Manikaran is a well-known Hindu and Sikh pilgrimage centre located at an altitude of 1760m (6000 feet) at a distance of 35 kms from Bhuntar, in the mesmerising Parvati Valley. The Parvati Valley is nourished by waters of glacial streams that flow into the Parvati river. The lush green and dense forests of oak, pine, fir, birch, topped by snow-clad mountains make this one of the most exquisite valleys in Himachal Pradesh.
Legend has it that the Hindu God Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati once visited and stayed in the Himalayan mountains in the vicinity of Bhuntar, near Kullu. And during that sojourn, Parvati lost a jewel that fell from her ear. As the Lord’s attendants couldn’t find the jewel, he got enraged and opened his third eye thus releasing Goddess ‘Naina’. Goddess Naina went to the depths of hell and asked the serpent ‘Sheshnag’ to return the Mani. Sheshnag then hissed and boiling water started gushing out from all over the place, thus bringing out many jewels including the one Goddess Parvati had lost. These events are said to have given rise to the bubbling hot-springs due to the hot breath of Sheshnag. Therefore this place came to be known as Manikaran where ‘Mani’ means a jewel and ‘Karan’ means an ear. Accounts of this place can also be found in the ‘Brahmand Puran’ where it is called ‘Hari hari’, while other names given to this place are ‘Ardh-Nareshwar’ and ‘Chinta-Mani’.
While my friends and I had come to the region specifically for the Kullu Dussehra Festival this time, we were told that some similar events also took place at Manikaran during Dusshera. So we started off from Kullu, late in the evening of the second day of the Kullu Dussehra and reached Manikaran in the night. We parked our car in the multi-storied parking lot of Gurudwara Manikaran Sahib, and proceeded to rest for the night at a nearby Homestay. The Homestay was on the opposite side of the river and in order to get there, we had to cross a bridge and make way through the Gurudwara complex following a narrow passageway. The sight of the hot water pool en route made me feel like jumping in right then and there but as it was already 10:00 p.m., and our tired bodies needed rest and sleep, we carried on reluctantly towards the Homestay.
The next morning, we got up early at around 5:30 a.m. and headed straight to the water reservoir near the Naina Devi Mata temple. Two reservoirs were built inside two separate big halls (meant for males and females respectively) into which hot water was pumped from a hot water spring outside. The hot water spring zone itself was well fortified by a short wall built around it and a fence on top. Bricks were placed on top of the bubbling water so as to break the force by which the water came out. As the temperature of the water ranges from 88 to 94 degree centigrade at various hot springs here, the bricks and the fence help in preventing injuries to people from the hot water falling on the skin. At the same time, the temperature of the water is also ideal for cooking and I saw mud pots for cooking rice and ‘Kala Chana’ placed inside the pool.
We took off our shoes outside the hall and went in. Bathing in this water cures many skin diseases and helps relax tensed muscles in the body. The temperature of the water was just perfect so we got inside and sat on the stairs that were made for going in and coming out of the reservoir. It felt awesome and all the tiredness of the past few days went away in minutes, leaving me relaxed and at ease. While the feeling inside the hot water pool is really great, it is always advised not to stay inside for too long as the water gives off gases that can cause nausea and may lead to fainting. So after an interval of every five odd minutes, we would come out to breathe in the fresh air and then go back inside again. After following this cycle for more than half an hour, we finally got dressed and came out feeling the strange high that the water had given us.
As the sun had just risen, I went to the Naina Devi Mata temple where morning prayers were being offered. The temple is a splendid example of woodwork found in this region of the Himalayas. I bowed in respect, seeking Mata’s blessings and then headed towards the nearby Lord Rama temple. The temple is positioned in the middle of a complex consisting of a few buildings and requires a climb of some 50 odd stairs. It is said that the waters of the hot springs here would gush out to heights varying from 10 to 14 feet, and occasionally precious stones came out with the hot water too. But after the 1905 Kangra earthquake that shook the entire state, the upward force of the flow subsided, the locations of the springs shifted and no more precious stones came out. Though the temple also got tilted during the earthquake, it has been recently rebuilt from the outside, leaving the original sanctum sanctorum intact inside. The new temple has been entirely built with carved stone and some woodwork depicting the images of various Hindu gods. Upon asking the priest, I was informed that the original temple was built by Raja Jagat Singh in the 17th century and in 1889, Raja Dilip Singh refurbished the temple. An idol of Goddess Sita can also be seen sitting on the left of Lord Rama’s idol here.
On the way to the famous Lord Shiva temple, we crossed Lord Raghunath temple which was earlier built out of a single rock. This temple was built by Raja Jagat Singh as a part of installation of Lord Raghunath temples in various parts of the region. A few years ago, a newer structure has been built around the original temple. Soon, we reached the Lord Shiva temple, which stands on a hot water spring itself with the steam coming out continuously from beneath it. There is another hot water spring between the temple and the stairs that one has to descend to go to the temple. A small shop is setup near this spring, where people can buy small pouches in which rice or ‘Kala Chana’ can be cooked by placing the pouch inside the bubbling hot spring water. The cooked rice and Kala Chana is then offered at the temple and taken as Prasad. An amazingly beautiful relief portrait sculpture just behind the hot water spring depicted Lord Shiva holding the trident in his hands and pointing it towards the earth. We next went inside the temple to pay our obeisances to Lord Shiva.
Our next stop was the Gurudwara, where we went into the hot cave. The cave was inside the Gurudwara complex and was well maintained. Tiles were mounted on the walls and the floor was well laid out with small marble like coloured stones. As it was a hot cave, the entire floor was warm enough for one to sit on, and some mattresses made it even better to relax one’s muscles. I could well imagine how nice it would be to sit here in winters as it gets very cold here and it even snows. While sitting inside, I met a Sikh who was around 65 years old. Though I didn’t ask his name, he told me that when Guru Nanak came to this place in the year 1574, he was accompanied by ‘Mardana’ and ‘Bala’. When Mardana felt hungry, he told Guru Nanak that he had flour but no utensil or fire to cook in. Guru Nanak asked him to lift a rock from where hot water came out and put the rolled out flour dough ‘Rotis’ in the water. On doing so the ‘Rotis’ sank and Mardana felt disappointed. Guru Nanak then asked him to pray to God and say that he would offer a Roti to God. Mardana’s prayers were answered and the miracle happened with cooked Rotis starting to float on top of the hot water. But it was only in 1940 when a saint by the name of Baba Narayan Hari Ji found this place and the Gurudwara was built. Food is made here in the same fashion ever since. I bid farewell to my new friend and headed back to the Lord Rama temple.
After visiting the temples, we went to the “Langar” hall where food was served daily to the hordes of pilgrims visiting the temple. On our way back down the stairs of the temple, I saw the main Chariot which was somewhat similar to what I had seen in Kullu. The Chariot here was secured inside a metal fence on all four sides, though one could easily see the entire structure. A small sign was also displayed nearby, stating that people were not to touch the Chariot. It was also told to me that the Chariot is only moved on the first day of Dussehra festival and on Basant Panchami. While most of the deities in the valley came here for the Dussehra festival, only two went to Kullu for the same.
We then passed the market and walked over a suspension bridge on which Buddhist prayer flags were tied from one end to the other. The other end of the bridge opened out into a large area which housed a few hotels as well as the car and tourist bus parking. The bus stand is also situated here, from where one can catch a bus towards Bhuntar and Kullu (frequency every half an hour till 6:30 p.m.). Direct buses to Haridwar and Amritsar ply from here as well.
Even though Manikaran is located well inside the valley, visitors from all over come here all year long. I soon realised that it was not just the healing properties of the waters of the hot springs that attracted people to this beautiful Himalayan village – It was something more than that, the energy of which is just unexplainable, something which can only be felt.