“You know what, I have never visited a Gurudwara” my cousin exclaimed as we were exploring Naggar in Himachal Pradesh. As we spoke, I realised that in the general direction of our next stop, there is a famous town called Manikaran that is an important religious site for people following both Hindu and Sikh religions. There are many legends surrounding Manikaran but of course, the most famous ones involve Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati or Shri Guru Nanak Ji visiting the area and performing a miracle. But, if you are a nature junkie, the easy accessibility of the hot springs on the banks of River Parvati, in addition to being close to Kasol (a heaven for backpackers) will surely entice you to visit the area.
We left Naggar around 11 am and reached Manikaran around 1:30pm. It is a beautiful area surrounded by the Himalayas on both sides with fast flowing River Parvati in the middle. After finding our way to the bridge that we needed to walk across River Parvati, we quickly went to the Gurudwara on the other side. As we walked on the bridge, we could see the steam coming from the hot springs near the Shiva temple.
A narrow passageway led us to the area where we had to leave our footwear in order to enter the prayer area. After storing our footwear, we walked up a flight of stairs and entered the prayer hall after making sure our heads were properly covered per tradition. It was a simple hall with an alter and a few decorations. Behind the alter, there were two people taking turns reading the holy book aloud. We sat for a few minutes taking in the atmosphere. As we left the prayer hall, we were given some of the oblation offerings to eat. Very yummy!
Next, we headed downstairs where we noticed the hall where langar was being served. Luckily, I had participated in langar a couple of times before, so knew some of the procedures. We picked up the required utensils and sat down. Shortly after, we were served some rice, lentils, etc. which we happily ate and thoroughly enjoyed. After cleaning the utensils, we started walking towards the Shiva temple located beside the Gurudwara.
On the way, there are hot spring bath areas for anyone who was interested in taking a dip. As with tradition, the men and the women bathing areas are separated. There is also a small temple where you can experience hot floors in that area. It was quite an experience to feel the hot floors underneath bare feet. We chose not to take a dip in the hot springs. After walking a few steps, we reached the Shiva temple.
At the Shiva temple, we noticed a small pond where the water from the hot springs was accessible. It was at this place where the food we ate at the langar was cooked. How cool! Many people bought small bags of lentils tied in cloth and tried to cook them in the hot water. I touched the water just to see how hot it was… the visible steam *should* have been an indicator… it was super hot! We then entered the small temple and paid our respects. As we walked around the temple, we could see the hot springs spouting steam on the banks of River Parvati. It was a fascinating sight to see.
Next, we decided to walk further down the street to visit the temple dedicated to Lord Ram which is equally famous. There are hot springs baths there as well. After visiting the temple and spending some time there, we headed back to the parking area and proceeded to our next stop. In all, we spent about 2 hours exploring a slice of the town of Manikaran.
Once we reached our destination, our host asked us how our Manikaran trip went. I told him it was okay, but that I was expecting more considering the ancient history of the area. Then, he reminded me – Manikaran has experienced a lot of natural disasters in the past few years but continues to thrive. After he mentioned that, I sat still and reflected on our experience. It was divine indeed and I was grateful I had a chance to be part of my cousin’s first Gurudwara experience where the food served in the langar was cooked in the most unique way and best of all, it was a place in the midst of the beautiful Himalayas.
It was amazing that we had a chance to experience the peace an area experiences after events that occur time and time again where it seems like God, nature and man are sorting out their differences!