Bharmor is a small hill town in the district of Chamba and the starting point of Manimahesh Yatra. Bharmani Mata is the goddess of the place. One should visit Bharmani Mata before visiting Manimahesh. She is the Shakti of Manimahesh Shiva. So after reaching Bharmor I visited Bharmani mata temple, it was accessible by car as well as by foot, I took a shared jeep to reach there. There is another temple in Bharmor which is called Chaurashi temple. It is said that the temple was built 1400 years ago, it is at the center of the town. There was a fair during that time when I visited Chaurashi temple.
In the premises of the Chaurashi temple there were several small temples. Chaurashi means eighty-four. I visited Shiva temple, Ganapati temple and few other temples. I took several photos of the temples and the idols. When I entered the Narasimha temple I asked the priest if I could take a photo, but he denied, I bowed and put a ten rupees note in the donation box and came out.
A wicked idea came into my mind. I thought I must take a photo of Narasimha from outside zooming my camera lens hiding behind the eyes of the priest. I took the photo. Then a strange incident happened. I could not take a single photo after that in the temple yard. My camera showed that the memory card was full. I remembered that I had forgotten to clean the memory card of my camera before this trip. One can say this was a coincidence. But I was scared. How could I take photos after this, the main part of the journey was still left for which I had been craving for long ago.
Eventually I found a man with a computer doing photo editing in a shop in the market. I asked him to clear out my memory card. He did so, though I lost some of my photos of Bharmoni mata temple. I felt relieved and thanked God that if it had happened on the way to Manimahesh, it would become a disaster for me as I could not get even a single snap of the places till I reached Dalhausie. Manimahesh was one of the most difficult pilgrimage and I could not think of going there for the second time in my life at this age.
After that experience I never try to take a photo of any idol where taking photo is prohibited. One may call me superstitious but I am not ashamed to say that I am superstitious when I am traveling to Himalayas and I do not want to take any risk with anything. If I don’t take a photo of an idol it does not matter much to me because my intention is to see the places and the beauty of the nature. I keep the images of those gods in the memory card of my mind with due reverence. I consider Himalayas is itself a god. Going there is always a pilgrimage to me.
Lachen is a small village in North Siikim. People come here not only for its natural beauty, but also to halt one night here to go to the holy lake of Gurudongmar. I visited Lachen few years ago, but I could not reach Gurudongmar due to heavy snowfall. When I suddenly planned to visit Dzongu I thought I should try again to visit Gurudongmar lake. So, from Dzongu I hired a taxi which dropped me at Lachen.
I reached Lachen at 1 PM. I did not have any previous booking for accommodation. It was the season of Durga Puja, so there was a huge rush of Bengali tourists in Sikkim. Though Gurudongmar is not very much popular due to its altitude, many people do not feel comfortable at the high altitude of 17,800 ft, but still there were many groups of traveler. Not many hotels were there in Lachen, so getting down from the car I entered into a hotel which was in front of me. The owner was not there. A hotel stuff was there, he called up the owner. The owner was a young fellow. He said that his hotel was completely booked but he could accommodate me in their house. There was a home-stay run by his mother.
The home-stay was also booked but the lady somehow managed a room for me. We were of the same age. When she came to know that I have severe pain in my legs and knees, she massaged hot oil mixed with local herbs for a long time sitting beside the fireplace in their living room. It worked miraculously. I felt very much comfortable after that. A neighbour woman came there to talk to her. When she learnt that I wished to visit Gurudongmar lake next day, she arranged a Scrorpio car at a reasonable price for me talking to her husband. She was very young and never came down from the hilly region. She asked me lots of questions about my city, she was surprised to know that no one in Kolkata lived in wooden house. I had Sikkimese cuisine there cooked by my home stay owner.
Next morning at 5 o’clock I went to Gurudongmar lake and came back in the evening. A group of visitors from Assam was there, the lady of the home-stay was busy preparing food for them. Her grand daughter was helping her who came from Gangtok with her brother in law. Her brother in law was surprised to hear that I came all alone. He rebuked me for taking such kind of risk and advised me to come with someone next time. He eagerly arranged my return to Mangan next morning, and while leaving he warned me that if I would come with someone then only I would be accommodated.
I boarded a shared jeep from Devgram with the intention to go to Gopeshwar. It had not been in my plan previously. But I understood, after staying one day at Helang, that it would not be easy for me to reach Chopta from there getting a seat in the bus or in a shared jeep in the middle of the way, for that I have to go either to Joshimath or to Gopeshwar. Gopeshwar was the better option for me being nearer to Chopta. So I told the driver of the jeep that I wanted to go to Gopeshwar. One fellow, who was in that jeep, heard our discussion and took initiative to stop a jeep on the way that plied between Joshimath to Chamoli so that I could reach Gopeshwar earlier. They transferred my luggage in that jeep. After reaching Chamoli I took another shared jeep for Gopeshwar, which was 25 kilometer away from there.
When I reached Gopeshwar it was almost dark. I asked the driver if it was the destination. He confirmed that it was the market and the taxi stand of Gopeshwar. The person who sat beside me in the jeep asked, ” Are you alone ?” I replied in affirmative. He became agitated and scolded me severely for coming alone and said that I had to come with a male guardian. When he knew that I did not have a male guardian to accompany me he himself took the responsibility and took me to the GMVN tourist rest house. He called the manager and told him to make an arrangement for my stay. After that he advised me to take shelter in the government rest houses always because that would be the safest place for a solo female traveler like me. I felt overwhelmed with his concern about me, as if he was a very close relative of mine. I shall remember him as long as I live.
Gopeshwar is famous for Gopinath temple. In the next morning I visited Gopinath Temple. The manager of the rest house informed me that the only bus for Chopta would start at 12 PM, if I wished to catch the bus I should book ticket from the ticket counter at 10 AM. After having early lunch I went to Chopta by the bus that went to Ukhimath.
Kerala is not only famous for its natural beauty and cultural activities but also for home-stays and Ayurvedic spas. When I planned for Kerala trip I thought we should stay, at least once, in a decent home-stay to experience their hospitality. So while going to Periyar I told our driver to take us to a home-stay. He had many acquaintances in Periyar. It was peak season being Christmas holiday, so there was a rush of tourists. One of his acquaintances agreed to accommodate us. The room was clean and large.
Periyar was the last destination of our trip. I had been tired of drinking coffee for more than a week. So I requested the owner of the home stay to give me a glass of black tea. His wife did not know how to make black tea. She did neither understand English nor Hindi, so I explained to her son how to make black tea. After some time her daughter brought a jug of black tea and some sugar in a separate pot. My son and I became very happy and drank the tea to our heart’s content after a long period.
We stayed there for two nights and whenever we asked for tea they gave us a jug full of tea and a separate container of sugar. I talked a lot with out hostess and exchanged information, thoughts and views about each others family, tradition and culture. Her daughter was our interpreter. The lady was a very simple but intelligent woman. They had few rooms for guests. All of their guests at that time were foreigners except us. They had a small garden where they grew cardamom, coffee, black pepper etc. She informed that in Kerala people grew spices for their daily consumption in their own garden. Malayalam cuisine is normally very spicy.
At the time of leaving when I asked what would be the charge for tea, the lady of the home-stay thought for a few moments and demanded only fifty rupees, she explained that for making a jug full of black tea she hardly needed a teaspoonful of CTC tea leaves and we took very little amount of sugar. We were happy. We enjoyed the time there very much.
When I reached Tosh it was raining with small particles of ice. I managed a room in a hotel very near to the taxi stand for the night halt. The room was good as per my expectation in such a remote place. I kept my luggage there. I could not stay in the room as there was nothing to do except lying on the bed and I did not want to sleep during daytime. I was offered by the hotel manager to sit beside the fireplace of the dining hall as I was partly drenched and was shivering with cold.
A man was sitting there, he did look neither elegant nor rich anyway, but I came to know that he owned the hotel and few other hotels also at very strategic points like this one. He and his manager were taking marijuana from a hush pipe ( chillum ) from time to time. Initially I could not realize what they were smoking, but later on I found whoever was coming taking a puff or two from the pipe in turn. I thought that it was too cold and probably it was necessary to take something for stimulation to bear such cold. Few boys came back after trekking and asked for a browny which looked like a small chocolate pastry. I became quite surprised when I knew each costs 500 rupees.
As it was raining continuously and there was no electricity so I could neither go outside for a walk nor lie in my room for rest. The whole day I sat idle beside the fire watching people having hush or marijuana in different forms or ways. All the boys, came there, were mostly from 20 to 35 years old. They were from Delhi or Chadigarh or Kerala. All of them were sober and very well behaved. I talked with them the whole day. During lunch a group of people came trekking from Barsaini. But they did not stay at Tosh, they had their lunch, and went back again wearing rain coats. Everyone considered it unnatural to come in the rain taking so much risk and hassle and not enjoying the surreal beauty of Tosh staying one night there. It started snowing heavily at around 6 o’clock. It was a magical experience. In the evening electricity was restored. I ordered my dinner. After dinner, while bidding good night to all, I told the boys in jest that whatever fresh air of Himalayas I had taken from the places before coming to Tosh all became futile after having so much passive smoking. They all laughed in amusement. Next morning was absolutely sunny and warm.
N.B. An appeal : A home stay owner of Parvati Valley expressed his deep regret about the spread and sell of illegal narcotics in this valley which is not only destroying the culture of the natives but also destroying the life of the youth of that area. They are becoming greedy as well as violent day by day and some of them are getting so much addicted to these that they are losing their mental balance. So I humbly request all Himalaya lovers not to promote or encourage this . Go to Parvati valley to enjoy its natural beauty and get addicted to it.
I did not have any idea that the motorable road would end 2 km before Kugti village, so I was a bit disappointed. I was hungry and tired after coming down from Manimahesh. I had my lunch from the langar at the entrance of the path which led to Kugti village. There was a small school. They allowed me to use their toilet. I reached the forest rest house which was at the entrance of the village Kugti, walking 2 kilometers with my rucksack on my back.
When I reached I was absolutely exhausted. I found 3 people sitting on the yard eating apples that grew in the garden of the rest house. They offered me apples, they were juicy and sweet. I told them that I need a room desperately. One of the three persons was from HP police department who was there on duty for the occasion of Manimahesh Yatra and another was from the maintenance department of HP forest rest houses who came to repair the solar heater of that forest rest house. They had been staying in the two rooms of the rest house that were habitable. Rest of the rooms were in broken condition. The 3rd person was a local and an acquaintance of them.
They called the caretaker of the forest rest house from the village, whose house was half kilometer away from the rest house, making a whistling sound that echoed in the mountain. That is the communication only system there. There was no mobile tower. Both of them were ready to share one room and spared the other room for me on condition that in the morning I would allow them to take hot water from my bathroom because there was no hot water facility in the toilet of the other room. After negotiating with the care taker, I ultimately got the room. I was very happy. The caretaker provided me dinner with roti and rajma curry. Rajma of Kugti is famous for its taste. Kugti is an Eco-village where only organic fertilizers are used for cultivation.
We were on our Lakshadweep cruise package. One day, when we went for dinner on the ship, a Punjabi lady told us that we were going to get Bengali food that day, rice and fish curry. We were not excited because it was expected from previous experiences that it would never be a Bengali cuisine. We took our food items from the counter. My son and I could not find any fish item. There was one non veg preparation which we suspected as meat. It was very fibrous and hard. We had a hot discussion on this issue that what kind of meat it was. Then after finishing the dinner I asked the attendants present there what it was. He informed that it was Tuna fish.
When we were coming out from the dinning hall after dinner, that Punjabi Lady met us again and asked how much did we like the authentic Bengali dish of rice and fish curry. We explained that we mostly eat sweet water fishes and our way of cooking is absolutely different, we could not even recognize what it was. She was a bit disappointed, then she specified that they had come back to the ship from the island Kavaratti on the last boat in the afternoon, and that fish had been carried on the same boat. She was a tall woman, she stretched her hands full to show how big the fish was. I later came across tuna fish at the market of Periyar though they were not that much big.