Mountain Stories from Puling/Poling

Photo of Mountain Stories from Puling/Poling by akanksha siwach

I woke up around 6:30 AM to Shyam knocking at my door with a piping hot glass of tea. Groggily i wished him Good Morning when he told me to get out on the balcony and look around for the early morning magic! The mountains looming across the balcony had turned white overnight. It rained heavily but since Lamba Dug bickered so loud, everything around seemed to go mute! The streets were all glistening due to early morning drizzle and the sky was still packing up. My agenda for the day was to explore the villages on top. Swar Puling and Bhujling! ( how many ever i could explore)

Photo of Lohardi, Himachal Pradesh, India by akanksha siwach

Shyam asked me if i were going to be ok hiking alone? Finding it rather lame, I retorted “Of Course”! After beating around the bush he finally came to the point. ‘Akanksha Madam, why don’t you go along with these three men( my new neighbors who arrived the previous night) since they have a vehicle too. You can go up to Chena village and thereafter to Pulling and then further ahead to this hidden temple in the mountains where only Papa can take you all. He too is tagging along with them!” For me hiking has always been an experience of solitude. I wasn’t sure of doing it with these strangers with whom my last night conversation didn’t go so well’! But the rains outside kind of enticed me to give in to this kind offer and I was tempted to hike along with Uncle and listen to his stories from his Bakkarwal (Shephard) Days. While the other three men had an old officer from the state revenue and tax services, a lower rank official and a young driver. All three hailed from different parts of Himachal.I had met them the previous night and found one of them a little too social or friendly for my liking. He offered me to join them to sip on some locally brewed wine to which I politely declined! They had a big influence over the villagers for the locals who run their shops without authentic official documents were intimidated by their power and authority. Thinking of the power they had, i asked them if they could exercise a strict law in the village when it came to discarding waste and garbage for there were many who dumped it in the river right in front of me. With the power plant coming up at Lamba Dug, the river and the surrounding area had started to experience the consequences already and I feared this jewel losing its sanctity because of human greed and recklessness. I wasn’t given a very affirmative response!

Photo of Barot, Himachal Pradesh, India by akanksha siwach

We set out after breakfast for Chena Village as the men whom I was accompanying had work at the Power Plant Project. A massive tunnel was being made to divert the water from Lamba Dug to generate electricity. I decided to tag along the men instead of waiting in the car, to find out more about the upcoming power plant. I was zapped to learn that the project was sanctioned in 2006 and some 19 crores were invested while the project is still under construction in 2019 and almost 35 crores have already been spent! The electricity generated from here would be for export use and not for the state, for Himachal is pretty wealthy when it comes to its own resources! But Lamba Dug won’t be half as hearty as it is now and the towers and cables have had their own effects on the flora and fauna around. With the advances in technology and the increase of human needs, comes a heavy price that’s paid by nature! It just didn’t feel right!

Photo of Lohardi, Himachal Pradesh, India by akanksha siwach

While the road to Pulling was washed out at few bends, we decided to hike up to the village and then further ahead to the Pashakot Temple ( the last inhabited area in this part of Chota Bhanghal). While two of them sulked, I uttered ‘Thank You God” in my head! I know not everyone would agree with me on this but hiking in the rain in the mountains is just so hypnotic! We walked along the brimming river, crossing a bridge to get on the other side, to Pulling. The track was slushy but i loved the fleeting clouds that hovered around, making it pleasant to hike up. Pulling village houses almost 80 homes with mostly traditional architecture unlike Lohardi. The village even has a primary and secondary school. Most of the houses had a mandir in their courtyard with stacks of wood stocked up for later use, while mountain goats loitered around.This hamlet like most of the others too seemed to be influenced by the caste system. I asked Uncle if there was any demarcation of the area with respect to caste. He whispered softly and told me how the upper lanes in the village were inhabited by the higher castes ie The Rajputs and the lower lanes by the Scheduled Castes. My reaction was a tad bit less dramatic for this wasn’t the first time i’d heard something like this on my trip to Himachal.

Photo of Barot, Himachal Pradesh, India by akanksha siwach
Photo of Barot, Himachal Pradesh, India by akanksha siwach

While walking through the village lanes, i came across my favorite auntie from yesterday who was collecting fodder at Lohardi. She was carrying some wood on her head and walking towards us just when i screamed Hi with full exuberance. She smiled at me, looked down and just passed by in a rush. It took me awhile to understand why she wouldn’t recognize me! A little later I realized, perhaps it was the company of Thakurs that i was walking in! Though Uncle seemed really kind but the villagers are so loyal to their belief that the so called lower caste would himself won’t try to mingle around with the higher one. I walked ahead, feeling confused and pondering over the age old beliefs that were beyond my comprehension. Little did i know, some minutes later, there was some more in store for me!

Photo of Lohardi, Himachal Pradesh, India by akanksha siwach

We had now left the habitation behind and Lamba Dug hurried along with us, flowing on our left now. The rain had almost stopped and the clouds gently lifted up off the snowy peaks. One could see fire billowing out of a lone hut on the mountain on the other side of the river while tiny white dots specked the green patches. Uncle told me ‘You see, the bakkarwaal there is cooking his lunch and the tiny white dots were the white sheep grazing around” Uncle himself was a shepherd for almost 15 years and he humored me with his tales from then…how he would sell one goat for almost 20k and how he has lived in wilderness in Bada Banghal or even Dinosaur lake. We bumped into a woman who was looking for a goat. Uncle and her blabbered something in Himachali. I later got to know that she was looking for a goat to be offered as a giving at one of the temples! I wish I could show that woman the articles and videos that lead me to turn into a vegetarian this year! I cringed at the thought of the innocent animal being beheaded to please the local deity! But i guess somethings are best not questioned!

Photo of Barot, Himachal Pradesh, India by akanksha siwach

We were now bang on Lamba Dug. One or two shacks stood in the middle of nowhere. Uncle told me how women stayed in those to watch their crops from wild animals or monkeys! Just when i was thinking of how these hamlets are still in the grip of old age not so pragmatic norms, this kind of made me smile! Women in the mountains are always so inspiring. Leading the way, fearless and independent. People who glorify female solo traveling should come see how things work here.

I was famished and Lamba Dug decided to be my savior.

Photo of Barot, Himachal Pradesh, India by akanksha siwach

She quenched my thirst and gave that kick to climb the last bit of the uphill. Just when you hit the bridge, a trail goes right which leads to Danasur lake and the Bada Banghal region.We crossed the bridge and took a trail on the left to Pashakot. On our way i helped uncle plucking Lingdu for tonight’s dinner. After climbing some more slushy steps, we reached a meadow facing the snow clad mountains that boasts of bordering the Kullu Valley. Sitting there a few steps away from the temple, Uncle shared the folklore about Pashakot Temple.

Photo of Barot, Himachal Pradesh, India by akanksha siwach

The local deity Pashakot was actually regarded to be The God Of Bakkarwals or Shepherds. Pashu means animals and i’m guessing hence the name Pashakot! There was once a shepherd who lost one of his goats. He looked for it everywhere but was unable to find. Few days later he’d find her, shot up, ten times her size and there were days when he’d find her to be as small as a lamb. One day he walked up to the local deity and prayed to get his goat back, eventually leading to his wish getting fulfilled. The locals have deep rooted faith in the deity and many come walking from different parts of Himachal to give their offerings. Uncle gave his own example when Shyam was to get married and the rains played havoc the entire week. There were no signs of the weather becoming better and Uncle along with his family prayed at the temple and offered two goats for the same. The very next day the sun showed up until the wedding was done!

Photo of Lohardi, Himachal Pradesh, India by akanksha siwach

Guess what, it had stopped raining by now and the sun showed up again! I told Uncle, ‘ Pashakot Devta has been listening to your wish even today eh”!!

Of Their Vs My Faith!

Photo of Lohardi, Himachal Pradesh, India by akanksha siwach

While taking my shoes off ( in order to enter the temple), the young driver murmured…’Ma’am Uncle is saying, ladies aren’t allowed inside’!! Did I just hear that right! I couldn’t have trekked up all that distance to just stand at the door and watch these three men sit inside while I stood outside like an outcast! Meanwhile Uncle trying to avoid eye contact ( as though the ritual was his brainchild) I told them, with no iota of fear of being judged…:” Arey par mere date nahi hai abhi…I am not chumming”! Uncle clearly wasn’t comfortable on hearing that but somehow managed to tell me..’ Beta, Pashakot Devta is a brahmachari ( bachelor) therefore women are not allowed in his temple’! I retorted but only in my head this time “ But HanumanJi is a brahmachari too’!!

I didn’t want to argue..It was their belief..their deep rooted faith..I was an outsider visiting their village for just two days! Plus it was funny that i was fighting to get inside the temple! I, who rarely visits religious institutions! Why did i seem to care so much! Uncle told me to burn an incense stick and give it to him so that he could offer it on my behalf! I sat outside reflecting on this just when i saw two local couples sitting on the outside meadow, offering prayers and placing their incense sticks on a rock nearby!

Photo of Barot, Himachal Pradesh, India by akanksha siwach

Just when they were leaving, Uncle told them ‘ Wait up! Take some prasad and go!’ He walked up to them and distributed sweets to all four and they walked away! Finding this abnormal again, i asked the driver this time “ I understand those two women not coming inside, but why did the guys not get in the temple?” He whispered ‘ They are scheduled castes!’ This time around, the dramatic expression of WTF couldn’t help but show on my face”! Sadly the faith is so strong that sometimes even when the so called higher castes want to let them in, the SC’s themselves decline for the fear of being punished by the deity. In my heart, I quietly thanked Hanuman, the only God I am loyal to for being a tad bit reasonable or at least the rishi or devta who made us believe so!

Photo of Pashakot Temple, Mathi Bajgan, Himachal Pradesh, India by akanksha siwach

It was an astonishing coincidence that it started pouring the moment we reached the homestay and while we justtt started hiking, the rain had sobered to a slight drizzle in the morning to eventually wearing off and all that while we trekked, it remained so pleasant! While to some like me it was nothing more than the unpredictable erratic weather of Himachal for i were used to it by now but for many like Uncle, it was the magical powers of Pashakot Devta!

Photo of Barot, Himachal Pradesh, India by akanksha siwach

Well, whatever it might have been, the weather gods displaying their kindness or the local deity exercising his magical powers, in the end what mattered was the serene rains, soothing our frazzled nerves and the steaming hot cup of soup with spicy momos in this hamlet that was hustling with all the Mela vibes! Lohardi Mela had just begun and we probably were the first ones to inaugurate this eating stall!

I bade goodbye to the three men who gave me company for the hike and decided to take an umbrella and hike up to Swad Village. I hate the idea of going back to the room while i’m in the mountains. Romancing the village alleys and hopping from one hamlet to another has always been the agenda! And so I set out for Swad!

That beautiful hike in the rain all by myself deserves another post! So until next week ????


Photo of Lohardi, Himachal Pradesh, India by akanksha siwach

While heading back home!

Puling is a small village, some four kms ahead of Lohardi. There is an untarred road that goes up till the village but was blocked due to landslides during my trip. Nonetheless a short hike up from Lohardi to Puling is worth it.

Puling has almost 80 to 100 houses and a primary school as well. There are no homestays available here.

The village is at a height and is also the gateway to Chhota Bhangal region that leads to hikes like Dinosaur Lake and Bada Bhangal trek. These are long treks that can be done over 3 to 4 days.

A hike up to Pashakot Temple makes a good day hike. The views around the temple are simply breathtaking. Once you cross the village, keep walking along the river ( river would be on your left hand side) until you see a bridge. A well defined trail that goes on the right, just when you hit the bridge, takes you further up to Dinosaur Lake and Bada Banghal region.

While after crossing the bridge, there’s a small trail going on left, climbing up to a meadow. That’s where you’d find the temple.

One can hike up from Lohardi to Swar to Chena to Bhujling and end up in Puling thereafter for a wholesome experience.

Homestay at Lohardi…ThakurJi Homestay 9418770108

While I have mentioned about my personal experiences with locals about their beliefs regarding the caste and religion, it would be unfair to judge them or the place in a negative light. Each and every person I met was extremely warm and helpful and the societal vices that I’ve talked about don’t only exist in this area but the majority of the places in Himachal and Uttarakhand and of course many more places in India. I have only shared my story without any filters but it doesn’t change the fact that i as a solo traveler felt the safest in bus, village, during hikes or anywhere during my trip! There are times when you have to let go of certain things and look beyond things that we cannot relate to for we all come from different backgrounds!

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