Although I was planning on posting tomorrow, I was thinking so much about our hike yesterday that we did on our day off, that I decided to post today. Yesterday, we hiked to the Old Chamunda Temple, about 17 km each way. There is the new Chamunda Temple that was built years ago, which is on the main road in Chamunda, but, as people we met told us, last year, a fire burned much of the temple. The statue of Chamunda Devi survived however, so it was consequently moved back up to the mountaintop temple.
The temple that we went to is very old, and is very high up, near the snowline, and only accessible by trail. We were so fortunate with all of the people who we met and got to talk to. We did most of our hike with a woman from Palampur and her daughter, who was in her early twenties. At first, I wrongly assumed that we would be going faster than them, but after going the wrong way on a very steep part a few times, it became clear to me, as Ravi had suggested, that we should all go together. I am so glad we did, as they were so incredibly nice, and the mother was so helpful, in terms of picking out shortcuts, and in many more ways.
It was great to talk to other people along the way, and so interesting to imagine what it must be like to live so high up in the mountains, and have to hike for hours to reach the town. There were some small shops where people could sit and rest along the way. At one of these, I asked how many hours were left. The man responded, "No, this isn’t about asking how many this, how many that. Don’t be looking toward the top of the mountain. You look down, where your feet are stepping, and all along the way, you just keep saying, Jai Mata Di, Jai Mata Di.:
He was so right, as it took us around 7 hours to reach the top. Every time we looked, there was a higher mountain to reach, and if someone told us we had some amount of kilometers left, we would ask an hour later and sometimes we would be told there were more kilometers left than last time! The hike was challenging, as most of my hikes have been up and down, rather than straight up for that long, and I am so thankful of Soumya (another awesome intern who lives at the center) and Ravi for coming, even though they weren’t as much into hiking as I am. We all still can’t believe we made it.
We were very lucky with the day we picked, not just because of the good weather, but because it was a special day. It was the first day that there was water at the top of the temple. Before, they used to bring up about 50 L each day by horse, and have to ration it out. However, at another of the small stores, one of the men told us that the locals themselves decided to built an 8 kilometer pipeline from a different mountain, where there is always snow and thus always water, to the temple. Thus, we got there not only to find plenty of water, but a celebration, and dham (a multi-course meal usually given at celebratory occasions).
It was amazing to see so many people of all ages making the trek, with ease. We met an old man who said he had heart problems, and children about 6 years old, running up and down from their father, who was higher up, to their mother, who hiked with us for a time. We also encountered an elderly religious man, who told us more about the temple, and talked about his love for India, and the concept of a family that can encompass a whole village or a whole nation. On the way down, we were passed by about a dozen young women, who were singing lively songs in Pahardi (the local language).
One evening, us four interns staying at the center decided to do some bonding, and took turns answering questions about ourselves. One was to describe a perfect day, which I described as a day where I woke up, and hiked the whole day, with friends. At the end, Soumya commented that it had been my perfect day. It is definitely the steepest hike I have done, and at every turn, the view was absolutely amazing. When we got to the top, we were in the middle of a cloud, so just seeing nothing but white on all sides was an amazing feeling of its own. I’d like to learn more about the history behind this temple, and am so thankful to have had this experience and to all the people I shared it with.