If you’ve any interest in Buddhism it’s worth taking a detour to REWALSAR, 24km southeast of Mandi, where three Tibetan monasteries (Nyingma, Drikung Kagyu and Drukpa Kagyu) mark an important place of pilgrimage. There are also Sikh and Hindu temples here, all of which draw a steady stream of pilgrims and tourists. The devout complete a chora around the small sacred lake and along narrow lanes full of shrines and stalls selling Tibetan curios, before lounging beneath the prayer flags on the lake’s grassy fringes.
It’s believed that Padmasambhava left many footprints and handprints in rocks and caves up in the hills around the lake, and steep paths lead up from the lake to caves that are used today as isolated meditation retreats. Of the three monasteries around the lake, Tso-Pema Ogyen Heruka Gompa is the most venerated and atmospheric; check out the tree planted in 1957 by the Dalai Lama, who visited India that year – two years before his exile from Tibet – to celebrate the 2500th anniversary of the Buddha’s birth. Towering dramatically over the lake and visually dominating the Rewalsar setting is the large but much newer Drukpa Kagyu Zigar Gompa.
For Hindus, Rewalsar is regarded as the abode of the sage Lomas, for whose sake the lake was created with waters from the Ganga and Yamuna. Three small temples dedicated to Krishna, Lomas and Shiva, along with a Nandi bull statue and lakeside ghats, reflect Rewalsar’s Hindu connections. On the west shore, the Sikh gurudwara attracts pilgrims retracing the steps of Guru Gobind Singh, who came here in 1702; this is one of the few sites associated with his life in Himachal. To the south a small sanctuary protects deer and Himalayan black bears.