All right. Let’s pick the thread from where I left that day. That is, from the foot of the trek that takes us to Pohlani Devi temple, the eight century old shrine, of Goddess Kali. Not that used to trekking these days, I was huffing and puffing my way for the initial 30 minutes. But as the crisp, pine air went in, in gulps, I found my footing. I didn’t regret all the trudging, and rightly so.
The hill town of Dalhousie looked like a long lost wonder from the trek, while the road that I had driven up resembled a long grey snake, skirting its way through mist and sunlight. A heady mix that’s rarely seen. Taking off my jacket and some swigs of water, I continued. Not the Twilight kind, but yes, there were meadows of wild flowers on one side of the trek. Enchanting.
As for the other side, one fumble and you could land some hundreds of feet below. Humtpy dumpty kind.
A man who was coming down the trek told me that he couldn’t find the temple! While it caused some misapprehension, I continued walking. Some two hours up the trek, just when I thought I was all alone there, I heard kids’ shouting in glee. To this day, I cannot fathom how or why a bunch of kids in their school uniform reached there. What a choice for a playground!
Happily posing for photos, they continued with whatever they were playing. Another 30 minutes of the trek, and I was walking parallel to the clouds. Hopping up a rock, I could see the tiny hamlets of Chamba in the distance. On the horizon were snow laden peaks of the Himalayas, the ones around Kashmir.
A chill was settling in the air, just around the time I reached the temple.
Call me a believer in whims or a chaser of dreams, there was a presence so surreal at this place that I was surprised. While the temple stood on a peak, making for an abrupt halt in the landscape, there was a huge statuette of the Goddess on a hill further up from here. I would have climbed up that one too, if only the priest hadn’t warned me not to. Going by what he said, the other hill was a spot so sacred that none but the Goddess only has access to it.
I sat inside the temple compound that was nothing but a small idol, hundreds of trishuls (tridents), and iron railings for a boundary. Breathing in a divinity I had never before found. These were the same hills where the Goddess, supposedly, slayed hundreds of demons to ease the woes of the people of Chamba who would cross the hills every now and then, only to be killed by the demons. You can read the whole story here.
While all the walking had made me ravenously hungry, I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw a little tea point near the temple.
And in a continuation of surprise, the place had electricity too! The happily grinning old man took a little than 10 minutes to get me a plate of hot Maggi, crispy pakoras, and a cup of tea. He also had those glass jars that so remind you of the old world. Full of homemade sweets, ladus and barfis to be precise. I got it all packed.
I was joined at the table by an elderly couple, keen travellers, from what I could gather by their stories of Kerala, Switzerland, Nepal and more. Happily talking, they seemed quite impressed by what I do for a living. Travel writing as they called it. As we sat chatting happily, notes of a bamboo flute caught my attention. That was when we noticed a procession of people coming to the temple from the other side of the temple.
Ah! A marriage procession. The groom and bride were led into the temple to seek Goddess’ blessings, while the others were quite into a mood of merrymaking. While the ladies sat in the sun, glittering, owing to the interesting jewellery that they had on, men lazed on the other side. As for the kids, it seemed like a gala time, for they were all over the hills, laughing, shrieking, running in delight.
Eh.. what a day. The only thing that I rue to this day was that I couldn’t go to Chamba back then. A place that I’ve heard is so ardently in love with the past that you’ll fall in love with it. Some day soon perhaps. Maybe then, I could partake in a wedding procession that I so keenly saw.
Come back soon. For I’ll be letting you into my stories of paragliding at Bir and Billing, of prayer flags and Tibetan processions of Dharmasala. And yes, of the old lady who makes world’s best momos at McLeodganj.
Uber elusive as she is, you could bump into her at the corner beneath Jimmy’s Kitchen. Only and if only, you’re really lucky.
Story by – Shikha Gautam