Bijli Mahadev Temple – A Day Hike in Kullu Valley

Bijli Mahadev Temple is one of the most popular and sought attraction for visitors and tourists in Kullu – Manali region and therefore always came as a great surprise to most people I meet in the valley when I tell them that I haven’t been to Bijli Mahadev inspite of multiple trips to the region and also as a current resident of Kullu Valley. I had seen the Bijli Mahadev bus around Kullu numerous times and was aware that it is not a strenuous trek anymore. The road bifurcation to Bijli Mahadev remained a mystery though as the small diversion to Chansari village commenced just beneath the Gammon bridge in Kullu where the National Highway also bifurcated for Naggar / Manali. One of the days, we decided to catch an early morning bus for Bijli Mahadev and asked the timings at the HRTC Bus Stand, Kullu.

The culprit : Aloo pyaaz parantha at a dhaba near Kullu bus stand.

Me and Jita were keen to go on day hikes and explore more of Kullu Valley and Bijli Mahadev seemed like the perfect day trip. Bijli Mahadev Temple is located in Kharal valley at an altitude of roughly 2400m and is accessible by a 1 hour hike or 2-3 kms via a well-laid out path through the forest. We left early to reach Kullu bus stand at about 830 in the morning. We were suggested to get down at the Ramshila road near the Gammon bridge where it was easier to find a bus / shared sumo but we were skeptical about getting a seat in the bus and opted to go to the bus stand in Kullu itself.

A nice spot to sit in the shade at the start of the trail.

We weren’t sure of the name of the village where the bus to Bijli Mahadev went and were happy when informed that the HRTC bus will leave from Kullu bus stand at 940 am. We saw a private bus with the signboard stating that it was heading towards Bijli Mahadev but opted to eat something before leaving for the journey.

New age stuff at ISBT Kullu.

It is a hot day in Kullu and the humidity reminds me of the start of the morning on the Mathasaur – Jai Maa Fungni Temple trek. Anyhow, we are better prepared this time and have left early and I have also kept a rain jacket in the bag.

While we walked on the road past Chansari village, waiting for a ride.

There was ample time to have breakfast and we rushed to one of the nearby dhabas near the bus stand. Kullu bus stand looked swanky with the recently upgraded building and has been converted into ISBT Kullu! The aloo pyaaz parantha smelled dicey and my stomach started grumbling as soon as I finished it. It was freshly made but looked like the oil used in the making was old and could have been the culprit.

Ripe and delicious apricots for sale on the hiking trail.

Nevertheless, we reached the bus stand and I started feeling a bit pukish and was in a spot of bother. We occupied our seats in the bus that was supposed to leave in 10 odd minutes and I was in a dilemma if I should go for a short stroll to try and stabilise my grumbling stomach. Before I could think any further, the bus started. Thankfully, I had carried a few candies in my pocket and opened an alpenliebe for a change of mood.

A bird’s eye view of Kullu Valley with apple trees galore.

Last year, after completing the hike from Raison to Jana one of the dhaba owners near the Jana waterfalls had informed us that the scenic dirt road continued ahead of Ashni and would directly reach Bijli Mahadev Temple. I was quite intrigued to know that but the locals were clear with the information that it was a very rough road and was only recommended for experienced drivers in a 4*4 wheel drive vehicle.

Hiking sticks with religious offerings for sale at one of the dhabas enroute Bijli Mahadev.

It all sounded very appealing and when we stayed with friends at an obscure cottage in the woods on the Jana road, we walked for a kilometre or two and I wondered if it was possible to walk all the way to Bijli Mahadev temple from the Jana road as the distance was about 16-18 kms. It would make a fantastic trail as the forests around Jana are some of the densest in Kullu area and this region was part of the Kais Wildlife Sanctuary.

Vehicles were parked whereever they could find space.

The bus trundled out of Kullu town and as it took the diversion to Chansari, finally we were able to identify the road to Bijli Mahadev Temple. The distance from Kullu to Bijli Mahadev Temple is roughly 20 odd kms and the distance from Kullu to Chansari village is 14 kms. The road is narrow and the bus groans on an endless uphill ascent along winding turns through apple orchards while crossing numerous nondescript villages. I spotted signboards for a few homestays and realised it could be an excellent region for tourists to stay in Kullu Valley who want to experience a local environment and be away from the crowds of Manali.

It was a sort of hazy monsoon day.

As we climbed higher, a bird’s eye view of Kullu Valley was presented to us and I was pleased that the bus ride had somehow helped in the digestion and I was feeling a lot better. The single road was so narrow that our bus had to reverse umpteen number of times and we took almost 1 hour to reach Chansari village.

Lovely trail in the jungle.

The majority of passengers alighted in the villages en-route Chansari and that prompted me to ask the HRTC bus conductor how far the bus would go after Chansari Village? I was aware that the road continued past Chansari village and was certain that the private bus dropped passengers till Raugi turn and the HRTC bus conductor also remarked that they go till the private bus place.

Tiny children trying to sell religious paraphernalia on the trail.

When Chansari village came, there were only 5 people in the bus and the bus conductor suddenly announced that they would not be going ahead of Chansari and therefore we had to get down as well. I remember seeing a signboard that Bijli Mahadev was still 7 kms from Chansari village and was convinced that there was a method we could continue on the road and hike when the trail began.

Kullvi aunty in a pattu takes a break in the afternoon sun.

At the Chansari village bus stop, there were a few small eateries on the left while the walking trail to Bijli Mahadev Temple began on the right side with a steep flight of stairs. The dhaba owners said that the hiking trail via the steps should take us about 3 hours to reach Bijli Mahadev as the trekking distance from Chansari to Bijli Mahadev temple was about 6-7 kms.

Struck by lightening and split into two.

I was not keen on taking the hiking trail of the steps that began in Chansari village. There were 2 Bengali tourists in the bus who alighted at the Chansari bus stop as well and we started walking on the road to make sure we avoid them. It is almost impossible to hitch a ride when you are 4 people!

The cluster of dhabas signal that we have almost reached Bijli Mahadev temple.

To our shock and astonishment, we see the HRTC bus going ahead and it doesn’t stop even after they see us on the road. We tell this to a nearby shop owner and she remarks that the HRTC bus goes about 1-2 kms ahead and it would be much better for us to start our trail from where the road ends. A few private cars cross by but some of these are full and don’t give us a ride. I am feeling much better after the easy walk along the level road and now it feels like the aloo parantha has finally digested.

I could only wonder how green the meadows would be post monsoon.

We might have covered 1 kilometer and when I spot another car coming, I give it a hand and its a middle aged uncle and aunty from Mandi who stop and ask us to hop in. We tell them we are going to Bijli Mahadev Temple and that the HRTC bus dropped us in Chansari village itself even though it went ahead. Aunty asks us to complain to the HRTC Kullu office so that this sort of incident does not happen with others.

Bijli Mahadev temple is on a high hillock that affords a 360 degree view of the surrounding ranges.

Aunty and uncle from Mandi are also going to Bijli Mahadev Temple to pay their respects and I thank them for letting us sit with them. We are aware that the road continues ahead but are not sure how far we can actually go. It is a normal small car and after 4 kms the road becomes very bumpy and after we cross a couple of sharp hairpin bends, we can see cars parked on the side of the road signifying that the end of the road is close.

Great place to sit and watch the valley views on a clear day.

The bus had dropped us to Chansari village at about 1030 am and the clock shows the time is 1120 am as uncle finds a parking spot and we get out of the car. The sun is shining directly above us and we scamper for some shade. There are a few taxi vehicles bumping away to glory and dropping tourists even farther ahead but these are all SUV sort of vehicles and we figure its easier this way. Uncle has parked the car at a dhaba style eatery and someone shows us the stairs where the walking trail for Bijli Mahadev Temple and tells us that we should take around 1 hour to reach the temple. We wait a while for uncle to join us after he parks the car and aunty tells us he was in the army earlier and took an early retirement.

Official entry which looks to be soon upgraded to an elaborate entrance.

It was around 1140 am when we finally started climbing the stairs. I had automatically assumed that aunty uncle would be slower than us so we thanked them for the ride and told them that we would see them on our way down. Little did we know that the army uncle was obviously much fitter than us and we would end up trailing them for most of the hike.

Families and locals visit Bijli Mahadev frequently.

As soon as we started ascending, I noticed a number of shops / dhabas selling snacks, tea, coffee while breakfast, while lunch and dinner could be made on order. We were informed that the distance from this point to Bijli Mahadev Temple was around 3 kms and that we would take an hour at a reasonable pace.

At one of the closed dhabas, an old lady was selling freshly plucked ripe apricots by the kilo for 40 INR. I picked up a few pieces for 20 INR to be eaten as a healthy snack once we made it to the Bijli Mahadev temple.

Signboard suggests no photography inside the temple.

By this point my stomach troubles had stabilised and I figured that the walking had surely helped digest the parantha (culprit) and that it was better that I don’t eat anything untoward until we reached home after completing the hike. The views of Kullu Valley were quite splendid from the road and after the cloud cover dissipated as the day progressed, the weather became hot but the views became clear as well.

Trishul – or Shiva’s trident at Bijli Mahadev Temple.

It is a non-stop uphill climb and everyone tries to stop and rest in the shade every after few minutes. After 10 odd minutes, we join the end of the road at a place called as Karate where most of the tourists are getting dropped off and this is the last point till where the vehicles go. The hike is well laid out and is an uphill climb on steps that pass through a dense devdhar forest. Uncle and aunty are leading the way as we take a break every few minutes to click pictures and sit sometimes to rest in the shade. The trail is reasonably crowded and we are quite aghast at seeing multiple groups shouting at the top of their voice, playing loud music in the jungle on the speakers and generally disregarding the solitude of nature.

This is ‘Karate’ – as far as the motorable road goes to Bijli Mahadev.

The forest department has tried to do a good job by installing multiple dustbins along the trek but the garbage seems to be rarely collected and most of the dustbins were overflowing. All the shops/dhabas and restaurants along the hike were selling religious offerings. We came across old women in pattus selling juices, fruits and offerings in the jungle. A chance conversation with mom meant I also bought religious offerings worth 100 INR as she had asked me to pray at Bijli Mahadev Temple. There were 2 young kids who had also set up a stall in the jungle and were trying to sell fruits and religious offerings. The army uncle gave them quite a lecture and asked them to go to school since it was necessary and they were far too young to be making a living.

Sadhus (presumably) waiting for alms from pilgrims.

Just before reaching the temple, aunty pointed to me some of the trees that had been struck by lightening. The trees struck with lightening had been sliced into two and the phenomena of lightening around Bijli Mahadev temple was turning out to be true. I thanked her for showing me the trees as I would have most probably missed seeing the same.

This tree in the Bijli Mahadev Temple courtyard provides ample shade.

According to a popular legend : The temple is called Bijli Mahadev (roughly translated to Lord Shiva of Lightning). According to this legend, the idol or Shiva Lingam in the temple is struck by lightening every year during the monsoons, shattering it into numerous little pieces that get scattered all over the mountain top. These pieces are then collected by the temple priest who binds them together in the original form by using butter and sattu.

After hiking for about 40 odd minutes it felt like we were nearing the end of the forest and a cluster of dhabas was visible after a green clearing. As we made one final climb, we found ourselves amongst green meadows that stretched on both sides of the mountain and horses could be seen grazing in what was an idyllic sight. In less than one hour after beginning the trek / hike to Bijli Mahadev Temple – we saw the entrance of the temple with a Trishul – Shiva’s Trident.

Side view of Bijli Mahadev Temple.

A signboard suggested that photography was not allowed inside the temple. A crowd was gathered outside the doors of the Bijli Mahadev Temple and we were told that the Goddess from Pini village was visiting (she is the sister of Bijli Mahadev devta) and that the doors of the temple are closed until the ceremony.

Ceremony in progress at Bijli Mahadev.

Some of the dhabas just before reaching the temple were sizeable structures and could possibly serve as sleeping spaces in the night on a per bed / dormitory system. They had a wide variety of offerings and were geared up to served lunch / snacks to the visitors at short notice. One could order something to be made and it would be ready by the time the visitor got back after paying their respects at Bijli Mahadev Temple. The meadow in June had just started turning green after the recent rains and I could only dream of the eye-pleasing shade of green after the plentiful rains of July/August.

A small temple in the courtyard.

We put our shoes in the racks provided outside the temple and after a quick glance at the ceremony opted to walk around the temple to take in the scenery. There was a massive tree in the courtyard where a few sadhus were resting in the shade. I clicked a photograph of three sadhus who were sitting outside one of the smaller temples. The temple structure of Bijli Mahadev was a sort of flat roof which was quite different than the pagoda style temples normally seen in the region. A number of local visitors were sitting on the green meadows just ahead of the temple. Bijli Mahadev Temple is located on a high meadow that has a full 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains.

The meadow has scenic views of the Kullu & Parvati Valleys.

The views were not very clear but as I went ahead, I could spot the airstrip at Bhuntar airport in the far distance. The aerial sight of Kullu Valley and Parvati Valley was stunning and I could only wonder how pristine it would be on a clear day.

That bench is such a great idea!

After clicking a few photographs, I decided to lie down for a while on the green meadow and enjoyed the apricots. The apricots were perfectly ripe and super yummy and I decided that to buy a kilo or more from the same lady on the way back. In the meantime, the ceremony of the sister goddess was almost over and the gurs spoke among themselves while the trumpets were sounded and the devotees started returning.

Enjoying the apricots while the temple doors were closed for visitors.

It was close to 1 pm at this juncture and the temple priest informed us that we could enter the temple for paying our respects. I also asked one of the priests if we could click photographs of the temple and he reiterated the fact that we can click photographs from the outside but not from the inside. The entrance door of Bijli Mahadev temple was richly carved and looked incredibly beautiful. We entered the temple and immediately a small crowd had gathered inside. I quickly gave the priest the religious offerings and uncle made me light up the incense and after praying for a while, we were able to feel the solitude and spiritual richness.

Stunning view of Kullu Valley.

The air inside the temple was thick with the aroma of incense while the devotees prayed together. We sat for a while and noticed that opposite to the main temple there were ancient looking small and big stone statues. There was also a huge 20-25 meter tall pole made from the trunk of a tall Deodar tree which attracts lightening.

Can you see Bhuntar airstrip?

Some locals told us that the pole is replaced every year by another one made from the tallest Deodar tree found in the nearby forests. It was also quite close to the month of July, denoted by the month of Saawan in hindi when kheer is served to all devotees and visitors to Bijli Mahadev Temple. Saawan is a time for visiting the temples and thereby, an annual fair is held at Bijli Mahadev temple during monsoons.

The tall pole is there to attract lightening.

While strolling on the meadow around the temple, I wondered if there was a staying facility around Bijli Mahadev where the night skies would be quite special and one could also watch lights of Kullu & Parvati Valleys like twinkling stars. The return ceremony of the goddess sister (from Pini village) was full of fanfare and felt quite surreal and lucky for us to be able to see it.

A number of ancient looking stone statues opposite to the entrance.

After spending a few minutes soaking in the surroundings, we decided to start our journey at about 130-140 pm. The sun was shining quite brightly and even though it was nice and breezy at the top of the meadow at Bijli Mahadev Temple, we were keen to get back before there was any chance of the weather worsening and the rain coming down.

Richly painted door of Bijli Mahadev Temple.

I had a light moment with uncle and aunty when I remarked that uncle turned out to be much faster and fitter than us and that we ended up making the entire journey together. They asked us where we wanted to be dropped on the way back as we had originally thought that we would descend all the way to Chansari village bus stop. The locals had told us that shared taxis and regular buses were plentiful from Chansari that would ensure we got back to the main road / Kullu bus stand. The hiking trail to and from Chansari continued past the Karate village where private cars were being parked and taxis were dropping tourists.

I was clear about not eating anything while Jita picked up a few pakoras to eat on the way back. We made quick time on the descent even though the steps felt tiresome for the knees. It was quite hot and we were pleased about the cool breeze in the jungle and the relatively relaxed pace that we were at.

A picture of aunty, uncle, Jita and me!

Within no time, we reached the closed dhaba where the old lady was selling apricots and ended up buying a kilo of yummy freshly picked ripe apricots! I also bought a few yellow plums from a nearby seller. As we made the final descent to get to the main road, we saw many visitors were getting dropped off in taxis and starting the walk up at about 2-230 pm.

Idyllic sight while we started on our return hike.

I guess that is what most tourists do; they choose to take it easy in the morning and then make the difficult climb up during the day. I have always preferred to start early in the morning and give plenty of time to enjoy the hike and get back relaxed during the day itself as there are more chances of catching public transport. Uncle and aunty had reached as well and we sat in the car which had become quite hot in the searing heat.

A snack shop showcases jalebis and pakoras.

The ride back was uneventful and mostly smooth because only 1 bus crossed on the way before we reached Ramshila. Aunty-uncle were headed to Mandi and dropped us at Akhara Bazaar in Kullu at about 3 pm. We were in a celebratory mood having got back much much earlier than expected and thus decided to go to Sapna Sweets for a snack.

The cluster of dhabas – perfect for meals and snacks just before Bijli Mahadev Temple.

Kullu was extremely hot and Sapna sweets was so crowded that they were taking forever to serve in the cooler section of first floor. We thought about leaving but they agreed to serve samosas in the ground floor section.

A message appealing for cleanliness.

We caught a bus and got back to the home in Dobhi before evening and enjoyed a dinner with local wild vegetable of kathu ke patte and chapatis.

Local leaves of kathu ke patte with roti – in a kansa plate at home.

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