So apparently, Shiva and Parvati were wandering around and happened upon present day Manikaran and because it was beautiful they decided to just chill there for eleven hundred years or so. Shiva was meditating and more than likely enjoying the charas of the region, as Parvati bathed in the water. Anyway, she lost her jewelled earring in the water and couldn’t find it and Shiva started to get pretty pissed off, because he’s still quite ragey despite all that weed he smokes, and he started to open his third eye which basically means imminent Armageddon. We’re talking mass extinction here. The ancient Hindu equivalent of having all of the nuclear codes and a bad day. Shesh-nag, the serpent god, saw what was happening and he hissed until hot water started to gush from the ground, full of jewels, thus calming Shiva down. Aaaaand that’s how Manikaran came to be, mani meaning precious jewel. You can get there on a local bus from Kasol if you can tear yourself away from all that hummous for long enough.
Me and Jess wanted to check out the gurdwara there, Manikaran is a hugely spiritual place for both Sikhs and Hindus and most things are centred around those hot springs Shesh-nag conjured to stop Shiva from destroying the world. Mate, they’re hot. Hot enough to cook food in which is exactly what the do in the langar, the community kitchen where they, like all gurdwaras, prepare food for literally anyone who wants it regardless of race or religion or social standing. They also use the hot water to create these hot caves, like saunas, where you go and sit in what is a very uncomfortable silence for a Brit whilst sweating a lot. There’s a painted sign that tells you to sit in the hot cave until you feel dizzy. Wait… what? I re-read that a few times and yep, it’s definitely advising you to nearly fucking pass out, and very politely at that. “Please sit in hot cave until you feel dizzy.” Right. Once your world starts closing in you then have to shuffle through to a slightly cooler cave and sit there before you go outside again or you really will probably faceplant the concrete. We decided to give the hot baths a miss on account of being rather fond of our top layer of skin.
We padded around the complex, bare footed and our heads covered, and wandered into the peaceful, carpeted inner sanctum where men were reading from the holy texts. They have these placards all around, kind of like motivational posters. I can’t remember what a lot of them say but one of them stood out. It said something about cutting flowers as an offering to a deity, Sikhs don’t worship idols and they don’t offer flowers, and if you pick a flower for your deity you basically just killed that flower and are offering something dead to your god. Yeah, it was presented in a much less roundabout way than that but I have the memory of an elderly lady who hocked her brain on the black market to buy vodka and had it replaced with a sieve. I don’t recall exactly what it said but I silently nodded in complete agreement of it. I’ve never been a fan of cut flowers. Y’know, here, have these as a symbol of my love. They’ll be dead in a week. But anyway. We went and sat down at the edge of the room, trying to look as inconspicuous as two white girls can in a gurdwara, and watched the Sikhs recite passages from their books, but we were beckoned over and handed a sticky blob of something. I nodded a thanks to the Sikh with the broad grin, I had no idea what to do with it so when we retreated back to the edge I did the only thing that seemed appropriate at the time and shovelled it into my facehole.
That seemed acceptable. Firstly it was sweet and delicious. Secondly, no one seemed angry or offended. So off we shuffled to the langar to try some of this food cooked in the hot springs. I don’t think the food is placed directly into the water, I think it’s placed in pots in water. Or maybe both. Maybe they put the spring water in a pot with the food then sit that pot back in the spring water. I literally have no idea. We located the langar, wandered in then just kinda awkwardly stood there, not really sure if we should take a seat or what. I figured we should do what everyone else was doing. I looked around. Everyone was just kinda standing around staring. At us. Okay then, plan B, which basically consisted of looking totally lost and confused until someone handed us a plate, a cup and a spoon and directed us to the strips of carpet where you sit cross legged and wait for someone to bring you food. As always the food was delicious. You can’t go wrong with rice, dhal and vegetable curry. Once reunited with our footwear we strolled around the town and checked out a place where people were putting offerings in hot springs in front of a big statue of Shiva before heading back to Kasol.
Ah, Kasol. Known throughout Parvati Valley as Little Israel. I took this as an excuse to fit as much hummous into my digestive system as possible. There are dhabas of course if you just need some momos or aloo paratha in your life, but if you need a tasty cold Kingfisher and enough pita bread to sink a cruise liner there are loads of the kind of restaurant you find all over the region with more of an eclectic menu catering to Israelis and westerners, trance music in the background, slightly psychedelic murals of various Hindu gods, and a chillum glued to everyone’s lips. One place we went with a rooftop, it seemed to be the waiter’s job to load the chillum for the large groups of Israelis, but he’d be tipped with a hit of it. We only stayed one more night here before we headed back to Manali. Again, I can see how people get stuck here for weeks, but only if they smoke more weed than Shiva, or like having trance music injected into their skulls.
Manikaran, Parvati Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India
Stayed at: A place in Kasol that I’ve forgotten the name of.