After having spent some time in Manali, I was looking for places to visit nearby. Suggestions after suggestions poured in –Kasol, Kheerganga, Malana, Tosh, all of which were ‘hippie’ destinations. But amongst them is a pilgrimage town by the name Manikaran.
Having spent a couple of days in Manali and hopping between innumerable cafes made me realise something —Himachal is known for the abundant weed that grows here!
Sit in a cafe for a simple drink or tea, and you would encounter people trying to sell you weed or the world-famous Malana cream. The trip taught me a lot about weed— How they prepare it, what are the different kinds, how to take it and so on.
I do not smoke pot, and so naturally, I was not excited. The funny part is that all these days, I thought people flocked to Kasol because of the beauty of Parvati valley and its unique cafes! How very innocent and ignorant of me! But as I mentioned, between all these ‘hippie’ destinations, the place that stood out for me was Manikaran.
Manikaran is a pilgrimage town known for its Shiva temple, Manikaran Sahib Gurudwara and a Rama temple. Funnily, I was surprised to see temples surrounded by weed farms!
On the other hand, we make up all kinds of myths and believe that Lord Shiva himself smokes pot! That way, hills are the perfect adobe for getting high! Mythologically funny! Anyway, let me take you around this holy town and narrate all the stories around it.
It was 8 o'clock in the morning when I started for Manikaran in a cab. There are plenty of bus options from Manali also. You can also change buses at Kullu or Kasol.
It was raining when I left Manali, and the beautiful pine trees dripped raindrops as we passed through them. The crowded apple orchards outside Manali also rejoiced in the rain. It was not the plucking season yet, so the apples were still green.
All through the way, people were selling honey and apples. As we drove along, we saw that the road on either side was crowded with towering pine trees. These trees dropped pine cones on the car as they swayed in the wind.
In Kullu, we took a left at Bhuntar and went towards Kasol. There we had the first glimpse of the Parvati river. Oh, God! How ferocious she was! She silenced everything around her. The chirping birds, the swish of the wind, the honks from the trucks, everything was subdued by her roar.
Even the Beas river seemed subtle when compared to her. That is one of the many reasons why people come to Parvati valley. She has the power to silence you, all your thoughts, your nerves, fears, everything! You just keep watching her meditatively.
The valley turned picturesque with spellbinding pine trees and green mountains on either side of the Parvati river. We crossed many small villages, and the road was narrow at quite a few places.
It was a little past 9:00 in the morning, but the mist was still hanging around. Private buses had just arrived at Kasol, and sleepy passengers were trying to figure out their way. The cafes were closed, and people at campsites were out, stretching themselves.
Manikaran is just 5 to 10 kilometres away from Kasol. You suddenly feel youthful. Such an enchanting power nature has. My cab stopped at a point that looked like a car parking area behind the Gurudwara. Several buses were also stopping by.
Story of Manikaran
Once upon a time, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati passed through the valley and were captivated by its beauty. Goddess Parvati wanted to halt there for some time. Hence the river and the valley are all named after the Goddess herself.
Eleven thousand years are said to have passed since then. On one such day, when they are relaxing around the river, Parvati's precious gem falls into the river. Parvati urged Shiva to find it for Her, and He, in turn, ordered His helpers to look for it. When they could not find it, he got angry and opened up his third eye, which means that his anger would go out of control.
Right then, Sheshnag or Adiseshan, the Serpent God, came to help. He picked up and shook the earth. He breathed heavily, and suddenly all the precious gems from under the earth began to float.
That is how the place got its name–Manikaran– which means finding the Gem. It is believed that wherever Sheshnag shakes the earth, hot springs sprout up.
Manikaran Hot Springs
Is it not a wonder to see hot springs right next to a cold river? Well, in Manikaran, there are a lot of such spots with hot fumes steaming out of them. It is believed that they have medicinal values. People tend to bathe in it and also cook their food in.
One story goes this way. This time it is related to Sikhism–
Guru Nanak Dev Ji was once passing through the Himalayas with his followers. When they got hungry, the Guru decided to arrange a Langar, a community lunch.
People living nearby donated raw ingredients such as wheat flour and rice; however they were not able to set up a fire. The Guru, unperturbed, asked his disciples to lift a rock! As soon as the disciple did that, a hot spring popped up. What a miracle!
So they start cooking rice and curry by placing the vessels over the rock. Wait, the story does not end here! Suddenly, the chapattis they made started to sink into the hot springs! The Guru gently asked the disciples to remember God with a true and pure heart. Wonders of wonders, the chapatis began to float back.
To this day, the langar in Gurudwara at Manikaran Sahib is cooked on top of these hot springs.
Now that we know the miraculous stories about the hot springs let us also unearth the science behind it...
What is the Scientific Reason for Manikaran Hot Springs
Recall your Geography lessons here.
Remember how we read that the earth gets hotter with every passing layer towards its core? Remember ’magma’ –the semi-fluid liquid at the centre of the earth? Do you also remember how the mighty mountains are formed because of the shift in the tectonic plates?
So somewhere along the Parvati valley, there are fissures through which the water seeps in. the water then suddenly shoots up when it comes in contact with the hot part of the earth.
As the water comes to the surface again, it brings with itself the essential minerals. These minerals give the water its therapeutic properties. Some even debate whether these springs contain sulphur or some radioactive thingy. It sure is a wonder nonetheless.
Although people like to believe that hot springs are religious miracles and that scientists have been baffled by them, they need to be rational.
It is now time to head to the temples...
Gurudwara Shri Manikaran Sahib
Manikaran Sahib was my first stopover.
From the parking lot where I got down, there was a small bridge over river Parvathi. I could already see hot water springs and pools around the Gurudwara on the other side.
Pilgrims were taking a dip in the pool. Hot springs, scattered here and there, were releasing fumes, giving a smoky feel to the area.
There was construction going about near the Gurudwara for new resting places. There were high rise buildings on either side of the river with no river bank!. This seemed to me like a disaster waiting to happen.
I walked past the hot pools. The entire area was pretty wet and steamy. Though the entire place seemed crowded, inside the sanctum sanctorum of the Gurudwara, there were not many people. I sat down comfortably for some time and relished the ambience.
The langar served there was also prepared on stoves using the heat of the springs. For some reason, the Gurudwara seemed claustrophobic, and so I came back to the bridge. I stood their mum, simply soaking in the pleasant views and listening to the ferocious river.
Next, I looked up the famous Shiva Temple. My map betrayed me! I asked someone for directions, and they said that I have to walk past the Gurudwara!
It led to what seemed like a closed building beyond the sanctum sanctorum. But then, as I continued walking, there ran a short road to the other side of the town. Shops were lined up on either side.
Lined up along the shops was my destination— the Shiva Temple.
Lord Shiva Temple
The temple sits right on top of the hot springs.
I realised that the fumes I had observed from the bridge were coming from under the structure of this temple. They have meticulously placed wooden planks around the temple for the visitors to walk on.
An earthquake had altered the structure of the temple. It is slightly in a slanting position. I offered my prayers and came out quickly.
People usually bring packets of pulses or rice and cook them on these hot springs. It is considered as prasad and is believed to be optimistic for the family. There was not much to do, so I moved on...
This is a century-old temple but has been renovated recently. It appears to be a recent construction.
Raghunath Mandir had a deserted look. Only the priest and I were there. I asked him if this was the Ram temple (which is a very common mistake here), and he told me that it is a different one down the street.
I then posed an innocent question to him —"Aren't Raghunath and Ram the same? Why do we have two temples?" The priest smiled at me and said, "Raghunath and Ram are not the same." "They are, don't we call Ram as Raghu?" I reasoned.
The priest humbly sat me down and tutored me in lessons from our Mythology.
Raghunath happens to be the grandfather of Dasharatha! We all know that Dasharath is the father of Lord Ram. King Raghunath, from the Ikshvaku dynasty, was the most legendary king of all. It is only after his name that the whole dynasty is addressed as RaghuVamsam or RaghuKula.
All my life so far, I was under the impression that Raghuvamsam and Ram are synonyms!
Now that my knowledge was refreshed, I went back to pray again with a different concept, but the correct one, in mind.
Naina Bhagwati Mandir
I instantly fell in love with this temple.
This was the first temple away from all the crowd, with lots of light and a spacious platform in the front. The architecture was spellbinding too!
The temple, with its marvellous and intricate wooden architecture, makes it one charming temple. The temple sure is small, but that makes it even more precious and delicate.
The ‘actual’ Ram mandir finally…
Sri Ramachandra Ji Mandir is the biggest Hindu temple I saw at Manikaran. Unfortunately, there was no priest to tell me stories about it. Nothing was written about the temple either. The internet also does not seem to bother about this temple!
The only valid information I have is that the idol was brought from Ayodhya. There were Ram Kund and Sita Kund around the temple. Considering such springs around, I guess Ram and Sita must have halted here some time ages ago.
There are many halls around for pilgrims to stay. Langar is also served here.
However, when I walked out of the temple, I realised I was exploring the area in reverse order.
With that, I bid adieu to Manikaran and moved on to the next destination. Honestly, Manikaran did not have the serious pilgrim place feel to it. It was as if tourists and honeymooners were flocking around the place.
So yeah, if you are going to Kasol and Malana, do visit Manikaran too.
Happy Traveling :)
Where to stay?
Kasol would be the closest place to stay. It has a good variety of accommodation options.
I however, stayed in Manali and made a day’s trip from there. There are a lot of homestays along with the orchards on the way to Manikaran. I wondered why did I not book a stay in this part of Manali; it would have been such a peaceful retreat.