I had to take a call on bus booking to Shimla – there was uncertainty about the Himachal Tourism coach on the 7th morning due to poor booking. I reached the Tourism office in time to be told that the service for the 7th has been cancelled. Himachal Road Transport Corporation operated two services in the morning and two in the evening/night. It would be difficult to reach the bus stand from the rest house at 6 AM. The 6 PM bus would reach Shimla at 4.30 AM, which was unearthly to locate a rest house that was not familiar to me. Thus, I zeroed in on the 9.30 PM service. The ever smiling, elderly gentleman at the HRTC counter produced a ticket with some effort for the internet connection died on him. Finally, he issued a hand written one and gave me a seat in one of the front rows.
The day was reserved for local sightseeing. The auto driver I had teamed up with was nowhere to be seen and I had lost his mobile number. Looking forward to the prospect of having to haggle I approached a few autos. The rates were too steep for me to haggle ‘decently’. I moved on and came to an auto driver who mentioned a rate lower than what I had estimated. I jumped in after ascertaining the places he would take me to. The first visit was to the Hadimba Temple. The temple is set in sylvan surroundings in a deodar forest. An observation about the temples in these places is that they are very simple as compared to the temples in the South and other places. Santosh Sivan, the celebrated cinematographer, had set up a set at the entrance to the temple and there were a few onlookers gawking at the film personalities. I gathered that the lead actors were debutants. In close proximity to the temple is an ‘entertainment’ area where photographers offer their services with goats, rabbits and yaks and in the traditional Kullu dress, local art is showcased for sale and games of skill and fun are organized. The legend attached to the temple itself is fascinating. Hadimba had married Bhim through the union of which was born the warrior Gatotchaka, who played a decisive role in the war with the Kauravas. After the war Hadimba did not relocate with Bhim and stayed on here, in whose memory and sacrifice the temple is dedicated. Inside the temple is the form of a huge foot, which is worshipped along with other idols. There is also another temple for Gatotchaka; it is merely a tree adorned with various religious artifacts. A stone throw away from the temple is a Museum. The lady at the entrance to the Museum was surprised when I asked for a ticket to go into it. Possibly the visitors are few and far between. The Museum is a snapshot of the life of the people of Kullu area as it has evolved over time, the art, culture and their simple lifestyles.
The Manu Temple is in Old Manali and the last mile is approached by walk as the road is under repair. It is on the Manali-Solang Valley trek route. The display at the temple clearly states that the exact place where Manu’s ark landed after the great deluge is not a matter authenticated by indisputable evidence. The idols of the temple are ancient; they were reputed to have been discovered in “Deo Ka Ghar” from where it was removed and installed in the sanctum sanctorum of the present temple. The interesting stories of Manu in the guise of a sadhu getting a calf to yield milk and getting rid of ‘Tundi’, the rakshas add ‘mystic value’ to the temple and “Deo Ka Ghar” Another observation about the temples here is that they are modified with elaborately carved deodar panels. The chungi is an innovative blanket, reportedly made from the finest wool without causing harm to the animals that yield the fur. One side of the blanket is meant for use in the winter and the other in the summer. More innovative is the marketing technique – they give five gifts along with the blanket (most of them are useful in cooler climes), give a 50% discount and offer to collect the blanket back after 5 years, in whatever condition, if you want to part with it then. The English Bakery is a cozy little eatery on the way to the Manu temple, which offers pies, tarts and the like. The thin crusted, humongous portion of the pie and a generous helping of the ‘real’ (as opposed to instant) coffee served as lunch.
The Clubhouse is meant to be another local ‘must visit’. It is a vast entertainment area, primarily for kids, and eateries. Avoidable if are not with kids or are short of time. The Vashisht Temple is about 4 kms from the Manali bus stand. The ancient temple has in its vicinity temples dedicated to Lords Vishnu and Ram. There is also a bathing tank with hot water sulphur springs with curative properties. The surroundings and the temples are infinitely cleaner than those in Manikaran. The rest of Good Friday was spent packing up and settling the bills of the rest house.
The auto arrived as appointed to take me to the bus stand for the bus to Manali. The condition of the bus, the road and the skills of the driver made for a heady cocktail for the night. Any thoughts I may have entertained of sleep vanished the moment the bus rolled out of the stand. Self preservation took its place. The glass windows rattled frighteningly and the fact that it held together without cracking is good advertisement for the manufacturer. It was also a kind of a hop on hop off service for those breaking off from shift work. Hence, it stopped wherever people put out their hand on the road. However, it was a matter of comfort though that the bone shaker arrived into the Shimla ISBT in time in the morning.