Sarahan

The serenity and comfort that Kalpa provided was difficult to leave. But leaving is a must. Life is but a series of waitings and leavings. We were off to Sarahan, leaving Kinnaur Kailash. Perhaps leaving the hamlet forever. The world is too big and too full of places to see and we are at an age where revisits have become this unaffordable luxury. All these weighed heavy on our minds as we climbed down to the traffic signals of Reckong Peo and further down to the Sutlej. The drive, with glimpses of Parvati Peak accompanying us occasionally, was lovely. But the sense of another ending was very much there. Another trip done, another milestone crossed; and with life becoming doubly uncertain with man-made disasters all around, the future did not hold concrete plans. But as we reached Sarahan we forgot all that. Looking at the Bhimakali temple and the lovely tourism hotel that we were staying in, our mild unease disappeared.

The Bhimakali temple is 800 years old, it was renovated around 1927 when it apparently miraculously re-erected itself after left leaning by an earthquake. It is also one of the 51 shakti pitha-sthans. On the topmost level of the main temple tower is the shrine to the principle deity and the lower levels have idols of Parvati and others from the local pantheon.

The temple is truly breathtaking. In the same architectural tradition as the Chandika Fort temple of Kalpa (this one being larger and much older of course) the temple once again presented Buddhist/Tibetan influences. Unfortunately, photography is prohibited inside the main temple area. They provide the visitors with secure locker facilities for their valuables and the policeman in charge was very polite. We talked a bit about Bengal and he promised he would save us seats during Aarti. (We could not manage to return for the Aarti. I hope he wasn’t too unhappy with us.)

The temple is as impressive inside as it is outside. One has to climb a series of narrow and steep stairs to reach the different levels – each housing different relics related to spiritual well being. The main worshipping area is on the topmost floor. As expected, it has the main idol, surrounded by many smaller ones. We were pleasantly surprised to find a statue of the Buddha among them. Many temples in the region show a coexistence of these two closely related religions (I spoke of one in my Keylong post). 

The myth that surrounds this temple goes back to the Usha-Anirudh story from Vishnu Purana. My searches through Google gave me a number of possible stories. Google can often offer choices that leave you rather confounded! The gist of the story was one of love. Usha was the daughter of King Banasur. Anirudh was the son of King Pradyuman, and grandson of Lord Krishna. These two were in love with each other. There are many accounts of their meeting. In one it is said that Anirudh was kidnapped by Usha’s companion/s and in another it is said he was caught while clandestinely visiting Usha and was imprisoned by Banasur. The abduction/imprisonment did not please Lord Krishna and therefore he waged war against King Banasur. It was an epic battle which saw the involvement of Lord Shiva, who was in favour of King Banasur. It was apparently at the behest of Lord Shiva that peace was attained and Usha and Anirudh were married, but another legend says that the head of Banasur, killed by Lord Krishna, is buried under the gate of the temple.

The place of the solemnisation of Usha and Anirudh’s marriage is supposedly the Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath (the name Ukhimath comes from the name of Usha). Of course, some say that they were formally married in Dwarka.

Omkareshwar Temple in Ukhimath

There is a small museum next to the main Bhimakali temple, with rather inadequately labelled artefacts, which speak further of this cohabitation. Even though the labels were in the pro-anti-labelling mode, the objects were fascinating and we could construct a narrative out of it. I will let it remain private, as it speaks of a harmony which, unfortunately, is not quite the popular flavour of the day. 

The Bhimakali temple has twin towers. Visitors are allowed to enter one of them; the other, with a more primitive (hence more romantic) look was firmly locked. All that our investigations could find out was visitors are not allowed inside. This is more a fault of our investigative skills, rather than the level of secrecy associated.

The outer courtyards of the temple allow ample scope for photography and we were happy to spend a few hours there.

There are two more temples within the complex. One is dedicated to Narsingha and the other to Raghunath.

A small gateway leading to an extension just outside the main premises presented a very small Shiva temple, though this was supposedly one that worshipped another deity. This was definitely a significantly old structure, made in the typical North Indian template.

The stones had intricate carvings in the Khajuraho-Konark manner. Although most of them had eroded with time, yet some remained prominent.

This temple, with little historical information about it, was as fascinating to us as the primary attractions. We have visited all five Kedar shrines (my posts on Kedarnath, Madhyamaheshwar, Tunganath, Kalpeshwar and Rudranath will tell you those stories), and we have gathered this interest in Shiva temples. This was, therefore, a very pleasant surprise.

Sarahan, the small settlement, is lovely. And the HPTDC property made it lovelier.

The Sarahan HPTDC hotel is called Hotel Srikhand Sarahan after the Srikhand Mahadev peak that can supposedly be seen from the balconies. On a clear day, the entire valley is framed by snowpeaks.

Sarahan is a wonderful place to put rest and reflect. It is Himachal at its very best. We scanned the skyline above the lovely view of the valley, and our zoom lenses found a promising peak. But a very friendly member of the staff, who took brilliant care of us during our stay, broke the illusion. He pointed to a rather unassuming ridge and told us that the Srikhand Mahadev edifice is right there. Neither our eyes, nor our lenses could discover the place even after many attempts. Srikhand Mahadev – as per local lore this is the place where Lord Vishnu had prayed to Lord Shiva and obtained the power to convince Bhasmashur (the demon who could burn everything he touched) to dance in such a way that he touched his own head and set himself afire.

This spot is supposedly the toughest of all pilgrimages to reach (and quite like the Kinnaur Kailash trek it is firmly kept out of my list).

The Sarahan stay was short, but the experience was one of the cosiest and warmest that we have ever had. It isn’t the size/tariff of the room or the amenities that make a stay good; it is the people who host you. Sarahan is where we bade farewell to Kinnaur; it would always remain a fond memory, thanks to the wonderful people I met there.

Earlier Posts:

1. Old Lucknow   2. Colonial Lucknow   3. Going Downhill - Versey to Dentam
4. Going to Garhwal  5. The Walkers  6. Palamau  7. Rishikesh
8. Kolkata Kolkata  9. The Roar of the Clouds - Santiniketan 
10. Of Pests and Men - Uttarey  11. Where Hikers Fear to Tread - Rudranath
12. Old Times  13. History in Ruins - Pushpagiri
14. Once There was a Heaven  15. Serenity  
16. Pilgrim's Progress - Kedarnath 17. Unfinished - Gaumukh 18. Ghatshila 
19. Nothing Important  20. Manu's Alaya - Manali  21. Santiniketan  
22. Little Lhasa - Dharamshala  23. From Varuna to Assi - Varanasi  
24. Tunganath  25. Transitory Blues  26. Gurudongmar  27. The Beginning  
28. Yumesamdong  29. Bangali in Bangkok  30. Mukutmanipur  
31. Rasvanti  32. The Old Town and the Sea   33. Budapest 
34. The Last Post of 2019 35. Travel Travails 36. Cluj-Napoça 
37. Presenting the Past  38. Far From the Urban Crowd
39. Silent Night Sleepless Night 40. Norwich 41. Photo Essay - The Road
42. Photo Story - The Days of the Goddess 43. Badrinath 44. Monumental Mistakes
45. Odyssey Now 46. To the Mountains 47. Keylong 48. Where Moon River is Born 49. Kaza 50. Through the Valley of Spiti 51. Kalpa