India has always been the land of many unexplored places. The land of great warriors and forgotten dynasties which ruled small regions throughout the country. Their tales are intriguing and had a major impact on the regional culture and religious values. I happened to accidentally visit one such hidden paradise of Himachal Pradesh during the summer of 2012 named Sarahan.
I planned to go to Shimla but I overslept in the bus and ended up in Rampur (HP). With my old plan down the gutter, I made a new plan – Omelet and Toasts!
The new plan came with a full serving of dilemma of whether to go back to Shimla or just abort the mission. While eating at a roadside dhaba I got into a conversation with the dhaba owner. I asked him what all places I can visit in Rampur and he instantly replied “Bhaiya aap Sarahan jao. Devi ma ke darshan bhi ho jaenge.” (Brother, why don’t you go to Sarahan. You’ll also get to visit the temple.) I asked him more about the place and he told me that Sarahan was the ancient capital of Bushahr people. I was listening to all these names for the first time and it got me intrigued. The old man saw me buying his pitch and reeled me in by telling me the fascinating tale of Bushahr warriors.
The legend of Bushahr Warriors
As the legend was told to me by the old man, the neighboring king of Kullu raged war on Bushahr kingdom. The Bushahr warriors fought fearlessly and defeated Kullu by killing their king. The king of Bushahr then brought the decapitated head of the dead king to Sarahan. The dead king’s head was laid out for people to see as a sign of victory. The people of Kullu pleaded the Bushahr king to give them back their king’s head so that they could carry out the last rites. In exchange, the Bushahr king demanded that people of Kullu will never challenge Bushahr and Bushahr will retain the land seized during the war. He also asked Kullu to return the image of the chief god of region Raghunath, which was taken away from Sarahan. The people of Kullu accepted Bushahr king’s demands with one condition that Bushahr would celebrate the festival of Dussehra. The terms were accepted and the image of god Raghunath was placed in Bhimakali Temple. Since then, Dussehra is celebrated with great enthusiasm in Sarahan.
I believe all old people have a way of story-telling. By the time the old man ended his story, I was sold. But he wasn’t done yet. He told me that Sarahan also has one of the 51 Shaktipeetha called ‘Bhimakali Temple’.
“If you ask for anything there with a pure heart, Devi ma will fulfill your wishes.” He said with the conviction of a devotee. Realising that I really need some assistance from the Almighty, I was game. War-tales, dynasties and ancient capitals. It was enough to make me excited and I boarded a bus to a place I’d never heard before.
The bus was full but thankfully I got a window seat. The road to Sarahan was wending through Pine forests and it gradually merged into solemn Oaks with the rise in altitude. I was amazed how generously sanctified it is by nature. It is surrounded by apple and cherry orchards, small streams and a variety of wildflowers. The slate-roofed houses with smoke coming out of the chimneys portray a picture of provincial perfection. The Sutluj flowing down the valley was singing a constant lullaby and the snow-capped Shrikhand peak stood like a guardian angel. I fell in love with Sarahan the moment I stepped foot on its land.
It took me just a small walk in the village to discover that this small village has a rich history. Many ancient legends are also associated with it. Sarhan is called the ‘Gateway to Kinnaur’ which in purans is mentioned as the adobe of Shiva (Kailash). Sarahan was the capital of Bushahr state. It is believed to be then ‘Shonitpur’ ruled by Banasura, the eldest son of King Bali in puranic age. Later it became the summer capital and Rampur became the winter capital.
I saw the prime jewel of Sarahan – The Bhimakali Temple – from afar and started walking towards it.
Bhimakali Temple – One of the 51 Shaktipeetha
One of 51 Shaktipeetha, Shri Bhimakali Temple, is dedicated to the ‘Kuldevi’ (presiding deity) Bhimakali of Bushahr dynasty. Goddess Bhimakali is the regional version of the goddess Kali. The temple complex is more than 800 years old. Apart from two towered temples of goddess Bhimakali, it has temples of God Raghunath, Narsingh, and Patal Bhairav as well. The centuries-old temple is now locked and the goddess Bhimakali shrine is established at the top floor of the newly built one.
The fact that Sarahan is situated near to the old Indo-Tibetan road explains the Buddhist influence in the architecture and decorations of the temple. The most dominating feature of the temple though is the roof-top. The roof of the temple has silver-fretwork done over a canopy.
For the devotees to enter the inner courtyard of the temple, male visitors are required to cover their head. The temple committee provides caps at the entrance. Also, photography and leather items are prohibited inside it. You have to deposit cameras, mobile phones and leather items (belts, wallets etc.) in lockers. So make sure you are not wearing a loose pant during your visit. Speaking from experience, it can get really uncomfortable.
The temple also provides lodging and food (set menu) at really affordable prices.
The walk through the temple made me forget about my previous plans. I was smiling at the fact that how even oversleeping in a bus can be a blessing in disguise.
Another walk into the village and one more dhaba & a cuppa tea later my knowledge about Sarahan was enriched by many interesting facts. Apart from the Bhimakali Temple, Sarahan is surrounded by other attractions as well. Bird Park where the Himachal state bird (Western Tragopan) and other local species are found in their natural habitat. Jeori (hot water stream) Bhabha Valley and Sangla Valley are also in a close proximity from Sarahan.
I will always be thankful to the old man at the dhaba for telling me about Sarahan. It was a surreal travel experience!
How to reach Sarahan
The nearest railway station is Kalka. Sarahan is situated at 170 km from Shimla and one can hire a taxi from Shimla. Regular buses are also available from Chandigarh, Shimla, Rampur, and Jeori.
Where to Stay
HPTDC has hotel Shrikhand at a walking distance from the Bhimakali temple. One can also opt to stay in humble accommodation provided in the temple complex. Various homestays are also available.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit Sarahan is from April to October. In December to March, it gets covered in snow. Avoid visiting Sarahan in June and July because of heavy rainfall.
(Dedicated to Ravi Punetha. Happy Belated Birthday, my friend)