<Trip Report > Manali in the Monsoons (September 11)

#1 Sep 27th, 2011, 21:28
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  • vaibhav_arora is offline
This is a quick trip through Manali, Naggar, Kasol, Manikaran and the charming village of Tosh - all during 4 days this September!

Day 0 - a motley crew.

The day 0 or the day I departed for Manali with much apprehension started with a bit of last minute struggle in the office. Two customer facing documents were due that evening and I would not have email access soon. Successful delegation requires a lot of explanation and hand holding – this was one such day. I logged in from home that day so I could leave early – earlier anyways than I normally log off (on any given work-day, it’s not earlier than 9 pm). I reached Chanderlok building from Noida using a combination of autos – a tragedy of living across the border is no direct auto service to anywhere in Delhi. Thus the only option (unless you get into a cab)is to take a UP numbered auto and hop into a Delhi number auto at either Kalindi Kunj, Gole-Chakkar (no idea where the roundabout is though, it’s just a crossroad there) or Ghaziabad border. I did the changeover at Kalindi Kunj as I had no time to take a metro that day with the bags that I was carrying.

It was drizzling when I reached Chanderlok building – HPTDC office. The only other government buses that I had taken that didn’t run from the bus terminus were the Rajasthan State (RSRTC) buses that run from Bikaner house, on the India Gate outer circle. So, the feeling was very underwhelming when I reached the HPTDC office. It was no larger than a double shop – the entire building was undergoing some renovation work and the drizzle added to the feeling that I would be cooped up for the next 14 hours. I have only one complaint against long bus journeys – and that is I just can’t sleep with my 6’2” frame and I was getting more and more apprehensive given the size and condition of this small office – perhaps the bus would be no different? To top it, it hadn’t arrived yet – and it was close to departure time.

I looked around in the seating area and got talking to my neighbor there- he was an archaeologist doing his post doctoral work at Univ of Chicago. We got into a conversation about smaller places to visit and he had quite a few to name against my lamer submissions of Kalinjar and Meenmutti waterfalls (wayanad). He didn’t know much about the manali area though. Our conversation was halted by the cry of a minder who announced ‘the bus for Manali has arrived’. I looked out from the glass windows and there was – nothing! A quick enquiry and I was directed to the back of the building. Being used to Bikaner house, it was a surprise that that bus was parked on the road at the back – Atul Grove road. At Bikaner house, thanks to the location being in the VVIP area, I recall that once the bus had just jutted out of the main gate and was about a meter onto pandara road and was slapped with a challan of Rs 3000/- . Enough with the contrast.

I started talking to some co passengers – asking around about Manali as I didn’t have a plan and the last post on IndiaMike had yielded very little concrete suggestions.

A corporate type gentleman was seeing off his family and I asked him if he has been to Manali – turned out his family (father, aunt) who were all traveling by the bus lived in Naggar. The conversation went like this

My Q: ‘I’m more interested in seeing nature and long walks rather than going to the touristy places, where in Manali should I go to?’
His A: ‘Get out of Manali’
My response: surely you’re kidding – (shocked look on my face)
He: (curt) Nope
Me: Seriously?
He: (deadpan look): absolutely.

…. and the conductor starts asking” Where would u get down sir?” turns out that you can specify Patlikhul (ahh the funny mountain names of places), Bhuntar, Pirdi, Manali …etc. After some back and forth I stuck to Manali.

I was a bit underwhelmed with the bus though. Being used to RSRTC Volvo buses, I was expecting … more! The service was very courteous though – the conductor was polite and came around if you needed something (like a quick stop of the bus for a bio-break). The bus had an interesting mix of co-passengers – and the bus was only half full, keeping things very comfortable. A few college kids with bored looks on their faces, two families (including that of the gentleman from nagger), a trio of women going up to Kullu, two couples from other countries and a single man from Italy (who was for sure, cussing in italian under bated breath). And then a tall, lanky man in his early 50s with wavy blonde hair till his shoulders entered and exclaimed – “I am from Switzerland!” – the conductor was right behind him and didn’t quite let the man from Switzerland finish what he was about to say by asking everyone to settle down as the bus was going to depart any minute.

To my left and on the two seats behind were a trio of women working for an NGO working towards providing better opportunities to the visually impaired. They were going to Kullu for just a couple days to promote their work. It would be a really long trip and I felt a bit sorry for them – I have been in similar situations earlier – traveling to a holiday destination to promote your work and all you get to see is the inside of the hotel. In my case, the place was Goa and all I got to see for two days were a conference room and the sleeping place at the Leela. Talk of a golden cage.

The bus started moving on time and we quickly got stuck in the traffic of north Delhi – it being a Thursday. Still, I was relaxed, very relaxed just because it was a total hoot to be able to French it out (leave wise) during the last hours of a rather loaded workday. And second, the conductor had the excellent idea of playing ‘Singham’ – a recent bollywood blockbuster I hadn’t watched – and in good print!

Bravo mr Conductor! A pirated movie in a public place – and in a great print. Bravissimo!

I spent the next two and a half hours watching the movie, and occasionally peering out the windscreen (I was on seat number 7) towards the under construction road (there is repair and construction work until Ambala, atleast). The road otherwise, was in excellent condition – very smooth. The bus came to the first designated halt near ambala – it was a well designed restaurant that had very good and reasonably priced food and also a café coffee day.

We left in 30 minutes sharp and quickly started the ascent into the hills of Himachal from a place called Swarghat. A group of people in the middle rows got very loud – a couple from Scotland and a lanky, older blonde male from Switzerland. I made a desperate attempt to sleep off – eye-shades did not help.

Suddenly the bus came to a quick halt. There was a strange smell in the air (inside the bus). I was feeling very tired but noticed that Mr Switzerland was being asked by some of my co passengers and the conductor to get off the bus. He was protesting loudly, walking with a twisted gait, and was quite clearly high. He got off and (against his wishes) had to extinguish that burning joint. He had started his vacation a few hours too early. We started moving again, kept climbing and the bus stopped in Mandi – outside a small restaurant by the side of the road. It was quite dark at that time – but not dark enough for me to notice that it was quite humid and definitely colder. I could hear the roar of the river loud and clear – it was next to the restaurant and a short walk led me to this sign – a clear welcome to Himachal!

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The sign translates thus: "Beware: Due to cloudburst, the bridge is damaged and the water is flowing over it. Please drive your vehicle carefully"
Last edited by vaibhav_arora; Mar 8th, 2012 at 17:33..
#2 Sep 29th, 2011, 14:24
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Day 1 - Part 1 - sweet smell of the unknown grain

I was very groggy – the first memory after the small restaurant in Mandi was the tunnel near Aut at which point of time, the blonde (man) from Switzerland decided to make himself a salami sandwich. He also chose to loudly exclaim the virtues of eating good salami from Hungaria. After the racket he had created last night, I wished that he jump right off the bus (we were to the left of the Pandoh dam – about to enter the tunnel.

The bus kept stopping from this point onwards – Bhuntar, Pirdi (not sure), Patlikhul (certainly – there was a rather well spread apple and fruit market over there), passing near the turn for the heritage villa of Raison and finally, Manali! The bus stand itself was delightfully compact – there were buses from all over the northern states – plenty of connections from Ambala, Chandigarh, Manikaran, Dharmasala, Leh and other parts of Himachal.

Like any touristy spot, plenty of autowallahs, taxiwallahs offering us ‘hotel, rooms, etc’ yet after a few polite but firm ‘nos’ – I was left alone. At this point, the archaeologist asked if I had a place in mind towards my stay. I had spoken previously to the owner of Drifter’s inn – they were nowhere near capacity and had actually called back asking if I would be showing up.

So, Mr Bones and I decided to look for a place together, and hired a single auto to the old manali area.

The basic rooms of Drifter’s were OK but they didn’t have a view of the mountains – nor of the River (we had already crossed the river Beas via the old iron bridge). So the man Friday of the hotel showed us the superior rooms costing 1000/- each. The top corner (2nd floor I think) had a clean, dry (very important in this weather), and rather inviting room. It wasn’t taken.

It was about 9 in the morning - the rain had stopped and the view from the sit out area in front of the room was quite nice. And then, mr. Bones turned around suddenly and said ‘I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to grab this room’. (so much for several hours of camaraderie and civility).

‘Don’t mind?’
‘Don’t mind???? ‘

….I was beyond pissed.

So I put on my best plastic smile and said ‘sure, that won’t be a problem. I’ll see you around, later’

I walked out of the hotel, declining the other rooms and started calling homestays in Chiyyal, Naggar, Nehr Kund and other areas all around Manali. Quite a few of these homestay owners simply refused to negotiate at all – even though they were completely avoid of any renters for that weekend.

Grabbing hold of an auto was a bit more time consuming this time around but I did get one and asked him to take me to the bus stand. On the way back, I spotted HPTDC beas and the tourism department website flashed to mind. It might be worth checking out. I usually don’t have a high opinion of tourism department places as they are run down and the service is totally insipid. I asked my autowallah to stay put while I walked inside and made quick acquaintance of Mr Thakur who was at the front desk. True to expectations, the hotel was run down – worn carpet, peeling paint, the entire place looked like it came up in the 60s and was perhaps refurbished in the same decade.

I looked at the standard room which cost 800+ taxes for the night and had to reject it outright – the bed was too small. The higher room for 1200+ tax looked more acceptable – and there was a door leading to the balcony. I opened it, walked outside, and saw this .

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So that’s why this location is considered great, hainjee? It’s right next to the river – though from the outside it doesn’t appear immediately obvious.

I wanted the room now.

Like a typical government servant he expressed his inability to reduce any tariff – these are government norms, ji.

Hotelwallah: 25% discount is approved, so it will be 900+ taxes.
Me: ‘That is too much, Thakur ji’
Hotelwallah: ‘Yes, yes, what to do’
Me: ‘So can you help?’
Hotelwallah: ‘Will you have breakfast?’
Me: ‘I can skip it, if it helps with the rent.’
Hotelwallah: ‘Ok, so we can adjust. We can make an entry for the smaller room and you can stay in that room that you liked’
Me: ‘How much’
Hotelwallah: ‘I think it will be 800’
Me: ‘All inclusive?’
Hotelwallah: ‘uh … haan, theek hai ji’


It was about 10 am and thanks to Thakurji I was ‘making myself comfortable’ in the room. I must have slept two hours and then just couldn’t sleep any longer. A quick bath (hey, warm water feels good here – and it’s only September). I was still a bit tired and thought of doing no more than a few walks that day to recover from the fatigue. I walked outside and asked around for hidimba temple – it turned out to be about a kilometer and a half. So I packed my binoculars in the camera bag and equipped with a small umbrella and the bag I walked. The walk took me through the ‘clubhouse / chowk’ area and then through several steps that are covered with rather tall coniferous trees (I usually can’t tell a pine from a deodar – so I stuck to the generic term here). The area was very leafy green and was getting quieter as I clambered up the steps

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Near the hidimba temple, some very standard ‘touristy’ things were on display – an Angora rabbit – and he didn’t look too happy (hence no photo) and a yak (again, no photo due to the same reason) – I do not like to take photos of animals that are kept captive against their wishes and are put on display. They looked very miserable indeed and I walked past them. Hidimba temple was was less of a disappointment. It’s an old temple and done in a pagoda style. The ASI board claims it was built in the year 1553 A.D. Hidimba apparently is revered in the kullu valley and the king of Kullu considered her his grandmother!

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It was very atmospheric though - surrounded by the tall deodar trees. Smoke rose from around the temple and the heads of ungulates (whose bodies were sacrificed to appease hidimba) adorned the walls .... I entered the door of the temple, narrowly avoiding banging my head against the low hanging top beam and exited quickly.

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I was hungry and, not too far from the temple, up a small walkway - noticed a rather large group of very happy looking locals sitting under a huge tree. Most men wore kullu caps and the women sat separately. I felt that this must be on invitation only and walked over a tea-stall right opposite. The owner was a thorough gentleman, who, notwithstanding the loss of business actually informed that what the people there were eating was for everyone. So, I walked over to the tree-temple of Ghatotkach and sat down (barefeet and cross-legged) waiting to be served from one of the buckets being carried around by one of the volunteers...

What came out of that bucket had a texture not unlike pearl millet porridge my grandmother makes in Rajasthan but actually a little less sweeter. It was a great tasting porridge - smoky in flavor and hot!

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I will upload the photo of the demarcated kitchen area in the subsequent post ... The grain was termed as 'siara' or 'thiara' (not sure as i couldnt trace it later) and is reportedly indigenous to the area. It was a far better meal than the regular Punjabi fare one gets all over.
Last edited by vaibhav_arora; Mar 8th, 2012 at 17:36.. Reason: clearer info
#3 Oct 5th, 2011, 16:10
It's all Greek to me, but Benglish will do
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over a 'wine-dark sea'
  • theyyamdancer is offline
Very well written and entertaining trip report! Keep going....
#4 Nov 2nd, 2011, 02:27
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  • Dilliwala is offline
Good stuff.
#5 Feb 3rd, 2012, 19:46
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  • tarungags is offline
I want to know what happens next...

Vaibhav please be kind and tell us what happens next in your trip.

It's like watching only a part of an interesting movie...
#6 Feb 3rd, 2012, 20:17
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  • sidch is offline
indeed! this started off as a thoroughly entertaining report... too bad it seems to have been orphaned
Some of my ramblings!

#7 Feb 3rd, 2012, 20:27
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  • vaibhav_arora is offline
No no .. I will come around to it ... the offbeat one is keeping me thoroughly busy right now.
#8 Feb 3rd, 2012, 20:28
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  • sidch is offline
ah ok thats great to hear! Im curious about all the characters you have involved in your narrative, wonder if they will resurface!
#9 Feb 15th, 2012, 17:09
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  • Indizen is offline
Nice report, so far!
#10 Mar 9th, 2012, 20:02
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Day 1 - From the River to the Nullah

Satiated with that ethnic fare, I walked back towards the bus stand area (nearer the hotel) and got my first panoramic glimpse of the hills of Manali and the town from a small clearing that was (at that time) being used as a make-shift parking lot near the Hidimba temple. There were clouds covering the hills across the river and down below, although there were plenty of houses, it was a lovely view indeed!

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I politely declined the offer of the lady holding the Angora rabbit to ‘make photos’ as I didn’t like the idea of paying just to hold the huge rabbit. He did look lovely though I’m sure he’d have been a lot happier being let off from the wall he was made to perch on (“lady – I’m not a parrot!!”)

I found an autowallah for a visit to the Vashisht temple in Old Manali area. The temple is known for its hot springs and is clearly an old temple. Next to the Vashisht temple is a another temple that has wooden carvings of Shiva, Hanuman and others.

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On the main door of the Vashisht temple is this carving of Brahma.

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The Vashisht temple must clearly get a significant number of itinerant hermits as they have a written policy regarding the duration that the ‘sadhu’ can avail of the shelter provided to them! The sign behind the Sadhu reads ‘All visiting Sadhus are informed that they can stay here for a three to five day period’!

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A closer look at his possessions and one cannot help but wonder how much self control he must have. He has some pots and pans, a bed-roll, and is staying in a shelter with an entire wall missing at an elevation of six thousand feet. At night, he has a log to burn and keep him warm. The same fire, he uses to cooks his food and after all this, at the end of less than a week, he has to move!

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I did visit the hot spring briefly but they were too hot for my comfort and I wasn’t prepared for a long drawn bath so I skipped them. There’re two chambers, one has the hot water and the other has plenty of taps lined that give a steady, gushing flow of the hot water to the bather below. One may use soap or other cleansing material in the second chamber but not in the first one – it is supposed to be kept as is though (from what I recollect) you can take a dip.

I came out of this temple complex fairly quickly and my autowalla was itching for more business and we discussed visiting Solang valley. Solang is about fourteen kilometers and since I was pressed for time, I agreed to what he asked for (rs 400/- for both ways plus minimum of two hours waiting).

Solang sits a good 1800 feet higher than Manali and is consequently, colder. In winters, it is a popular skiing location. In summers, there’s a cable car that still works, several ATV operators with no customers (on the day I visited, that is) and a beautiful stream called the Solang Nullah.

The drive upto Solang, I could notice that the character of the valley changed completely – the vegetation was suddenly a bit greener, there were fewer people, the air was definitely cooler and overall, it was a good feeling to approach the area. I got down and after fending off the occasional ATV operator looking for a customer in the off-season, walked over to the clearing that gets close to the nullah. This was mid-september and the nullah was black with all the mountain debris it carried in the waters.

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The monsoons this year had been very good in the area and ample evidence such as moss, lichens and fungi were before me. I stepped back a bit to see the entire log covered with these!

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On closer inspection, some of these caps looked like English police helmets to me (except that they are white).

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The wind was cold and even though this was September, I reached for the second layer in my daypack. I continued my march upwards, along the nullah (to a small temple) through the broad-leaved grass patched hill-side. I continued for maybe half a kilometer till I reached a point from where I would have to go across the river in a small rope-way. There was no power that day and that quickly brought my options to nearly zero. So I sat down near the nullah and enjoyed the view.

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Last edited by vaibhav_arora; Mar 9th, 2012 at 20:08.. Reason: correction
#11 Mar 9th, 2012, 20:28
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Day 1 - From the Nullah to the River

Due to the heavy rains last night and the season, there were clouds floating very close to the water and I felt as if I was above the cloud level! One of them came too close for comfort and it was time to turn back.

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I walked back and found more flowers, including this thorny member of the compositae family.

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There were many birds including a yellow bird (probably a sunbird) too small to be photographed properly with my basic lens. However, the view ahead (above the clouds) was stunning.

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I raised my head a bit higher and noticed snow over the black rocks of the mountains in the farther distance – that was the road that led to Rohtang pass (as I was told by the locals).

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I called my auto-wallah and we went back via a beautiful prayer flag laden bridge and some apple orchards to the hotel Beas. For all its problems including being run down, once I entered the garden at the backside, it was easy to forget how close to the bus stand I was. This view of the gushing Beas should help you visualize!!

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The garden had a good variety of flowers including dahlias, pansies, gladioli and a few more that I forget the names of. These roses looked especially attractive to me.

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The garden was very alluring and I kept looking at the flowers and trying to click as many photos as I could till the flowers, the river and I were left to our own devices in the dark. I walked back to the door that would lead me to the stairwell (the garden is a good twenty feet below the road level). It was locked! I knocked, or rather banged at the glass – no answer.

I called loudly, ‘Thakurji’ – no answer.

I kicked the wooden door – no answer.

This went on for about 10 minutes before I figured I have a better chance of success by walking back into the garden (from where the rose photograph was taken) and shouting out loud. I did that only to realize that the loud noise from the river drowned out my voice completely….

The lights were on and I had been out in the cold, forty feet from a gushing river with less than adequate protection, no sleep last night and I was getting weary. And then, someone from the hotel saw me and shouted out “You’re not allowed to stay in the garden post sun-set” only to get back from me “Do you think I’m trying to? Atleast open the door”

Nothing establishes bonhomie amongst two grown men than a good, healthy round of aggressive shouting and abusing. This man worked in the kitchen and he opened the door for me and I spent the next few minutes chatting with him. He was curios to know whether he would have any work that evening, i.e. whether I would eat at the hotel (there was not a single patron who would be eating in the restaurant that night). When I asked him, where do I get local himachali food, he directed me to the dhaba in a byelane of the mall road.

The lane that houses this dhaba in manali is the one that has the Himachal wine shop on the corner to the left, as one walks up the mall road. Another thirty minutes later I was sitting with some local youth in that same dhaba, eating fresh tawa chapattis, local kadhi, rajmash and thicker rice than what we get back here in Delhi. It was good food and helped me get to bed quickly that night.
Last edited by vaibhav_arora; Mar 9th, 2012 at 23:17..
#12 Mar 14th, 2012, 19:59
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Castle with a view

The morning of the 10th of September, I woke up shortly after six in the morning and the first sound was the gushing roar of the Beas. I walked outside to be greeted by overcast skies and to hear the roaring sound of the river. Despite the commercialization that Manali has seen over the last decade, the sight of flowing water of this magnitude helps you forget so easily the struggle for resources, especially space that growth in hill-towns brings with them.

A little later, I was ready, out and about and it started drizzling a bit. The umbrella came in handy. The location of the beas hotel again proved its worth as the bus stand was literally a hop, step away and I could easily board a local bus to Naggar. The bus would take the left bank of the beas (and not the right bank that connects Manali with Patalikhul and further down with Kull). It was a military green bus and was wonderfully empty save a few locals. I sat up front, behind the driver.

My co-passengers were quite reserved and while they spoke fluent hindi, their nature made conversation somewhat difficult. At around half past eight we were past the urban sprawl of the left bank of the beas and crossing a small bridge.

The Yuccas were in full bloom across the valley– this variety (See below) is called the Yucca Filamentosa or more commonly ‘Adam’s needle’. It is apparently, more common across North America and is a medicinal plant. Throughout this trip, due to the number of plants that I saw in bloom, I really missed my father, a retired professor of Botany.

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A short while after 9’o clock that cloudy morning the bus deposited me at the Naggar bus stand and the first shop I noticed was that of a chaiwallah. I asked him about places to see in Naggar and he could mention the castle and Roerich estate and little else. So I asked him for directions to the Naggar castle and continued the walk. Halfway up the path, on the right side I noticed a board ‘Acharya Home stay’. I recalled seeing the same name on an HPTDC website and quickly introduced myself to the man parking the car. He was able to considerably expand the list of places worth visiting in that town.

Mr Jagdish Acharya, the owner of this home-stay is also the ‘Kardar’ of the Tripura Sundari Temple and certainly knew his way around (I was to realize this later that same day when I visited a different temple on his recommendation).

A ‘Kardar’ is an interesting position that is common in temples across himachal Pradesh. He is the manager of the deity. Originally the word seems to have its origins in ‘Kar’ (tax) or ‘Kor’ (Gold) but in the modern sense he is responsible for maintenance of temple property. These positions are hereditary but now, are appointed by government.

The conversation ended with him gifting me a ‘juicy apple’ picked up from his orchard. It was, in fact, a very sweet apple and was green in color. This apple is not as abundantly available as the red delicious in the plains due to a shorter shelf life.

Naggar castle today sits about half kilometer from the bus stand and higher up the hill as well. Almost all the castle in the present day is a HPTDC property and operated as a hotel (apart from the temple and the museum in-premises). It wasn’t always so.

The castle was constructed in the early sixteenth century and is credited to the then king of Kullu- Sidhi Singh. It changed hands from the kings of Kullu to the Sikhs and then to the British. On the board that gives this history near the entrance, the interesting point that stands out is that the brits bought the castle from the Raja Gyan Singh in 1846 for a gun!! It is immediately obvious that at least a part of the castle (the part from where one enters) is very old indeed – there’s no use of mortar at all. It is simply long rectangular blocks of wood and stones fitted in-between (See below)

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I entered the castle – which is just a two story structure and went up the staircase in the restaurant area. Sat down, and though the day was cloudy, the view was stunning.

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The beas valley at this point is very wide and on a clear day (and even otherwise), one can see till the other side, till the village of Patalikhul – that’s a 4 km distance through a windy road! The tourism department is running a restaurant open to non-guests as well and I ordered a large alu paratha, tea and some toast. It was very comforting food on a wet, cold day and very welcome!

The castle has been the location for many a bollywood film of decades past and just taking a step back, it didn’t require too much imagination to see why!!

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The nagger castle also houses the Jagattipatt mandir. The temple is an example of the second type of temple architecture – namely the rectangular type. What is worshipped inside the temple, is both a curiosity as well as a legend.

The Jagattipatt temple has its origins in the queen of Kullu who had moved to Naggar castle from her native village near the Rohtang pass. When she felt homesick, a number of ‘deotas’ (deities) morphed into a swarm of bees and carried a large slab of rock from her village all the way to naggar. This slab of rock (approximately five feet by eight feet) is given the same veneration by the locals and worshipped today. The temple is richly carved (a ganesha is above the main door) and well maintained.

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A part of the naggar castle is newer but has been adorned in the same fashion as the older part and decked with goat / other ungulate skulls (signs of the royal hobby of hunting, in this case).

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The nearby Roerich center (maintained by the Roerich foundation and trust) attracts visitors from all over. On that day, there were three Russian ladies and a man and they were very happy to get clicked and answer some questions in halting English. I was very curious about their wonderful dress and it turned out that all three of them (they were sisters) had hand made their dresses using nothing more than crochet!

I then started walking towards the Roerich center and stopped at a house nearby to photograph these flowers. I did skid a bit on the sloping walk-way leading to the landing but managed a shot. The leaves tell me they're dahlias.

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The Tripura Sundari (sometimes called the Bala Tripura Sundari temple) was to my left and several meters below. The temple is an excellent example of Himachal architecture and is a complete temple. The sanctum sanctorum is pagoda style and there are other structures in front. Since I had met the kardar (Mr Acharya) only a short while ago and knew he would not be there, I continued onwards ....

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Last edited by vaibhav_arora; Mar 16th, 2012 at 15:38.. Reason: correting bad sentence construction; date as well
#13 Mar 15th, 2012, 19:30
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Dec 2008
Delhi NCR
  • vaibhav_arora is offline

The Russian Mystic and the Indian Beauty

The Roerich center, started partly by the Russian painter Nicholas Roerich and subsequently enhanced and inhabited by his son Svetoslav Roerich and his Indian wife, the celebrated actress Devika Rani was my next stop.

The name ‘Roerich’ is derived from old scandanavian ‘Ro Rich’ and means rich of fame. The Roerichs have certainly lived upto their names as their life story spans across continents, important world events such as the Second World War and India’s independence and has a dash of love, drama and now, post their demise, also a dose of controversy.

None of the current troubles of the Roerichs’ estate, however, mar the visitor’s experience at the center in Naggar. The place has the effect of immediately transporting the visitors across several decades and has the air of a bygone, romantic era. Set amidst splendid gardens, the day I reached, right inside the entrance was a multi-stemmed tree that helped as the neck of the Y-path and provided shady protection to the path. The rains had given a magical quality to the old estate and it was teeming with flowers. There was a healthy dose of lilies (canna – see below) and these really pretty violet flowers (second below).

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Nicholas (Svetoslav’s father) was primarily a painter (he was trained at the Petersburg Academy of Arts). Between graduating from the academy in 1897 and finally reaching India in 1923, Roerich spent time in multiple artistic pursuits including painting, working as director of the emperor’s art museum, art encouragement society, producing theatre and even designing a church! He also got married and bore two outstanding children, George, who later became an Orientalist (specializing in Tibet) and Svetoslav – who followed in his father’s footsteps. We see this painting of the father by the son in the current museum premises (ground floor). Interestingly, Roerich, sr. is seen wearing Tibetan robes (possibly an outcome of the 1924 expedition).

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The seminal event that is of interest to the visitors here happened in 1923 when Roerich along with his family of three reached India. The reasons for this journey are speculated – it was either an influence of the American vice President Henry A Wallace (who regarded Nicholas as his guru) or perhaps his own move. Either ways, between 1924-1928, the expedition ran through most of the India Himalayas, crossed over into Tibet, Mongolia, China, Altai, Siberia and finally Moscow and back to India. The expedition collected materials about other asian cultures in these areas including many tribal artifacts and icons. This expedition provided him enough material to build the Urusvati Institute of Himalayan Studies. This building still stands at the estate and may be visited, though past its heyday. Seen below are many such idols collected by the great Russian over the course of the years and are lying around in the estate.

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Here's a close up of an identified himachal tribal god from amongst these.

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His younger son, Svetoslav’s own journey through the world of art was even more peripatetic and his interest and mastery of many art forms is testimony to his genius. All this information in good detail may be read in the Estate musesum at Naggar – a few points are worth repeating. He was only sixteen (in 1920) when he enrolled in the Columbia school of architecture and three years later graduated with a bachelors degree in architecture. Between 1921 and 1923, he studied simultaneously at Harvard and MIT, visited Europe every year, staged a ballet in Boston, and finally graduated from Harvard in 1923 with a master’s degree!!

Svetoslav was also interested in Himalayan folk-lore, in tribal beliefs and cultures and there’s a small temple of tribal gods that still stands on the estate premises and is under active worship. In this open temple, the one idol in the centre (on the horse, second from left) that is recognizable is called Guga Chouhan – a name with a fairly long tale.

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Guga Chouhan was associated with the Naga cult in Kullu and is reputed to have curative powers from snakebite. Guga was worshipped across himachal and as far as Sirsa, Haryana , Rajasthan (as Gogaji) and the plains of Punjab as the greatest of snake gods. Unlike many other snake cult figures he is not characterized as malevolent. He is worshipped by childless women in the hope of getting a child - In Haryana, it is spoken of Guga 'if he does not bear me a son, at least he will not take anything away from me'. His fair of Guga-Navami is celebrated in the Bhadrapada month of the hindu calendar (roughly august).

Svetoslav was also equally known in India as the husband of the celebrated Indian screen idol – Devika Rani. Devika had lost her first husband, Himanshu Rai in the 1940s and married the Russian painter in 1945. The couple moved to Bangalore (there was another estate on Kanakapura road outside Bangalore till the 1990s) and lived there from 1948 onwards visiting Naggar periodically. A stunning portrait of Devika by Svetoslav is on exhibit in the small outhouse structure on the naggar estate. My poor photograph does not do this painting justice – I tried thrice and despite my best attempts have failed to capture the absolute moving quality of these eyes. The scale of the painting and the lifelike depiction done by Roerich certainly surpass any photograph that may have been taken of her.

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Svetoslavs style of painting differs markedly from his father’s. If you look at Nicholas’s paintings, they are marked by clean lines, lovely but clear cut colors, the sky is often dramatic but colors mix gradually and not haphazardly. There is a considerable lack of clutter, almost as of the painter is trying to say something in as little words as possible. The paintings also come across as somewhat philosophical in tone. The Son’s style is very realistic – skin tones are very lifelike and very rich. His depictions include the life that he saw around him. A very celebrated work of his is called the Gaddi girl and may be seen at the estate museum.

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The Roerichs (especially the father) were Russian in their habits despite spending most of their lives in the Indian Himalayas or reaching their creative zenith here. Some of their personal objects are on display at the estate and one of these immediately stands out as very Russian (see below)

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The view from behind the outhouse was lovely and I was reminded by the mountains that I should continue to walk...higher!

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#14 Mar 15th, 2012, 19:42
Join Date:
Aug 2010
Pune, Maharashtra, India
  • saugata41 is offline
My dear Vaibhav,

You must have heard about the phrase as 'Slow but steady wins the race'. This thread of yours is just that. It is moving slowly towards the end but the quality is uncompromised.

Exploring a different Manali through your superb writing and the usual awesome snaps.

Great work, mate!
Wanderlust - My Travel Journals
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#15 Mar 15th, 2012, 19:42
Join Date:
Oct 2011
Want to live enerywhere
  • Duronto Jajabar is offline
An unparallel depiction once again.....

A journey with history and nature, past and beauty, creativity and adoration .........

Nice vaibhav, great going ....
aamar payer tolai sorshe...(I have wheels under my feet)

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