Everyone has a reason to come to Manikaran Sahib. Often it depends on what religion one follows. For me, it was about finding a town by the river, in the lap of the mighty Himalayas, and a confluence of faiths, customs, and ideas. The history of Manikaran dictates that the town was touched by both the Hindu gods and Guru Nanak Sahib at different times. The natural hot springs add to this attraction. From the Manikaran bridge, you can see the shades of both religions, the tales never growing old.
According to the Hindu legends, Goddess Parvati had lost her earring in Manikaran while taking a stroll with Lord Shiva. Shesh Nag had disappeared into the earth with the earring. To retrieve the earrings, Lord Shiva performed the Tandava dance to get them back from the Shesh Nag. This earring or Mani(jewel) – karn (ear) gives the town its name, and the energy produced by the Tandava gave the hot springs.
For Sikhs, when Guru Nanak arrived at Manikaran with Mardana, his followers collected flour from people to make chapatis. But as there was no fire, Guru Nanak made a hot water spring shoot out of the earth. That is how the hot springs of Manikaran came into existence. However, the food kept getting drowned in the hot water pond and the disciples looked at the Guru. Guru taught them a lesson in gratitude when he asked them to offer the food to God if they want to have it. And yes, as soon as it was pledged to be offered to God, food started floating.
Like in most religious towns, time didn’t seem to have passed in Manikaran Sahib. With time, it does, however, has developed its vibe. Streets are lined with kitschy souvenir shops flaunting winter wears, plastic neon toys, religious items, and local Himachali products. Devoted Sikh religious soldiers or the Nihangs are seen with their kirpan hanging around their waists walking down the street to the Manikaran Sahib Gurudwara. While Hindu devotees line up for the Shiv temple.
The first thing I did was queue up for the langar at the Gurudwara. That was one of the tastiest food I had ever eaten. I sat down for some time to listen to the Gurbani, before starting off to explore the town a little more. Everything is stretched out at a walkable distance in Manikaran. The wide road with the Devi temple is the center of the town. The road thins out into an alley that leads to the Gurudwara. This alley is lined on both sides by shops, restaurants, and guest houses. Most hotels and guest houses here are basic, but almost all of them have a room with a pool of hot mineral water. The hot, sulfur spring water is said to have medicinal properties. Sometimes it gets difficult to believe that less than ten meters from these place is River Parvati with icy, cold water. And if even the thought leaves you in bewilderment, then know that you can boil your grains in a cotton bag in about 30 minutes. And if you big utensils placed there – know that those are to cook food for the langar.
I walked out of the hustle-bustle of the narrow alleys towards the Manikaran bridge. Trust me one can spend hours on the bridge looking at the splendid way the little town has grown by the river, with the picturesque Manikaran gurudwara sitting on the banks of the river Parvati. The milky gurudwara complements the white froth of the unstoppable Parvati bellowing by its side. Wooden and concrete homes, painted with bright colors stand jammed against each other. A throng of people on the steps of the Shiva temple looked like a perpetual affair.
And while you may list down your ‘to-do’ list for the town at your fingertips, you may never be able to accommodate the thrill in simplicity in this place. So just walk around, sip on the chai and munch on some samosas, and rush for langar when hungry. And when you are in no mood to do something, just step out of your room, trudge to the private bath and dip in the mineral-rich hot spring water. And as you walk out of Manikaran crossing the Manikaran bridge, carry these little memories with you – the pleasantry of the religious crowd, the comforting feels of the hot water, and the kaleidoscope of colors and activities Manikaran is.