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India: Himachal Pradesh: Dalhousie, Dharamshala, McLeodganj

Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India: Of Gods & Goddesses
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief

Brajeshwari Temple, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India

Out of 51 Shaktipeeths in India, Himachal Pradesh is privileged to have 5 of them. Legend has it that 51 different body parts of Goddess Sati, wife of Lord Shiva, fell in different regions of India and they were later worshipped as Shaktipeeths. Dharamshala is an ideal base to visit 4 of the 5 Shaktipeets, namely - Chintpurni, Chamunda, Brijeshwari & Jwalaji. The 5th is Naina Devi which is about a 4 hour drive from Dharamshala.

Bhagsunath Temple Premises, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India Along with my wife, Vrunda and cousin Ujwal and his wife Jaya, we planned to chill in Dharamshala. It was my belief that being amongst the hills, Dharamshala would be a cool place. I was totally wrong. I was there in the month of May and the city was sizzling. In fact, on one of the days, the temperature was over 41 degrees C. And to top it all, we were to move around in pursuit to please the various deities. Well, now that we were there, there was hardly any option.

Dharamshala has direct flights from Delhi. It's about an hour's flying time. As we get nearer to Dharamshala, the mountains offer good views. We landed at 1:30 PM. We would be in Himachal for 6 nights... 3 in Dharamshala, 1 in McLeodganj and 2 in Dalhousie. We had booked an Innova (popular MUV in India) cab. It would be at our disposal along with the driver. I think it's a good idea to have a car at your disposal. The public transport is there but not very efficient. The hilly roads add to the time taken to reach from point A to B.

For our stay in Dharamshala we had booked Mahindra Holiday Homes. Since Ujwal was a member of Mahindra Holidays, we could enjoy the privilege. The hotel was 5 kms from the city centre. Few rooms overlooked the peaks but mine was overlooking the city street... not a very encouraging view.

Brajeshwari Temple, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India Quickly we got ready to begin our excursions for the rest of the day. On agenda was a visit to Bhagsunath Temple. Though we would be crossing McLeodganj, we thought it prudent to enjoy McLeodganj separately. It called for a little back-tracking, but that was OK.

Bhagsunath Temple is a medieval temple 3 km east of Mcleodganj. The Bhagsu Waterfall is very near the Bhagsunath Temple and it is considered as one of the most beautiful streams of this region. The drop of the waterfall is about 30 feet during the monsoon season. However, to reach the waterfall, you would need to trek quite a bit; which frankly I avoided. It was quite OK a view from the temple premises itself. The base of the Dhauladhar valley is revered and considered holy. The water of this fall flows via the temple of Bhagsunath and drains into pools. The devotees take a holy dip in them.

Jiya Monastery, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India The next morning, post breakfast, began our journey. We would visit Norbulingka Institute, Aganzar Mahadev Temple, Gopalpur Zoo, Baijnath Shiva Temple, Jiya Monastery and Chamunda Temple. The sites all fall on the road to Manali – Baijnath Temple being the farthest at 50 kms from town.

On the outskirts of Dharamshala is Norbulingka. The institute is about keeping alive centuries old Tibetan traditions in content, form and process by providing apprenticeships in traditional Tibetan art forms. The institute is built in Tibetan architectural style and follows a ground plan based on the proportions of the deity of compassion and patron Bodhisattva of Tibet.

The Baijnath Shiva Temple has been continuously under worship ever since its construction in 1204 A.D. by two local merchants named Ahuka and Manyuka. The two long inscriptions in the porch of the temple indicate that a temple of Shiva existed on the spot even before the present one was constructed. The present temple is a beautiful example of the early medieval north Indian temple architecture known as Nagara style.

Litchies in Bloom, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India Chamunda Devi (Goddess) Temple is a renowned holy shrine of the Hindus. Located in Kangra district the temple is 10 kms. from Palampur, on the banks of Ban Ganga River. This ancient temple dates back to the 16th century. Chamunda Devi is believed to be the abode of 'Shiva and Shakti' and therefore the temple is also known as 'Chamunda Nandikeshwar Dham’.

Chamunda Devi is considered as the wrathful form of Durga, but at the same time, the Goddess is kind to her true devotees. The term 'Chamunda' has been derived from two words, 'Chanda' and 'Munda'. As per the legends, Durga made a Goddess with her power, to slay the demons, Chanda and Munda. With her immense power, the Goddess killed the demons. Goddess Durga became happy with the slaughter and blessed the goddess that she would be known and worshipped as Chamunda.

Bears, Gopalpur Zoo, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India Our pilgrimage would continue for the next day too. On schedule was a visit to the temples of Baglamukhi, Chintpurni, Jwalaji and Brajeshwari with a visit to the famous Kangra Fort. They all lie on the route to Chandigarh. The farthest being Chintpurni at 75 kms. from town.

Bagalamukhi is one of the ten forms of the wisdom Goddesses, symbolising the potent female primeval force. The name means one whose face has the power to capture or control. She thus represents the hypnotic power of the Goddess. Another interpretation translates her name as “crane faced”. Bagalamukhi has a golden complexion and her dress is yellow. She sits in a golden throne in the midst of an ocean of nectar full of yellow lotuses. A crescent moon adorns her head.

Chintpurni Devi is regarded as the Goddess who takes away all the worries of her devotees. The term 'Chhinnamastika' suggests 'without the head'. Here, the Goddess is depicted without her head in a pindi (phallic) form. As per one legend, at the time of self-sacrifice, part of Sati's feet fell at this place and subsequently, a temple was built. Another legend says that the Goddess appeared to slay two demons Shumbha and Nishumbha. After slaying the demons, the escorting friend of the Goddess asked for more blood and the goddess cut her head to quench her thirst for blood.

Kangra Fort, Kangra Valley, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India Jwala Devi, presides here in the form of flames. Due to this fact, the Goddess is also referred as the 'Flaming Goddess'. Positioned besides a cliff, Jwalamukhi Temple is built on a wooden platform in the Indo-Sikh style of architecture. The structural design of the temple is simple, but the religious aura makes it undoubtedly divine. The dome and spire of this temple are covered with gold. The main door of the shrine is plated with silver. In front of the main shrine, there is a huge brass bell that was presented by the King of Nepal.

In the early times, people tried to explore the fact behind these burning flames, but nothing substantial was made out. These flames are burning due to some natural jets of combustible gas. The temple came to be known as the Jwala Devi Mandir. In this temple, there is no idol because the Goddess is considered to be residing in the form of flames. This temple has nine ceaseless flames that are named as Mahakali, Annapurna, Chandi, Hinglaj, Vindhya Vasini, Mahalakshmi, Saraswati, Ambika and Anji Devi respectively.

Masroor Temple (Rock Cut Temple), Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India The Brajeshwari Devi temple, located in the old Kangra Township, is said to have been built over the charred breasts of Sati. Thus making it one of the Shaktipeeths. This shrine, once renowned for its great wealth, has been plundered relentlessly over the ages. The first of the plunderers was Mahmud of Ghazni, who looted it in 1009. A mosque was built on the ruins and a garrison was left behind. 35 years later, the local king regained its possession. The shrine was repaired and a replica of the idol was enshrined. The temple was filled with gold, silver and diamonds only to be ransacked again in 1360 by Firoz Tughlaq. Later, Emperor Akbar visited the shrine with his Dewan, Todar Mal and restored it to its former grandeur. The temple was razed to the ground by an earthquake in 1905, but a new one came up the very same year, thanks to the Kangra Restoration Committee.

The Kangra fort is right next to Kangra town. It stands on a steep rock in Purana Kangra (translates to Old Kangra) dominating the surrounding valley, built strategically at the confluence of Ban Ganga and Majhi rivers. It is said that Kangra belongs to one who owns the fort. The Kangra Fort was built by the royal Rajput family of Kangra State (the Katoch dynasty), which traces its origins to the ancient Trigarta Kingdom, mentioned in the Mahabharata epic. It is the largest fort in the Himalayas and probably the oldest dated fort in India. The fort of Kangra resisted Akbar's siege in 1615. However, Akbar's son Jehangir successfully subdued the fort in 1620, forcing the submission of the Raja of Chamba. Mughal Emperor Jehangir with the help of Suraj Mal garrisoned with his troops.

Masroor Temple (Rock Cut Temple), Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India The Katoch Kings repeatedly looted Mughal controlled regions, weakening the Mughal control and with the decline of Mughal power, Raja Sansar Chand-II in 1789 succeeded in recovering the ancient fort. Maharaja Sansar Chand fought multiple battles with Gurkhas on one side and Sikh King Maharaja Ranjit Singh on the other. Sansar Chand used to keep his neighboring Kings jailed, and this led to conspiracies against him. During a battle between the Sikhs and Katochs, the gates of the fort had been kept open for supplies. The Gurkha army entered the scarcely armed gates in 1806. This forced an alliance between Maharaja Sansar Chand and Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Subsequently in 1809 the Gurkha army was defeated and they had to retreat across Sutlej River. The Fort remained with the Katochs until 1828 when Ranjit Singh annexed it after Sansar Chand's death. The fort was finally taken by the British after the Sikh war of 1846. A British garrison occupied the fort until it was heavily damaged in an earthquake on the 4th of April, 1905.

War Memorial, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India We checked out the next morning. For our stay that night we had booked at Best Western Indraprastha Resort & Spa a few kms. from McLeodganj. Before checking in that afternoon, we had made plans to visit the Rock Cut Temple (Masroor Temple), HPCA Stadium and the War Memorial. Masroor Temple was 50 kms from town and the latter two were in Dharamshala itself.

The Masroor Rock Cut Temple or Himalayan Pyramid is a complex of temples located in Masroor in Kangra Valley. It is now known as 'Thakurwada', meaning "Vaishnavite Temples". It is a complex of monolithic rock cut temples, in shikhara (raising tower) style of classical Indian architectural style, dated by art historians to 6th to 8th centuries. Such an architectural style is unique to the northern part of India while there are many places in western and southern India where such rock-cut structures exist at number of locations. There is a lake or pond called Masroor Lake in front of this edifice which shows partial reflection of the temples. A legend attributes its construction to the Pandavas of Mahabharata fame who resided here during their "incognito" exile from their kingdom.

HPCA Stadium, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India The temple complex is on a rocky ridge over which an array of monolithic (made of a single block of stone) temples have been carved which resemble the monolithic temples of Mahabalipuram, Ellora and Dhamnar caves. The central temple of this complex, called the Thakurdwara, has extensive well-crafted carvings. This shrine facing east has idols of Ram, Lakshman and Sita.

The War Memorial is dedicated to those brave soldiers from Himachal Pradesh who laid their lives during the era after independence. Built after the Indo-Pak and Indo-China war, a trip to the War Memorial instills a sense of patriotism and provides a recollection of the past. It reminds tourists of the struggle and pain that each of these soldiers endured during the time of post-independence. Care has been taken by the Government and every minute detail has been looked into with much concern while creating this memorial.

Jiya Monastery, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India To symbolize the fact that the soldiers would continue to remain immortal in our hearts, the walls of the memorial are made in the shape of the curve that signifies the continuity of life. There are also a number of inscriptions that are dated back for centuries. Overall it is a fantastic experience for any tourist who walks into this place of such vast history and legacy. For patriots, it sends a shiver down the spine standing in the presence of brave souls who more than willingly sacrificed their lives for the sake of the nation. There is no better pride that someone could attain than the pride of serving the nation, and that is exactly the fact that this memorial interprets in every sense.

With the visit we concluded our Dharamshala visit. After lunch in a local restaurant, we proceeded to our resort near McLeodganj.

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