Kullu Valley is called the ‘Valley of Gods’ but I had not even heard about this village called Shangarh. It was a few Facebook posts by celebrated members on The Himalayan Club that pulled my attention to Shangarh – and Shangchul Mahadev Temple in Sainj Valley. It had already been more than a year since I’d last set foot in Tirthan Valley : Last May, I explored Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) and also went on a few short treks in the region. The ‘How to Reach Shangarh’ bit solved itself when it was found that there was a daily bus from Sainj.
A telephonic conversation with a friend and fellow travel blogger Jitaditya indicated that he was already in a bus headed to Aut Tunnel. At the Mandi bus stand I boarded the same bus and we reached Aut market at around 10 am. I was keen on waiting outside the Aut tunnel but Jitaditya knew that there may be no space in the Neuli bound bus.
After a glass of chai at the dhaba near the AUT bus stand, our luck started working its magic. A bus had been hired by a local for a marriage procession near Shangarh village and the conductor said that they will leave at 11 am. Normally, there is only one bus per day to Shangarh and that is at 4 pm.
The weather was unusually hot as we took a left turn from Larji and entered Sainj Valley. The bus wound along steep turns and crossed the uninspiring town of Sainj (marred by the hydroelectric power project). The scenery changed completely as we reached Neuli village. The landscapes became greener and the Sainj River appeared more pristine. The road to Shangarh bifurcates 2-3 kms before Neuli but beggars can’t be choosers and we just went where the bus took us.
We crossed a curious looking temple near the GHNP Park gate full of iron items (not for the first time though); turns out this entire region worships Jehar Devta at these places where accidents have happened in the past. We were understandably hungry when the bus stopped in the tiny town of Neuli. I rushed toward the only dhaba in town. It served fresh and delicious rajma-chawal-roti to us and charged only 100 Rupees. I felt happy to be in familiar territory, after all these were the rewards when you venture away from the touristy circuit.
The road didn’t exactly end at Neuli and the locals informed us that it went all the way to Shainsher (or Shanshar) to the 5 tiered Manu Rishi Temple. We began on the latter part of our journey to Shangarh and stopped at the bifurcation point to wait and collect more passengers. A board indicated that Shangarh is 7 kms away. Here we decided to make use of our time and started walking to the Great Himalayan National Park Gate on the Sainj Side, which was also called Ropa Complex.
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Although there was nobody to be seen inside the complex, some passersby indicated that the dormitory was functional and it was possible for visitors to stay here at 100 Rupees per bed. Our bus was finally on its way to Shangarh and we were thrilled to see the non-existent road continue uphill. It was a bumpy ride and we crossed many tiny villages, a local indicated that one of the villages named Raila had the main Ashapuri temple in the valley.
The local turned out to be a homestay owner in Shangarh. Just before the bus stopped short of its destination, he offered us a stay in the homestay if we were interested. There was a bridge being built and the road did not actually go till Shangarh village. Nevertheless, it was hardly a 5 minute walk away and our hearts were singing to see the wind rush through the tall pines and devdhars. It was almost 3 o’clock when we finally reached Shangarh.
Ranaji took us to his shop and gave chai while he opened the doors of his home that also functioned as a homestay. We were mesmerised with the lush greenery of Shangarh and immediately took a liking to the village. Ranaji showed us the rooms; it was an old home made of wood and the rooms were quite cosy and were constructed in wood too. A pleasant aroma was present in the rooms, we put our bags in the shop to be collected later. It was a great good luck charm, there were definitely no hotels in Shangarh and we had automatically found a homestay! Yay.
I was apprehensive that he might charge us a high price later. The homestay had no signboard and it seemed like we were the first guests of Ranaji. He came across as a very nice person and said, “Consider yourself as my guests. Please stay here and pay me whatever you want.” Needless to say, this situation also creates a dilemma but here in Himachal Pradesh the people in remote villages are still kind hearted and I accepted Ranaji’s offer.
We set about to explore the famed meadows of Shangarh, accompanied by Ranaji. Surprisingly, it was only a five minute walk from the homestay and we were in front of the most magnificent green grassland, surrounded by snowy mountain peaks shrouded in stormy clouds and on the corner stood the three tiered Shangchul Mahadev Temple. The wooden enclosure at the beginning of the grassland was used as a resting place for the devtas and seemed to be newly built.
It was an impeccable sight and the Shangarh meadows appeared even more grander and wider than the more illustrious meadows of Khajjiar. A small walking track passed through the meadow and locals were seen spending their leisure time along-with cattle and kids there. It was surprising to see it being clean and devoid of any stones; to which Ranaji narrated a small story with regards to the Pandavas who are credited with creating the grasslands.
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After enjoying the smooth texture of the grassland and sharing a Facebook live and instagram live story, I appreciated the finer points of the lovely architecture and wood carvings of the Shangchul Mahadev temple. Threatening rain clouds gathered overhead and Ranaji said that it was better that we go to the main temple in the village. According to the locals, the temple was burnt in a fire in 1998 – but the devotees have rebuilt a new one and it was shining in all its glory.
There were other small temple-like structures at other corners of the meadow, with old stone statues kept in the temples. We walked the length of Shangarh meadows, descended first and then made our way to the temple through a pretty farm dotted with apple trees. We scampered for safety when a gust of cold wind brought rain along.
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It was the grandest door of a temple I had seen in a long long time. Alas, the temple was closed and there was no way we could see what lies inside. There was also a procession of the devta related to the marriage that was to happen in a nearby village. We were also invited for the marriage party in the night but decided against it because the village wasn’t exactly close and the path would become slippery after the rain.
A local from the region called me and asked me to try and reach the meadows located on top of the village. Someone pretty rich from the plains has brought a kothi there and lives in peace, I was told.
When I asked Ranaji about it, it was also understood the alternate accommodation in Shangarh – The Forest Rest House (FRH) is located here. The rain turned into a drizzle and finally stopped after some time revealing even more glorious colours in the mountains. We could not stop clicking pictures of the alluring landscapes and started our walk back across the other side of the meadow.
Various conversations revealed that among one of the prettiest and short treks in the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) is the walk to the next village of Lapah. Ranaji said that it was a nice hike with fantastic views of the Sainj Valley and won’t take more than 3 hours. Although the day was nearly over, for a brief while we pondered if it was possible to complete a day trek to Lapah the next day.
We got back to the homestay before daylight gave way to darkness and enjoyed the colours of dusk. It had become pretty chilly after the rain and as digital media nomads we both opened our laptops are worked on some blog posts. After all to sustain the full time travel lifestyle, one has to work… right?
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After all the walking around and with only one proper meal in the entire day, I went to the lady of the house and requested her to prepare mah ki dal and roti for dinner. We were surprised beyond expectations when there was another vegetable bowl with lip-smacking tasty mah ki dal, and free flowing quantities of home made desi ghee. I don’t think anything more can make the Rajasthani in me happier than home made ghee! We ate like hungry beasts while Ranaji and his wife narrated their stories about life in the Kullu valley.
The nature of the hill folks of Himachal Pradesh never fails to blow my heart away. They might have all the apple money in the world, yet they are not vain, and practise humility. With kind humans like these, this is indeed the valley of gods; I thought to myself.
In retrospect, it was a huge stroke of luck to have met Ranaji in the bus itself. It was the one single thing that enabled us to explore Shangarh with a sprinkling of historical tales. We slept early that night for there only one bus from Shangarh everyday and we couldn’t afford to miss it. There was a pressing engagement that we had agreed to earlier and therefore it was imperative to switch from Sainj Valley & reach Tirthan Valley by evening.
We also contemplated if it was possible to see the Manu Rishi Temple of Shanshar but since there was no bus to go to Shanshar from Neuli, we decided against it.
It must have been the mountain air that resulted in a deep slumber and the clock showed 9 am when Ranaji’s wife knocked on our door to wake us up. The bus from Shangarh had already left at 7 am and we couldn’t help but laugh at our folly! It was to be just the right start of an epic 10 days spent traversing some remote valleys in Himachal Pradesh, coupled with day treks and hitchhikes to remember.
We ended up walking the 7 km distance to reach the main road near Neuli – Sainj and many more through the course of the day.
After all, what is life without a little adventure…