusions one has in those growing years!

I wasted no time in getting ready for the picture as the women wrapped a colourful piece of cloth around me, one more to cover my head, some jewelry, a flower basket and a rabbit – a real one! I wish I was not soooo sun tanned.

The area surrounding the temple is simply beautiful. Tall, sky high Devdar trees, well tended rose shrubs, clean trails leading up to the temple…

It’s a pagoda shaped wooden temple, hundreds of years old.

Hidimba was a Rakshasi, but a good woman whom Bhim married in the epic of Mahabharat. The more famous Ghatotkach, who died in the Great War, fighting for Pandavas, was the fruit of this union.

Look at the embellishments on the temple walls! Remember, she was a rakshasi?

As you enter the temple, you enter a cave. There are a few small idols of female goddesses and one of them is Hidimba.

I will remember this day as one of the most idyllic, peaceful and romantic days of my life. The temple is at the centre and all around, there are the tall, majestic, beautiful Devdar trees. There are several neat trails from several entrances leading up to the temple at the center. This is one of the trails.

In these premises of the temple, you will find a motley mix of people – the not at all aggressive local people trying to sell you myriad merchandise.

Strawberry vendors

Wonderful strawberries. Freshly plucked from the farms. 10 rupees per cup. I had 5 to 6 cups. :-)

Then, I strolled over to the open area at the end of the trail.

A fair was going on. There were people selling sweaters, Kashmiri dresses, wooden, ebony coloured statues of Buddha – I was so glad to find one, key chains attached to small, oval shaped, flat pieces of Devdar wood, jewelry made of stones and then, they were selling colourful magic balls – these are the size of a mustard seed – red, blue, yellow, green, blue – when you soak them in water overnight, they become marble sized and look very pretty – colourful, transparent and shiny as they are. I stuffed my bag with three Kashmiri dresses, a Buddha statue, several packets of magic balls of different colour, 2 Devdar-wood key chains and an orange stone necklace with earrings. A very satisfying shopping!

Yak! You have to pay 10 rupees to have a picture taken with it. I took this picture stealthily.

This is a sort of temple for Ghatotkach.

I was accosted by some more people with the Himachal dress. This time, it was a lamb instead of the rabbit. I am ever ready to be photographed :-)

I strolled some more and retuned to the hotel. Anu Thakur, the manager of the hotel, a short, sweet, young fellow was one of the friends I made during this Himalaya trip. He was very friendly and helpful. He offered to show me around himself. He first took me to the club house by the Manalsu River.

This river joins the Beas River. Its water is very cold and its colour, a beautiful, pristine green, may be emerald.

This is the picturesque club house. Its interiors resemble the malls of Bangalore with their well lit shops and merchandise on display. There are rooms where you can play billiard and other games.

The club house is by the Manalsu River. We bought some fries to munch and sat on the rocky banks of the Manalsu. There were many other people. You could do river crossing on a rope for 100 rupees. Kids, boys and girls were doing it. I too, said a prayer and ventured.

When I reached the centre, they heaved the rope up and down so my feet touched the water below..Oooooh!

The next destination was a Buddhist monastery in the city. Instead of taking the main road, we took the route that was through a forest of Devdars. A good two kilometer walk… the best walk of my life.

These tents are pitched for ever. They can be rented by tourists.

This is Anu. He is a fan of Sania Mirza. :-)

In the city.

Cherry!!! How I relished them.

The Buddhist monastery.

Guru Padma Sambhava

Gautama Buddha. This is a very tall statue.

Tara Devi (I think)

From the first floor

It was getting dark. And we returned. There was nothing to do for the evening. I sat in the garden on the swing and sipped a cup of tea, while taking in deep breaths, the sweet perfume of the white wild roses that pervaded the night.

I called it a day. A perfect day.


Nimita said...

wow ! lovely pics.. are u still travelling?

Sowmya said...

Hi childhood sweetheart,

Welcome to this space... Nice to see a comment from you. Actually I travelled for one month in May. Covered a whole lot of places in Uttaranchal and Himachal. But did not want to write a continuous travelog and bore everyone. So I post 2 posts every month.

Do come here more often and leave your critical comments :-)

where are you these days?

Ankush said...

how could you have missed me on this tour??? next time dont forget take me along or I will leave critical comments for sure :-)

Sowmya said...

I can do anything for comments :-)

Hey Ankush,

Welcome to this space.

Mukesh Chandra Pandey said...

What an ultimate piece..
Sowmya, you may not know but I have been a regular reader of your blog and you produce magic with your words.
Very nice description and ultimate spirit.
You have made my day..