Travelling has taught me a lot of things. But the biggest lesson I’ve learnt ever since I started travelling seriously, is that the proper joys of any place will only come to you when you ditch luxury and stretch yourself out of your comfort zone. For me, this has proven to be beneficial doubly- not only am I able to see the place as it is in its purest essence, but I am also able to save some big bucks travelling locally! After my Triund trek, I gained enough confidence in myself that not only can I travel solo and enjoy it, but also travel without being financially handicapped as a result. This new-found confidence makes me now stretch myself and constantly test my limits. And this landed me in an ordinary HRTC bus to Mandi- a town in Himachal Pradesh where hardly any tourists/ travellers ever come, to head on to the mystical Prashar Lake trek.
At 7 am, I found myself in this town with the entire day ahead of me, with absolutely nothing to do. After going from one hotel to another in search of cheap deals, I landed at a hole-in-the-wall sort of a place and bagged myself a double bed with an attached bathroom and a great view of the mountains in just 180/night. This is a dharamshala of sorts in the complex of the Bhootnath Temple. Little did I know, this temple is a massive attraction during Shiv Ratri and one of Himachal’s biggest pooja is held here during the festival. The entire temple is made of stone and it proved to be quite a place to chill in the evening. I also saw the daily evening aarti which was a spectacle to watch. I have seen enough evening aartis in my lifetime but this one stood out just like the Triveni Ghat aarti in Rishikesh stands out among the others. A very low key affair with only a few locals present, the rishi with humongous dreadlocks leading the aarti added with the rhythm of the conch, the beating of the drums and the loud bells made it worth a watch.
Having little to do, I spent my time feeding a big old stray dog who soon became my buddy, playing gully cricket with six little kids on the terrace of the temple dharamshala, and spending time with a vegetable seller who told me about the vegetables of Himachal like the lingri and the various ways to cook them. I had all my meals at Cafe Treat, a decent little budget-friendly place. Despite a few short week moments, I made it through an entire day by myself, in a quiet town.
Having an innate passion for climbing mountains, I have realized that an hour into every trek I find myself questioning why I started it in the first place. My heavy bag weighs me down and my legs ache to rest. But every now and then I chance upon views like three different mountain ranges, from snow-clad to lush green, all spread out in front of me. And I meet people who tell me stories I’ll remember for a lifetime. That’s when I remember why I started that trek in the first place. It’s becoming a pattern now, and I’m learning to get okay with it.
So the next day, I took the only bus that goes to Parashar Lake and got off at Baagi village, from where the Parashar Lake trek starts. Incidentally, I was seated beside the sabzi wali aunty in the bus who took the time out to share a few more home recipes with me. She also told me about the mela happening at Parashar Lake today, which explained the crowd in the bus. Hearing about the mela, and looking at the state of the overfilled bus, I saw my hopes of some peace and quiet immediately diminish. Once I got off, I realized I already had company for the Parashar Lake trek with me uphill. Anirudh bhaiya had studied engineering and worked with a startup in Gurgaon for some time before realizing this was not his calling. He quit everything and moved to Bhuntar in Himachal Pradesh, the closest inter-state bus terminal to Kasol. There he worked as a Royal Enfield mechanic for two years just to get hands-on experience and now he was travelling through the state in search of peace and inspiration before he headed on to his next big project. His fascinating story and the fact that he had been trekking for the past 8 years immediately made me want to cling on to him for the rest of my trip!
The Parashar Lake trek started along the basin of the mostly dried up Beas river. We made our way winding across the huge rocks and crossing a few water streams to make it to the rhododendron forest leading up to the lake. With no set trail, we kept climbing wherever we could set foot. The sunlight pouring in from above and the crunch of dried leaves beneath my feet reminded me this is what I live for.
About two hours into the trek, we came across a massive lush green meadow with snow-capped mountain in front of us and the remaining forest behind. We spent an hour here soaking the glorious sun in. After crossing the second patch of the woods, I stumbled upon the carcass of a dead cow but this sight was compensated by the live cows grazing a little ahead near a small shepherd hut. From here on, it was a matter of a few minutes before we found ourselves in the vicinity of the Parashar Lake.
The rush here disheartened me. But I soon learned that this was no ordinary mela. Turns out, there are a few devta temples like the one in Kullu and Bijli Mahadev situated at various places in the state, and the birthdays of each of these devtas is a huge festivity among the local people. As luck would have it, my plans of the Parashar Lake trek had coincided with the birthday celebration of Prashar Rishi’s birthday and this mela is called Saura Panjoo.
The devtas from other parts of Himachal had come to visit Prashar Rishi on man-held chariots. I saw the devtas ‘dance’ and ‘hug’ each other. It was funny how religious festivities were becoming a source of my amusement during this trip. After having some food, I met Rahul bhaiya, a software engineer by profession who quit his job to search for something more wholesome and fulfilling, which landed him at Prashar for the past month.
My favourite part about going on treks has to be the camping bit. There’s nothing like setting up your own home, sleeping under dotted skies and rolling up in a ball to keep yourself warm. The bright warm sunrise always makes up for the insane strong winds that threaten to take my tent away throughout the night. The rush you get creating a home in the lap of wilderness far away from the luxury of comfort is unparalleled. Thus, soon I headed towards the highest clearing near the Lake to pitch my tent. I found a friendly little pup who faithfully completed this last leg of the Parashar Lake trek with me.
From up there, I saw a beautiful sunset and later headed downhill towards one of the dhabas to feast on some piping hot rajma chawal. We later spent the evening talking about and laughing at life, and watching the sky full of stars.
The next morning I woke up not to my alarm, not the sunlight, not to the sound of the chirping birds. I woke up to the tail of a horse hitting my tent repeatedly. I opened my tent up to the view of glorious sunrise and a number of horses grazing all around me.
This is one image that is going to be difficult to get rid off- not that I’d ever want to. The view in front of me took my breath away- quite literally. Up there, I could see all the mountains of Himachal Pradesh spread out in front of me. Dharmshala’s Dhauladhar range, Manali’s Pir Panjal range and Kinnaur’s Spiti range were all right there in front of me. Once I was up there, I wanted to never be elsewhere.
It was only after a long debate with myself that I returned back home, for I believe some things are supposed to be left behind, in order to be remembered better, and relived in the mind. But the Parashar Lake trek is something I will remember for ages to come, this I’m sure of!
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A twenty-something solo adventurer, Avantika finds comfort in learning about various cultures, its people and listening to age-old folk tales. When not on the road, she can be found cuddled up with her dog in her room, with a book in her hand.