The paradisiacal land of Himachal Pradesh is home to many historical and religious sites. The state boasts of several exciting pilgrimage trails leading to sacred temples. The Manimahesh Yatra is one such pilgrimage, which starts from Lakshmi Narayan Temple in Chamba and ends at the Manimahesh Lake in Bundhil valley. The Manimahesh Lake is believed to be one of the abode of Lord Shiva as per the Hindu mythologies.
The holy trek or Yatra is set about fifteen days after the festival of Janmashtami. The pilgrims walk along the rocky path completely bare footed, singing Bhajans and praying ecstatically to Lord Shiva. After reaching Manimahesh Lake, they take dips in the holy water. With the termination of the Manimahesh Yatra, the devotees visit the ancient temple of Chatrari, which is located between Bharmaur and Chamba.
The holy pilgrimage to the Manimahesh Lake (revered by local people as resting place of Lord Shiva) is supported by the Government of Himachal Pradesh, Manimahesh Pilgrimage Committee and several voluntary organizations. The Manimahesh Yatra in Himachal Pradesh is treated as a state level fair as per the declaration of the Himachal Pradesh State Government. The Himachal tourism department has undertaken various plans and programs to promote this wonderful event.
For the Gaddi tribal population of the region, pilgrimage to the lake is most holy. It is held every year during the Hindu month of Badon on Radhaasthami, the 15th day following the festival of Janmashtami, corresponding to the Gregorian month of August or September. The Yatra as it is called, is also popularly known as the Manimahesh Yatra.
It is heralded by a procession known locally as holy chhari (holy stick carried by the pilgrims on their shoulders) trek undertaken by pilgrims and sadhus. Pilgrims undertake the holy trek barefoot and cover a distance of 14 KM (8.7 Miles) from the nearest road point of Hadsar to the Manimahesh Lake.
Lord Shiva is the presiding deity of the yatra. The colourful procession of the chhari is accompanied by singing and recitation of hymns in praise of Lord Shiva. The Chhari trek, considered a tough trek, follows a set ancient route with stops at the designated places. To facilitate this trek, pilgrims are provided with facilities of transport (jeeps up to road ends), food and medical facilities and so forth. It is a two-day trek to the lake from Hadsar with a night halt at Dhanchoo. Tents are available for hire at Bharmour or Chamba. Ponies are hired by some devotees for the trek. Direct trekking from Chamba is also an option undertaken by the devout(devotee), which is a nine-day trek. The route followed is Rakh (20 kilometres (12 mi)), Bharmour, Hadsar (12 kilometres (7.5 mi)), Dhanchoo (7 kilometres (4.3 mi)) and Manimahesh (7.5 kilometres (4.7 mi)) with a brief halt at Bhiram Ghati. The return trip follows the same route.
The holy trek starts from the Laxmi Narayan Temple and the Dashnami Akhara in Chamba town, with the sacred stick (Chhari) of Gur Charpathnath carried by the pilgrims with participation of sadhus. The trek to the lake takes about 6 days. After the procession arrives at the lake, ceremonies are held all through the night. On the following day, pilgrims take a holy dip (naun) in the lake. After taking bath in the holy waters of the lake, pilgrims circumambulate the lake three times as an act of reverence, seeking blessings of the Lord Shiva. However, before taking a final dip in the Manimahesh Lake, women devotees take a dip at the Gauri Kund, which is situated about a mile short of the lake while men take bath at Shiv Karotri a part of the main lake. The belief is that Parvati, Shiva’s consort bathed at the Gauri Khund, while Shiva took his bath at the Shiv Karotri. State priests of Bharmaur Brahmin family perform the worship (Pujas) in all temples within the lake precincts.
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