Since when I heard about the roofless shrine of Shikari Devi (10,768 ft), it actually gave me many sleepless nights and I wanted to be here as soon as I could. So I took a week’s off from my work and in the beginning of August last year set out to explore this mystically beautiful place. We had Bijli Mahadev, Rewalsar, Shikari Devi and Kamrunag on our schedule for this trip. Having explored the thundering ‘Bijli Mahadev’ (www.ghumakkar.com/2012/03/28/bijli-mahadev/) and the serene Rewalsar Lake (www.ghumakkar.com/…/rewalsar-a-sacred-confluence-of-multi-religions/), it was now turn for the much awaited Shikari Devi. Since, I was a day behind my actual schedule of the trip, so I had to drop Kamrunag Lake from my program this time (I later completed this trek last year on Christmas which can be read here…www.ghumakkar.com/2012/04/24/क्रिसमस-कमरुनाग/. I stayed overnight at my friend Bali’s house in Mandi who was going to be my companion on this trip. We started a bit late that morning because today’s program was only to explore the beautiful Janjehli Valley. By the time we reached at the bus station to take a bus to Janjehli, we got to know that a bus had just left and the next bus was supposed to be coming a bit late, this resulted in a sudden change of mood and Bali dropped the idea of going. So the second time in this trip, I was going to be a solo traveller. So I took the bus and set out on this expedition. The road to Janjehli is bad at some patches, our bus also got punctured at Thunag which resulted in further delay to reach Janjehli.
Janjehli (2150 mt), a small but captivating village around 80 km from Mandi is a paradise for hikers and nature lovers. It is the base for the trek to Shikari Devi Temple, 16 km up from here. Tall deodar trees, apple orchards, lush green meadows, small beautiful streams and enchanting views all add to the beauty of this amazing and quite place. As this place is becoming popular among trekkers and nature lovers, a number of basic lodges/rest houses are coming up in this area. I had reached Janjehli before the sunset, so thought to visit Pandav Shila, an interesting village just 3 kms before Janjehli famous for a massive rock. As per the locals, the massive rock (Pandav Shila) is associated with pandavas and is said to be kept here by Bhima, one of the brothers who supposedly came to this area during their exile. To my surprise and as per the villagers, one can strangely move the massive rock only with a finger. I was very eager to try this natural wonder, though not with a finger but I managed to move this rock with both my hands. After trying my hand at Pandav Shila, I walked back to Janjehli enjoying the beautiful surroundings. I had my lunch cum dinner and explored local temples in Janjehli before going back to my lodge for a good night’s sleep with the sweet memories of the wanderings so far and the next day’s expedition to Shikari Devi.
The next day I got up early morning as I had to walk a lot to reach Shikari Devi Temple via Budha Kedar Cave and had to get down towards Karsog. When I stepped out of the lodge and enquired about the way to Shikari via Budha Kedar, I got a feeling that the way was through dense jungle with multiple trails at certain places which could be misleading and could make me go astray. Since I was alone and I had only today’s time to cover all this, so I decided to give the Budha Kedar Cave a miss this time and tried a convenient path which would go all along the roads. The way to the shrine through the road is around 16 km from Janjehli, one can also go by Bike/Jeep/Car, but the last few kilometers do give you a hard time as the road is in very bad condition (due to rains probably). Since there are hardly any shops between Janjehli to Shikari, it is important to keep eatables with you. I was lucky to find a small tea shop near Bhulah Nalah where I had my breakfast and moved ahead taking many shortcuts through the jungle which was quite an adventure and fun.
After 6 kilometres, you reach at Raigarh which is a crossroad between Janjehli and Karsog. This is where I came across some kids playing near their hut and on seeing me they ran into their hut and started peeking through as if I was an object of a wonder or an alien (I was actually an alien into their territory because it seemed to me that those kids could have hardly seen the world outside their territory. This was actually their entire world, so small but so beautiful). One road from here leads to Sanarli (12 km) and Shankar Dehra (10 Km) which later connects to Karsog Valley. From Janjehli It is a long, though an easy climb where you come across some beautiful green pastures and some wonderful views of the valley. When you reach at the footstep of Shikari, there are some shops selling offerings for the temple, it is a very steep climb till the shrine from here passing through nearly 1000 steps. The last few meters are so steep that one has to carefully watch their steps especially while coming down. Just below the main shrine, you again find an array of shops selling offerings and various souvenirs. The temple authorities have arranged some basic accommodation for the overnight stay of the pilgrims nearby.
The roofless shrine of Shikari Devi is an ancient structure believed to be from the time of the pandavas who came in this region during their exile. Shikari at a height of 10,768 ft above sea level is considered to be the highest peak in the entire Mandi district and offers amazing views of the valley on a clear day. It is also believed that during the winters when the entire surrounding is highly covered under thick snow, the main shrine surprisingly gathers no snow at all. The Goddess at the temple is actually Kali who is worshiped in the form of Shikari Devi (literally means Hunter Goddess). It is believed that the goddess was mainly worshiped by hunters and she would protect them from any attacks or any other dangers befalling on them. As per the temple priest, the goddess loves hunting and asks for sacrifice which was quite visible as locals were coming with goats/sheep as offering to the deity. There was a special place for making animal sacrifices outside the premises. Animal sacrifice (or killing) is one thing that makes me feel very sad especially about this beautiful land which is known as ‘Dev Bhumi’ (The land of the Gods). Personally I am strongly against this inhuman tradition which results in killing of innocent animals in the name of religion to appease Gods. How can we be so inhuman to take away the life of these living creatures that too so mercilessly like devils? I do not think that any true God will ever be happy with such devotees and their offerings. Every year, many such killings take place in various temples in Himachal Pradesh and Uttrakhand apart from many other temples in India. During one of my trip to Assam, I was shocked to see the animal sacrifice at the most revered Kamakhya Temple where they were brutally chopping the buffalos, goats, pigeons etc and all my feelings of sanctity and devotion to that place just vanished in few seconds after that butchery show. By this I do not intend to hurt anybody’s religious sentiments but it is just a part of my travel experience that I thought was important for me to share with fellow ghumakkars. But I see a positive wave of change in some parts where they have completely banned the animal sacrifice with the support of the authorities, local people and some non-profit organisations working for animal rights, it gives me a feeling that with the collective efforts and mass awareness we will gradually abolish this social evil like we did with others.
Last day for the poor goat…preparation for sacrifice…
The dense mist at the shrine had engulfed the entire surrounding, so I missed the wonderful views of the nearby peaks from this height (yet another chance in disguise to visit this again). I spent around one hour exploring the temple and relaxing in the peaceful atmosphere. Now it was time for me to leave as I had to return back home. While returning back, I had planned that I would get down towards Karsog and take a bus to Shimla and then to Delhi. There were two ways: 1) The same route till Raigarh and then towards Karsog via Sanarli and 2) The one through the dense forest which as per locals was a bit difficult as we had high chances of getting lost. After few minutes of tussle between the mind and the heart, I opted for the second route. Though initially with beautiful views of the pastures and flowers, the jungle started getting a bit confusing at points where there were several trails and I had to choose the correct path out of these. At one point, I picked this trail enjoying the natural beauty and as I was moving further the trail was seemingly disappearing. At this time, I rose my head and looked around and to my surprise all the trails (actually no trail, only the passages created by rain and tree leaves) were looking alike. I looked back and forth, up and down a bit frightened, the jungle now was looking scary with strange sheer sounds of the tree bugs.
Disoriented, with mixed feelings and helpless (as my mobile had no network and there was no sign of any human beings around), it took me some time to gather my senses and to think about getting out of this. Though I had experienced this earlier as well on my solo trip to McLeodganj where I was lost while wandering in the jungles near Dharamkot, I somehow managed to get out of this and felt delighted to see a way out. I am now able to relate myself sometime with some similar experiences especially when I watch the program ‘I shouldn’t be alive’ on Discovery Channel which shows the survival stories of the people. I am sure many others who would have experienced this ever will be able to better relate to this.
I encountered many such misleading trails on the way back untill I saw some local villagers who directed me to reach Shankar Dehra. On the way, I met some wonderful companions like some beautiful trails, some friendly villagers, green paddy fields and a lovely water stream which helped me to reach till human settlement.
Lust green paddy fields welcoming me into the Karsog Valley
I had started my day’s journey at 6:00 am and reached Sanarli at around 4:15 pm. Perhaps, the luck was favouring me today, as soon as I got down to the road-head a gentleman told me about a direct bus to Delhi from Karsog departing at 5 pm. So I moved towards Karsog bus station enjoying the beautiful valley on the way. I reached Karsog at 4:50 pm and was delighted to read sign board on the HPDTC bus saying ‘Karsog – Delhi’, got my ticket from the ticketing window and bade a good bye to Karsog Valley with a promise to come again (I recently explored this wonderful valley with some amazing temples).
I was dying of hunger while on the bus (the last meal was the breakfast near the temple), which was relieved when the bus stopped for a while in Shimla. I reached home the next morning by around 7 am and after freshening up, it was again race to the office, though quite hectic but I managed it somehow. This was surely the longest walk I have done so far and was an action packed, wonderful and a memorable experience for me along with lots of learning !!!