Day Hike to Mathasaur – Jai Maa Fungni Temple

As regular readers of this blog might be aware that I have been living in Kullu Valley for more than a year now and even though the crazy adventure days seem to have been left far behind, I occasionally venture on hikes and treks in the nearby regions in Kullu Valley. Jita (travellingslacker) was visiting and staying at our home and it meant we planned a short day hike to Mathasaur (Saur means lake) and Jai Maa Fungni Temple in Lag Valley (also Lug Valley). We had thought of another hike in Lag Valley (Tiun temple), but that seemed longer and we decided Mathasaur trek was better since we didn’t really have an idea of the trail and the starting – ending points of the hike.

Came upon this school just before Bhalyani village.

Also read : Musings from the new Home : Winter in Kullu Valley

We had a heavy early lunch at home at about 10 am and left for Kullu. The June tourist rush meant that we were stuck in traffic and could only make it to the Lug Valley road bus stop near Dhalpur, Kullu at about 1115 am. The weather is very humid and I am reminded that whenever it has got hot in Kullu Valley, it usually rained within a day or two. I packed a few ripe plums and apricots in the daypack along-with a water bottle and perhaps for the first time embarked on a trek without any warm clothing/rain-jacket. I’ll blame it on the familiarity of laid-back living in Kullu and basically assuming that the trek to Mathasaur was an easy one.

Bhalyani Ground where Katrusi Narayan Temple is located.

I had collected basic information that the trek route from Bhalyani-Jathani village was the longest but the easiest as well with a well marked trail. The distance from Kullu to Bhalyani is 14-15 kms and only the last 1-2 kms have to be covered by foot as the road is still under construction. I had been to Bhalyani earlier on a drive in the summer of 2021, when we lived in Kullu Valley for about 5 months at Yuthok Homestay at Raison; which ultimately paved the way for us to find a home in the valley. At the bus stop, I asked around and got conflicting information about the next bus to Bhalyani. The local sumo drivers assured me that the next bus to Bhalyani was only at 1 pm which made us quickly reconsider an alternate idea. Someone informed me that the first bus from Kullu to Bhalyani was at 8 am and that would have been just perfect for us for embarking on the Mathasaur Day hike.

Katrusi Narayan (Shri Krishna Temple).

If we left at 1 pm, it would be almost impossible to get back to Kullu before it got dark. The to and fro bus journeys would take us about 45 minutes each one way. We had kept the trek time from Bhalyani to Mathasaur as 1.5 hours and return time of 1 hour while spending about 30 mins at Mathasaur and an hour for contingencies. A basic calculation indicated that we were far behind and that we had already made a mistake by not starting early in the morning.

At 1130 am, a bus headed to Kalang (a sizeable village in Lag Valley) arrived at the bus stop. I chatted with the driver and conductor and was able to convince them to drop us at a convenient point from where we would be able to hitch a ride towards Bhalyani village. They discussed amongst themselves and decided to drop us at Dadka village where the roads bifurcated in Lag Valley. The bus left Kullu at 1145 am and within no time we were dropped at the intersection of Dadka village. Honestly, I was quite disappointed since we had hardly covered 3-4 kms and it turned out that I was right because the actual road bifurcation for Bhalyani was still quite quite far from where we were dropped.

People chilling in the shade. This path itself leads to Jathani village.

Of course, in their defence the bus guys had heard me talking about Mathasaur trek and a different road also bifurcated from Dadka village – towards Bhumtir (also Bhumteer). I had discussed the Mathasaur and Fungni Mata Temple trek idea with my landlord’s son the previous day and while he had not been to Mathasaur, he had happened to mention the name Bhumtir as an alternate and shorter (but confusing) route to Mathasaur. Now we were in a quandary about our next steps. We didn’t have to think too much as a driver of a camper stationed there took note of our confusion and said that he was headed to Bhumtir and that we can climb on the open carrier.

Meanwhile, the carrier itself was loaded with a massive stone crusher along-with plywood, cylinder and other construction materials and there was barely any space to stand. The other guy in the camper was a bit confused and 2 other villagers added to the confusion by not giving a clear decision on whether it was better for us to trek to Mathasaur from Bhumtir or from Bhalyani. Finally as it was time to leave for the camper, the driver motioned us to jump into the carrier. With great difficulty, we somehow made space to stand and the other guy also told us to be safe from the stone crusher (especially on turns).

It was exhilarating and a hark back to the good old travel days for us; even though age was catching up it still felt nice that we were able to take a ride in the carrier of a camper on a remote road in Himachal Pradesh. The road was full of winding turns and as expected was in a bad shape. A part of my tee-shirt had turned black from the grease of the stone crusher. There were a few sharp hairpin bends and we had to be extra careful to hold on and not get thrown off. After 4-5 kms, the camper stopped abruptly and the guy indicated to us to get down and showed us a diversion to Bhalyani.

Crossing the PHC.

It was essentially an uphill dirt trail and thankfully there was a local taking his cows for grazing who was able to reconfirm that the path indeed went to Bhalyani. He mentioned that we could have (should have) continued towards Bhumtir from where Mathasaur was a shorter hike compared to the current idea of us going to Bhalyani and then trekking up to Mathasaur. He even indicated an alternate route to Mathasaur through the jungle but it wasn’t clear if the trail was marked so we chose to trundle up on the excruciating climb. The sun was out in full force and it was making the hike very tiring; we stopped for a breather every few steps.

I think this was wheat ready for harvesting.

Finally the dirt trail ended and gave way to another uphill section lined with stones. Thankfully, there was a water source at this point and I was able to wash my face with cold water, sit for a while to let the sweat dry. Jita joined me at the same point a few minutes later and we wondered for a while if this was indeed the way to Bhalyani village. As we ascended on this path, we met a local who confirmed that this trail indeed led to Bhalyani. We would first cross the houses of Kharka. It was a small village and a lady even suggested that we take an alternate route to Mathasaur and that we didn’t really need to go to Bhalyani. The trail was in the midst of fields and sowing of peas and other crops had been done quite recently.

Shri Krishna Temple in Jathani Village.

We were clear in our mind that it was best to go via the most used trail and that was the Bhalyani-Jathani (also Jethani) trail to Mathasaur and Jai Maa Fungni Temple. We kept walking and in 10 odd minutes reached a lovely grassland meadow also called Bhalyani Ground with a huge deodhar tree flanked on the Katrusi Narayan Temple (Shri Krishna Temple) on one side and open vistas in the other directions. It was incredibly beautiful and we also sat under the shade of a tree for a while enjoying the sight of the animals grazing. I relished a few freshly plucked apricots and plums that I had carried from home in Dobhi village. There was a nearby shop where I asked for directions for Mathasaur. I also went for a closer look at the Katrusi Narayan Temple and while it looked old, I got the impression that outsiders were not welcome in the temple (like most other places in Kullu Valley).

The trail for Mathasaur would first reach Jethani (Jathani) village and started just behind the grassland. We crossed a Primary Health Centre (PHC) at about 130 pm and met a lady who was heading to Chorkpin village (hope I got the spelling right) near Jathani. She had spotted me earlier asking for directions at the shop near the Bhalyani Ground and struck a conversation. There were steps on the trail and the lady remarked that there is a different trail to Mathasaur and Jai Fungni Maa Temple from almost every village near Bhalyani and Bhumtir. She mentioned that she was heading to Chorkpin village and that it was best that we went via the Jathani trail only since the Chorkpin trail would be very confusing.

Start of the Mathasaur – Jai Maa Fungni trail after Jathani village.

One stark difference between the locals of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand is their attitude towards outsiders hiking on a trail. While the Uttarakhand guys are likely to discourage outsiders by saying the trail is difficult etc.; Himachalis usually give the required confidence and tell that the trail is not that long and to make sure we have enough water with us if there is no water source on the trail. Since it was (seemingly) a never ending uphill climb, Jita was lagging behind and the lady showed us the straight steps to Jathani before she took the path that diverted to Chorkpin. We reached Jathani village in no time and came across another Krishna Temple constructed in the traditional style of a wooden temple.

The sound of the wooden chimes of the temple was like music to the ears in the swaying wind now that a breeze had started blowing. It was excruciatingly humid and I was secretly hoping that the rain stay away on this day since we had both not carried our rain jackets or any jackets for that matter. I requested a local for drinking water and he indicated that a tap was just a few steps away. I refilled my water bottle and washed my face again to let the sweat dry. We were asked to check for the trail to Mathasaur at the last house once the village ended. There was some road construction work going on and some ladies remarked that we must take a trail to our right just before the bridge on the road. The ladies also said that after a while the trail will have a bifurcation to the right and that we are supposed to take the left path at that juncture.

Faint trails that we followed.

We were told that it was a straightforward uphill trail and that we should reach Mathasaur and Jai Maa Fungni Temple in about an hour. At this point the time was about 150-2 pm and even though the sun was out, storm clouds could be seen brewing from a distance. We were told that there were return buses for Kullu from both Bhumtir and Bhalyani at 430 pm and we were aiming to return via Bhalyani as that was the village we had seen and I was aware of the bus stand place just before Bhalyani. The trail was quite confusing from the start itself and was a non-stop but the presence of memorial stones on the path served as a marker. We deduced that these memorial stones and places to rest had been made specifically for pilgrims heading on the Mathasaur – Jai Maa Fungni trail.

Pine cones spread like confetti.

We would stop for a breather every few minutes and came at a point where the route bifurcated to the left. While logic suggested that the trekking trail to Mathasaur was the one on the right, the prior information given by the ladies meant we took the trail to the left. It didn’t lead anywhere and we ended up reaching a small meadow with a few cows grazing and a solitary home visible in some distance to our left. In the meanwhile, a light drizzle had started with thunder prompting us to wonder if we should be going ahead for the Mathasaur trek after all. We tried seeking the attention of the home but it was quite far and there was nobody to be seen so we decided to go back to the main trail and take the path continuing on the right.

After climbing a few turns, the presence of memorial stones assured us that we were indeed on the right trail. The drizzle was intermittent but the sounds of thunder kept putting doubts in our mind about the feasibility of this trek to Mathasaur and Jai Maa Fungni Temple. Anyhow, after about 40 minutes of the narrow uphill climb, we came to a sort of a meadow with multiple trails heading in different directions. The view of Lug Valley could be seen but our mind was pre-occupied with reaching Mathasaur. The storm clouds had gathered and we were praying that like the preceding week in Kullu Valley, it would just drizzle and not result in a downpour.

Jita sitting for a breather.

Pine needles were scattered everywhere and on one of the trails, the ground was littered with pine cones that felt like confetti. Although that path did not turn out to be right, I still remember the immense feeling of happiness upon seeing that sight. It was already close to 3 pm now and the weather was definitely worsening and the visibility was a bit poor as the sky was covered with clouds. Jita was looking at the maps on the phone and deduced that we were going in the right direction and that Mathasaur and Jai Maa Fungni Temple should not be more than 10-15 minutes away from where we were. We discussed a ‘Plan B’ possibility that if we are not able to reach Mathasaur or find the proper trail by 330 pm then we will reconsider our plan of action and possibly turn back.

First sight of the meadows of Mathasaur where the villagers let their cattle to graze.

Of course, we might not have thought otherwise but the weather conditions had really worsened and since we had not met anyone after crossing Jathani village, we were not really sure if we were on the right trekking trail to Mathasaur. To put all doubts on hold, I spotted someone coming down a slope and rushed to ask him if we were indeed close to Mathasaur. He confirmed that we were on the right trail and said that Mathasaur is hardly 5-10 minutes from there. We also asked him about the best trail to return and he suggested that Bhumtir is a shorter trail and if we had to catch the bus then there is a Bhumtir to Kullu bus at 430 pm. He said that the trail to Bhumtir can be seen from a specific hut once we descend from the right side of the Mathasaur Lake or Jai Maa Fungni Temple.

We felt very confident after meeting this gentleman and with a spring in our step quickly made good time and reached a huge meadow that housed the Mathasaur Lake and Jai Maa Fungni Temple. There were a number of cows grazing on the green grass and on a clear day the view from Mathasaur might have been impeccable. We were ecstatic upon spotting the Jai Maa Fungni Temple from afar and chose to quickly walk to that side when I was halted in my steps. I could see 2 foxes near the carcass of an animal. At first I thought they were dogs but when they saw me they slyly made their way from the scene and ran away in the jungle. We stood outside the temple, paid our respects and clicked a few photos of Mathasaur – a small lake with greenery sprouting from the water – which reminded me of Pundrik Rishi Lake in Sainj Valley.

The meadow was stunning and would get even more prettier in the monsoon. The locals had informed us that we are likely to meet a lot of people at Mathasaur who take their cattle for grazing but it seemed that they had either returned to their homes or chosen to stay back that day. After clicking a few pictures of the Jai Maa Fungni Temple and Mathasaur and reading the information and rules written on the signboard, we wandered around the meadow for a bit and then crossed over to the other side automatically assuming that the way to Bhumtir was from there. We started descending at around 330 pm and within no time realised there was no trail where we were.

My favourite click with both Mathasaur and Jai Maa Fungni Temple in the background.

I remembered the village guy’s directions where he had mentioned that the path to Bhumtir would be from a small water source near the temple from where a straight path would lead to a sort of a hut. He was quite confident that we would easily find the hut and thankfully I had seen the water source and mentioned it to Jita which prompted our return. We headed to the other side of the water source and saw a bunch of beautiful horses grazing and loitering around and duly spotted the stone hut. At this juncture the time was almost 330 pm and we had began thinking that it would be quite difficult to reach Bhumtir in time to catch the 430 pm bus to Kullu.

I tried my best to find a trail near the stone hut as we had been advised that the path to Bhumtir was a wide trail but to no avail. Jita looked around as well and just as it started raining we started descending via what we thought was the trekking trail to Bhumtir. We were in a dense jungle and as the rain got heavier any semblance of a path disappeared and within five minutes we had absolutely no idea of any trail. The rain got heavier and heavier and we were drenched in no time. As I mentioned earlier, we had not carried any raincoats or jackets, it quickly became a case for survival. I was worried about the camera getting wet in the rain as the small backpack would not be able to hold off the rain water for too long.

Surrounded by a dense forest.

We kept descending through the jungle through any semblance of a trail we could see (Bhumtir or not). And just then when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, hailstones started coming down with full fury. For a moment I felt an eerie thought come to my mind that we were lost in the jungle and had to call for rescue but I quickly calculated that we had more than 3 hours of daylight left and since we were surrounded by villages in Lug Valley – we would surely arrive somewhere if we kept descending. After 10-15 minutes of rapid descent, I had to give up any thoughts of retracing our path to Mathasaur and going back via the same trekking trail that we came via Jathani and Bhalyani.

I was going ahead and Jita was coming behind; we were constantly speaking to each other about the next steps in case we are unable to find any headway say by 430 pm. We agreed on the fact that if we kept descending we would surely arrive somewhere if not Bhumtir! Thankfully I was wearing a panama hat that shielded me from the direct brunt of the hailstones and I was still able to see clearly through my spectacles. Jita was struggling due to water on the glasses and I would soon be in the same situation. As soon as the rainwater made it on the spectacles, it became almost impossible to navigate through the slush, mud and a slippery downhill descent.

There are strict rules for entering temples in Lug Valley, like most of Kullu Valley.

It had suddenly got quite cold and we were just not prepared for it. At one point Jita even suggested if we should wait for a while in the jungle shielded from the rain in the shadow of a big deodhar tree and start again once the rain had subsided. He was also checking a map and said that we should soon be near a village in the next 20 odd minutes since it had only taken us about an hour to climb to Mathasaur and Jai Fungni Maa Temple. I was also feeling very cold and my jeans and tee-shirt was totally soaked. I wanted to save the phone from water and quickly put it in the small backpack and checked that no water had yet entered the insides of the bag. The hailstones fury lasted for about 10-15 minutes and we didn’t stop anywhere but kept descending.

We can call ourselves a bit lucky that some semblance of a trail had been spotted and we were quite positive about that being the right way when water had started flowing down from where we were descending. The paths in the jungle had become very slippery and at one point I was in a dire situation and had to be on all fours to get down without falling down. The mud made my fingers slippery and caused a ring to get off my finger. I realised that something was amiss even before I had taken a further step, tried to locate the ring in the nearby area with my bare eyes / watered spectacles. At that very moment I noticed that the heavy rain had sobered down to a slight drizzle and that meant I could see Jita had reached this spot too.

I told him that a finger ring was missing and that I was certain that I had dropped it somewhere close. As we were looking around I quickly replayed the slippery stretch in my mind and spotted a shiny object shielded by a pine cone. I was mighty relieved as it was a gold ring and quickly cleaned it and put it in my pocket to avoid further trouble. In retrospect, I wonder what would we have done if we had been unable to find the ring after about 10 odd minutes of searching – given our precarious situation. All I can say now that it was serendipity that the rain had almost stopped at that very moment and I was able to spot the ring with my bare eyes since there was no way the spectacles would be clear now that everything was wet.

Stormy weather.

That moment made us lighten the mood and we let out a chuckle at our dire situation and the cold. In our defence, we had made sure to not rest and keep descending and make sure that the body heat was maintained. If we had rested we would have really felt the cold and the momentum had been lost. We joked among ourselves that someone should make a reel of the current status of this adventure in our drenched condition! I checked the camera again and saw that the inside of the bag had started getting moist and that it would not hold on for much longer. There was still no sign of any habitation or a village but now that the rain had completely stopped, we were able to see clearly and I was now trekking without my spectacles.

Thunderstorm brewing in the dark clouds.

At about 415 pm, Jita looked at the map and said that we must reach a village anytime now. I was not sure of where we were but we had followed a trail in the jungle and now that trail had turned into a sort of a water trail. At this juncture, we came across a memorial stone and we were quickly reminded that the trekking trail from Jathani village was also exactly like this. This made me very confident and I started descending even more rapidly now (thanks to the Salomon shoes). Within 5 minutes, I spotted a house beneath us and let out a shout of joy+relief to Jita even as it started drizzling again.

I was worried about not being able to make it to Kullu by a bus and continued walking ahead. The trail crossed a few houses and I shouted at the top of my voice to ask for our whereabouts but there was nobody to be seen and I was mighty relieved when the trekking path finally ended and joined a sizeable dirt road. I was super confused in my mind and ran helter-skelter on the road and was wondering where I should go when I just spotted a lady sitting in the balcony of her house. I told her to tell my companion coming behind that I am continuing on the road itself. She told me that this is the Bhalyani side and that we have not descended by the Bhumtir way and that there is a possibility of catching the bus if we are quick enough.

I was almost running on the road when I met another woman carrying some fodder for the cows – at this point the rain had totally stopped. It was about 430 pm and she said that the road would lead to a place called Satreem where we might be able to catch the bus at a turn coming from Bhumtir. I then asked her if there were more possibilities of buses late in the evening from Bhalyani for which she pointed the walking trail to Bhalyani which I had left behind. Jita had also made it to the road and now we were both together and on the walking trail to Bhalyani. We were almost shivering with the cold but could not afford to take it slow as we had no idea of the status of the bus.

Just then we got a few houses in the village and met some school kids coming back from school. At this moment the sun also decided to come out making us feel like the gods had caused the rain and hail just for us! Someone at the house informed us that there’s a 515 pm HRTC bus from Bhalyani to Kullu and that we should easily be able to make it to Bhalyani from where we were. It was then that I realised that this village was Chorkpin (near Jathani) – where the lady in the morning had gone. We continued walking past green fields and felt nice when the sun dried a bit of our clothes and shoes and provided the much needed heat in our bodies. By about 440 we were at the Bhalyani ground near the Katrusi Narayan Temple (Shri Krishna Temple) and I heaved a sigh of relief.

On a clear day there would be snow peaks visible from here.

We quickly went to the shop guy and I requested him if he had a polythene to keep the camera and mobile. He obliged and asked us to rush since the bus stand/road where the bus came in Bhalyani was still quite far from there. That bit of information surprised us as I had never thought Bhalyani of such a big village. On the way we met a lady who was headed to the bus stand too and now we were finally at peace knowing that the 515 pm Bhalyani to Kullu bus was not a figment of our imagination!

It was a funny coincidence when we kept walking and walking and ended up in another village at 5 pm and had apparently left the Bhalyani bus stand behind. Now that the sun had gone down and it was back to being cold, we deduced that it was better that we walk back to Bhalyani bus stand in case there is any confusion or miscommunication about the bus. The lady was happy to see us at the bus stop and the bus duly came at 520. We shivered throughout the ride to Kullu and only steaming cups of Darjeeling tea in the home in Dobhi and a change of clothes helped us get back to normalcy!

The hut from where the supposed trekking trail to Bhumtir begins.

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