It is April and the days have started to feel hotter than what is considered pleasantly warm. As always, we have no concrete plan and head to ISBT Kashmere Gate in Delhi with a bus ticket booked for Shimla. We have kept Karsog as a possible destination in mind. There are two ways to reach Karsog; one is via the Shimla route which is shorter and takes lesser time and the other is via Sundernagar.
Distance from Delhi to Karsog via Shimla route – Approx 430 Kms
Distance from Delhi to Karsog via Sundernagar route – Approx 500 Kms
I had spotted a Delhi to Karsog direct bus once but the timing of the same turned out to be quite odd. We end up booking the HRTC 830 pm Delhi to Shimla bus that is supposed to reach Shimla at around 6 am; which should be perfect for the 3-4 hour time that it takes to reach Karsog from Shimla. I have always preferred reaching a place at 10-11 am in the morning than at 5-6 pm in the evening.
I had been intrigued by a tiny town called Chindi (2000m) which comes 7 km before Karsog. Chindi is located at a higher altitude than Karsog and has rolling hills, ancient temples with spectacular views and an old PWD Rest House.
My fascination with Chindi-Karsog began 3 years ago while coming back from Spiti Valley in winter. I was staying at a small lodge in Sundernagar and the knowledgeable lodge owner had introduced to me details of the temple belt of the ancient Suket Kingdom of Himachal Pradesh.
Starting from Sundernagar to Karsog, he mentioned about age old temples with mythological stories. I was hooked to the tales of yore but also knew that since most of the temples mentioned were not on the main road, I had little chance of visiting them all on one trip, unless I rented a car (which I never do). It would also be possible to visit these temples if I was prepared to rough it out for a week or two!
We decided to not think and sat in the bus to Shimla with a flexible plan to head somewhere else if the buses to Karsog or Chindi were unavailable or had unsuitable timings. I had seen some pictures of the PWD Rest House in Chindi and was keen on staying there since Karsog was a much bigger town and was located in a valley at a lower altitude (1200m).
We reached Shimla early at around 530 am and as soon as we reached someone shouted that the bus to Karsog is already ready to leave! We rushed towards it to try and catch the few remaining seats on it! Thankfully, there was ample space and we got on the front seats just behind the driver.
The road after Shimla is scenic and we cross apricot, peach blossoms, and cherry blossoms that are visible intermittently. There is slight chill in the air in Shimla and the weather is clear. The bus stops for breakfast at a place called Tattapani which is located near a bridge full of natural sulphur hot springs.
I take the opportunity to use the clean loo of the restaurant-dhaba. It is in a big square compound where 2-3 roads bifurcate for different places. Breakfast comprises of paranthas and chai. The locals tell us that Tattapani is popular as a pilgrimage site and also for hot water springs for curing many skin and body ailments. The breeze is cool as the sun is not up yet at around 8 am. It is a 30 minute break and we resume our ride at 830 am.
The road starts ascending towards Chindi which is around 50 odd kilometres away. The bus is slow and we have a chance to gaze longingly at the beautiful valleys and views on the way. At around 1030 am, we inform the bus driver and conductor to drop us at the PWD Rest House Chindi itself. A quick search on google maps has made us aware that the rest house is on the way to Karsog and will save us valuable time.
Even though it is a weekend, we want to try our luck and check with the caretaker of the PWD Rest House about the possibility of a stay. I haven’t done any research on homestays or guest houses but am confident of finding a nice and reasonably cheap place for staying. We walk into the PWD Rest House complex in Chindi; the outdoor space is huge and the open air sit-outs are very pretty!
The caretaker is sitting with one of his friends and they are soaking in the sunshine. We try and make small conversation with him and tell him that we are from Rajasthan. The friend responds happily and urges the caretaker to give us a room (the mention of Rajasthan has almost always worked in the past, everywhere)! We keep our bags in the sit-out and happily roam around soaking in the sunshine. A nice breeze blows in Chindi and the rest house is located at a vantage point on a high hill.
The PWD Rest House is a beautiful big building that was originally made in 1920-30s and has been recently renovated. After a bit of back and forth, the caretaker’s friend is able to coax him to finally give us a room. We have lots of conversations about far off places in Himachal; like Lahaul, Spiti, Chamba and the remote regions of Kullu Valley. Maybe that was instrumental in clinching the deal in our favour.
He informed us that the room would cost INR 500 per day and that the meals (breakfast/lunch/dinner) would of course be extra. We requested him to give us a room for 2 days; he sort of verbally confirmed and showed us a corner room in the main building but it still had to be cleaned. It also had a faint smell of the paint job that had recently been done. The caretaker told us that the room would be ready in an hour or two.
We told him that we were anyway going to go to Karsog and will come back by evening, so we just needed to use the washroom for the moment. He guided us to the common washroom area near the dining hall. That was when we came across the prettiest part of the PWD Rest House!
There was a huge maple tree growing on a platform and beneath it were kept 4 pretty wooden chairs and a table, painted in a pleasing light blue. The leaves of the maple tree were shining in a fresh shade of green and it felt like a fairytale setting with the sun shining on the leaves. We asked for tea and were served biscuits to go with it.
We asked the caretaker, Khem Chand Thakur about the temples in Karsog and Chindi; the directions for the same and the suggested order. I took his number and requested him to make dinner for us at the rest house itself. He said that our bags will be kept inside the room when it is ready and we need not worry about anything. We thanked him and his friend and started walking towards the nearby temple in Chindi.
We were a bit hungry but decided not to wait any longer at the rest house and continue roaming around. As soon as we started walking, we came across the nice looking HPTDC Mamleshwar, the commercially run HPTDC Hotel property in Karsog-Chindi. Even with the off season discount, the minimum price for a room there would be around INR 1500. It could have been a good place to stay in the worst case scenario of us not finding a likeable place to stay.
We continue walking and come across the signboard for Chindi Village. It is a small village with houses scattered on both sides of the road. A beautiful old wooden temple is visible to the left, and has a circular pond to its right. Another temple sort of structure is located opposite to the Chindi Mata Mandir which we later learn is the temple bandar (storage or treasury). The circular water pond in front of the main temple has been fenced off.
The Chindi Mata Temple was closed but the Pandit Ji’s home was nearby and he was kind enough to open it for us to have the darshan. It was around 1230 pm and the sun was at its peak, surprisingly we felt quite hot in the direct sunshine and chose to sit in the shade for some time and listened to the Pandit Ji’s stories. He also told us that the timing for aarti in the evening.
We were famished at this point and really wanted to have a proper tasty lunch. So we started walking towards Karsog and asked the people we met along the way for a recommended dhaba. A common consensus emerged, everyone recommended a dhaba adjacent to a Petrol Pump before reaching Karsog! Luckily, we got a lift in a car going in the same direction. The car gentleman also confirmed that the dhaba in discussion was indeed the best in Karsog and he dropped us there itself.
We got down full of excitement and told the dhaba guy that we had come from quite far to eat the food and that we were very hungry! The dhaba had cabins set up in a closed space and a solitary table was also kept in an open space. We were asked for wait for 5 minutes and our food was served on the solitary table that was farthest from the petrol pump.
We were served rajmah, vegetable curry, chapati, rice, onions and green chillies. Everything was super yummy and it made us very happy. I ate to my heart’s (or stomach’s) content and we felt very lazy after the lunch. We wondered once or twice if we should leave our plans for Karsog for tomorrow and just walk back to the PWD Rest House and rest.
It is already around 3 pm and we stand on the road and when the bus to Karsog doesn’t come for a long time, we decide to go back to Chindi. It is anyway quite hot in the sun and we quickly get a ride. Someone had informed us about an ancient temple farther away from Chindi and drops us at the cut to the temple. We walk on the road since it is shaded with trees and feels nice. Our post-lunch laziness has disappeared and we are keen on wandering in these unknown areas.
Mahunag Temple (Mool Mahunag Temple near Chindi)
We get a ride in a car of an election campaigner. The views along the route are very pretty and we have a nice time. We somehow get back to the main road and catch a bus to reach the PWD Rest House in Chindi at 6 pm. It is a surreal show of stunning evening colours that we are welcomed to. I go mad clicking pictures of the colours in the spectacular setting of the wooden chairs with the greenery around us. We are lucky to have reached here at just the right time.
History of Mahu Nag Temple : It was built in 1664 AD by Raja Shyam Sen in honour of Lord Karna. Lord Karna is the guardian deity of the region, and legend has it that the deity transforms into a ‘mahu’ (bee) and helps out the villagers when they require help!
It is sheer serendipity when caretaker uncle brings us 2 glasses of nicely made masala chai while we are gazing at the sunset. We are so stunned by the experience that we decide to enjoy the show fully the next day and come to the PWD Rest House by 5-515 pm.
We are tired after all the walking around but caretaker bhaiya shows us the VIP rooms on the upper floor where Indira Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had stayed earlier. The rooms looked quaint and gorgeous. We implored him to give us one of the VIP rooms, he laughs and tells us that they are only for Class – I Government servants, like IAS officers. We try and ensure that he continues the same room for us the next day as well!
Our room is huge and the bathroom is equally spacious as well. It has been freshly painted so a bit of the paint smell is left. The caretaker confirms that dinner will be served in the dining room at 8 pm. The weather has become quite cold after the sun went down. We still have to keep the windows open to keep the paint smell from becoming overpowering in the room.
Dinner is freshly made vegetables, a local spinach curry, dall, chapati and rice. We thank the caretaker for the dinner and confirm that we will have breakfast of paranthas and egg bhurji in the morning and only then leave for Karsog. It is quite cold in the night and we sleep like babies; clutching to the heavy blankets.
Morning brings beautiful skies and bright sunshine along-with it. We sleep till late and ask for chai at 8 am. It is quite incredible to sit under the maple tree and enjoy the tea! We eat breakfast at around 9 am, it is delicious and we have our fill. The caretaker gives us some iffy news; he tells us some guests are expected and we may not be able to stay at the PWD Rest House for the night. We request him to help us, and he offers us the annexe room in case we have nothing available.
The annexe is located 2 mins walk away from the main building. We decide to keep our bags at the PWD Rest House itself and rush to catch a bus to Karsog. The bus is very crowded and we reach Karsog bus stand in 20 mins.
Our aim is to walk to Mamleshwar Mahadev Temple and the other easily accessible temples, if any. We walk around Karsog market and come across a shop selling morel mushrooms (gucchi) at around INR 5000 per kilo.
Mamleshwar Mahadev Temple, Karsog
We walk to the temple close to Karsog market; it is beautifully constructed in wood and looks very old. It is closed when we reach but a signboard at the temple informs us that the temple will reopen for prayers and darshan at 1 pm. The temple opens and we are astonished to see the massive dhols hanging outside the main prayer hall. There’s another local family who were also waiting for the temple to reopen; they tell us that it is one of the most famous temples in entire Himachal Pradesh.
The Pandit Ji shows us a big rice grain from Bheema’s time kept in a glass box. It is full of surprises and we walk around the courtyard marvelling at the old architecture. When we walk out of the temple premises, I spot a wide expanse of a green valley and we decide to walk through the fields. The green peas in the fields are ready for harvest and locals give us some peas whenever we walk in close vicinity. The peas are super sweet and we love them! We continue walking through the fields of wildflowers and come on the road after crossing a small bridge over a stream.
Mamleshwar Mahadev temple is one of the most well known and important temples of Karsog valley. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and is a sacred place where Bhrigu Rishi meditated. The locals believe that the Pandavas constructed the outer part of the temple during their exile. There is a fire within the temple premises that keeps burning at all times.
After reaching the road, a local informs us that the road will lead us to another important temple and so we continue walking. To our right the full splendour of Karsog Valley is visible as the fields are glowing in a shade of green and the clouds are sweeping in. It is shaped like a circular valley and we are pleased to have chosen Chindi – Karsog as our destination.
It is quite hot and humid as we walk on the road in Karsog. There are no trees for shade but we continue walking in the sun. After a few minutes when we are told that the temple is still some 3-4 kms away, we decide to head to a stream visible from where we are. I am amazed to see some migrant workers from Rajasthan at a road construction site, dressed in colourful clothes. The stream looks a fair bit downhill but we are glad when locals show us the path from where we can walk and easily reach there.
The path crosses some homes and we quickly reach a steel bridge located on the sizeable stream. A few ladies are washing clothes, youngsters are sitting and chatting and clicking selfies. We also find a shaded spot and sit there listening to the gurgling sound of the stream and enjoying the calmness that only nature can bring. The setting is lush green, and we spot a pretty house nearby to go and ask for tea later!
After an hour or so of relaxing by the stream and taking short walks by the banks of the flowing water, we decide to go to the pretty-looking home and ask for tea! The house turns out to be locked and we continue walking to join a road in a small hamlet close to Karsog. We are super hungry as it is around 3 pm now and jump in joy to see a school bus headed to Karsog. The bus guys are kind enough to let us on board and drop us in the market.
Karsog market is crowded and crazy and seems very polluted with a number of vehicles on the road. We amble around the market and try to find a nice eatery but with the paucity of time and the urgency of reaching the PWD Rest House in Chindi (remember our room hasn’t been confirmed yet) ensures we are only able to have an omelette. My tummy grumbles after giving in to temptation at a cake shop!
We walk to Karsog bus stand and get inside a bus headed to Chindi. It is a private bus and is taking forever to start. We get bored and decide to walk and hitch a ride to Chindi; after all it is only 8 kms away. We get a ride in a car thats going till the petrol pump only. Funnily so much time has been wasted in waiting and walking that the bus we had left at the bus stand comes and we are left to scramble for standing space on it!
We laugh at ourselves and the funny adventures(mis) that the road brings! And that is also another reason why we travel, so that we can laugh at ourselves and realise the fun in these little things.
After reaching the PWD Rest House, the caretaker informs us that our bags have been shifted to the annexe and that the rooms are all booked. We are a bit uncertain now about what to do as it is already 5 pm. We walk to the annexe to check it out. The building looks beautiful from outside but inside is a broken glass window with a strong smell of paint. We decide to take our backpacks and look for a room at HPTDC Mamleshwar, but the caretaker is a kind man and asks us to shift to our earlier room.
He tells us that 2 rooms have anyway been booked by a bunch of guys who are probably going to just get drunk, so he will give them one room with extra beds. We are extremely pleased and thank him!
We ask for tea, sit in the garden and enjoy the full sunset experience. We intend to make the most of our last evening here since we are supposed to leave for Delhi the next day. The caretaker tells us that its better that we have dinner early since he will be busy later. We wonder for a while if we want to have dinner at HPTDC Mamleshwar but decide to eat at the PWD Rest House only.
The sunset show is extravagant today and we can’t believe our eyes with the number of colours in the sky. After the early dinner that is excellent, we take a walk on the road and go to HPTDC Mamleshwar but come back from the entrance gate. A gentle breeze is blowing in Chindi and since we have had a long day, we decide to sit and relax in the outdoors.
The boys adjacent to the room in ours have broken a glass. We take it as a cue to go to our room and snuggle in bed as it gets colder. We chill and read and watch a movie and go to sleep. There is a big spider in the bathroom and that ensures our visits are less frequent!
We wake up nicely relaxed and quite late next day. It is a cloudless morning and the sun feels very hot when we have tea at our stunning table under the maple tree. The natural setting also means we practise yoga in the open lawns under the trees in the shade. We have booked a bus to Delhi from Sundernagar and intend to leave from Chindi at around 12 noon.
Caretaker uncle has realised our fondness for paranthas and serves us aloo paranthas, and egg bhurji for breakfast. He also serves some home made pickle and another round of tea after we are done eating. We go for another short walk in the woods nearby and return in an hour. It is time to go for a bath and get ready to leave.
The caretaker has already made our account and charged us very reasonably for the food. We pay the required amount and a tip for his help. Before leaving, we sit for a while on the chairs under the maple tree which along with the sunset remains our best memory of the trip to Karsog and Chindi.
We get a bus as soon as we step outside. It drops us to the point where the road bifurcates for Sundernagar route through Rohanda. Here one road goes to Shimla and the other to Pangna, Sundernagar. After 15-20 minutes of waiting, the bus to Sundernagar finally comes. We count ourselves lucky that there are ample vacant seats in the bus.
The road is pretty with stunning scenery on view. I spot a number of homestays on this road; perhaps because there are numerous temples around and a steady stream of religious tourists. The bus stops at Rohanda for snacks, so I take the opportunity to walk on the trail to Kamrunag temple and find more details about the stay etc.
We reach Sundernagar at around 440 pm and a chance conversation about local food with a gentleman in the bus means we know exactly where to have our early dinner in Sundernagar! Our bus from Sundernagar to Delhi is scheduled to leave at 630 pm, so we first enquire at the bus stand about the same and are told the exact spot where we should stand when it is time.
The Mandyali Dham restaurant dhaba is hardly 5 minutes walk from the Sundernagar bus stand. There are 8-10 tables and it appears like a neat and clean place. The timing of 5 pm is a little uncharacteristic for dinner and the entire place is empty! The owner is a Rajput and welcomes us to sit.
We order 2 thalis and are told that they cost Rs. 120 per person. 4-5 dishes are served in a large sized thali along with rice and ghee. The food is really tasty and we ask for second helpings of some of the dishes. The Rajput owner tells us about the dishes and also informs us that there are other places in Sundernagar and Mandi that serve Mandyali dham at cheaper prices but their food is not top quality.
We confirm to him that the food is indeed top notch and thank him for serving a taste of tradition to hungry outsiders! We sit and while away some time under the fan in the restaurant itself. It is quite hot and dusty at the bus stand in Sundernagar. We only go to the bus stand at around 615 and the bus comes on time.
Perhaps we shall return to Karsog and Chindi again in August someday when the rains are bountiful, the green valley is surrounded by clouds and the orchards are laden with apples!
We were unable to visit the other prominent temples in and around Karsog like Kamakshya Mata Temple, Ardhnarishwara Temple and others for various reasons. Maybe that will be another reason to return to this region someday in the future!