Devikothi, earlier Devi – Ri- Kothi, is an ancient mandir dedicated to Chamunda Devi in the remote Churah Valley of Chamba District. Devikothi used to serve as a gateway to the Pangi Valley before Sach Pass came into existence.
Chaini and Ali Pattan Pass are visible from this village that lead to the Pangi Valley . A colossal rock mass painted with snow rises in the North of this village, Chaini/Chehni Pass lies to its left where as the Ali Pattan Pass is right beneath this colossal snow tower.
I had been dreaming since long about these two less popular yet mystically beautiful passes of the Pir Panjal Himalayas in Chamba; Chaini & Ali Pattan Pass.
Before Sach Pass was thrown open, people used to walk across these passes to visit Pangi Valley. Pangi and Churah Valleys are like two twin sisters separated by the Pir Panjals. These two valleys share cultural and religious beliefs to a great extent.
Rijul, my travel partner and I decided to walk across these passes back – to – back with minimal support system. And when I say minimum support system, that means walking with experts of the Himalayas; gaddis.
Because of unpredictable rains this year, we couldn’t cross along with gaddis and that meant looking for a guide or someone who could at least lead us to the base of the pass. However, Rijul could not make it to Chamba because of unavoidable reasons and there I was left without any tent. Walking alone without a guide was certainly not a good idea.
Mostly, I go alone for trekking expeditions but never in the Pir Panjals.
And I made a wise decision to postpone this journey to a further date, which has not come as yet. Now that the trek was called off, I decided to walk around the pristine corridors of Devikothi Village.
The village is located right beneath the colossal Pir Panjal towers. The mighty Chaini and Ali Pattan pass guard the Northern frontiers of this village. The Devikothi Shrine is located in the heart of the village, which overlooks the gurgling waters of Ali Pattan nalla.
This is one of the finest wooden temples I have seen in the entire state. The gabled roof decorated with votive bells and trishuls looks mesmerizing to say the least. The shrine is surrounded by green fields and bichoo – booti (stinging nettle).
While I was jumping around to capture the wonderful landscape in my camera, I accidentally sat on a full grown bichoo- booti. After that, I kept scratching my bum for the next six hours.
Rest you can imagine.
The Jewel of Churah Valley : Devi – Ri Kothi
Its not only the exterior of this shrine that makes it popular. The major attraction is its wall paintings, which unfortunately have been desecrated by love birds and assholes who find it amusing to write their names on ancient artefacts.
This shrine was built by Raja Umed Singh, the King of erstwhile Chamba Province, in the year 1754. There used to be inscriptions on the wooden panel beyond the main door that confirmed this fact. However, in the name of retrofitting and restoring the shrine, all ASI managed to do was to fuck up badly, which seems to be their expertise.
The paintings on the four walls of the shrine depict historical and religious Hindu figures. And why just Hindu, there are some Muslim figures too depicted on the roof and columns of this shrine. Imagine, a muslim figure right outside the garbh – griha of a Hindu shrine.
I asked around but nobody had any damn clue about it. I guess they probably were loyal courtiers of the Chamba estate and the King rewarded them in his own way. And its just not the muslim figures, even the architectural style has a Mughal influence.
The walls and columns have hath yogis meditating in postures that look difficult even to imagine, let alone practising them in reality. Also there are tankri inscriptions on the wooden panels and votive bells placed outside the shrine.
Edited on 7/3/2011: These meditating yogis' referred above as hatha yogis are actually known as Kichak. In Himachal, I've been told that there are only three temples that have Kichak beams/columns, two of them in Kangra(Lakha Mandal, Pathiyar and Mahakal Temple, Baijnath) and one in Chamba (Devikothi, Churah). These kichak dwarf brackets in the four corners are all similar; crowned figures with legs bent and turned up towards the heads. Kichaks, it is believed, bear the load of the structure on their backs.
The murals depict the exploits of Goddess Durga and also key revelations from Bhagwat Puran. The shrine has a gabled rood, which is uncommon in Chamba but quite popular in the Kullu Valley. The roof is decorated with bells, trishuls, and a little brass tiger mounted above the wooden tiger that serves as the running beam for the roof.
The famous Gadarsu Mahadev peak stands aloof to one side. There are a couple of other Shiva and Shakti temples in and around the village but they all are modern concrete structures.
There is a small clinic (sort of) in the village which is run by one Mr. Ram Krishan Anand from Hoshiarpur (Punjab) who was practising medicine in this remote-land since 2008. I sat with him for half an hour and he showed me all his certificates and degrees. Like a curious child, he showed me all sorts of generic medicine, and explained to me advantages of the same.
I wanted to ask what brought him to Chamba and what exactly was he doing in the hinterlands of Churah Valley. But then some questions are always understood better when they are not answered.
Even the Pangwals, natives of Pangi Valley, have an ancient shrine dedicated to Chamunda Devi known as Mindhal Mata Mandir. A festival is organized in the month of July in Devikothi when pilgrims from either side of the Pir Panjals gather here in the village for the festival.
Now coming back to Chaini and Ali Pattan Passes, these are best crossed with gaddis or during the month of August (Shravan). August is the festival season and you will find people from either sides of the valley crossing on foot. Mostly, Chaini Pass is used to enter into the Pangi Valley while Ali Pattan Pass is used to enter into the Churah Valley. Locals take almost 7-8 hours to complete the journey from Devikothi to Mindhal, Mindhal being the nearest village close to the pass.
If lesser mortals like me stay at Hail, 4 km from Devikothi, my calculation says that the journey from Hail to Mindhal can be completed in 10-11 hours.
And as they say, you don’t go to the mountains, you are invited by them. I guess my invitation has not been printed yet by Mother Nature.
I am hopeful though!
How to Reach?
Trek to Chaini and AliPattan Pass starts from Devikothi and Tissa Village. Tissa Village is on the main Chamba – Sach – Pangi State Highway, 60-70 km from the mainland Chamba. Road to Devikothi branches off near Bairagarh on the same highway, some 30 km ahead of Teesa.
Another 15 km into the wilderness and you find yourself right at the bottom of these great climbing opportunities. Hail Village, some 5 km from Devikothi serves as the base camp for Chaini and Ali Pattan Pass, where from if you can walk real fast, can touch base in Pangi Valley on the same day.