Parasher and Rewalsar- The hidden treasures of Mandi
So this winter season me and my friend decided to spend the end of the year away from the hustle and bustle of the city and head over to the mountains on a shoestring budget. Since both of us are originally from the hills we always end up finding solace in the hills.
We started our trip from Delhi via the overnight Volvo from ISBT. HRTC has the best service and I would never think of travelling to Himachal via any other means of public transport. We left ISBT at around 8pm and reached our destination Mandi at around 5:30am in the morning. Himachal is very safe for female travellers therefore odd timings is never an issue when in Himachal. We decided to have a warm cup of tea and some biscuits before heading to our destination Rewalsar. After having the sweet milky tea we took a local bus towards Rewalsar. Local transport is very well developed and the safest and quickest way to get around. Bus service is frequent between Mandi and Rewalsar. We decided to stay in Rewalsar because we were looking forward to a few days of solace away from the city life. We reached Rewalsar within the next hour. It was a really pretty view all along and the school children getting off and on the bus made the journey really amazing and reminded me of my school days. The views are scenic as you pass several small villages and beautiful hill houses before reaching Rewalsar. Such pretty views for just Rs.17 each!
We reached the small sleepy town of Rewalsar and got off the bus. The bus stop is not very well defined and therefore you rely on the local’s help to tell you when to get down and of course find your way to enter the town. It’s a small non-descript lane and just a few steps to get to the main area of the city. However you do not need to worry as the people in Himachal are super friendly and kind.
We had booked our stay at the Rewalsar Inn, a government rest house run by the Himachal Tourism Department (HPTDC). The rooms are clean and the hotel staff extremely helpful without being too nosy. It is not a luxury stay but covered just the basic- well lit rooms, hot water, spectacular views and super clean washrooms and bed sheets. Just perfect for someone travelling on a shoestring budget! Moreover Rewalsar does not have too many options to stay so this was one of our best deals for a safe budget stay. Of course there are rooms with more facilities at a slightly higher budget as well. Accommodation is also available at the monastery guest houses – both for family and backpackers .Suit yourself!
After a nice hot shower and lovely breakfast we decided to not waste the day resting away. We walked up to the Rewalsar Lake towards the statue of Padmasambhava- The statue that defines this town and overlooks the lake. The calm and serene feeling you get when you reach the lake is something that no amount of words can define. The Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh pilgrims around this lake all bathed in devotion is a feeling that an atheist like me couldn’t help but appreciate. It does not have all the religious magnanimity of other holy places that I have visited but there is just something that is very settling the moment you get there.
We decided to simply walk around the lake and visit the monasteries around. These monasteries are nothing short of spectacular. You can read up about their historical significance up on the internet if you wish. We spent a good amount of time inside and just sat there soaking in the silence. After visiting two monasteries we walked to the lake and decided to chill in the sun. Like all paharis we ended up sunning ourselves and treated ourselves to a handful of oranges and peanuts for a little picnic snack. We slept in the park – (yes that’s true) and soaked in the sun. So many monks ,foreigners and locals did the same – some knitting sweaters and some just catching up on gossip and some simply sleeping or discussing serious Buddhist texts. It was a such a wonderful feeling that I don’t think words will do justice to it. As a woman in India there are very few public spaces where you feel safe enough to sleep in the open and just be yourself- thankfully Rewalsar is one of them.
After a couple of hours we decided we were hungry and went around looking for food. There are not too many options around this small nagar panchayat – so we walked into a dhaba and gorged on some samosas and tikkis. It is definitely not the best food but nothing short of satisfying. As the sun was beginning to set in we thought of treating ourselves to some hot coffee – as if we had worked very hard during the day ;)
We walked into this small beautiful Café called Emaho that is run by the monastery and managed by the students of the monastery. We watched the sun go down while sipping on wonderful coffee. It was the most scenic view ever and a sign that our trip would be nothing short of spectacular. As the winds turned chilly and the moon came up we moved our little party of two inside the café.
After a good night’s sleep we got up the next morning and spent the day visiting the other monastery and temples around the lake. Another day was spent simply soaking in the sun. We also visited the cave of Padmasambhava and walked for hours in the adjoining forest. Rewalsar is a place that is a world within itself. If you are someone who likes simplicity and your idea of a vacation is reconnecting with nature then this is the place for you. It helps you unwind completely. Another day came to an end and our mind was simply at peace.
After relaxing for two days at Rewalsar we moved on to the next leg of our journey – the trek to Parasher Lake. The Prashar Lake lies 49 km north of Mandi surrounded by three storied pagoda-like temple dedicated to the sage Prashar. The lake is located at a height of 2730 m above sea level. The lake is held sacred to the sage Prashar and he is regarded to have meditated there. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks and looking down on the fast flowing river Beas, it is nothing short of spectacular. The lake has a floating island in it and it is said to be unclear how deep it is.
The trek is filled with breath taking views and helps you connect with nature. Filled with rivers, streams and small hamlets amidst the humungous pine and deodar trees, this trek is something that you should definitely explore. Lake Parasher can also be reached via taxi or bus. The bus service is limited and only one bus leaves from Mandi to Parasher early in the morning at 6:50 am. HRTC drivers are very particular about time so make sure that you are always on time to catch the bus else you are screwed and you will be stuck in Mandi. The same bus comes down from Parasher Lake at 2pm in the afternoon and is the only one. If not then you can take a cab – but it is very expensive and definitely not recommended on a shoestring budget.
However if you are a trekker then you will have to take a different route.Time is of utmost importance even then and you must aim to leave Mandi by 7am - if you need to reach the base point for the trek which is a village called Baagi. We took a direct bus upto Baggi village from Mandi. Buses to Baagi are also limited and only two buses go there every day. One bus runs the morning at around 7:00am and the other in the evening- all depending on the weather conditions.
We reached Baagi just in time and had stuffed our faces with some breakfast before heading for the trek. There is only one dhaba at the base and they also provide guides and camping equipment- in case you haven’t booked your stay at Parasher.
There is a PWD guest house at the top of the lake but make sure to book yourself in advance else they won’t really entertain you. Another very good option for the budget travellers is the rooms provided by the temple. They are extremely clean and cheap as well. Blankets are available at an additional cost of just INR 15. We were not aware of this option so we paid INR 500 for a tent that also included fresh cooked dinner in the evening. These would be available near the lake once we get there.
We started our trek and it took us a good 5.5 hours to get to the top. The trek is very pleasant and it is a delight to walk by the river and hear the birds sing. The spectacular views make it totally worth it. It does not usually take more than 4 hours for seasoned trekkers to get there but it kind of took us more time because a) I am overweight b) I have chronic back pain
Let me remind you that there is not a soul to be seen along the trek so please come prepared with your own water bottles, snacks/lunch etcetera. We reached the top of the lake towards sundown and saw the spectacular sunset. It was a view like no other. The sun setting down amidst the snow-capped mountains is a different story in itself.
After reaching the top we just soaked in the silence and sat there dumbfounded. No telephone signals also help and therefore you are able to cut off completely. After this long episode of silence we sat there and had a cup of tea and some Rajma Chawal from the only small shop that stands up there. They have limited options and dal rice or maggi is the only way to survive. We then met up with 5 of the other people who had trekked up here and made new friends. Dinner was prepared in a small room with all of us shivering and sitting by the fire. These have been one of the best moments of my life. We sang , discussed politics, philosophy, films and what not. After dinner was ready we moved our butts out and lit a huge bonfire under the stars and we sat there till the break of dawn. After that we moved into out tents and slept for an hour so after watching the sunrise.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that there are no facilities for washrooms over there and therefore you have to rely on the small makeshift public toilet that is at a distance of approximately 7.5 minutes from the lake. So do come prepared with toilet rolls and whatever you have and need. Also there is no guarantee that water will be available and therefore you will have to take water from the lake and carry on. Unfortunately when we were there the washroom wasn’t working and we had to hold it in till we got down to Baggi at around 2 pm the next afternoon- but that is a story for another article! We walked down the trek early next morning ad reached Baggi just in time to take the bus to Mandi. Another option is that you can wait up there and come back by the bus that leaves Parasher at around 2pm and reaches Mandi by 5:30 pm.
All in the entire trek was a very special experience and I would definitely like to go back there to connect with Mother Nature.