India // Himachal Pradesh //

Manikaran and around

A short distance beyond Kasol, clouds of steam billowing from the rocky riverbank herald the Parvati Valley’s chief attraction. Hindu mythology identifies MANIKARAN as the place where the serpent king Shesha stole Parvati’s earrings, or manikar, while she and her husband Shiva were bathing in the river. When interrogated, the snake flew into a rage and snorted the earrings out of his nose. Ever since, boiling water has poured out of the ground. The site is also venerated by Sikhs, who have erected a massive concrete gurudwara over the springs.

Boxed in at the bottom of a vast, sheer-sided chasm, Manikaran is a damp, dark and claustrophobic place where you’re unlikely to want to spend more than a night. Most of the action revolves around the springs themselves, reached via the lane that leads through the village from the footbridge. On the way, check out the finely carved pale-grey stone Rama temple just beyond the main square, and the pans of rice and dhal cooking in the steaming pools on the pavements. Down at the riverside Shiva shrine, semi-naked sadhus sit in the scalding waters smoking chillums. Sikh pilgrims, meanwhile, make their way to the atmospheric gurudwara nearby, where they take a purifying dip in the underground pool, sweat in the hot cave and then congregate upstairs to listen to musical recitations from the Sikhs’ holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib. If you visit, keep your arms, legs and head covered; tobacco is prohibited inside the complex.