Twelve years ago, my daughters, wife and I went to Shimla on a vacation. Shimla was nice, but by the second evening we were bored of doing the same thing over and over again. Back then, there were no Google-guided trips. I had my guide books, maps and a notebook where I used to jot down the names of lesser-known places that I wanted to travel to. But today most of those once-offbeat places are all on destination maps.
That holiday in Shimla has been egging me on ever since to look for unheard-of places. It was this desire for the unknown that pushed me towards Chindi, a little town in Himachal Pradesh that very few seem to know of.
A few weeks ago, I rode on my Royal Enfield motorcycle from Delhi to Chindi in the Karsog Valley of Mandi district. The town is about 90 km from Shimla and 470 km from Delhi. You can go to Chindi via Shimla, Mashobra, Naldehra and Tattapani (SH-13).
This hilltop town, surrounded by apple orchards, pine trees and deodars, is one of Himachal Pradesh’s best-kept secrets. You will not find any tourists there. Yet, it has something for everybody — picturesque forests for the nature lover, a blanket of calm for those seeking solitude, and several old temples for the religious or the history lover.
Among the many temples in the vicinity are the Mamleshwara Mahadev, Kamakhya Mata, Mahunag, Ardhnarishwara, Aledi Mahadev, Palinag at Nalagali and Churag temple. Legend has it that some of the temples go back to the time of the Pandavas.
The silence and the sense of peace that you get in Chindi are something that you are not likely to find in other hill towns. It offers beautiful walks in the midst of woods and orchards. The place rejuvenates your body and soul, and the thick forests give the sense of calmness that a city-dweller is often in search of.
To get back to the beginning, I crossed the Sutlej River on a new concrete bridge that has replaced the old wooden suspension bridge, but on slow speed. This is a route I am familiar with. A few years ago I had visited Tattapani on the border of Shimla and Mandi districts. The Sutlej marks a natural border between the districts.
Traffic thinned after Naldehra on the road from Shimla. After a while, I practically had the road to myself. What slowed me down was the splendid landscape. After riding up a few kilometres, I stopped to gaze at the Sutlej, which had entered a narrow valley. From my vantage point up on the hill, it didn’t seem formidable — but I suppose it was raging in that restricted space.
The higher I climbed, the denser the forest became. I rode into a large tract of virgin land. There were a few paddy fields down the hills along the riverside and orchards up the hills, but houses and people were a rare sight. I would stop now and then for a break and a cup of tea, whenever I found a shop by the road, and talk to the few locals present to know more about the place.
I reached Chindi after 11 hours of motorcycling from Delhi. It was 4 pm when I reached. There were only two places one can stay in — a government rest house or Hotel Mamleshwar, run by Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation. The rest house was being renovated, so I checked into the hotel — and then stepped out for a walk towards the village. The hotel manager suggested a trail 400m from the hotel, beyond the Chindi temple. I stayed inside the woods till sunset, enveloped in the lovely golden colours that spread below the misty mountains and the cold wind.
I went back to the hotel and got ready for an early dinner. The food was the usual fare that you get in HPTDC hotels — no-frills and fresh, but they taste the same all over Himachal. I was very hungry by then, so I enjoyed my dinner (roti, stir-fried mushroom and rajma). By the evening, the temperature had dropped to 10 degrees Celsius and there was a chilly wind blowing.
I heard strange sounds around me as dusk fell. It turned out there were flying foxes and monkeys around. I spotted a flying fox on a tree in the hotel complex.
Early next morning, I set out for Karsog town. The road went past the Chandika temple, from which Chindi gets its name. About 2 km from Chindi, the road forked into two at Bakhrote. The left road goes to Mandi and the right one to Karsog and Rampur Bushahr. I took the right turn, and minutes later, I had a clear view of the valley — a wide green expanse lush with paddy. The 10-odd km downhill ride did not take long, and I reached Mumail village in just 25 minutes.
There is an ancient Shiva temple just outside Mumail. Called Mamleshwar Mahadev, it lends the village its name. I decided to stop here on the way back, and continued towards Kaow, which has a temple of Kamaksha Devi.
The ride to Kaow was enthralling. The huge valley stretched between the many hills all around it, and the Amla-Bimla stream bounced along on rocks in between. I could see women working in the fields, and some walked on the road, their backs bent under loads of hay. Kaow seemed to move on women power!
The Kamaksha temple stood by the road, at the edge of the village. The temple was an impressive sight. It was not only large but also richly carved all over. The wooden wall had a series of carved panels at eye level. Many of the religious figures were easily recognisable. I spotted Ganesha, Hanuman, Vishnu’s Narasimha avatar, the nine-headed Durga and others. This wooden temple had recently been restored, but I was sorry to see that some parts of the old wooden floor had been replaced by glossy marble slabs. Attached to this main temple was a spectacular old stone-and-wooden tower.
The Mamleshwar Mahadev temple had a similar story to relate. Parts of the temple had been restored, but old wood had given way to concrete. What caught my eye was a havan kund with a burning log in the temple. The priests said the fire in the kund was never allowed to die out. Intricately carved stones framed parts of the original temple; some other parts of the temple were showcased in a museum-like room in the complex. The interiors had been blackened by centuries of lamp oil and incense fumes, but the beauty of the carvings was undiminished.
After Mumail, the ride back to Chindi didn’t take long. I had a nice cup of coffee at the hotel. Sitting on the terrace outside the restaurant, I watched the clouds gather again, and the sky transform into a red streak. I was once again embraced by a blanket of solitude.
- Getting there
- Delhi to Chindi via Shimla is 470 km by road. Take an overnight bus to Shimla, followed by a bus to Chindi, which is 90 km away. The bus goes up to Karsog, which is about 10 km from Chindi.
- You can also drive or fly to Shimla from Delhi and take a taxi to Chindi (₹2,000 approx.)
- There are only two places to stay in Chindi; the PWD rest house and the HPTDC Hotel Mamleshwar (http://hptdc.in).
- To book the PWD rest house, call the PWD engineer office, Karsog Division on 01907-222229 or mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
- You can also choose a homestay in Karsog.
- BL Tip
- Chindi doesn’t have shops selling snacks or medicines. You have to travel at least 10 km for supplies. Pack accordingly.