It was the summer of 2009 when I had visited Manikaran for the first time and the effect it left was that of a perfect hermitage retreat. Its still is the same for me! Manikaran is a holy shrine of the Hindu and the Sikh religion. Set on the banks of the Parvati river, it’s just 5 Km’s ahead of Kasol in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.Though most of the temples and Gurudwaras have been developed and better amenities are being provided to pilgrims, the feel and the sanity of the place is still like it always has been. The market that hawks of swords, guns and knives have grown along with shops selling everything from hiking gear to Bob Marley t-shirts. Creative wooden artefacts to cafes selling espresso to foreigners, Manikaran is a haven for all. The natural hot water springs originating from the mountains and the furiously flowing rapids of the river below are wonders that need to be seen and felt to understand as to why I called this place a hermit’s retreat.
This time I could only stay for 2 days. On the first day I was assigned to do Seva at the mattress depot and then at the Langar kitchen. The best part is you feel like working and doing anything you are told to, no matter who you are or what you are and right there is a sense of satisfaction that this Seva gives you. During my tenure of service (Seva), I ended up making friends with other boys working there, all of them being Punjabis. The kirtan in the evenings in the main gurudwara create an atmosphere which one wouldn’t be able to leave.
What most people especially tourists miss to see is the wonderful nightlife that Manikaran has to offer. After our Seva and dinner, the boys and I went for a walk and then sat by an isolated hot water spring listening to Punjabi songs and talking about things only stoners talk about. It’s an amazing thing to witness as to how a place binds people from different places, walks and classes. This is one of the reasons why you should travel more and travel alone, it’s not about the places you get to see but the person you are and the change of perspective that dawns upon you.
Maan Singh a guy from Amritsar is a close friend I made there and the kind of conversations we had was like a long craved for the recluse. Overall, this time the way I saw the place was completely different than what I had 8 years ago.
And it’s one of the places in my checklist for a hermitage.