Humbled by Himachal

Mumbai-based actress Sara Khan of Total Siyapaa fame gets to travel a lot thanks to work, and she loves it! When she got the chance to anchor a travel show, it presented the perfect opportunity to discover some of the lesser-known, hidden gems of India. Here’s her account of the beauty she found in Himachal Pradesh.

When I was asked to anchor a travel show, I was initially apprehensive, but I’m so glad I did it! When
I take on a project, it becomes my baby, so I did a lot of research before we travelled to Himachal Pradesh.
The trip began in Shimla, and needless to say, it’s a stunning place! We visited a temple full of monkeys – the Jhakoo Mandir. It’s a beautiful place dedicated to Hanuman – fitting that it’s populated by the simian creatures. We were told to not carry or wear anything that they could snatch, and to be very careful as the monkeys can get aggressive. I ended up losing my sunglasses to the temple monkeys!

Though terrifying, it was an interesting experience when I was standing at the edge of the mountain, shooting, and then suddenly I felt a tug at the stole around my neck. A monkey had got hold of my scarf and kept trying to pull it away, and I finally had to take it off and give it to him! They even try to pick your pockets for the prasad in them, and at yet another point, one monkey took my slipper! I had to bribe him with prasad to get it back!

Shimla is cloudy and rather romantic, and we went around the city in a lovely toy train. From Shimla, we drove down to Prashar Lake, a short distance from Mandi. The drive took place in the evening, so we didn’t get to experience the scenic drive we would have if it had been during the day. We stopped at a dhaba to eat some hot food – just what we needed in the cold! We reached Mandi in the middle of the night and checked into the only proper hotel, the Visco Resort.

The next morning, we were off to Prashar Lake. You can’t drive up there, so we climbed up to find a breath-taking view awaiting us! The mountains and fog made it all the more amazing. The peace and quiet was unimaginable, especially for someone who is used to city life. It’s an extraordinary place that gives you a sense of serenity. We spent two days in Prashar, and the nights were particularly lovely, with millions of stars lighting up the sky! It was so beautiful; all I wanted to do was lie back and stargaze. As for accommodation, there isn’t a lot of choice. We stayed in a government guesthouse, which was just Rs. 180 per night!

The lake also has a small floating island in the centre, which we couldn’t visit, but it is believed that gods live under the island. Over time, they say, you can see it change position. Prashar had a lovely temple, and we were lucky to go when we went; we chanced upon a local ceremony, where they dip their deities in the lake before sending them back to Mandi. The ceremony was enjoyable, with nagaras playing beats.
Once we finished with Prashar, we headed back to Mandi, and then on to Rewalsar. As we drove, we came upon and entered a gate to be met by a beautiful energy about the place. It was cold and foggy, and I could hear Buddhist monks chanting – it was remarkable! That was our first step into Rewalsar, a very unique town spread around a lake. The most intriguing part about the lake in Rewalsar was the fish. Hunting and fishing are not permitted, so the numbers are probably in the millions – so many that they spill out of the lake! The town has several cosy, rustic stalls and cafés that surround the lake, as well as carts where you can buy fish food to feed the lake’s residents.

The place is full of monasteries, temples, gurudwaras, and other spiritual abodes. The change in energy I felt was mind-boggling! Like Jhakoo Mandir, Rewalsar has a lot of monkeys, but they were much more civilised! At one of the cafés there, a delightful place called Emaho, I bought postcards to write to my family. It was a cosy place, and the energy around it was so good! I loved the fresh cakes and herbal teas, but all the food was so fresh, and I felt like I was in another world. It didn’t feel like India!

The most beautiful part of Rewalsar was waking up in the morning. You can hear shanks, Buddhist bells, paath from the gurudwaras, and other spiritual and religious reverberations. These sounds from around the lake help create a completely content and calm feeling that is truly beautiful! A tourist spot, Rewalsar has several places at which to stay. Foreigners rent rooms for months at a time in order to explore the place and seek spiritual guidance. Though our work there was hectic, everything felt perfectly calm. The people are a peaceful lot, and most visitors and locals have spiritual inclinations. Prashar was a different story, much quieter. For someone who wants to escape city life and be in the midst of nature, Prashar is the place to go.

I’ve noticed that many people in India don’t like to go to places that don’t have much to do, sightseeing or otherwise. But these are the kinds of locations that are so beautiful, where you can just sit still and enjoy yourself. Plop down with a book, and enjoy the view! If you really want to explore and travel, there is so much to see and do in India. We really should make the most of what we have in our own backyard!     – as told to Saloni