I think spirituality is a beautiful concept. To connect with one’s inner presence, and make peace with the world and our destinies is a powerful skill. Whether it is harnessed by experiences, beliefs and practices, religion, culture or anything else, it creates another dimension of life to explore and it is absolutely marvelous.
Not to say that I’m some sort of spiritual Guru or anything, but I’ve had my spiritual moments and experiences.
One such experience was when I found the temple hidden in the Himalayan Mountains.
Himachal Pradesh was never originally in my agenda. Kashmir was the place I kept hearing about, and craved to visit. But life has a curious way of making things work out. At the time of my travels, Kashmir was practically out of bounds for a foreigner like me. I was very devastated. But devastation became elation when I discovered the beautiful Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.
I immediately began searching for the most beautiful places to travel to, and each place seemed better than the next. I had never been a trekker, so I searched for easy treks to do in the region. It was also winter, and while there was no snow in the south, northern India was a different story. I had to prepare for cold temperatures and slippery trekking paths.
That’s when I found the Kheerganga Trek in the Parvati Valley.
It promised a relatively manageable trail with gorgeous views and the promise of a natural hot spring on the peak of the mountain (who needs a fancy spa anyway?)
The journey to Parvati Valley was both epic and exhausting. From Delhi, I took a bus overnight to Himachal Pradesh (which lasted around 14 hours). From there, I took another bus to the Parvati Valley region (around 2 hours) and rented a taxi to arrive at the base of the trek. From the taxi drop-off point to the actual base took about an hour of trekking (I met many friends along the way!) and I finally reached the base.
After a freezing cold night with no heat and a warm meal of rice and chicken (courtesy of some fellow trekkers who had brought chicken to cook for dinner), I woke up to a gorgeous blue sky, crisp white snow and the Himalayan mountains smiling at me from every corner.
I knew it was going to be a good day.
The trek uphill lasted about 8 hours. I’m pretty sure it would take up less time for more experienced trekker who unlike myself, didn’t have a hole in their foot (that’s another story for another day), but I barely noticed the time.
The state I was in while making my way up is one that I definitely can’t put into words.
But I can try and describe it:
I was surrounded by trees, walking on narrow cliffs that looked down into turquoise-blue rivers. I would look up every few seconds to catch the breath taking views of the snow-capped mountains in the distance, occasionally blocking the sun. Every few minutes (or maybe hours – I was too captivated by the beauty to keep track), I would come across a small waterfall, or a make-shift bridge over a river, or ladders made to help travelers lift themselves onto more tricky parts of the trek.
I was constantly followed by beautiful and friendly local dogs who would accompany me to a certain point, then hand me off to the next set of dogs waiting for the occasional traveler to come by, (perhaps in hopes of bribing a biscuit or two in exchange for their adorable company–it worked).
I also occasionally ran into locals, who lived in villages near the mountains and made their living by carrying goods up their backs to small huts on the way that would sell tea, coffee, instant noodles (my main meal for survival for most of my trips), biscuits and other snacks for travellers (these were rare along the way, and the prices were much higher than what you would normally find in a local village or city. — Fair enough though, carrying those loads in the mountains was not an easy task!)
Other locals would be working in the cracks and crevices of the mountains, working to build more bridges and pathways to ease the traveler’s journey. In the distance, you could see the smoke of a few fires they had built to warm their hands while working in the snow.
The journey to the top of the mountain was only eight hours, but I felt like I had learned a lifetime worth of lessons. To see the locals at work in the mountains, driven by each other’s company and the warmth of their small fires, to watch them carrying huge loads on their backs up a mountain for a living, to enjoy the company of dogs that should have been wild but were more approachable than any animal I had ever seen, and just to be surrounded by miracles every step of the way, and being able to witness the beauty of the world in that manner was so incredibly humbling, inspiring, and life-changing.
I felt like I had changed somehow, even before reaching the top.
When I did finally reach the top, it was scattered with colorful tents and a few fellow trekkers who had made it up before me; some who I had met along the way when they had passed me with a smile and a nod of encouragement.
And that’s when I saw the temple.
On the highest point, lay a small temple, from which a stream of hot water ran into a spring that had been transformed into a pool.
According to locals, it is believed that the son of a Hindu Deity (lord Shiva) mediated on the mountain for thousands of years, and the temple was a tribute to this.
I spent the night shivering in below-zero degree weather in a tent, under a sky filled with stars (it felt like the sky was filled with diamonds) with dried lips, worn out shoes, an extremely painful and sore foot (the foot-hole story will come, I promise!) and a huge smile on my face and peace in my heart.
The following morning, I rose early to watch the sun kiss the tips of the snow-capped mountains (ooh la la, metaphors), then made my way to the hot springs where I spent two whole hours in complete bliss and solitude (the spring had a separate private section for women).
I came out of that spring with a little more warmth in my body, a little more gratitude in my heart, and a whole lot of spirituality in my mind.
The world is such a marvelous place. How lucky we are to be able to witness its beauty and explore its miracles.
Here’s to more spiritual experiences and more treasured places like the temple on the mountain.