Secluded SARAHAN, erstwhile summer capital of the Bhushar rajas, sits astride a 2000m ledge above the River Sutlej, near the Shimla–Kinnaur border. Set against a spectacular backdrop, the village harbours one of the northwestern Himalayas’ most exotic spectacles – the Bhimakali temple. With its two multitiered sanctuary towers, elegantly sloping slate-tiled roofs and gleaming golden spires, it is the most majestic early timber temple in the Sutlej Valley – an area renowned for housing holy shrines on raised wooden platforms. Although most of the structure dates from the early twentieth century, parts are thought to be more than eight hundred years old.
A pair of elaborately decorated metal doors lead into a large courtyard flanked by rest rooms and a small carved-stone Shiva shrine. After ascending to a second, smaller yard, you pass another golden door, also richly embossed with mythical scenes, beyond which the innermost enclosure holds the two sanctuary towers. The one on the right houses musical instruments, flags, paladins and ceremonial weapons, some of which are on show in the small “museum” in the corner of the courtyard. Non-Hindus who want to climb to the top of the other, more modern tower to view the highly polished gold-faced deity must don a saffron cap. Bhimakali herself is enshrined on the top floor, decked with garlands of flowers.