Gossip session in the morning with bed tea in hand was followed by digging into steaming hot aalu puri as sweet rays of winter sun warmed our bodies and the panoramic view of the snow-capped Dhauladhar range soothed the eyes. With melodious music playing in the car on our way to Chimbalhar, our wanderlust souls started anticipating the fun and excitement the trip will bring. Kangra, the name sounds vaguely familiar. Of all the hill stations in the North, this one rarely vies for attention with gimmicky spells. But perhaps that’s where its charm lies. Snuggling up to the snow-capped Dhauladhar range, this valley in Himachal is a weekend getaway from Delhi with its scenic viewpoints, hidden monasteries and warm people. It has something to offer to everyone – amazing landscapes and lush green forests for photographers and nature lovers, serene monasteries hidden in the pines for those looking for some quietude and activities like paragliding and trekking for the adventurous lot.
Embracing the cool winds at Billing:
It was a clear day, perfect for paragliding, informed Sonu, our paragliding expert. That was the news we all were waiting to hear after facing regular cloudy days in the last couple of days. We were now heading to Billing, one of world’s best paragliding sites. Zigzag ways, with a deep valley on one side and high snow-covered hills on the other, and with chilly winds kissing our faces, we thoroughly enjoyed the ride from Baijnath to Billing. The paragliding team headed by Sonu met us at Bir (the landing site). Car would go no further from here due to heavy snowfall the previous day. The slippery track was too dangerous to drive on. So we would have to trek through heavy snow for around four kilometres, we were informed. Rather than being disappointed, I noticed the group to be happy to get an opportunity to walk on snow. We took a halt after trekking for around three kilometres. Sitting at an altitude of 7,500 ft above sea level, while looking at the horizon and sipping hot tea amidst chilly weather was an experience that we would want to recall throughout our lives. And just after a few minutes, we reached the point from where we were to take off for paragliding.
Exalted hearts, nervous minds and shivering bodies – it is difficult to describe all the emotions of the moment. Right direction and velocity of the wind were required to judge the timing of the jump from the cliff for a perfect take off. Our pilots were experts in judging the right moment and hence encouraged us to take the ‘leap of faith’ when the time came. All the nervousness disappeared as soon as we were in the air. What remained was the absolute bliss of flying up above the deep valleys and high mountains. The feeling while you are up there is beyond words. Landing was trickier than the take off since the legs need to be folded and positioned in a particular way as instructed – otherwise, get ready to get your legs broken, we were told. We opted to follow the instructions.
Celebrating life with lively monks at Shera Bling Monastery, Bhattu:
Tucked away from the town, just a few kilometers west of Bir in Upper Bhattu, is this sprawling Tibetan Buddhist monastery and retreat complex. Situated in the midst of lush green pine forested foothills of the Kangra Valley, Palpung Sherabling monastery is the place to relax and celebrate life, with all the worries and hassles left far behind. Rather than driving our way to the monastery, we preferred a quiet walk through the pine forest to breathe in some fresh mountain air. Colourful Buddhist prayer flags on the sides of the road guided us to the monastery. Just before reaching the monastery, there were a few lama kids playing football. They took no time to get familiar with us and we gladly joined them in their game. We could see many buildings located on the ridges of the hills as we proceeded further in the forest glades. These buildings were built in traditional Tibetan styles and were designed by the 12th Kenting Tai Situpa – as told by a local monk who we spoke with. The monk further said that the present Kenting Tai Situpa’s disciples from Derge and Nangchen region who settled in Bir, donated him pine forested land located in the foothills of the Himalayas in 1975. Here he started to establish Palpung Sherabling, which later became his seat in India. The main monastery consists of five floors comprising the apartment for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, apartment for His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa, shrine halls, performance rooms and monk quarters, kitchens, dining rooms, reception, visitor rooms, school room, multimedia room, auditorium, museum, Lama-dance training hall, exhibition cum conference hall, a covered courtyard and the Lamadance courtyard. A golden-yellow roof stands 12 ft high crowning it all.
A cafe and public amenities stand just outside the complex. While we were taking a look at this magnificent building, the magical drumbeats caught our attention. We followed the beats and found that they were coming from the third floor. The monks, young and old, were engrossed in the rehearsals. The monastery would host biannual Lamadances in its premises we were told, of which the practice sessions were going on. Celebration of life in the midst of serene nature and the jovial faces of kids, youth and old alike, we felt as if we have reached some different world altogether where people knew no sorrow. After having the thukpa and tea served by some friendly people in the café outside the monastery, we proceeded further.
Rediscovering history at the ancient Shiva Temple at Baijnath:
On our way back to the hotel we visited the ancient Shiva temple in Baijnath. The 13th century temple dedicated to Lord Shiva has been under worship ever since its construction in 1204 A.D. The temple is a beautiful work of the early medieval North Indian temple architecture known as Nagara style of temples. The Svayambhu form of Shivling is enshrined in the sanctum of the temple that has five projections on each side and is surmounted with a tall round shikhara. The entrance to the sanctum is through a foyer that has a large square mandapa in front with two massive balconies, one each in north and south. There is a small porch in front of the mandapa hall that rests on four pillars in the front preceded by an idol of Nandi, the bull, in a small-pillared shrine. The whole temple is enclosed by a high wall with entrances in the north and south sides. The outer walls of the temple have several idols of gods and goddesses. The doorways are also studded with a large number of carved images of great beauty and iconographic importance. Some of them are very rare to be found elsewhere. According to the legend, it is believed that during the Treta Yug, Ravana in order to have invincible powers, worshipped Lord Shiva in the Kailash. In the same process, to please the almighty he offered his 10 heads in the havan kund. Influenced by this extraordinary deed of Ravana, Lord Shiva not only restored his heads but also bestowed him with powers of invincibility and immortality. On attaining this incomparable boon, Ravana also requested Lord Shiva to accompany him to Lanka. Shiva consented to the request of Ravana and converted himself into Shivling. Then Lord Shiva asked him to carry the Shivling and warned him not to place it down on the ground anywhere on his way. Ravana started moving south towards Lanka and reached Baijnath where he felt the need to answer the nature’s call. On seeing a shepherd, Ravana handed over the Shivling to him and went away to get himself relieved. Since the Shivling was very heavy, the shepherd put it on the ground and thus the Shivling got established there.
Few of us woke up to a fresh morning and decided to go on a morning walk and explore the surroundings. It was almost dark when we started walking. Stars still smiled at us while we were shivering to death but still not able to resist the temptation of walking in the small alleys of the nearby village. It was wonderful to witness the crack of dawn. Gradually the cool dark night turned into a sunny day. It was interesting to witness the day’s life starting languidly in a small village – ladies were busy fetching water, preparing tea and offering prayers, while the men lazily sipped tea in the morning sun with newspapers in hand. On the other hand, school kids were getting ready for their school. That’s life in a slow motion.
Building relations in Mcleodganj, Upper Dharamshala:
It was a bright day with deep blue sky, cold northerly breeze blowing and sweet winter sun smiling from above. Mcleodganj was our next destination. First stop over was the old church St. John in the wilderness on the way to Mcleodganj at Forsyth Gunj. It is an Anglican church dedicated to John the Baptist, built in 1852. Set amidst a deodar forest, and built in neo-Gothic architecture, the church is also known for its Belgian stained-glass windows. The site has a memorial of the British Viceroy Lord Elgin, and an old graveyard. While everyone strolled around that area, we went to Mcleodganj to find a mid-budget hotel with a terrace so that we could have bonfire we have been waiting for throughout our trip. We were lucky enough to get exactly what we were looking for – a decent hotel overlooking the Kangra valley with a large space in front of our rooms on the seventh floor, where we could arrange night party. The only thing now we were short of was some dry wood for the fire. Hotel guys had already intimated us that there is shortage of dry wood to burn due to harsh winter. Naddi, a nearby village, was our next stop.
Weather gods were happy with us. There was no rain, the whole area was covered with white snow and blowing cool wind was a treat for our city-stained senses. We thoroughly enjoyed our hot Maggi and pakoras followed by hot tea in the chilly weather. A leisurely walk around the area, enjoying the serenity and playing with snow is what we did in the three hours that we had in Naddi.
With a chill in the air and a pitch dark night, we sat on the terrace on the seventh floor with the stars above and the twinkling lights of the valley below. We felt like we were floating somewhere in the middle of the stars.
Our chit chat was interrupted by Jitendra, our driver, who was told to be ready by 9 am. Well, it was already 11 am and we could not afford to delay any further. Soon rang the bells of realisations that it’s time to say goodbye to this serene land and go back to our respective shelters of the city with heavy hearts. But what still remains within is a happy reminiscence of all the fond memories in unforgettable places.
About the author
Kirat Sodhi loves to travel, read and is a theatre enthusiast. You can contact her on twitter @KiratSodhi.