My Travels through the Himalayas – V (Simla to Rohtang Pass)

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This was one of the two most exotic trips I made in Himachal. In May 2007 my family members had come to visit me in Simla. We planned to go to Rohtang Pass, a famous 13,500 ft peak at the juncture of Kullu and Lahaul-Spiti districts, which has a permanent snow-cap. Our team had a total of 10 members, beginning from my sister’s 2 years old son to my mother in her 60s – add to that my asthmatic condition! But both my sister and her husband are medical doctors, so we were assured about taking such a team to this arduous journey.

Those who want to go on this journey, must ensure that they go in a sturdy vehicle such as a jeep, have spare tyres and fill their oil tanks completely. This is because the road is bad in many places, made worse by rains, avalanches and landslides and after Manali there are no oil stations. The driver must be familiar with the terrain and preferably a Himachali. Those who drive in plains often find driving in mountains difficult and Himalayan terrain has sharp curves and bends, slopes are steep and roads are built at heights of thousands of feet. Accidents in these terrains are always fatal.

Having said all this, a trip to Rohtang is thrilling and enjoyable and I recommend it to travellers. Going in May-June is fruitful as one can see the fresh snow then. As I had written in a previous post, Indians always find the idea of snow enjoyable and much of Himachal tourism is based on this. Because of this, Rohtang Pass is an all-time favourite amongst travellers.

 

Parashar Lake, 40 Kms North of Mandi, 10,000 ft

The road to Rohatang Pass follows the course  of swift-flowing Beas River upstream and goes via Kullu and Manali, with Manali acting as the base where people keep their luggage in a hotel and take the vehicle up to Rohtang. As usual, I diverted the route a little to include Parashar Lake, beautiful small lake on top of a mountain 40 kms above Mandi, at a height of 10,000 ft.

From Simla we started in the morning, crossing the small town of Mandi in the valley of Beas. Normally, from here we should have gone straight to Kullu. But we asked the driver to climb the mountain nearby on top of which Parashar lake is located. At first he was unwilling to go and when we persuaded him and went up this road, we realised why. The entire road was made of mud-track, damaged in several places because of rains and the slopes were steep, though presented a beautiful view of the green valley below. As we negotiated the sharp curves, we came across a site where there had been an avalanche on the upper level and they were clearing the road by throwing down rocks. We stopped till the road was cleared and proceeded further on this dangerous path. Reaching the top, the driver stopped about 1.5 Kms below the peak, as this distance could be covered only by walking on a narrow footpath.

Walking along this path, we realised we had come a day earlier than a religious festival which is held there every year. Villagers from nearby were carrying utensils for cooking the festive meal the next day. We were going to miss this festival.

But reaching the edge of the crevice in which the lake is situated was rewarding. The area was surrounded by mountain peaks and clear water of the lake shone in the crevice. On an edge is a temple dedicated to sage Parashar, built in traditional Himachali architectural style, which uses stone blocks held together with cypress wooden beams and roof made of tiles of gray slate. This temple looks like a triple-roofed Pagoda, which is common for Himachali temple architecture. I went down to the temple and saw the image of the sage Parashar, which is made of black stone and looks like a folk figure.

Parashar Temple near Lake, 10,000 ft

Climbing down from this mountain, we drove on to Kullu and stopped at the Himachal Tourism Guest House, dating to the British times. We spent the night there and started early morning the next day after breakfast for the famous Raghunath Temple of Kullu.

Himachal’s religion is very different from the mainstream religions of the Indian plains. Here, the distinctions between “folk,” “high-culture,” Hindu, Buddhist, Folk cults etc. are blurred. It is difficult to make out where one religious boundary ends and where another one begins. The usual mainstream deities are worshipped, but apart from them, local deities are also worshipped and shared by different religious communities. In effect, it is these local cults which are really close to people’s hearts. People relate to their local patron deities on a personal and emotional level and “talk” to them like a family member. There is an intermediary who speaks on the deity’s behalf, often making prophecies. Because these people’s lives are greatly regulated by the difficult natural surroundings, they have a great faith in the divine power.

Raghunath Temple, Kullu

Raghunath Ji of Kullu is the patron deity of this town, but he is not really the Vishnu’s incarnation Rama of the Ramayana, eventhough Raghunath cult is influenced by the Vaishnava cult of the mainstream Hinduism. This deity is a kind of an amalgamation between Rama and the local folk deity. It is difficult to make out whose identity is stronger.

A few days before the Dussehra/Durga Puja festival of the plains in autumn, Kullu has its own Kullu Dussehra, which is very famous for its unique character. This festival has not much to do with the story of Rama as in the plains, but rather, this is the time when all the nearby devatas (i.e., patron deities of various places) are brought to Kullu in a huge procession and they pay their obeisance to Raghunath Ji in a lavish ceremony involving much ritual and politics. This is a practice from the mediaeval times, when Raghunath Ji of Kullu became most important Devata in this area because the ruler of the area was situated here. Kullu Dussehra has been the subject of many a scholarly research. At other times in the year, the small image of Raghunath Ji is kept in the open hall of the temple.

 

 

Small Image of Raghunath, Kullu Temple

Because Kullu is the place of religious prominence within Himachal, it is also used by the politicians of today for their own propaganda. Thus, you see in this poster behind the image the prominent political leaders of Himachal participating in the Kullu Dussehra, some of them belonging to the erstwhile royal families and thus, also having a ritual significance in Kullu Dussehra.

 

 

Vaishno Devi Temple, Kullu (Imitation)

From Kullu we proceeded towards Nagar – another erstwhile principality on the way to Manali. Just on the outskirts, we stopped at the temple of Vaishno Devi, which is an imitation of the original at Jammu. The temple is built in the traditional Himachali style of intricate wooden carving and one has to climb up a flight of steps and go through a natural cavern by a stream inside the cavern to reach the image – just like at the original Vaishno Devi shrine at Jammu. We also spent some time by the swift-flowing Beas river, which had icy cold water.

 

 

Former Raja’s Palace, Nagar (Now a Himachal Tourism Heritage Hotel)

Reaching Nagar, we went to have lunch at the palace of the erstwhile Raja of Nagar, now converted into a heritage hotel under Himachal Tourism. While having lunch, we saw the traditional musicians playing on drums and singing in the courtyard and also folk dancers dancing – men and women holding hands and forming a semi-circle. Later I asked some other visitors if they too saw these sites, but they said they did not see it. It seems we had unknowingly reached on a special occasion when these song and dance events were organised by the hotel.

 

 

Musicians Performing in the Palace Courtyard, Nagar

 

 

Folk Dancers Performing in the Palace Courtyard, Nagar

Nagar is also the place where the quintessential film actress of the early black and white era, Devika Rani and her husband the Russian artist Nicholas Roerich had built their house. The house is now converted into a museum with all their belongings and furnishings arranged in their natural places. Windows are sealed and the doors are locked, but people can go up to the balconies surrounding the rooms and look inside through the glass panes. We went to see this house. There is also the Roerich Art Gallery nearby, where all the paintings made by  Nicholas Roerich are kept. We took photographs at this art gallery.

 

 

Nicholas Roerich and Devika Rani’s House, Nagar

 

 

Devika Rani’s Portrait, Painted by Nicholas Roerich, Nicholas Art Gallery, Nagar

Driving further, we finally reached Manali in early evening and stayed in a Himachal Tourism Guest House for the night. Since we had time, we went upto Vashishth, a place 3 Kms above Manali. This place has hot water Sulphur-springs and a temple for the sage Vashishth. We went to see the temple and shopped for woollens in the market, which are good for their price here. The place is full of foreigners who come to stay here for months. There are many Israeli restaurants here. It seems the place is a special haunt of the Israelis. On our way back to Manali, we went to see the old temple of Tripurasundari Goddess just below Vashishth.

I preferred Vashishth to Manali, which has become quite crowded now, full of Punjabi businessmen and looks like miniature Delhi. Vashishth still retains its mountainous charms. The view of the valley below is also beautiful from Vashishth.

Tripurasundari Goddess Temple, Vashishth Near Manali, 10, 000 ft
Beas River, Manali

We went to the modern Siddharth Garden in Manali where the children went for boating and had lunch in a restaurant in the Manali market before retiring for the night.

Siddharth Garden, Manali

Next day, early morning we started off for Rohtang Pass. The driver had said there was a traffic jam because of the truck drivers’ strike. So we may not be able to proceed towards Rohtang. But fortunately, the strike was called off and we could go on this exotic trip, along a narrow, winding road up the vertical slopes with sharp curves and no railings. It was both dangerous and thrilling, but less dangerous than the road to Parashar Lake had been!

 

Sheep on the way to Rohtang Pass

We stopped at Marhi, a small village of a few houses and a small market,to have breakfast. Marhi is the last human settlement on this route – we were not going to meet any human habitation after this place.

Marhi, The Last Village on the Way to Rohtang Pass
On the Way to Rohtang Pass
Ready to Climb…

This is a circular road, built recently. It goes till a place 2.5 Kms below the Rohtang peak and from there bifurcates, one branch going up to Keylong and Leh and the other going towards Lahaul-Spiti, touching the eastern part of the Indian border adjoining Tibet, turning below towards Kinnaur and coming back to Simla.

Reaching the point where it bifurcates, the travellers have to leave their vehicles and go up to the Rohtang peak either by walk or on pony backs. We hired some ponies to go up to the peak. This was the last leg of our journey to the Rohtang Pass.

Rohtang La, with a Lake in Front, 13,500 Ft

Finally, our caravan reached Rohtang La, covered in snow. In Tibetan, La means a mountain pass or a natural path between the mountains, because the peaks divide along this path. “Rohtang” means mound of dead bodies, suggesting how difficult this route used to be till recently when there was no road and no vehicles could come till here.

Before this road was built, Rohtang Pass was the route to go to and come from Tibet. People, especially the Buddhist monks, went on ponies, travelling through the dangerous route, thick snow and bad weather, crossing high altitudes of Lahaul and the cold desert of Spiti. Buddhist Monasteries situated in isolated cold mountains were their only sojourn. Many people died on the way and hence, the name suggesting the dead bodies piling up on this route.

Now, people take the road below for travelling and Rohtang La has become a popular tourist spot to be enjoyed in snow.

From August to April, this route is closed because of heavy snowfall, when the entire area gets cut off from the rest of the world. In May, when the snow begins to melt, the route opens to travellers, who can come here till early August or so.

Archana On Rohtang La, 13,500 ft
Centre – Two on the Snow! Left – Local Women in Traditional Dress, Rohtang La, 13,000 ft
Ponies of Carriage, Rohtang La, 13,500 ft
Rahala Falls, 16 Kms Below Rohtang Pass

On our way back, we stopped at Rahala Falls, 16 Kms below Rohtang, for some time.

Coming Back from Rohtang Pass
Archana on the Way back from Rohtang Pass

By about 4 pm we were back in Manali. Since we had time, we went to see the Hidimba Goddess temple. Hidimba is portrayed as a benign demoness in the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata, who married Bhima, the strongest of the five hero-brothers in Mahabharata. However, in Manali she is worshipped as a patron goddess and there is a mediaeval period temple dedicated to her. She is supposed to have been the patron deity of the artisans.

Goddess Hidimba Temple, Manali
Manu Temple, Manali

We also went to see the Manu temple. Manali gets its name from the ancient patriarch Manu, who wrote one of the treatises for the code of conduct. Manu is the patron of Manali.

Shawl Weaving Factory, Kullu

Coming back to Kullu, we saw the handloom shawl factory of Kullu, which is famous for its shawls.

Finally, we reached Simla in the late night.

Come back for the next post – Simla to Tabo monastery in Spiti.

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Comments
22 Responses to “My Travels through the Himalayas – V (Simla to Rohtang Pass)”
  1. Floridawaves says:

    This is gorgeous! I would love to go for such a trip. Thanks, Archana!

  2. Archana says:

    Thanks, Floridawavs! Yes, this is really an exciting trip and I recommend it to everyone albeit with proper care taken before starting the journey.

  3. Pradeep says:

    It would have more exciting if you reach Rohtang from Shimla throuch Kaza & Kunjum pass.

  4. Archana says:

    Hi Pradeep,
    Thanks for your comment and welcome to the blog!

    Yes, you are right, that trip would have been even more exotic. Only that road goes via Kinnaur and Spiti, through Kaza and Kunzam Pass to Lahaul and then to Rohtang – it’s the other way round. I did take that road on another trip and went upto Spiti (Coming in my next post).

    But being asthmatic I was not sure I could go through the Kunzum Pass and Lahaul, which are on higher altitudes than even Spiti and Rohtang. Even at Rohtang, my head was swimming because of lack of oxygen in my lungs and I could not walk much. While others skied and sledged and played with snowballs, I just sat down and watched. It is a great regret of my life that I could not see Lahaul and complete that circuit from Simla to Rohtang and back.

  5. Floridawaves says:

    Being asthmatic and going on all these journeys through the Himalayas! That’s an achievement, Archana! 8)

  6. Rini says:

    what a beautiful reminder of the wonderful trip we made together to rohtang pass!!! while reading ur blog all the marvelous moments of the journey came alive and i lived each moment through the pictures!

  7. Archana says:

    Thanks, Rini. The photograph of Siddharth garden at Manali is from your camera!

  8. Archana says:

    Thanks Floridawaves, yes it was a challenge for me to go on all these trips and I always felt I made an achievement climbing those heights. 🙂

  9. oby says:

    Archana…

    HUGE thanks for sharing this! I love your red coat! It is a coincidence because my parents in law came back from a trip there about one month ago. they sent photos and both of them were bundled like snowmen in big snow suits. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous. My daughter and I are planning to come to India in December (not definite but thinking about it strongly). I got excited and wanted to see this scenery for myself… until I realized in December it most likely will not be passable.

    India has such varied and beautiful country and so many non Indians don’t know about it at all. They think of India as hot and dusty and with many crowds…but India has such beautiful, green tranquil spaces as well. I wish they would do a better job of advertising their touristic possibilities. for example you ate in a palace. Many people would love to do that. I did that when I was in Mysore and it was a treat! India is very varied…more people should know about it.

  10. Archana says:

    Hi Oby,
    Thanks for your comments. Of course India is varied in all respects. Diversity is the other name of India! 🙂

    In fact, India has all kinds of ecological landscapes possible on this earth. Imagine an ecological landscape and India has it – from snow-covered mountains to cold deserts to river valleys, agrarian tracts, tropical forests, islands, swamps, deserts, sea beaches, big deltas, lakes, waterfalls, big cities, small villages, tribal settlements we have all of them. Yes, we also have the hot summer and dust storms – that’s part of the spectrum.

    Rohtang is closed in December because of heavy snowfall, but you can go to Simla and enjoy the snow if you go during end of December you may be lucky to see the snowfall. If you go to a little higher place, you’ll definitely see the snowfall. May be you can drive on the Manali road till you meet the snowline. Vashishth may get snow in December.

  11. Archana Ji,

    Its a beautiful travelogue with perfect visuals . The beauty of Himalayas is breathtaking.

  12. Archana says:

    Thanks, Vijay Ji. Come back for the next post on travel to Spiti.

  13. manchitra says:

    Archana
    Beauiful pictures.Loved the view of the lake very well. You write well. I will come back to see the pictures again.

  14. Archana says:

    Thanks, Chitra for appreciation. Do come for the next post on travel to Spiti.

    • Sunil says:

      Hi,

      If u have got a bigger picture (in size) for the parashar lake, would you mind mailing it please?

      It’s a fabulous scenery!

  15. Globalseek says:

    Nice article, thanks!
    I admire your determination to travel through the Himalayas despite your asthma! 🙂

  16. Archana says:

    Hi Sunil,
    Thanks and welcome to the blog.

    Somehow your comment has become live only now.

    The larger image of Parashar Lake that I have is not very good, but you can get some large and good images from Google Images and ask the website owners.

    Some sites are –

    http://www.indien-reise.com/german/Himachal-Reisen.htm

    http://himachal.us/2006/02/02/prashar-lake/164/people/religion/avnish

    http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/czophsPZhcqifMKAlUJXsw

    I hope this helps.

  17. Ann Wilson-Rawi says:

    Archana — sorry I addressed you wrongly.

  18. rajrathnam says:

    Tip Top Garden’s Ecoresort, Nagwain, Tehsil Aut, District Mandi, Himachal Pradesh 175121, organizes treks to Parashar Lake. Rs. 450 ($7) per person per day inclusive of vegetarian breakfast, lunch and dinner. Call Deepu – 8894001024. raj.rathnam@gmail.com

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