Nestling in the lap of the Himalayas, Sarahan simply takes your breath away:
Situated at a height of 7,500 ft, 180 km from Shimla near the Nathpa-Jhakri hydroelectric project, the erstwhile summer capital of the princely state of Bushahar is a place endowed with natural beauty. As you step into Sarahan you are overwhelmed by the sight of snow-capped mountains, even in the summer. It is the ideal place for those wanting to escape from the oppressive heat of the plains and the noise of cities. It is said that once upon a time Banasur ruled this area of Kinnaur. He was so powerful that even the Pandavas had to change their route from here on the way to Badrinath. Nobody could defeat him. It was Maa Bhimakali who killed him in a fierce battle.
The fascinating Maa Bhimakali Temple, was built about 3,000 years ago. It is the main centre of attraction for tourists. Artefacts associated with the heritage of the place have been carefully preserved in the temple . There is also an ancient temple of Guru Lankara Vir on the Maa Bhimakali Temple premises. There is underground passage near Guru Lankara Vir Temple which has been closed now. The passage was built for the safety of the priest of the temple who used to come daily for worship from a nearby village. At that time there were evil forces at Shallabag, near Sarahan, which were opposed to worship at the temple and used to shoot arrows at the priest.
Sarahan has lovely walks and trails that meander through dense deodhar and oak forests.
Hawa Ghar, 1 km from here, has meadows, exotic flowers and deodhars . It was once a neglected place, but it is gradually turning into a big tourist draw.
Shanti Kunj, a heritage palace of Raja Padam Singh, lies amidst apple orchards . It was used as a summer retreat by the royal family. The raja was a popular ruler at that time. The primeval Devi Sharyeekoti Durga Temple, Situated at the height of 11,000 ft, 40 km from Sarahan, is the main place of pilgrimage in this area.
Srikhand (18,000 ft) is still a challenge for mountaineers. Atop Srikhand there is a Shivalinga which can be seen from Sarahan. A marvelous example of hill architecture, the temple complex at Sarahanis set against the incredibly beautiful backdrop of high ranges and forested slopes. Built in a mixture of the Hindu and Budhists styles, it was the temple of Bushair rulers of Rampur (Shimla).
The Stones Of Sarahan Soaked In History:
Location: Himachal Pradesh
Main Attraction: Bhimakali Temple, Shrikhand Peak, Lanka Vir Temple
Best Time To Visit: April To June & September To November
The History Of Stones:
This small village in the western Himalayas has a setting that only the Gods could have created. This was where Banasura of the leg-end ruled. One night his beautiful daughter, Usha, had a dream. She saw a prince more handsome and far stronger than any man. And when she woke, Usha pined for that prince and told her friend, Chitralekha, about him. Based on Usha’s vivid description, Chitralekha made his portrait. Partially consoled, Usha kept that picture close to her. Then Chitralekha vowed she would search the world over for that prince and bring him to Usha. For a long time, Chitralekha wandered till one day she saw Aniruddha, Lord Krishna’s son. Here was the prince of Usha’s dream! As Aniruddha slept, Chitralekha picked up the bed and brought him to Usha. But the moment Lord Krishna heard of his son’s abduction, he marched with his army against Usha’ s father. Banasura who hadn’t a clue what the battle was all about was defeated. And then the story of the dream was told. Magnanimous as ever, Lord Krishna married his son to Usha and as dowry gave back the defeated Banasura his kingdom of Shonitpur, which is regarded to be the present day Sarahan. Banasura could not have chosen a more beautiful place to rule. This small village in the western Himalayas has a setting that only the Gods could have created. Far below in the valley, and miles out of its source in Mansarovar, tumbles the river Sutlej. Across lies Shrikhand and the other snow covered peaks, some so sacred that none may climb them. It is a land closely connected with the epic Mahabharata and the exile of the Pandavas. Alongside Shrikhand is a huge Shivalinga, the Bhimadwar that is visible from Sarahan and is said to have been built by that mountain of a man, Bhima. Around Sarahan itself are fields and orchards, small villages and thick forests.
Legend Of Bhimakali:
Between the legend of Banasura and the present day, comes the presence of Bhimakali - which is what Sarahan is all about. Again in legend, there was a time when demons lorded over the Himalayas and harassed the Gods and the Rishis (saints). After a long sequence, led by Lord Vishnu, the Gods breathed fire and poured their strength to a focus. A huge flame rose and as the clouds of smoke dispersed, they saw that a young girl had taken birth. She was the first Shakti - “Adhishakti”. Hemkunt gave her a white tiger to ride on, Kuber gave her a crown, Varun gave her clothes and water. The other Gods gave her the Lotus, Garlands, a Conch, the Chakra and other powerful Devi, was to repeatedly take birth and destroy the demons. As Bhimakali, she appeared at Sarahan - the place is one of the major Shaktipeeths or Shaktipeethas or ‘Places of Strength’, where the Devi or Goddess appeared. While it was the local Pundits who spent hours with us narrating the legends, many are recorded in the ancient texts of the “Markandey Purana” and the “Durgaq Shaptshatti”.
Another Legend Connected To The Devi:
Ages back, another legend goes, the devotee, Bhimagiri, set out from Bengal to tour all the places sacred to Shiva and the Devi in the Himalayas. He carried just a staff and the image of the devi tucked in his matted locks. When he reached Sarahan, his staff sank deep in the ground and there lay buried the image of Bhimakali. She appeared to him and said that this was her true home and here she would live. Bhimagiri lodged himself in a cave on the hillside and after his death; it was decided to build a temple. A spot, some distance from the present complex, was chosen but every night the pile of construction material would mysteriously shift. The obvious message received, the temple was then built on the present site. As time passed and the mists of myth gave way to verifiable history, the beautiful spot of Sarahan became the capital of the princely state of Bushair. The Raja (king) moved here from Karmu, their original seat in the Baspa Valley. In the 18th century, he moved to the banks of the Sutlej and made Rampur, on the lower boundaries of the state, his capital. Bushair was regarded as one of the wealthiest states of the region and was a major entrepot for trade with Tibet, Ladakh, Kashmir and Khazakstan. But here legend creeps in again and the story is told of two brothers who set out from home. One night, as they slept, a boulder grew between them. In the morning, when one brother woke up, he couldn’t see the other. Thinking that he had left, his brother took a high road and began walking. After a somewhat tortuous sequence of events, he became the ruler of the area. The other one woke later and found his brother gone. He took the lower path and in time became the Rajpurohit (the head priest of the kingdom).
The Temple Features:
With interlocked wooden beams encasing Ashlar worked stone, the outer walls of the Sarahan temple complex encase roughly an acre of buildings and courtyards. On an edge, in the classical shikhara style of temples, is the one dedicated to Lord Narasingh (also spelt as Narasimha or Narusimha). And in the centre of the courtyard is a raised stone platform. Till its recent ‘straightening out’, this pointed towards the peaks of Shrikhand and the state of Kullu - a one time enemy of Bushair. After a hard stride over Masoi’s stone, comes the second courtyard and the right hand side is lined with rooms of the erstwhile rulers. There is a temple dedicated to Bhairon and then the main focus of the complex, the temple of Bhimakali. Now locked and used as a repository, the older temple has a weathered and distinguished look. During the devastating earthquake of 1905, it tilted towards a side but the inherent elasticity of the wood-beam structure prevented major damage. A later earthquake straightened the plumb to an extent. The foundations of this remarkable building are said to rest three-storeys deep, and now a disused tunnel connects it to the village of Ranwin, a kilometre away. Through this underground passage, the pundits would enter and leave the temple.
Rebuilding Of A New Structure:
Completed in 1943, by old temples side is the newer temple with a similar architectural pattern but with heavier carving on the woodwork and a fascinating roofline. Here, with a host of other deities, are two images of Bhimakali. The first portrays her as an unmarried maiden and the second as a mature woman. For Sarahan, at a height of 200 mts and 184-km from Shimla, if one were to use the phrase that the stones are soaked with history, it would hold perfectly true. From the time when Goddess Sati scattered her body over the land and her ear fell in Sarahan there are also flecks of blood and washes of legend. Every dawn brings lifting voices of the say’s first Aarti at the temple and the sound pours over the little villages, carries to the high mountains and its strength churns in the tumbling waters of the icy Sutlej.
Tales Woven Around Sarahan:
Centuries ago, the raja of Kullu declared war on Bushair. After a bloody battle, he was defeated and the dismembered head of its ruler was brought to Sarahan and placed on this stone platform. The defeated people of Kullu and the raja’s family asked for the return of the head so that they could perform the final rites. The ruler of Bushair laid three conditions before he would return the head - the land seized across the Sutlej would be retained, Kullu must promise to never again challenge its neighbour and the captured image of Lord Raghunath (the pattern Devta of Kullu) would not be returned. The defeated kingdom accepted all these conditions and in return only asked that Bushair celebrate the festival of Dussehra. This was accepted and Dussehra is now a major local festival. The image of Lord Raghunath was ceremoniously installed alongside that of Bhimakali. Then about a century ago, a new temple was built and here it presently rests. After this sanguinary story comes another. As one climbs the stairs from the first courtyard, passes the magnificent bras plate doors and enters a short hallway, there is a large flagstone on the floor. A few years back, all around this, smooth light grey Kota stone was laid. But his hunk of rough quartzite still dominates the middle. Kanwar Gopal Singh, scion of Bushair’s princely family who superintends the temple complex told the story. A tradition that still continues to an extent is that no individual should build a house similar in design or as grand as the temple or the ruler’s palace. In the village or Rohru, a man named Masoi decided that this unwritten code did not apply to his and built for himself a house inspired by the design of the Sarahan complex. This was taken as a sign of both sacrilege and revolt and an army detachment was sent to crush him. Masoi’s house was razed to the ground and this stone from his roof was brought and symbolically placed here. And every person entering the complex now walked over that stone and let everyone know that those who tried to rise above their appointed station would be crushed and trod upon for all times to come.
Trekking In Sarahan:
Sarahan is the base for some of Himachal's finest treks and is also the doorway to Kinnaur's untrammeled beauty. The more popular ones are those going to Badahal, Sangla and Shrikhand Peak. The treks are however open only between April and June and September-October.
HOW TO GET THERE:
- Air: The airport nearest to Sarahan is Jubbarhatti in Shimla. From Shimla, Sarahan is at a distance of 175-kms. One has to then take a bus or a private taxi to go to Sarahan.
- Rail : Another alternative to Sarahan is to take a train to Shimla and then take a private taxi or a bus run by the Himachal Pradesh Road Transport Corporation to Sarahan.
- Road: There is no airport or railway station at Sarahan; so, the only access is by road.
PLACES TO STAY:
Hotels Shrikhand: Himachal Tourism's Hotel Shrikhand is named after the majestic mountain that faces the hotel and 5,536m high Shrikhand peak. The building's architecture has drawn inspiration from the fascinating forms of the famous Bhimakali Temple. The rooms of the Shrikhand hotel over looks the majestic view of the Shrikhand peak and apple orchards.
Shrikhand Cottages: Two of the cottages are equipped with sitting rooms, one double bed room regular, and a kitchen. Rooms can also be hired separately. All rooms of the hotel have wall to wall carpeting. They are airy, spacious, well furnished and have attached baths with running hot and cold water facility. Colour TV with multi Channels. Parking within premises. Car Rental. Doctor on Call. Safe deposit. Hotel Restaurant: with a capacity of 50 people and serves delicious Indian, Chinese, Continental and Himachali Cuisine.
A Dedication to the Mother Goddess Bhimakali:
With its unusual architecture and wealth of wood carvings, Shri Bhima Kali temple at Sarahan is a major monument that is duplicated no where else in the erstwhile hill states. Dedicated to the mother Goddess BhimaKali presiding deity of the rulers of former Bushahr state, situated at 2150mtrs this magnificent temple is about 180 kms. from Shimla. With its capital at Shonitpur this former princely state was extended up yo entire area of Kinnaur where for sometimes lord Shiva disguised himself as Kirat. Today, the Shonitpur is known as Sarahan.Banasur, the ardent devotee of Lord Shiva, eldest among the one hundered sons of great oblative demon King Bali and the great grandson of Vishnu votary Prahlad, during the puranic age was the ruler of this princely state. Due to Usha-Anirudh affairs Lord Krishna fought here with him and in this battle Lord Shiva stood against the former. The legend goes that head of the defeated king Banasur was burried in front of the entry gate now marked as a raised platform to the first courtyard.Reaching a few steps up from the road to this paved courtyard pilgrims enter in to a diffrent world. After Banasur, pradyuman The incarnation of cupid and the son of lord Krishna Became the ruler of this kingdom. Since then this kingdom was governed uninterruptedly by the descendants of this dynasty till the end of the princely states in indipendent India.In the state capital this ruling family got constructed a splended temple palace complex and recogenised MotherGoddess BhimaKali as a presiding deity of the ruling house. The Goddess according to another legend was consecrated earlier in the wooden stick of a sage BhimGiri. Another hearsay about the manifestation of the Goddess is devoted to the Daksha-Yajna incident when the ear of the sati fell at this place and became a place of worship as a pitha-sathan. Presently in the form of a virgin the icon of this eternel Goddess is consecrated at the top storey of the new building. Below that storey the goddess as Parvati, the daughter of Himalaya is ensigned as a divine consort of Lord Shiva. Another three temple in this complex are dedicated to Lord Raghunathji, Narsinghji at and Patal Bhairva Ji - the guardian deity. Assn important deota often has another deota as its wazir and the wazir occupies a small temple adjoinind the main one or his image is placed near the door. Thus Maheshra of Shingra is wazir to the temple of Bhima Kali at Sarahan. According to a report an erratic rock stone of a roof of the house, fixed on the main enterance of this temple narrates he story of a royal traitor of 'thoru' village. Now under the chairmanship of present hon'ble chief minister of himachal pradesh Shri Virbhadar Singh the temple trust is working effectively and efficiently. Twelve ancient temples are included under the aegis of this trust.
The Stones Of Sarahan Soaked In History:
Sarahan, spectacularly located above the Sutlej river at an altitude of 1850 metres, is 180 kms from Shimla and 44 kms from Rampur.
Sarahan is an attractive town settled amidst apple orchards. Once the summer capital of the local Bhushar rajas, it has a palace complex and is now best known for its hill architecture. It is well known for the Bhimakali temple with its two wooden pagodas, a mixture of Hindu and Buddhist styles. Dedicated to goddess Durga (destroyer of the demons), until the 19th century it was a scene of human sacrifices, a practice now discontinued. The temple doors are made of fine silver, with panels depicting mythological subjects in the repouse techniques, made to order by Raja Shamshu Singh in the mid-19th century. The three storeyed temple houses the stairs on the lower floor; the first floor has a 200 year old gold image of goddess Bhimkali actively worshipped only during the Dassera festival, while the second floor has a second image where the daily early morning puja is carried out. The upper floors have balconies and windows with superb ornamental wood carving and silver work. A climb to the back of the temple is worth a visit for its picturesque view. On a clear day you can catch the fantastic scene of rolling fields and deep valleys with snow covered peaks from east to west. Legend: Sarahan was once ruled by King Banasura, who had a beautiful daughter Usha. One night, Usha dreamt of a handsome and strong prince. She narrated the dream to her friend Chitralekha. Based on her description, Chitralekha drew a portrait and vowed to search the world to find the prince for Usha. She searched for long, until one day she saw Aniruddha, Lord Krishna's son. Finally she had found Usha's dream prince. As Aniruddha slept, Chitralekha silently lifted his bed and carried him to Usha. The moment Lord Krishna heard about his son's abduction, he marched his army against Banasura, who was defeated in the battle. When the story of the dream was revealed to all, Krishna arranged for Aniruddha and Usha's marriage and also gave back Banasura his lost kingdom.
There are local buses daily between Shimla and Jeori (21 km), further there are local buses from Jeori to the army cantonment below Sarahan. The HPTDC has Hotel Srikhand on a superb hilltop site with rooms and dorms. There are also cheap temple rooms and rooms available with local families. The hotel will have a restaurant and if you are staying with a family, food will be taken care of. The local dhabas serve basic fare of rice, dal (lentils) and snacks. With a pleasant climate throughout the year, you can visit Sarahan any time you choose to. Plan an early morning visit to the temple for the morning prayers; the evening prayers are around 1900. It can get very cold in the winter so carry heavy woollens.
Sarahan is surrounded by high peaks and there is a pilgrimage route, encircling Shrikand Mahadev peak (5227 m), which takes the pilgrims seven days to go round. You can also take an easy five-day walk from Sarahan, along the old Hindustan to Tibet road, through the scenic Sutlej Valley. There are rest houses along this route at Chaura, Tranda, Paunda and Nechar. From Wangtu you can catch a bus to Shimla or Kalpa.
Remember to leave your shoes and all leather items with the attendant before entering the temple. Inside the temple, you are required to wear a saffron cap offered to you. Photography is allowed only in the exteriors of the temple. For more information on Himachal Pradesh (HP) Tourism the nearest office to contact is: Shimla : HP Tourism Office, The Mall, Shimla - 171 001. Tel: 0177 - 252 561 / 258 302 Fax: 0177 - 252 557 Manali: HP Tourism Office, The Mall, Manali - 175 131. Tel: 01902 - 53 531 Fax: 01902 - 52325 Dharamshala : HP Tourism Office, Kotwali Bazaar, Dharamshala - 176 215 Tel: 01892 - 24928 Fax: 01892 - 24212 New Delhi : HP Tourism Office, Chandralok Building, 36, Janpath, New Delhi - 110 001. Tel: 011 - 332 5320 / 4674 Fax: 011 - 731 072
Set against a spectacular backdrop, this unpretentious village of Sarahan in the Sutlej valley commands a wonderful view of the snow-capped mountains from east to west , and of rolling fields and deep valleys. This erstwhile summer capital of Rampur Bushahr, one of the biggest princely states in the Shimla Hills, is well known for its centuries old Bhimkali Temple. Situated on a small table-land above the valley, well over 2000 metres, Sarahan presents striking spectacle of snow-covered Himalayan ranges and a picture of unspoilt pastoral loveliness. It beholds the construction technic of more than 800 years old and also gives a good opportunity to study the western Himalayan architecture. For those who wish a while away from crowds and cacophony, and dream of rolling grassy downs, whiffs of fresh air, a quieter encounter with the elements away from public eyes, Sarahan is the place to be in.
With its two multi-tiered sanctuary towers, elegantly sloping slate-tiled roofs, and gleaming golden spires, Bhimkali Temple is the most majestic of the few early timber temples left in the Sutlej Valley - an area renowned for its unusual tradition of housing holy shrines on raised wooden platforms. It is the last temple in the Sutlej Valley to be served by Brahmin priests. This is the original shrine of the Goddess, and possesses the finest pair of silver doors in all Himachal, consisting of panels of mythological subjects in the repousse technique, made at the order of Raja Shamsher Singh in the mid-nineteenth century. The sanctum also contains a fabulous collection of Hindu as well as Buddhist bronzes. One of the most interesting structures of the timber-bonded style is Raja Bushahr Palace cum Temple Complex which has been described as one of the finest specimens of hill architecture. Almost 2000 years old, and like all buildings of the hill type, it is built of layers of rubble masonry and beams of cedar wood.
Some Religious & Historical places around Sarahan:
Raja ki bauli: It is just below the temple. In early days water from this waterbody was used for the worship of goddess Bhima kali and the royal family also used to take water from it for thier personal use.
Sarahan Pheasantry: Above the temple complex about 0.5 km near the Nalati stadium is located a pheasant breeding centre. It forms home for the seven pheasant species including the state bird "Monal" which is a great attraction to the visitors.
Bhaba Valley: About 50 kms. from here a beautiful vallry along theBhaba river attractes the visitors. It has a panoramic landscape, reservoir, lake and alpine meadows and is the base route for famous track route to Pin valley in spiti. Link road to valley orriginates at "Wangtu" Sarahan is the gateway to the tribal belt interesting trekking routs start from here. Permits for foreigners visiting Kinnaur and Spiti are available from the offices of R.C Himachal Pradesh, Himachal Bhawan 27, Sikandra Road, New Delhi-110001. D.C's of Shimla, Kinnaur (at Recong peo), Lahaul Spiti (Keylong) and Kullu. SDMS of Shimla, Rampur, Nichar, Kalpa, Kaza, Keylong, Udaipur. ADMS of Shimla & Kinnaur also issue these permits.
Rampur: Situated 130 kms. away from Shimla and just 40 kms. from Sarahan, built by the banks of the river Satluj, with its churning waters, lies Rampur, the capital of the erstwhile Bushahr State now existed sub divisional headquarters. This was once a major stopover on the old trade routs to Kinnaur, Tibewt, Ladakh and China in addition it was also a center for trade among Kashmir, Bhutan, Kashgar and Yarkand. Now the biggest commercial town for the hills. The lavi fair is held here every autumn and fag festival in spring. The town has a variety of temples. Its old Hindu and Buddhists Shrines include a large number of it. A mixture of colonial and traditional Pahari styles, the Pdam Palace is one of its major attractions here. This heritage building, build in 1925 continues to be the private property of the erstwhile rulers of this region.