We wake up at HPTDC’s Hotel Iravati in Chamba and decide to leave for Bharmour by an early morning bus. It is winter, we have celebrated Christmas the previous evening sipping wine over a bonfire in Chamba. The weather is already cold and promises to be much chillier in Bharmour. The distance from Chamba to Bharmour is only 60 kms but the terrible state of the road means that it is likely to take 3 hours!
We have a hearty breakfast of aloo paranthas and hot samosas near the bus stand, and are in the bus at 815 am that is supposed to leave at 830. Our ultimate destination is Kugti and we have decided that it is better to reach Bharmour, stay there first and then figure out the shared taxis and status of the snowfall. The bus leaves from the crowded Chamba market old bus stand and continues through the Ravi River Valley passing through numerous small villages and towns.
The bus stops for breakfast in the tiny village of Rakh which lies halfway on the way to Bharmour. A landslide has occurred close to a diversion where I spot a signboard ‘Tundah Wildlife Sanctuary’ and it takes some time to clear the traffic situation. The waters of the river flowing below are pristine and look blue in colour. We make another stop for lunch before reaching Bharmour and all this results in quite a delay! It is almost 130 pm by the time the bus ambles into Bharmour.
Bharmour is located in the far end of the Budhil Valley where the Budhil river flows (a tributary of the Ravi River). The bus stop is on the street itself and the whole town has a silent feel, perhaps because it is lunch time. The sky is very cloudy and it has progressively got colder as we ascended to Bharmour. After all Bharmour lies at an altitude of 2200m and there is snow on the streets and a few shops are closed while very few seem open.
Someone on the bus has given us the name of the caretaker of the PWD Rest House and since it is hardly a 2 minute walking distance, we head there first. Luckily, Dugle Ram Ji (the caretaker) is there at the rest house and agrees to show us the rooms. He takes us to a normal room first and then we ask him to show us another fancier room. He obliges; the other one is carpeted and the bathroom also has running water and a geyser along-with a heater in the room!
After some persuading, he agrees to give us the VIP room (the first time I have been able to stay at a VIP room at a government rest house!). He mentions the charges as 500 Rupees and informs us that we will have to arrange for our food at the nearby dhaba. He offers us tea whenever we want, and we waste no time in putting our bags inside the room and sit in the separate viewing space area and asking for a round of chai!
The viewing space at Bharmour PWD Rest House is a room with a sofa set and glass windows in the front where you can gaze at the snow-clad peaks! Tea is here, we offer Dugle Ram biscuits that we have carried from Chamba. He is also in the mood for a small conversation, we thank him for giving us a splendid room and ask him more about Bharmour.
An introduction to Bharmour :
Bharmour was the ancient capital of the princely state of Chamba until it was replaced by Chamba in around 920 AD. It is a small town located on a steep terrain rising up from Budhil River in the Budhil Valley. August/September is when the Manimahesh Yatra is conducted, where pilgrims take a dip in the freezing water in the Kund located at over 4000m.
In the present day, Bharmour is mostly inhabited by Gaddis and is popular as a base town for the Manimahesh Kailash pilgrimage. The villages around Bharmour are inhabited by the semi-nomadic Gaddi tribe who own flocks of goat and sheep and graze them on high altitude pastures in the summer and return across the Pir Panjal Range in the winter to go back to their homes in Kangra and Bharmour district.
After enjoying the view with the chai, we go to the dhaba for a late lunch. They have laid out 2 tables on the pavement making it a wonderful setting to eat which is kind of indoors as well as outdoors. The dhaba guys don’t have the usual thali system which is present everywhere else in Himachal Pradesh. We eat happily, the food is tasty and the bill is a little extra than usual – around 200 Rupees.
It seems to be the most popular dhaba though and we notice quite a robust local presence whenever we pass by. The dhaba guys belong to Kangra-Dharamshala and are outsiders too, so it is natural if they are keen on making some extra money. After all Bharmour is a pilgrimage town and during the annual yatra season, there is a steady stream of pilgrims on their way to Manimahesh Kailash.
We went back to the rest house after lunch and decided to just relax for a bit before heading out for a walk in the evening. The VIP room was indeed very luxurious and we felt like little kids in for their first picnic! As the clock struck 430, we start walking towards the market in Bharmour and then make our way to the Chaurasi Temple Complex.
While walking through the market, we see a small bakery and are welcomed inside by an old man. The aroma is extremely inviting and the owner gives us 2 freshly baked fans to taste. They are divine, and buttery and very tasty! We pay and thank him, pack 2 more fans with us and continue toward the temple complex.
What to see in Bharmour
Bharmani Mata Temple
Bharmani Mata Temple is one of the most respected and visited sights in Bharmour. Dugle Ram Ji remarked that it is located around 1 hour hike away from the rest house. Pilgrims headed towards Manimahesh Yatra traditionally visit the Bharmani Mata Temple first to pay their blessings and take a dip in the kund there. Bharmani Mata Temple is located on a hillock and accessed by either a 2 km hike or a 6 km drive.
Waterfalls around Bharmour
Dugle Ram Ji also mentioned about a few waterfalls near Bharmour and on the road to Hadsar namely Thala Waterfall, Hadsar Waterfall and Gharad Waterfall and more. Since it was cold in the winter they would all be frozen right now and we decided to not even think about heading to a waterfall!
Chaurasi Temple Complex
The Chaurasi Temple Complex is the highlight of Bharmour and is a cluster of 84 temples dating from the 7th to 10th Century AD. The Chaurasi Temple Complex is beautiful and spaced out while being spread over a large area. Most of the temples are stone temples, some of them have intricate carvings in stone. The Chaurasi Temple Complex is protected by ASI (Archaeological Survey of India). The temples are built in the Nagara style of architecture and some of them have exquisite old bronze statues – Namely of Lakshana, Nandi, Ganesha and Narasimha.
There are also a few kunds and ponds of water in the temple complex. Kids are playing cricket in the Chaurasi Temple complex as there are lots of empty spaces! Almost every prominent temple has a Pandit Ji and we chat up with them. Many shops selling religious offerings line the path to the temple. The Chaurasi Temple Complex also has huge deodhar trees growing. During the summer months, from June onwards – the migratory Gaddi shepherds stop here with their flock of sheep and goat to pay respects to Lord Shiva.
Interesting Legend about Chaurasi Temple Complex :
According to mythology and history, 84 siddhas(yogis) had come from Kurukshetra and were passing through Bharmour on their way to Manimahesh Kailash, they stopped at this place for meditating and loved the calmness so much that they decided to settle here. Chaurasi temple was built by Raja Sahil Verman of Bharmour, in honor of these 84 Siddhas.
Important temples in Chaurasi Temple Complex –
Ganesha temple is located near the entrance of the complex. The temple was damaged in an attack in the past and the present statue has legs missing.
Lakshana Devi Temple
It is the oldest temple in the Chaurasi Temple Complex, and was constructed in 680 AD. The entrance to this temple is richly carved in wood. Goddess Durga is represented here in the form of a four-armed Mahishasuramardini slaying the demon Mahishasura.
Mahimahesh (Shiva) Temple
Manimahesh temple sits right in the centre of Chaurasi Temple Complex and has a huge Shiva Linga. It is shaped like a shikara with a gabled roof and is the tallest temple in the entire complex.
Narasingh (Narasimha) Temple
Narasingh is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu in which the God is represented as half man and half lion. The bronze statue of the God inside the Narasimha temple is worth seeing.
Dharmaraj is a mythical God who keeps the accounts of sins and good deeds of humans, of the good and bad karma.
He decides on the case of the individual after death, and based on his deeds decides whether he goes to heaven or hell.
We are lucky to be able to witness the aarti held in one of the temples before going back to the PWD Rest House. It is certainly a divine experience in the quiet environment here, surrounded by snow clad mountains. It is dark by the time we reach the rest house. We stop at the dhaba for an early dinner and are freezing cold by the time we enter the room. We have found out about the shared taxi to Kugti which costs Rs. 100 per person and leaves in the morning.
It is still only 8 pm and since we are heading to Kugti the next day, it makes sense to make use of the running hot water from the geyser and have a bath! We are already certain the water pipes have long been frozen in Kugti. It has been a tiring but satisfying day and we sleep well in the warmth of the heater.
Next morning, we stop time and have another cup of chai in the room with the framed views! Kids are playing cricket outside the PWD rest house and we board the shared taxi to Kugti with the locals.
While coming from Kugti the next morning, we hike the 1 hour distance to the point from where the road is motorable close to Hadsar. Luckily one cab is waiting alongwith a few locals. Reach Bharmour around 1 pm. There’s no chance of a room in the rest house since it has already been booked by some government officers.
We think about heading to Chamba but are not keen on spending the night there either; and thereby end up going to HPTDC Gaurikund located near the helipad in Bharmour. There is a special winter discount so we get a room for 1200 Rupees. I also check the dormitory which looks value for money for 300 Rs. per bed.
The basic double room is nice and clean and the linen and beds are comfortable as well. Its a warm room with ample sunlight and we are happy to stay here for the day and take an early morning bus to Chamba next day.
We go to Chaurasi Temple Complex again and attend the aarti in the evening. It is very peaceful and calming. Have dinner at the restaurant at HPTDC Gaurikund. The food is immaculate and even better than the dhaba food we have been having in Bharmour.
Bharmour finds a permanent place in our hearts when we see the stars twinkling from the helipad!