Our day 2 in Manali started at 9 in the morning that was rather early as per our standards, we set foot on the Dhungiri forests amidst which stands the ancient Hidimbi temple,
the entire vicinity was covered in frozen snow making it very slippery to walk up to the temple, as I looked up the tall deciduous trees wondering if Hidimba was taller than these trees, an unknown hand covered in black mittens grabbed my shoulders jerking me and my photographic stints completely__ friendly tourists you know! who will smile and thank you for being a pillar of support on a slippery stretch!
I was standing in the Hidimbavana that once had magical spells during the Mahabharatha times when the Pandavas came here in hiding after their escape from the wax palace. Anybody who came here would be devoured by Hidimbaasura. Bhima the mighty Pandava defeated the demon Hadimba and later married his sister Hidimbi. The couple begot a virtuous son Ghatothkach. After entrusting the kingdom to him Hidimbi retired to meditate in the Dhungiri vana, till date the gigantic footprints of Hidimbi Devi remain in this natural cave around which a wooden temple with a four tiered pagoda roof is built, the fourth tier is of metal, this wooden temple with intricate animistic carvings dates back to 1553 AD but the cave is of Mahabharatha times. The footprints are anything like Bata size 15! Wikipedia says if you zoom in on this place in Google satellite images you can see a giant foot print in this area where the temple is located,
Photography inside the cave is strictly prohibited, the stretch behind the temple which was yet another slippery conquest leads to the Veer Ghatothkach shrine, whose ancient walls have collapsed and only a tree remains around which you can see some animistic forms of worship.
Ghatothkach played a vital role in the victory of Pandavas in the Kurukshethra war of Mahabharatha as he was incidental in saving Arjuna from the Indraastra of Karna.
Did you know that “I Dream of Jeannie” television series during the 1965-70 is inspired from the Hidimbi-Bheema love story as quoted by the author himself here?
There is a small museum near the Ghatothkach tree where we spent some 15minutes, tiny shops selling woollens, razais are lined up near the parking lot and you will not return without getting edged by the touts selling Spaaru. Spaaru happens to be a special rug made from the wool of Sparu or Chingur an endangered yak like species in the Himalayan terrain. Earlier they were killed for their skin and wool but after Maneka Gandhi’s activism this has been stopped but the sellers vehemently insist you buy it as it is now gotten by cutting the wool from the animal and not by killing it. The strange thing is they sell it on lease basis and offer all kinds of lucrative freebies __ a package of 3rugs, 2bedspreads, 2shawls, dress material etcetera all for 8k or 10k to hook you but believe me it is worth only 2k for all the 5+items that they offer, as per a TOI report the Spaaru sale is a rampant fraud going on in the hills as the animal is almost extinct now, even if it was real it is illegal to procure one.
After this futile marauding attempt we left the shop with our purses intact praising Maneka Gandhi’s activism but alas the Bengaluru stray dogs will never grow any wool on them nor will they become endangered any day!
We then drove to Vashist, a small village 3 kms from Manali, it is a narrow climb of 2kms from the parking lot amidst tiny shops on both sides on that narrow lane but you can catch surreal glimpses of nature amidst the flowing hullabaloo of shops, vehicles and tourists.
Houses built on the most precarious slopes, ridges buried in snow peep at you beholding an image of hardships encountered by people here for everyday survival.
The Vashist temple built to commemorate the great sage Vashisht the best among 88000 sages meditated here on the banks of Ajikeeya river which was later referred to as Vipaasha River.
He built an ashram on the Arvudha parvatha and lived with his wife Arundathi here, they begot 100sons who were devoured by an asura called Kalmaashapada at the behest of sage Vishwamitra who envied and despised the virtuous Vasista rishi.
An aggrieved Vashista tried to leave his body in the Himalayas but did not succeed he then jumped into the Ajikeeya river tying a rope around him in putrashoka but the pasha(rope) gave way and the river refused to drown him hence the river was named Vipaasha(freedom from bondage) river which was later referred as Vyaasa river and now as Beas.
The Vashist kund, a hot sulphur spring is believed to be invoked by Lakshmana during Ramayana by shooting an arrow to fetch hot water for Vashista rishi who meditated here for 88000years.
This temple is more than 4000 years old and the water here is supposed to have medicinal properties, anybody who bathes here will wash away all their sins. The kund is today barricaded and has separate bathing arrangements for men and women.
The floor was freezing but the sulphur springs were with steaming hot water where many were bathing, I sprinkled some water on my head and prayed to Vashista muni.
Opposite to the Vashisht temple is Lord Rama’s temple, the Garbagudi(inner sanctum) is again 5000years old but with new wood carved walls.
The narrow paths house many tiny homes who are blessed with hot water from the Kund throughout the year for all their daily household purposes.
If you trek up further you will reach Jogini falls but we chose to visit the Manu temple instead.
We parked our car in the market area and walked across the bridge which was like walking on a sheet of uneven ice that was buzzing with vehicles and we were cornered on the frozen mounds of ice that worked like a scary footpath for us, holding on to the railings of the bridge we somehow managed to cross it and headed to the Manu temple which is an uphill climb of one hour.
We started off with great courage but as we climbed the narrow path was really getting very slippery and felt almost impossible to proceed any further
but the thought of climbing down was even more scary as one fall and we would end up breaking our bones, to add to the misery were skidding cars who honked incessantly to give way as they could not afford to slow down on the steep slopes and had to take off in one go no matter what, leaving pedestrians crawling on knees and clutching to icy mounds on the edges to save ourselves from the vehicular wrath,
We even tried to take short cuts and ended up climbing on 4legs, finally somehow we reached atop.
Manu temple the only one of its kind stands in serenity across the Manalsu River surrounded by snow clad peaks is a small wooden temple again with an ancient wooden palanquin and a small idol of Manu, our progenitor.
Surrounding it is the old Manali where you can get of glimpse of a typical village, if you don’t enjoy trekking and don’t get a high on history and all its wonders then this place is not for you.
The thought of a slippery down trek petrified us but luckily we found an autowala who readily agreed to take us all 6 together but cautioned us “memsaab darna nahi aur hilna nahi’, we stacked ourselves tightly into this humble beast and the ride was like a free fall in a waterslide and in no time we were near our parking lot.
We went back to the mall road for some womanly rituals i.e…shopping and exchange after lunch we strolled around and then headed back to our hotel.
It was Christmas Eve and we were in for a rude shock by our unprofessional trip-planner ‘Makemytrip’ who kept us guessing with unknown cryptic asterisk marks and additional bills every now and then. We had to pay extra for the exorbitant compulsory Christmas dinner party although we had completely paid for the entire 11day package. After a lot of haggling we were really drained and frustrated he finally settled down at half the price he quoted for this party like in a vegetable market, a few Santa barged into our cottage inviting us to the dance party. The kids were very excited and we had to buck up our spirits.
After shaking a leg we headed for the dinner which was a big ‘paisa vasool’ for the non-vegetarians but a big hole in the pocket for us veggies as we ended up eating the same daal, chaawal for a bomb. I would never ever go with ‘Makemytrip’.
That was end of day 2 and we went back to freeze in our beds.