In the hills of Himachal Pradesh we stumble upon a little town of gompas, temples and silences
I could hear a thousand bees buzzing and the occasional chime of bells interjected by a clang, as if two super bees had just collided and sent a ripple of high frequency waves across the foggy mountain air. The moisture in the air absorbed this distinct clamour, and the buzzing continued and became more pronounced as I climbed further up. As I trudged a few steps off the serpentine road, a small structure emerged as the source of this humming. The human hum now took on the distinctive shape of the morning prayers of the nuns in the Buddhist monastery there.
Just a turn away from this came another unassuming one-storied building. With much curiosity, I interrupted the lama sitting there chanting and rotating his handheld prayer wheel, to ask for directions to the caves, only to shown into the building. A few steps inside and I felt the sudden drop in temperature and the anxiety of an impending stillness. A small inverted V-shaped opening to the right made me feel I was just about to enter a new world, like Alice.
A huge statue of Padum or Guru Padmasabhava, as he is known, looked down upon the small room created by the walls of the caves and illuminated by many candles and a few tube lights. The silence in the air was discontinued only by his looks and the pointed goatee beard. The pale gold statue of Rinpoche, in his classic sitting pose, had just enough space to be ensconced between the two cave walls. The small cave room became the perfect time-capsule for a few passengers who wanted to digress from earthly harangues and meditate in this stillness. A sharp ear could hear water trickling down the walls in the adjoining smaller cave that housed a small idol of Padum’s consort Madarava.
Stepping out of the cave, my eyes were blinded by the whiteness of the fog and the clouds passing by. I climbed up the mountain to Naina Devi temple where there was more human presence. Bhajans could be heard clearly while my mind yearned to collect the prasad on my way out. The clouds eclipsed the temple towers and the heat from the havan kund was perfect for the weather. A newly-wed couple sought blessings from the mountain Goddess Bhagwati, an incarnation of Durga, while a few kids busily clicked pictures with the clouds as backdrop. The time for arathi made the pilgrims congregate at the sanctum while I ran out to get the prasad. After the unassuming fanfare at the temple, a government HRTC bus took me back to Rewalsar via a densely fogged road lined with pine trees.
I could see the 123 ft statue of Padmasabhava overlooking the town of Rewalsar from a hillock while rains continued to wet the green coloured lake called Tso Pema, Padmacan or The Lotus Lake. The sun's rays impregnated the clouds and struck the statue making it much more lustrous. A hot cup of tea in the cafe outside the Nyingmapa Gompa, whichmade a perfect resting place, where I could sit and watch the huge statue while letting the monsoon sink into me. Reading a book was not an option, as the silence of the staccato was mind-numbing. The mind picturised the whole sequence of events of Vajracharya on the burning pyre, which instead of consuming him turned into a pool of water and hence the water body called Padmacan and the genesis of Guru Padmasambhava, who went on to preach Vajrayana Buddhism in Tibet from here.
A much-revered destination for Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs alike, Rewalsar on the hills had a charm that not many pilgrim sites possess. During a quiet walk around the lake, I stopped at different places to just look at the huge statue and get into a minor trance. It is believed that Rishi Lomas meditated here; and also that there is a Gurudwara built by the Raja Joginder Sen of Mandi to commemorate Guru Gobind Singh's visit. Having been mentioned as a sanctuary in Sau Sakhi, the town is sacred for Namdhari Sikhs as well.
Nestled between all these religious sites I found a small zoo that housed some ghorals, barking deer, porcupines and bear. The panoramic view from the side of the lake, which housed a huge prayer wheel and hundreds of smaller prayer wheels (or mane, as they are called) was the perfect culmination point after perambulating the lake.
After a few days in this quaint little town, I rushed back to the madness of the city to immerse myself in some post-travel research to find out know more about this uncharted destination.
HOW TO GET THERE
Rewalsar in Himachal Pradesh is 25km from Mandi and well connected by buses and taxis with Delhi. HPTDC operates comfortable Volvo buses.
WHERE TO STAY
Drikung Kadyud Gompa and Nyingmapa Gompa offer basic rooms at cheap rates. HPTDC Traveller's Inn and Hotel Lotus Lake behind the bus-stand are other options.
WHAT TO EAT
Momos, thukpas and noodles are aplenty and the road outside Nyingmapa Gompa has many small eateries. Kommunity Kafe has nice thalis, albeit slightly pricey. The Tso Pema cafe sells organic tea and banana muffins.