Travel story contributor: Karun Pandey
I have always been interested in Indian mythology. So, one fine day, while a couple of us had hit the road for a weekend trip to Mandi in Himachal Pradesh, a dear friend of mine told me about a 13th century temple and an alpine lake atop a ridge, named after the great sage Parashara. Since I had read a lot about him, I couldn’t stop myself from attempting a trek to this lake and offer my prayers at the temple.
Perched at an altitude of approximately 9000 ft. above sea level, pristine Prashar lake boasts of a stunning 180 degree view of mighty Dhauladhar, Kinnaur and Pir Panjal ranges of the greater Himalaya. In winters, surrounded by snowcapped mountains, this place turns into what looks no less than white heaven (if there is one!), whereas in summer, the meadows are in full bloom with wild flowers galore.
Right at the edge of the Parashar forest range, the trek to this lake starts from a sleepy hamlet called Baghi. One has to reach Mandi, a major town in Himachal Pradesh and then take a shared jeep or a bus to Baghi, which is approximately 42 kms away from Mandi. From Baghi, there is also a fair-weather motorable road till Prashar Lake, which usually is in a bad condition during summer and remains closed due to snow in the winter. Don’t forget to pick supplies needed for the trek from Mandi itself as you won’t have many options after it.
Finally after much planning and research, we decided to attempt this trek. On February 7, 2014; I, my wife and four other friends set out from Delhi to Mandi. We hired a cab and the route we’d drive on was NH1 via Karnal, Ambala, and Kiratpur Sahib. We left around ten in the night, got stuck in a massive traffic jam, and after 14 hours, next day around 2 pm we reached Baghi. It was too late to start the trek as the 8 kms distance from Baghi to Prashar Lake takes a minimum of 5-6 hours and it is always advisable to not trek in the dark lest you lose your way. So after brainstorming, we decided to take the motor road and drive until we can’t drive any further. It was winter, and we knew that we will find snow on our way and soon will have to walk on foot, but we took our chances and moved on as it was saving us some precious time. 15 minutes on the road, suddenly our driver stops the car and tells us that we have a flat tyre! Another 20 minutes of delay and we were becoming anxious because it would be dark soon and we may have to trek in the night. Finally, at one point in time we reached a spot where excess snow had blocked the road. We all got off, grabbed our rucksacks and without losing time started the trek. You may think it was foolish, which it sure was, but we had no other option because we didn’t carry any camping equipment with us! Had we not lost time we would have stayed in the pilgrim dharamsala in the temple premises. Luckily, since there was no sign of civilization around, our driver too tagged along.
5 minutes into the trek our legs were two feet deep into the snow, I was both excited and worried. Excited because winter trek is a wonderful experience and at the same time worried because it was too much of snow! Although we were carrying high power torches, but trekking in the dark has numerous disadvantages. But, onward we walked and on our way were joined by a cyclist, Himanshu Singh. Out of curiosity we ended up asking him how he managed to drag his cycle till here and he told us that he was covering Prashar Lake as a part of his 10,000 kms long cycle journey across India!
So now we were eight of us on our way to Prashar Lake. The snow was making it really tough for us to tread fast and since my friends were first time trekkers, they were walking too slow. We all walked close to each other lest someone loses track.
Before we could even realize it was 7pm and pitch dark. Torches were out and there was still no sign of Prashar Lake. After another half an hour we noticed a light bulb glowing atop a ridge not so far away. According to the locals, back in the day, it was the Forest Rest House, and a caretaker is always there no matter the season. We kept moving in the direction of that bulb only to realize we couldn’t see it anymore!
Unbothered, we moved on.
There came a time when for once I lost balance and was deep into the snow till my waist. Everyone started panicking thinking that we had lost the trail. Imagine the situation…it was dark, we didn’t know where we were going and whether it is reallythe right path! Of course, the group was anxious and it was getting difficult to make them understand that panicking never helps! So to calm them, I along with Himanshu (not the cyclist!) decided to check on the trail ahead. As expected we couldn’t cover much distance in the dark…not even with the power torches on. After much drama and confusion, we unanimously decided that we should descend back to the village. It may not be a wise decision, but safe for sure because at least we would have somewhere to stay the night.
As we started to descend, we noticed that, roughly about 200 mtrs on another trail uphill, there was an abandoned hut. We took a decision and decided to spend the night there. Two of us started sweeping the floor with makeshift broom made from twigs and the rest went out looking for firewood. Without sleeping bags, mats and tent, it was too hard to sleep, so we all chatted and sang through the night. For dinner, we had dry fruits, chocolates, and biscuits. I must add here that every trekker must carry these to keep you warm in high altitude, especially dry fruits and snickers!
With the first morning light, tired and sleepy l got out and looked around. The breathtaking view of the Himalaya, snow spread far and wide was enchanting. I hurried inside the hut, woke everybody else, asked them to pack and gear up for our adventurous trek! 4 of the group members (including the driver and new cyclist friend) were really tired so they decided to stay back, but I, my wife and two other friends decided to carry on.
Half an hour into the trek, our happiness knew no bounds because we could now see the perimeter fence of Prashar Lake. Thanking our stars, we thought to ourselves that not taking the dangerous trail last night was a wise decision.
We found the trail to be difficult during the day time…imagine how dangerous would it had been at night! The moment we entered the fenced region and climbed the ridge, we were enchanted by the grand view of the Prashar Lake with the floating island in it.
The temple by the lake side reflected the indigenous Himachali architecture. Its three storey pagoda-like structure is the proof of ancient Kath-Khuni style of building prevalent in Himachal Pradesh. There were many wooden huts inside the temple premises apparently belonging to the local shepherds. These huts are also used in religious ceremonies. The floating island in the lake keeps changing its direction with time. According to the legends, this floating island once was the seat of the great sage Parashara, sitting on which he meditated for centuries and it keeps moving even when the lake is fully frozen. Another interesting fact about the lake is that the depth of it is still unclear with many divers returning unsuccessfully from underwater.
We washed ourselves with the ice-cold lake water, offered prayers in the temple, and had lunch at one of the shops in the temple premises. Since it was a weekend trek for us, we didn’t have the luxury of time to devour the beauty and serenity of this place for long. But, the chill in the air was enough to fuel our desire to come back again. Soon. Very soon!
Thinking of the highly adventurous journey to this gem of a place, we decided to return to Baghi village where the other members of our group were waiting for us. Each of us giggled and knew that all of us will have a story to tell to folks back home!
It was very hard to say goodbye, but promising to come back again, we moved on!
For trek options in the Himalaya, don’t forget to click on this link.