Hundreds of pilgrims driven by their faith and a few handful like us driven by a sense of adventurism had gathered for this annual pilgrimage to be held at 11000 feet.
The Skeern Yatra of Shringa Rishi. The presiding deity of Banjar Valley.
It was a congregation of an unmatched scale. Hundreds of men, women, and kids were literally swarming out of every direction. Some followed the procession of the deity while some were literally running uphill, ahead of others in order to secure a safe place for themselves. Safe place because the deity doesn’t like tents being pitched near the temple.
And there’s no point staying away from the temple when the deity is awake all night. The kardars and pilgrims drenched in the nectar of faith, sing and dance all night long.
On 14th May 2016 every
road trail led to the Skeern Top, where it is believed that the revered Rishi meditated for several years before coming down from the mountains. There is a small temple atop the Skeern Jot which becomes the spiritual center of entire Seraj Region, all the way from Kullu to Ani.
Shringa Rishi, also known as Rishyashringa, is said to have performed the ritual yajna performed by King Dashrath. And that’s why he is popularly referred to as ‘ayodhya waale’ in the Kullu Dushehra Festival.
A deity has a rath (palanquin) and chadi/mohra (insignia). Every alternate year they take the rath to the top of the mountain. And when they do so, they use ropes to ferry the rath without letting it touch the ground.
My good friend, Dr. Sameer Vaidya, a dental surgeon started his professional career from Banjar and worked there for almost a decade. While coming back from Saryolsar Lake, I asked for his inputs regarding places to be explored in and around Banjar, particularly about the annual Skeern Yatra.
He desperately wanted to be a part of Skeern Yatra. Not being a part of the Skeern Yatra despite living in the valley for so many years was his grouse.
His grouse became our motivation and that’s how the idea was planted.
From Chehni Kothi to Skeern Jot
Bhandari of the deity, the one who looks after the financial affairs and takes care of material possessions of the deity, asked us to be his guests. The start couldn’t have been better. He laid everything threadbare on the table about the history of devta and the festival.
The deity starts from Bagi Temple in the morning and reached Chehni Kothi by 10. After paying obeisance, the congregation leaves for it’s abode in the forest. There are predefined stops all along the way.
The first major stop being Chanan Thach, the glowing meadow, which isn’t a meadow as such but a sloping ground with boulders spread all across its length and breadth.
The deity trail is narrow and one has to follow the queue. There’s an alternate-route via Bashir Thach and that was the one we selected for our journey.
Both these trails meet at Chanan Thach where the trail ahead looks like a narrow gulley bisecting the mountain into two. The trail finally widens at Skeern Top, which is a small meadow spread out in one direction. The deep gorge on the other side overlooks the sentinels of Pir Panjals and Dhauladhars’.
It was a tiring walk from the Chehni Village to the top of Skeern Jot, which is the revered seat of presiding deity of Banjar: the Shringa Rishi.
Hundreds had gathered already at the top. Everybody waited patiently for the deity to arrive.
First came the melodious sounds of trumpets.
Then came the thumping of drums.
And then the palanquin appeared upon which rested the smiling face of Shringa Rishi.
The spires that rise above Tosh can be seen up close from this vantage. The Lambhri hill guards the Southern slopes while the snow laden alleys of Jalori Jot nonchalantly observe every move that you make atop the Skeern Jot. A closer look beyond the glacial barriers and one can see the jagged uprising of South Parbati peak trying to say hello to you.
Probably the deity made his calculations while he settled for Skeern as his meditative ground.
Imagine the golden glow on the crest of Hanuman Tibba. Think about the twin duo of Deo Tibba and Indrasan fighting it out with clouds and sun while you meditate right in front of them.
Sounds meditative, doesn’t it?
The deity procession and us came up via two different trails that merged at Chanan Thach. However up top people were going in three different directions, which meant there were more than one trails leading to Skeern Jot.
The return journey was made via Sarthi Thach, which was a proper meadow in literal sense. A wide open ground guarded by tall deodars’ on it’s extreme corners. This trail meets the main road at Jibhi.
A pleasant surprise awaited us at Jibhi. My friend Anshul met me at Jibhi. Anshul along with his wife and little kid has moved to the mountains from Delhi. He intends to build his home in Jibhi and that’s the only thing left for him to be declared a pahadi.
The way he talks and drives these days, he might as well win the upcoming assembly elections from Banjar 😉
The very first time I went to Banjar was in 2011. The few things I knew about Banjar before my visit weren’t really fascinating for a new visitor.
For instance, every summers I would read about Banjar town catching fire and fire tender coming all the way from Kullu. A fire tender traveling 65 kilometers just to find ashes spread in the air. So you can well imagine what I intend to say. With the Aut- Jalori- Sainj road being declared as a National Highway, I’m hopeful that things will surely change for better.
But as you go deeper, avoid the crowded lanes, walk off the beaten track and then you will find yourself in an entirely different world. Pine trees are replaced by thick deodars’ and all of a sudden the narrow valley looks pleasant.
Now, I have more than one reasons to revisit Banjar again. Rakti Sar in GHNP and Lambhri Hill to name a few.
P.S. Approximate height of Skeern Jot is close to 11200 feet. For stay options at Chehni Kothi, you may contact Bhandari Ji @ 08894647495
Everybody slept under the sky out in the open while the clouds played hide and seek with moon. In the distance, which wasn't that far, a lone star shone above Indrasan.