Jotnu Pass - Manimahesh Trek

Manimahesh is the abode of Lord Shiva in the form of Mani - mahesh , reaching his abode, Kailash after a Circumambulation around the Chamba Kailash peak, by crossing over high altitude Jotnu pass or Dham ghodi pass is an adventurous and memorable experience

Jotnu Pass  - Manimahesh Trek
View of Manimahesh Lake

The mountains are calling and I must go”

                                                            John Muir -

It’s a highly compelling quote that says it all for many outdoor lovers, which may explain that you can't resist staying without them. So happened to me when I got a request from a group of ardent believers of Shiva and avid senior 7 trekkers aged 60 years from Bangalore and above to lead the group, who had successfully completed Amarnath, Mount Kailash - Mansarovar Yatra, Inner Kora Parikrama, a dozen times and who got motivated by other Abodes of  Lord Shiva - Kailash, to explore. The region was Himachal and Kinnaur!

After a consensus. we finalized the plan to start with High Attitude Jotnu Pass 14300 feet  -  Manimahesh Trek, Kinnaur Kailash 18,500 feet ( Pillar ) Trek, and Shrikhand Mahadev 17,200 feet Trek   or Shrikand  Mahadev  Trek in the month of June and July. It was a highly responsible job and really tough because all three were very challenging treks to attempt in one go, and considering the member's age group, where the right attitude, health conditions, and fitness levels are high criteria. 

After an overnight journey by train from Delhi, we reached Pathankot Cant Railway station, which is the nearest railhead. We followed the below itinerary for Jotnu Pass/Dham Ghodi Pass- Manimahesh  Trek 

Day - 01  Pathankot and drive to Bharmour (Distance 185 km 6 hours ) 

We started our journey after a breakfast of Parathas in a Dhaba. After 6 hours,0f scenic journey by road we reached Bharmour by afternoon. Located between the Pir Panjal and Dhauladhar range with Ravi and Chenab rivers flowing on both sides  We checked into a hotel. prebooked with basic amenities. After lunch, we rested for a while.

In addition to abundant alpine pastures, lovely apple orchards, Deodhar trees, and terraced farmlands, Bharmour is popularly known for its ancient temples. A cluster of 84 temples are collectively called ‘Chaurasi’, and this is a huge pull among locals and tourists. According to local folklore, Bharmour is supposed to belong to Lord Shiva, which is why Bharmour is sometimes also referred to as the Shiva Bhoomi – the abode of Lord Shiva and its residents as ‘Kailash Vasi’ – people of Kailash. The temple complex was at a walkable distance from our place of stay.

Chaurasi Temple And Tales 

Chaurasi temple complex comprises 84 big and small Shivlinga-style temples. The temple complex is said to have been built approximately in the 7th century, in a scenic backdrop of Bharmour,  although minor repairs have been made to the most temple over the years. The temple offers a scenic view of valleys and flowing streams.

Manimahesh Temple

Shikhara-style temple of Lord Manimahesh enshrined with a huge Shiva linga is located in the center of the Chaurasi temple complex. The legend has it that a group of 84 Siddhas who were traveling from Kurukshetra to Manimahesh (lake in the Pir Panjal range at Bharmour) halted here (at Chaurasi temple complex). The Siddhas fell in love with the solitude, calmness, and beauty of Bharmour and reconciled here in meditation.

Ganpati Temple

 It is dedicated to Lord Ganesha. The temple is placed at the entrance of the temple complex. It is believed that during Kira's invasion of Bharmour, the Ganpati temple was set on fire and the legs of the idol were mutilated. Today, the Ganpati temple is enshrined with a bronze, life-size idol of Ganesha that has both legs missing.

Dharamraj Temple

Situated on the northern corner of the Chaurasi temple complex, the temple is dedicated to Dharmeshvar Mahadev. The temple of ‘God of final justice’ Dharmaraj is called as Dhai-podi (two and a half steps) by the locals. There is a belief among the locals that each departing soul has to stand here in front of this temple and seek Dharamraj’s final permission to travel through the temple and dwell in the Shiva Loka (Shiva’s own country) after death.

Lakshana Devi Temple

Believed to be the oldest of all 84 temples in the complex, the temple is enshrined with four armed Mahishasuramardini form of Goddess Durga. The temple is beautifully made and has an immaculately carved entrance.

The temple ascribed to meruvarman is an exquisite specimen of Gabled pent roof temples in the region. The temple is Sandrara faces North and consists of a rectangular Sanctum preceded by an ablong triple bayed mandapa fronted by a pair of pillars. The pillars and ceiling of the mandapa and doorways with wooden construction. It is crowned by an impressive gabled trefoil arch with a figure of 12 armed Vishnu on Garuda his celestial vehicle. The Garbagriha enshrines a bronze idol of Mahishamardhini labeled Lakshana Devi. The doorway is decorated with artistic carvings and floral reliefs The temple is dated to Circa AD 700 and is declared as a protected monument by  Archeological Survey of India.

Narsingh Temple This temple has an awe-inspiring bronze idol of Narasimha, the half man-half lion incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

The location has so much positive vibes that we did not feel like returning back after the Aarti at 8 pm we, reached our hotel.

Day - 02      Bharmour – Brahmani - Bharmour - Campsite Lahal (12 Km Trek & 24 Km by Taxi)

Before heading to the mountains, we decided to go on an acclimatization walk to Baramani Mata Temple. We hired local sumo to drop us to a place called Lahal, from there temple is a 3 km trek. We passed through the trail full of pine and deodar trees, with hamlets located on a hilltop facing mountains.

According to a local legend and people believe that the Bharmour was called the Brahmapura after Bharmani Devi. When Lord Shiva went to Manimahesh Kailash granted a boon to goddess Bharmani Devi that all persons intending to go on pilgrimage to Manimahesh must have a dip in their holy pool. Failing this, their pilgrimage would not be acceptable to Lord Shiva. That’s by every visitor firstly take bath in Bharmani’s holy pool before Manimahesh Lake. 

The view of the Dhauladhar range with snowclad mountains was a pleasant sight.

Hookah the favorite pastime of Himachal folk

The view of the Dhauladhar range with snowclad mountains was a pleasant sight. We could even see the fascinating view of Budhal valley from Bharmani Devi Temple

According to a legend Goddess was residing at Bharmour in Chaurasi temple complex before the advent of pilgrims. When Lord Shiva first appeared in Bharmour, the Goddess shifted her seat to the hilltop known as Bharmani. Lord Shiva granted a boon to Bharmani Devi that all persons intending to go on pilgrimage to Manimahesh must have a dip in the Bharmani pool. Failing this, their pilgrimage would not be acceptable to Lord Shiva. Since then it is a ritual to visit Bharmani Devi, before the journey to Manimahesh.

After taking a dip in the ice-cold natural spring, we prayed obeisance to Lord Shiva and Bharmani Mata for a success.

After having prasad, as lunch at the temple we spent time till evening, later we walked to Bharmour and reached before dark. We repacked the rucksacks and slept early since we had to start early.

Day - 03      Lahal  - Kugti Village  -  Kartik Temple - Dalotu Camp (09Km Trek)

The morning we woke early, porters and guides were ready. We had a quick breakfast and started our journey. As per the itinerary, we had planned to go by vehicle beyond Hadsar and then commence the trek. The whole journey was through hills, parallel to the Chamba river. after Hadsar, we had a glimpse of snow-clad Chamba Kailash peak, It was indeed a rare sight, the mountain resembling the face of Lord Shiva.

The vehicle came to halt after, 17 km, the hilly road was broken due to rains. We decided to walk, carrying our rucksacks. After 1 hour of trek, we reached kugti village, located overlooking the valley. After crossing the river over the bridge we continued our journey.

Our guide Himveer took up to Kelang Wazir, which was a 4 km detour from the main trail. It is said that it is customary to pay obeisance to Lord Karthik Swamy before heading to Manimahesh.

After a steep climb, we reached the temple. The temple located at a scenic location, we had grand views of the valley, The trail from here bifurcates to Kugti pass leading to Lahaul valley.

We took the trail to the right, after a steep descent to the river bed, after crossing the bridge we entered the pine forest. One of the members walking in the front was fortunate to sight a brown bear, which was a common sight in the valley.

After a steep climb, we reach the campsite, Dolutu at 4 pm. Porters had reached the campsite well in advance, we were served hot tea and biscuits. Though it was bright in the day, there were little showers in the night as it was rainy season. After a hot dinner, we retired in our respective tents.

Day - 04     Dalotu  -  Padhar Goth -  Alyas Base Camp (07Km Trek)

We woke early, we were served hot tea. After packing our sacks and with breakfast of Aloo parathas we left camp at 8:00 am. The valley was bright, velvet green, the valley, and snow-clad peaks was a sight to behold. We walked behind Himveer, amidst a pine forest, after a steep descent reached the river valley.

The trail was a riot of colors, I stopped every 10 steps to capture the flowers in bloom. The colorful flowers were swaying in tune with the music of the flowing stream. I could see Pedicularis Punctata, Bistorta, silene Vulgaris, Morina Longifora, Selinum wallichianum, Anaphalis Royleana, and Geranium in full bloom.

After trekking for 5 hours we reached the Alyas Base Camp, popularly known as ABC which is Base camp for Jotnu Pass. Though the Pass was, ahead, due to water source guides chose this place. The night was chilly, with stars for the company. All the members were, full of energy and enthusiastic to cross pass the next day. After a hot soup, followed by dinner we retired for the day.

Day - 05     ABC - Jotnu  Pass - Manimahesh Dham

Early morning we woke up early, after stuffing Aloo Parathas and Pickle, carrying pack lunch we walked slowly with the help of headlamps. After walking for an hour the difficult part of the trek, a steep climb from Hanuman Mandir to the huge boulder zone was extremely demanding and risky. The moraine, with hard ice, was slippery. Traversing the huge boulder zone was difficult to part. The danger of falling rocks, Himveer repeatedly told that to watch for boulders which often slip and if you are not cautious enough, you might end up losing a tooth or two. He gave a few incidents with previous groups.

The last one kilometer or so is nothing less than climbing a small mountain. Before the climb, we took a break for lunch, as everyone was hungry. We had to make way up the precarious scree, which was dragging us back every time you lift your step to move forward. All this took us about two hours, depending upon your skill and individuals walking pace. Our guide was really surprised by our group's fitness levels. 

The view atop the pass was awe-inspiring, worth every drop of our sweat. You got to see a vast field of snow guarded by the Kuja Peak. Himveer added that the peak is inclined towards the glacier and pointed at yet another pass called chobu Pass, that connects the valley. As a custom, and due respect to Mountain gods, we did puja, with chanting rudram and congratulated each other. 

   

We meditated for a while and then started descending into the valley. However, the troubles were not yet over. The descent from the top was steep and slippery, literally a zig-zag path with scree and ice. We could hear huge boulders rolling down, into the valley from the adjacent rocky peak. Himveer gave instructions that in case of rockfall, not to get panic, just cling to the feet of the Kailash Peak because that’s the safe way to protect ourselves. After a long walk of a couple of kilometers, we slid our steep ice patch inclined 40 degrees. It was fun, though our pants got wet .!

  

We rested for a few minutes, in the meanwhile, the pass was fully covered with rising mist. Himveer said laughing ' Himalay ka Mausam Aur Mumbai ka fashion Ek hi hai, badalta rehtha hai ' .The weather was getting worse, we thanked god again for being courteous with us. We walked on the lateral moraine and then reached Kamal Kund. The water of the lake is said to have medicinal properties and auspicious. We sat beside the emerald lake and meditated for a while. One of the members Ramaswamy took, a dip in the ice-cold water of the pond. We walk down on the boulders and passed through Shiva Kalotri, a natural spring, and quenched our thirst here.

From here the trail, on the right side of the glacier goes down to Dhancho, we crossed the river over a makeshift bridge and walked on the left bank. After walking for an hour we reached the trail going up to Manimahesh. The whole valley was covered with mist. From here the shrine was 3 km, the rising mist from the valley was a great sight, we were excited, I saw young pilgrims, who had started from dancho probably morning few chanting and few gasping for breath with every step.

After 30 minutes of leisure walk on the zig-zag path, we reached the Manimahesh shrine in dark. We rested in a hut, with basic amenities. The night was cold, we were served with hot dinner, Rajma, and Chawal. We were chatting till midnight, though all were tired. Finally, we slept around 12.45 in midnight.

Day 06: Manimahesh Dham to Bharmour Enroute Dhancho

Though we slept late, we woke up at 5:00 Am in dark, before sunrise. We took a dip in the lake, visited the roofless temple, with a trident of Shiva. We chanted Maha Mruthyunjaya mantra beside the lake. Manimahesh lake is situated below Manimahesh Kailash. Lord Shiva is believed to reside on this snow-covered mountain. The sun rays kissed the tip of the Kailash peak and tip glowed like a pearl - synonymously with name mani - mahesh dwelling on the peak. The light was divine, a perfect silhouette, a glorious moment to cherish for a lifetime.

The lake and peak are considered sacred and a fair called Manimahesh yatra is held at the lake every year in the month of August and September; the yatra coinciding with Janamastmi to Radhastami festival. It is believed that on this occasion both Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati take bath in the Lake. For this holy moment lakhs of devotees visit across globe to take a holy dip in the Manimahesh Lake.

After breakfast, at Dhaba, we started the descent. The serpentine route was tiring. The stream which was flowing small looked wild, we crossed bridges and after walking for 4 hours we reached the road head 4:00 pm. The porters had reached well before us and were waiting for us. as usual.

We all thanked porters for all help. By that time, the vehicle arrived on time, After a short break for tea and traveling for about 40 minutes we reached Bharmour at 6 pm. We could hear the sound of the bells at the temple, we had reached well before the aarthi time.!. We felt that Lord Shiva had heard our prayers and thanked him once again. We literally felt, how true is the saying that ' faith can really move mountains '. !