I had booked for a day trip to Manikaran today through the Himachal Tourism counter on the Mall. A better mini bus was provided for the trip that almost started in time. Two families that were part of the previous day’s trip were present for today’s trip too. The first stop was at the Hill Shawl Factory on the Kullu road. Here one can appreciate the intricate work that goes into the creation of the famed Kullu shawls. Shawls come in a wide range starting from Rs. 245 to many thousands depending on the yarn used. Besides shawls, there are dress materials, winter clothings, local art work, etc on display and sale. Just opposite the shawl factory is a major rafting point, at which rafts are launched into the Beas. The rides offered are for 3, 7 and 9 kms; the prices vary based on the distance. Helmet, floatation devices and paddles are provided by the rafting company – there are many on the road to Kullu. The Vaishno Mata temple is another attraction along the route. Besides a community kitchen, the temple also has a ‘Goshala’.
The legend of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati abound in Manikaran. It is located in the Parvati Valley between the rivers Parvati and Beas in the Kullu District and is about 85 kms from Manali. It is said that the Lord and his consort chanced upon the Valley and were taken in by the beauty of the place surrounded by lush green mountains. They are believed to have spent 11,000 years in the place. During the stay Parvati lost one of her jewels in the stream and was unable to retrieve it. Angry about the event, Lord Shiva performed the cosmic dance, Tandava, which led to disturbances in the equilibrium of the universe. The serpent God, Sheshnag, in a bid to pacify the Lord hissed thereby giving rise to a flow of boiling water, which spread over the entire area. This led to the re-emergence of the precious jewel. It is said that jewels used to be thrown up regularly in the waters till the earthquake of 1905. The water continues to be hot and the entire food for the Langar (Community Kitchen) at the Gurudwara is prepared in pots immersed in the hot water. Rice, dal, vegetables, tea/coffee, etc take less than 30 minutes to cook. One of the offerings is to buy a small cloth sachet of rice, wheat or lentils and cook it in the ‘kund’ and take it home. Manikaran ranks high up in the hierarchy of places of pilgrimage in that a visit to it obviates the need to visit Kashi. There are temples dedicated to Lords Vishnu, Rama and Krishna. There are bathing ponds for the hot water springs are supposed to possess curative powers.
There is also a Sikh legend attached to Manikaran. Guru Nanak Dev visited Manikaran circa 1574 with his disciples, Bhai Mardana and Bhai Bala. Even though the locals donated ingredients for Langar there was no fire to cook the food. The Guru instructed his disciple to lift a stone, whereby a hot spring appeared. The rolled chappatis were put in the spring, as directed by the Guru. They sank. However, they prayed that they would donate one if the chappatis float back to them. They did and to this day it is said that anyone who donates in the name of God will reclaim lost items. The Gurudwara and the temple have numerous guest houses and accommodation for pilgrims, who even come for stays of longer duration. The food at the langar is simple fare of chappatis, rice, kadhi and a vegetable curry. Chairs are provided for old people and those like me who cannot sit cross legged at the langar.
As one steps off the vehicle you get a beautiful view of the Temple and the Gurudwara. The hot springs gush forth from the rocks and flow into the river. A good view of this can be had from the bridge spanning the road and the pilgrimage centre. Pilgrims visit Manikaran right round the year. Despite this the basic necessities for such a large influx has not been taken care. The condition of the road as one turns off from NH 21, short of Bhuntar, up to Manikaran – a distance of nearly 40 kms - is bad. The filth and waste around Manikaran is incredible. The state of the toilets is pathetic; the stench is so overpowering that the bridge of the nose will split into pieces! The unhygienic condition of the place is to be seen to be believed; it is littered with food waste and wrappers of popular wafer and biscuit brands. There is no mechanism to collect waste; garbage bins are absent. Kasol, about 5 kms short of Manikaran, looked to be a more salubrious environment to pitch camp for Manikaran. And in lighter vein, Goddess Parvati was in the habit of losing her jewels, as can be gleaned from the legends of Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi and Manikaran, the former to disastrous results.