We reached Chamba bang in the middle of the Navratri festivities. Since roaming around any place in the midst of dense crowds is not to our liking, Abhishek and I decided to head off to Bharmour. We were not sure what to expect at Bharmour but somehow had a hunch that it would be quieter during this time.
I had heard about Bharmour a few times in my life, and given my low levels of attention at times, I have often confused it with Sirmour (a district located in the south-western region of Himachal Pradesh). Considering that I had been to neither place, each was as foreign as the other. I remember other times when people referred to Bharmour as an “Interior” place in Himachal. At such times, I would immediately look up the nearest available map to locate Bharmour, and that would lead to the familiar rush of adrenaline given how far it was. But then, all the eagerness would ebb within a short while. That is until now, the second week of October 2016, when I was finally headed to this “Interior” location.
We were happy to see that the road from Chamba towards Bharmour was in pretty decent shape with some good patches of tarmac. As we passed a few of the NHPC (National Hydroelectric Power Corporation) Chamera power houses, I attributed the state of the road to these crucial establishments. But soon enough, we saw an information board announcing the end of the NHPC Road and the start of the HPPWD (Himachal Pradesh Public Works Department) road. Abhishek and I jokingly looked at each other, wondering how the road would shape up after this “declaration” board. But we were in for a pleasant surprise as the road conditions didn’t deteriorate too much. Yes the road did narrow down a bit but it wasn’t too bad for Abhishek who is an experienced mountain driver. The gorge along which we were travelling got narrower and tighter as we kept going ahead and I thought that maybe it is this seemingly inaccessible appearance of the lands beyond that made certain mountain locations “Interior”.
We stopped for breakfast at a place called Raakh (literally meaning “ashes”) but fortunately there wasn’t anything calamity oriented at this place, so we were peacefully able to have Rajma Chaawal for breakfast. Again, this was not our first or the best choice for breakfast; however, we ate on considering we didn’t know how long the journey to Bharmour would take and what might be in store for us on a road that we were traveling on for the first time. The only concern at Raakh was that all shops and eateries were lined up along a narrow straight patch of road. And two big vehicles couldn’t cross each other side by side without brushing the corrugated tin awnings jutting out of the shops. The best way to avoid all traffic hassles at such a place was to responsibly park one’s vehicle around open areas available before or after the congested patch and walk into the market area. And since that’s what we had already done, we were able to roam around the small market area in peace, without any worries of other vehicles venting out their anger and frustration on our car.
As we moved along the road, the only landmark that sounded interesting was Khadamukh, for in the Himalayas, it’s pretty common for places to be named after some unique geological features in the vicinity. However, as we reached Khadamukh, I didn’t see any “Standing Face/Mouth”. All I could figure out was that this place served as the junction from where one road went to Bharmour while the other went to Holi. Incidentally, a direct tunnel has been (time and again) proposed straight from Holi to Baijnath (a famous pilgrimage center in the Kangra district). The fate of the tunnel is still not clear as surveys have been done and then redone quite a few times round. If and when the tunnel does come to life, it will serve as a crucial connection cutting down on many tiring hours and hundreds of kilometres of journey from the Kangra and nearby districts. Across the bridge at Khadamukh, the road climbed up and away from the river, going further deeper into narrow valleys.
Around 10 kms from Bharmour, a board announced “First view of Kailash Parvat”. It took me a little time to figure out the relevance and on asking Abhishek, I realised that Manimahesh Lake lay a little distance from Bharmour. And right across the Manimahesh Lake lay the sacred Manimahesh Kailash peak. I had heard about Manimahesh earlier but had never paid attention to the connection with Bharmour. As I looked ahead into the mountains, I could see a high snow-capped peak, partially obscured by clouds. I assumed that the semi-hidden peak towering in the distance must be the Manimahesh Kailash peak.
Now my excitement levels increased and I started researching about Bharmour. I discovered that Bharmour was the erstwhile capital of the rulers of this region (Maru Dynasty) and Chamba was apparently founded and made the capital only in 920 AD. And there was a legend that was even older – Lord Shiva’s connection with Bharmour and the sacred Manimahesh Lake. I was already excited with great enthusiasm rushing inside me and as we turned another corner on the road, suddenly Bharmour came into view. The town lay across a gradual slope in an area that was otherwise full of steep slopes. As I saw the high snow peaks all around and greenery on lower slopes, I realised how Gods as well as Kings must have found this place ideal to visit and settle down.
As we covered the last few kilometres to the main town, I kept scanning the entire area searching for some remnants of the majestic times that this erstwhile capital had seen. Though I couldn’t spot any monument of significant character, I thought that maybe the palace and other royal properties either lay hidden amongst the newer constructions or were located elsewhere along the mountains. There was no festive hustle bustle here as such and we were glad that we would be able to roam around peacefully without being overwhelmed by heavy crowds. The Bharmour market area was of typical mountain town nature – a small wide area serving as a bus stand but overcrowded with haphazardly parked cars and taxis, and pedestrians shuffling their way across the regular chaos. Beyond a grand entrance gate covered with statues of various Hindu Gods, a small road went towards the most famous landmark in Bharmour – Chaurasi Temple Complex (named after the 84 temples in the compound). The narrow lane leading to the temple had the standard eateries and shops selling religious wares, typical of temple towns across India.
The entrance gate of the Chaurasi Temple Complex looked very plain, considering its popularity and religious significance. We learnt that the previous gate (which was very elegant and adorned with exquisite carvings) was taken down and by the time a new one could be put up, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) prohibited any new constructions in the vicinity of the temple compound. Since the compound couldn’t be left without a gate, the best possible alternate arrangement was made. Along similar lines, I also got the answer to my concerns about not finding any royal looking properties – the palace was pulled down and a multi-storeyed government school was built in it’s place. Aaarghhh… What a waste of important historical, cultural and architectural assets!
Right across the entrance gate, one of the first things that catches the eye is a huge Deodar tree and an information board gives relevant numbers on the size and girth for the interested. Apparently, this is the only place to house a “Dharam Raj” temple dedicated to the well known “Always Truthful” Pandav prince Yudhishthir. There is a small courtyard adjoining the temple where supposedly a “Dharam Sabha” takes place for evaluating the goods and bads that have been committed in a person’s lifetime. We didn’t undertake the effort to visit all the 84 temples.
Our local friends informed us that Bharmour is the hub of intense activity only between the Janmashtami and Radhasthami period during which the Manimahesh Kailash Yatra takes place. Apart from this religious event, Bharmour has gradually faded away into the lost world. A vast majority of people are not aware of the other attractions that this place has to offer, such as the Ghared and Thalla waterfalls, and Kugti village, which also has more to offer apart from the Lord Kartikeya “Keylang” temple and the Manimahesh Parikrama start point that it is generally known for.
We didn’t particularly see any special arrangements being made for the upcoming Dussehra festival either and got a strange feeling that maybe with the Maru dynasty kings shifting their capital to Chamba, they had taken all the liveliness and charm of Bharmour away with them. And that now, Bharmour The Forgotten Capital eagerly waits to be explored and experienced anew, to make a comeback to people’s minds not just as an “Interior” place on the map, but as a destination which can offer more than just a stop on a widely popular religious journey.