Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Himachal Trip

Naina Devi - Chintapurni - Jwala Devi - Baglamukhi - Kangra - Dharamshala - McleodGanj - Sidhbari - Chamudaji - Palampur - Baijnath - Manali - Kullu - Manikaran - Kufri - Shimla

The entire stretch of Himalayan region is called as "Dev Bhumi" (Land of God). It is not surprising because when we see the beauty of nature unfolded there, it is not hard to think that God can live at such a beautiful place only. 

After the visit of Uttarakhand in 2012, the trip of Himachal was on cards, but it took another four years to materialize it.

I had big plans this time also to accompany with parents and inlaws. But inlaws could not come and so rest of us prepared for the visit.

The plan was as below.

Trip will start and conclude at Chandigarh. I decided to put one day for Chandigarh sightseeing but later cut that and tried to allocate maximum time to Himachal.

Total duration of trip was set as 10 days from Chandigarh to Chandigarh.

Itinerary was as below:

Day 1: Morning departure from Chandigarh. Visit Shaktipeeth Temples of NainaDevi and Chintapurni. Proceed to Jwalamukhi for night stay.

Day 2:  Morning visit Shaktipeeth temple of Jwalaji and then take the road to Kangra. Enroute visit temple of Baglamukhidevi. Visit Kangra Fort and Shaktipeeth temple of NagarkotVajreshwari Devi. Proceed to McleodGanj for night halt.

Day 3: Visit Bhagsu Nag Temple and Dalai Lama Temple and Tibbetan Museum. Take the road towards Palampur. Enroute visit SidhbaraiChinmaya Mission Ashram and Shaktipeeth of mother Chamunda. Night halt at Palampur.

Day 4: Morning visit temple of BaijnathMahadev. Take the road to Manali. (River rafting at Beas was an option here but we didnt go for it) Night halt at Manali.

Day 5: Visit Rohtang (went till Gulaba as Rohtang was not open yet) and then Solang Valley. Night halt at Manali.

Day 6: Visit Himachal museum for folk culture, Hidimba and Ghatotkach temples. Then visit Vashishtha Temple and hot spring. Also visit Manu temple, on whom name the place called as "Manu Aalaya (home of Manu), which later became Manali. Proceed to Kullu. On way visit Shawl factories and Mata Vaishno Devi Temple. Night halt at Kullu.

Day 7: Visit Manikaran and also Kasol Valley enroute. Evening left for local market visit etc. Night halt at Kullu.

Day 8: Start for Shimla, Enroute visited Markand( a detour of about 5 KMs). Evening take a walk on Mall road. Night Halt at Shimla.

Day 9: Visit Jakhoo Temple and then proceed to Kufri and Green Valley enroute. Night halt at Shimla.

Day 10: Local sight seeing at Shimla. Institute for Advanced Studies (Viceroy Lodge) and Army museum. Proceed towards Chandigarh. Enroute visit Sankatmochan Temple and Peetha of Tara Devi. Evening reached Chandigarh.

The plan was chalked out almost 3-4 months in advance. A few more tourist spots could have been added in this, but as my parents as well as kids were with me, I did not wanted to over strain them.

Hotels, I had booked individually with HPTDC well in advance through online. They are not luxurious but quite decent and serve good food.

Taxi, I got booked through "Taxi Service in Himachal" Portal. Ravikant helped with a Tavera. This vehicle provided by him was quite good and charges were also quite reasonable. Driver Sanjiv was well behaved and a good hill road driver. 

Ravikant can also be contacted through following numbers.

+91-9816592995, +91-07831050555
+91-9418028435, +91-09418519435

On the evening of April 3 we reached Chandigarh and as booked already, stayed at Himachal Bhawan in sector 28. It is not very far from Chandigarh Railway Station.

HPTDC hotels are "grand" but no luxury and perhaps need some more sophistication.

Perhaps with same price we can better luxury in other private hotels, though the food is very good here, fresh and hygienic. 

After dinner we all went to bed for a refreshing and sound sleep.

Morning was pleasant and quickly we all got up and refreshed. After breakfast our trip to Himachal started.

Day 1: Monday, 4th April

From Chandigarh, we drove to Shaktipeetha Temple of Naina Devi.

The Temple of Shri Naina Devi Ji is situated on a hilltop. It comes under Bilaspur district. The temple can be reached via road and then some steps needs to be taken, but this is not much and easily one can cover these.

During rush seasons, the vehicles are not allowed till the possible place and are stopped a few KMs before it. In that case pilgrims needs to walk or otherwise cable car can be taken.

As our Tavera ascended the hill on that dry and hot summer noon, the Gobind Sagar Lake was visible at a distance. This is formed by the Bhakra Nangal Dam.

The temple on hilltop is visible even before the ascend started. The mother is on hilltop so that her beloved kids drops all physical comfort to seek solace in her only.

Several mythological stories are associated with the establishment of the temple.


According to a legend, Goddess Sati burnt herself alive in Yagna, which distressed Lord Shiva. He picked the corpse of Sati on his shoulder and started his Tandava dance. This horrified all deities in the heaven as this could lead to holocaust. They urged Lord Vishnu to unleash his Chakra that cut the Sati’s body into 51 pieces. Shri Naina Devi Temple is the place where eyes of Sati fell down.

It is also said that one eye of Sati fell down here and another in Nainital at the banks of the famous lake. There is also a Naina Devi temple there.

One more story is associated with Sikh Guru Gobind Singh Ji. When he left for his military campaign against Mughals in 1756, he went Shri Naina Devi and performed a Sacrificial Yagna to seek blessings of the Goddess. After getting the blessings, he successfully defeated the Mughals.

It was quite hot summer noon as we started ascending the steps of abode of divine mother. Rush was there and it took about 45 minutes of queue to get darshan. 

Temple is relatively small but the security staff was very much able to handle the crowd properly.

It was very good feeling to be in the holy feet of mother of universe.

This was my second trip here. In my last visit during year 2000 to Himachal, I visited Naina Devi, Chintapurni, Kangra and Chamundaji.

So it was blessings of mother that I got another opportunity to be in her lotus feet alongside family and parents.

We descended the steps. My mother bought some prasada to be distributed to near and dear ones.

Now we took the road to another Shaktipeetha temple of ChhinnaMastika Chintapurni. After crossing the famous Bhakra Nangal Dam, we reached here after driving for little over 2 hours. It was evening time but quite hot and humid.

The temple dedicated to Mata Chintpurni Devi is located in District Una of Himachal Pradesh. Mata Chintpurni Devi is also known as Mata Shri ChhinnaMastika Devi.

The vehicle was not allowed a little distance after the bus stand. So about 2 KM of walk took us to this powerful place of divine mother.


My mother, who is having knee pain accepted the challenge and walked along with us to be in this powerful place of meditation and worship.

It is believed that if one asks something from the mother with a pure heart, the wish will be granted.

Apart from the holy shrine, the place is full of picturesque surroundings. 

Rush was there here too though not as much as at NainaDevi. The mother bestowed her blessings upon us and we had good darshan.

When Lord Vishnu severed the body of Mother Sati into 51, the pieces were scattered over various places. It is believed that Sati’s feet fell at this place.

The mother in Chintpurni is also known as ChhinnaMastika. It is said that the mother defeated the demons after a fierce battle but two of her yogini emanations (Jaya and Vijaya) were still thirsty for blood. Goddess Chandi cut off her own head to quench Jaya and Vijaya’s thirst for more blood.

She is usually shown holding her own severed head in her hand, drinking one stream of blood spurting from her neck, while at her side are two yoginis, each of whom drinks another stream of blood.

Mother Chhinnamastahelps the sincere and devoted seekers to dissolve his or her mind and ego into the Pure Divine Consciousness.

Cutting off the head suggests the separation of the mind from the body that is the freedom of the consciousness from the material confines of the physical body.

Initial plan was to visit the Shaktipeetha of Jwalamukhi also same day but we could not do it as it was almost 730 PM when we reached Jwalamukhi town 


So we checked in HPTDC hotel in the town very close to temple and decided to  visit this place of abode of mother in morning.

Day 2: Tuesday 5th April

Morning got ready a bit early and about 7 AM, we were at Shaktipeetha of Jwalamukhi. Here mother is worshipped in the form of divine flame which is burning since time immemorial. 

According to the legend, when Sati's body was divided into 51 parts, Sati Mata's tongue fell here. The flames are the representation of the same.

There is a natural cave where eternal flames continue to burn.


It is said that, one devotee of mother, Dhyanu Bhagat lived at the time of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. Akbar summoned him to his court to inquire about the Goddess. Dhyanu Bhagat told him that she is all powerful and answers the prayers of her devotees.

Akbar cut off the head of Dhyanu's horse ordering him to have the Goddess put it back. Dhyanu went to Jwalaji and prayed day and night to no avail. Out of desperation he cut off his own head and offered it to mother. She appeared to him riding a lion. She reconnected both his head and that of the horse. She also gave a boon that in the future if someone offered a coconut, she would accept it as if they had offered their own head. To this day people continue to offer coconuts to her.

Next to temple, in a hall, one canopy (Chhatra) offered by Akbar to mother has been kept.

There was some rush there so we took help of one priest. He helped us to have darshan quickly.

After having blessings of the mother, we took a walk around there and then ascended a few steps next to the temple to get into a cave called “GorakhDibiya”.


It is said that Baba Gorakhnath did meditation here. Divine Flames are visible here as well and it is said that mother herself used to cook food for the master.

There was a queue there as well but we had blissful darshan.

There are a few more temples of mother Jwalaji. One of them is in Shaktinagar town in Sonbhadra districtUttar Pradesh. Another one is at the village of Muktinath, located at an altitude of 3,710 meters at the foot of the Thorong La mountain pass in the Mustang district ofNepal.

There is one temple of Jwalaji outside India also. It is the Baku Atashgah, which is a fire-temple in Surakhani, a suburb of Baku in Azerbaijan. Historically, some Hindu pilgrims have referred to it as the Baku JwalaJi.

The presence of several Hindu inscriptions in Sanskrit and Punjabi (as opposed to only one in Persian have led to many scholars concluding that it is a Jwalaji temple. There were local claims made to a visiting ParsiDastur in the early twentieth century that the Russian czar Alexander III had also witnessed Hindu fire prayer rituals at this location.

Blessed we took a heavy breakfast and proceeded to Temple of Baglamukhi at town called Bankhandi.

Mother Baglamukhi is worshipped to curb all the negative forces. She is also famous as Pitambara, wearing yellow attire.



Rush was not much. In one corner one Yagna was in progress and some women were singing the praises of the mother. We had very peaceful times and got blessed to be there.

Next destination was Kangra. 

Kangra is a composite word made out of Kaan (ear) + Gaddha (create/mold). This name was given to Kangra because of the famous ancient plastic surgeons of the region who were known to provide plastic surgery. The British archaeologist and historian Sir Alexander Cunningham documented and brought to light the tradition and science of Kangra plastic operation.

Historically known as “Nagarkot” and "Trigarta".the town of Kangra was founded by Katoch Kshatriya Rajputs of Chandervanshi Lineage.

First we visited the Kangra fort.

My parents decided to roam in the gardens at the entrance as rest of us proceeded towards the first gate of the fort, named as Ranjit Singh Dwar. It was named after Raja Ranjit Singh.



Adjoining the Fort is the Maharaja Sansar Chand Katoch Museum run by the Royal Family of Kangra. The Museum also provides audio guides for the fort and the museum and has a cafeteria.

I took one audio guide which was for approximately 45 minutes. It was a good narration and I recommend it to everyone who visits the fort.

The Kangra fort is said to be thousands of years old. It was built by the royal Rajput family of Kangra, the Katoch dynasty, which traces its origins to the ancient Trigarta Kingdom, mentioned in the Mahabharata epic. It is the largest fort in the Himalayas and probably the oldest dated fort in India.

The fort was looted in 1009 by Mahmud of Ghaznavi. It resisted Jahangir's siege in 1615. However Jehangir successfully subdued the fort in 1622. After his death, the Katoch Rajput, took it over again. It remained with the Katochs until 1828 when Ranjit Singh annexed it after Sansar Chand's death. The fort was finally taken by the British after the Sikh war of 1846.




A British garrison occupied the fort until it was heavily damaged in an earthquake on the 4th of April, 1905.

The entrance to the fort is through a small courtyard enclosed between two gates which were built during the Sikh period, as appears from an inscription over the entrance. From here a long and narrow passage leads up to the top of the fort, through the Ahani and Amiri Gates. About 500 feet from the outer gate the passage turns round at a very sharp angle and passes through the Jehangiri Darwaza.




The Darsani Darwaza, which is now flanked by defaced statues of River Goddesses Ganga and Yamuna gave access to a courtyard, along the south side of which stood the shrines of Lakshmi-Narayana and Ambika Devi. There is also an idol of Jain Teerthanka Mahavira, said to be sanctified by him only. The Ambika Devi shrine is said to be one of the oldest existing shrines in North India.


The Laksmi Narayan Shrine has been destroyed almost completely. With ruins, it can be guessed how grand it would have been.

In between these shrines is a passage that leads up to the palace, the palace is in complete ruin now. 



My audio guide got over here. I was in the era of backgone era. Infront of now ruined Lakshmi Narayan Temple, there is a courtyard having a big Peepal Tree. This tree looked like quite old and must have witnessed the bloody wars, conspiracies, sacrifices and good days since ages.

The fort stands on a steep rock in Kangra dominating the surrounding valley, built strategically at the "sangam" confluence (places where two rivers meet) of Banganga and Majhi rivers.



There is a famous Jayanti Mata temple on a hill top, which can be seen from the fort. The Temple was built by the General of the Gorkha Army, Bada Kaji Amar Singh Thapa.

Some school girls were defacing the fort walls by writing their names. My wife and we objected on this. A couple of them first resisted to us but finally stopped doing it, atleast infront of us.

We Indians are perhaps the biggest enemies of ourselves!

Next destination was the Shaktipeetha of Mother Vajreshwari.

The temple of Vajreshwari was one of the oldest and wealthiest in India. It was looted by Mahmud Ghazanvi and Allauddin Khilzi, but restored back again every time. 

The devastating earthquake of 1905 took its toll on temple also along with Kangra fort.

The temple was rebuild again.

Rush was not much and we got the darshan peacefully.



We sat in courtyard for sometime. I kept myself busy with my Canon, capturing the memories.

Time to take road to McleodGanj via Dharamshala.

Dharamshala is a town in the 
Kangra Valley and is surrounded by dense forest consisting mainly of Deodaar (Cedar) trees.

A further few KMs from Dharamshala is a the town of McleodGanj. The village of McLeodGanj, is known worldwide for the presence of the Dalai Lama. On 29 April 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) established the Tibetan exile administration in the north Indian hill station of Mussoorie. In May 1960, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) was moved to Dharamshala.

Dharamshala is the centre of the Tibetan exile world in India. Following the 1959 Tibbetan uprising, therewas an influx of Tibetan refugees who followed the 14th Dalai Lama. His presence and the Tibetan population has made Dharamshala a popular destination for Indian and foreign tourists, including students studying about Tibet.

On the way we visited Dharamshala Cricket Stadium and the War Memorial. The cricket stadium is newly build and has some breathtaking views. Though small it will be great to enjoy watching cricket here in the serene environment.

Other side of the main road is the Army War Memorial. It has a little description of different army units and a few Guns etc. I always make sure to visit such places to give tribute to our defenders and the martyrs.


By evening we reached MacloedGanj and checked in HPTDC hotel. It was quite cold there and required thermals and Jackets to roam outside. Me and my wife took a stroll on the bust main street and enjoyed some fresh Tibbetan Momo.  

The place was full of Foreigners besides the Tibbetan community. McLeod Ganj was named after Sir Donald Friell McLeod, a Lieutenant Governor of Punjab during British times.

Day 3: Wednesday, 6th April

Woke up to a cold morning. Today the first destination was the very old BhagsuNag temple. 





The village of Bhagsunag is about 2 kms away from the town of McLeod Ganj. As we reached there the weather took a bad turn and it started raining heavily.

The Shiva Temple here is very old and the current constructions is done with help of some army units, particularly Gurkha Regiment. 



The legend is that King Bhagsu in ancient times, came here in search of water sources for his people. The water here was guarded by Nag Devta. A fierce fight happened and the Nag devta got happy with bravery of Bhagsu and granted him the boon. Further Lord Shiva agreed to reside there always.


There is a famous waterfall, which is about one KM away behind the temple and the only option one has to get there is to walk. Though the walk is said to be very easy, but as it was raining so my parents advised me not to proceed. We waited for some time for rains to subside but as it didn’t happened. The rains made the path slippery and muddy so I dropped the idea and took the road to other destination, The Namgyal Monastery or more famous as the Dalai Lama Temple.

Namgyal Monastery is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. Its primary role is to assist with rituals involving the Dalai Lama. Its main tantric practices include those of Kalachakra, Yamataka, Chakrasamvara,Guhyasamaja and Vajrakilaya.

It was founded around 1564 or 1565 by the Third Dalai Lama Gyalwa Sonam Gyatso. It was named in honour of the female deity Namgyalmain.
 

Since the completion of construction on the Potala Palace (begun by the Fifth Dalai Lama), Namgyal was traditionally housed in the red section at the top of that building in Lhasa.



Following the Tibetan uprising of 1959, Namgyal Monastery relocated to Dharamshala, where it continues, active, to this day.

This Monastery is seat of Dalai Lama and it is school of Tibbetan Buddhism like there at Bylacuppe in Mysore.

We visited the temple and praed to Buddha. We also prayed by rotating the prayer wheels.
Dalai Lama was not there so could not meet him.

Next we visited the Tibbetan museum. It gives all the account of Chinese aggression and the way Chinese killing and decimating Tibbetan culture.
Why a man is biggest enemy of itself? Is it Ego?
Time to take road towards Palampur.

About 10 KM from Dharamshala is a sacred place called Tapovan. This place also has Sandeepany Vidyalaya established by Swamy Chinmayananda to spread knowledge of Geeta and Vedanta.  It is run by Chinmaya Mission now and has beautiful Rama temple as well and Samadhi of revered Swamy Chinmayanandaji.




There is also a huge idol of Ram Bhakta Hanuman.

We paid our respected to Swamyji and took a walk in the campus. Students were busy with Vedantic studies.

It was noon time now. We proceeded to our next destination. It was the Siddhapaaetha Temple of Mother Chamundaji.

Chamunda Devi Temple is a renowned holy shrine. Chamunda Devi Mandir is at a distance of 10 kms from Palampur, on the banks of Baner (BaanGanga) River. Chamunda Devi Mandir is believed to be the abode of 'Shiva and Shakti'. Due to this reason, it is also known as 'Chamunda Nandikeshwar Dham'. 



The term 'Chamunda' has been derived from two words, 'Chanda' and 'Munda'. As per the legends, with her immense power, the Goddess killed the demons Chanda and Munda. Since then the goddess is known and worshipped as Chamunda.

The main shrine is adored by the images of Lord Bhairav and Lord Hanuman on its sides. Actually, these lords are considered as the guards of the Goddess.

In the corner of the temple, one can see small footsteps of the Goddess on a stone. Besides the main shrine, there is a marble staircase that takes down to the cave of Lord Shiva. This is a cave-like scoop where Shiva Lingam is placed. People visit this cave and worship Lord Shiva. 

In the temple complex, there is a huge pond with images of Lords and people can take bath here.

The temple is situated in the picturesque beauty of lush green mountains. In the past days, the image of the Goddess was situated on the hill above the present site of the temple. The site was found to be in a remote area, where it was not possible for everyone to reach. Around 400 years ago, a King and a Brahmin priest prayed to Chamunda Devi asking her consent to shift the image to an accessible location. Chamunda Devi appeared in a dream to the priest granting him the permission. She asked him to dig a certain area and subsequently, they will find an ancient idol. They can brought the idol in the temple and worship her. The priest told about the dream to the King and sent his men to bring the idol. The men got the idol, but they could not lift it. 

Again, the Goddess appeared and asked the priest that the men could not lift the idol because they took it as an ordinary stone. She told the priest to get up early in the morning and take a bath. After wearing fresh clothes, he should go to the place in a devoted manner. The priest did the same what was told to him. He found that he could lift the idol easily. He placed the idol in its present location and from that time, the Goddess is worshipped by people at current location.

Next Destination was Dhauladhar Nature Park. It is a small zoo, still in construction, more of interest to kids. 

We checked in HPTDC Hotel and after taking some rest, took a walk across the Tea Gardens spread behind it and then to the main market about a KM away.
  
Temperature was moderate there. In the evening we just sat in the balcony, sipping tea and watching the endless green forests going till where it kisses mighty Himalayas.



Day 4: Thursday, 7th April

Morning started a bit late as my son was down with vomiting. My wife administered some medicine to him. I was a bit nervous as today we had to take long drive to Manali and we were in middle of our itinerary.


Initially it felt that medicine was working for him so he was given a moderate breakfast before we started for Manali. It is about 200 KM Himalayan Ghat road journey from Palampur.

About 20 KM from Palampur is famous Baijnath Mahadev Temple. This ancient temple is about 800 years old and so very powerful place of meditation. So we all decided to visit the temple and bow to the God of Gods the Mahadev!
As we proceeded towards the temple, my son again started vomiting and we all got worried.

My wife called his doctor to get advice and administered required medicine. He felt better then and evening, he was fine again.

The Baijnath temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva as Vaidyanath, ‘the Lord of physicians’.  This temple has been continuously under worship ever since its construction in 1204 A.D. The two long inscriptions in the porch of the temple indicate that a temple of Shiva existed on the spot even before the present one was constructed. 


The present temple is a beautiful example of the early medieval north Indian Temple architecture known as Nagara style of temples. The entrance to sanctum has a large square "Mandapa". There is a small porch in front of the mandapa hallin the front preceded by an idol of "Nandi", the bull, in a small pillared shrine. The whole temple is enclosed by a high wall with entrances in the south and north. The outer walls of the temple have several niches with images of gods and goddesses. Numerous images are also fixed or carved in the walls.

Legend here is similar to the legend associated with Vaidyanath Temple at Deoghar in Jharkhand or with Gokarna in Karnataka. According to the legend, it is believed that during the TretaYug, Ravana in order to have invincible powers worshiped Lord Shiva in the Kailash and offered his ten heads in the havankund. Influenced by this extra ordinary deed of the Ravana, the Lord Shiva not only restored his heads but also bestowed him with powers of invincibility and immortality.

On attaining this incomparable boon, Ravana also requested Lord Shiva to accompany him to Lanka. Shiva consented to the request of Ravana and converted himself into Shivling. Then Lord Shiva asked him to carry the Shivling and warned him that he should not place the Shivling down on the ground on his way. Ravana started moving south towards Lanka and reached Baijnath where he felt the need to answer the nature’s call. On seeing a shepherd, Ravana handed over the Shivling to him and went away to get himself relieved. On finding the Shivling very heavy, the shepherd put the linga on the ground and thus the Shivling got established.



It is said that it was a trick by Gods, who didn’t wanted the Ravana to carry that Shivalinga to Lanka.

I came to know that in the town of Baijnath, Dussehra (Vijayadashmi) festival is not celebrated as a mark of respect to the devotion of Ravana towards Lord Shiva. Another interesting thing about the town of Baijnath is that there are no shops of goldsmiths here. Not sure about it, why?

Now we took road to Manali via Mandi and Kullu. Road is not that good till Mandi. The view of Dhauladhar ranges is quite beautiful though. This Palampur Valley is also home to famous Kangra tea. We stopped at one tea shop and as usual bought fresh tea to the delight of my mother as I always buy tea from all tea producing places like Munnar, Ooty and Valparai.

The way from Mandi to Manali is very beautiful and goes next to the Beas (Vyas) river. This is one of the five rivers from which the name Punjab (PanchAab = Five Rivers) came into existence.

As we moved towards Kullu the weather took a bad turn and started raining heavily.

We continued slowly along the Beas.  The view was mesmerizing and the roads reminded me about our trip to Badrinath four years back.





Before and after Kullu there are many spots from where River rafting is done in Beas. Many people were doing it. I just watched siting on a big stone. The glacial waters coming from higher Himalayan ranges is quenching thirst of millions since time immemorial and getting all human filth in return.

We reached Manali in evening. It was quite cold with temperature tending to about 0 degrees. Still the place was full of tourists.



Our HPTDC hotel was at Mall road. It was equipped with room heater. As usual, we took some tea and getting refreshed, went out to take a stroll on the Mall road.

Day 5: Friday, 8th April

Chaitra Navarati starts today. We all did fasting. At home, we would have done Saptashati Recitation.

Morning started for Rohtang pass but as it's not open yet so vehicles are allowed only till a place called Gulaba about 8-10 KM before it.

Rohtang is expected to be opened by mid May this year though generally it gets opened in Mid June. I came to know that this year the average snow fall was lesser.

When the Rotang pass is closed, Gulaba is the point till where the tourists are allowed. It is a village about 8-10 KMs before Rohtang pass. It is about 3600 M above the sea level.

As we ascended from Manali towards Gulaba (and Rohtang), the beauty of nature started unfolding itself. It was a good Sunny morning but as we started gaining height, it started becoming cold and so we kept our windows closed.

On the way there are many shops providing warm cloths and Jackets on rent, we overlooked them, though when we reached Gulaba, we realized, we should have hired a few atleast for parents and kids.

It took little over an hour to reach Gulaba from Manali. It was constant ascend and as we gained height the snow covered ranges became more and more clear. It was very beautiful. There was quite rush. As we came out of vehicle the freezing breeze welcomed us.

Though it was sunny, the temperature was tending to 0 but the breeze made it extremely cold. I was not sure what to do as we were not equipped with the required clothing for that weather.  The wind had failed my predictions.

With some discussions we decided to withstand the wind and slowly ascended towards the plateau which was still covered with snow.


That place was wonderful and I can feel that those who have seen the Rohtang are really lucky. Anyway perhaps one more trip is waiting for me to this place.  

We spend almost 2 hours there in chilly subzero wind and extremely cold weather. The natural beauty that was spread everywhere was just overwhelming.

I felt that in first 30 minutes of stay there our body got adjusted to the altitude and weather and then we did not felt that much problem. Lord Anshumaan also helped us with his occasional shower of warmth and light.

With National Green Tribunal (NGT) coming into scene, there has been restriction put on vehicular movements at Rohtang. Every year they decide how many vehicles can travel to Rohtang in a day and permit needs to be taken one day in advance at Manali. 



Rohtang means, pile of corpses. Perhaps this notorious name, it has earned due to people dying in bad weather trying to cross the pass. (Elevation 3,978 m). This well-deserved reputation for being dangerous is because of unpredictable snowstorms and blizzards.

It is a high mountain pass on the eastern PirPanjal Range of the Himalayas around 50 KMs from Manali.





The pass provides a natural divide between the humid Kullu Valley and the arid high-altitude Lahaul and Spiti. On the southern side of this pass, the Beas River originates and flows southward and on its northern side originates the Chandra River, (a source stream of the river Chenab) which flows westward.




After spending a good time at Gulaba, we descended towards Manali and stopped at a small village called Kothi. It is a small valley surrounded by snow tipped mountains and forests of Devdaar (Cidar). 

Then we descended further to Solang Valley (or SolangNullah). It drives its name from combination of words Solang (Nearby village) and Nullah (water stream). It is a about 15 KMs from Manali on the way to Rohtang Pass, and is known for its summer and winter sport conditions.

We just strolled some distance and enjoyed being there in the lap of abundance of nature. There was a ropeway as well to go to summit of adjacent mountain, though we decided not to take it.




Solang Valley has a reputation of a popular ski resort. Snow melts during the summer months starting May and skiing is then replaced by zorbing (a giant ball with room for 2 people which is rolled down a 200 metre hill), paragliding, parachuting and horse riding.

About 7 KM from this place one long tunnel is being digged as part of preparing an all-terrain road to Ladakh. This work is in full swing as it will cut down the distance between Manali to Keylong and Leh by about 4-6 hours.

By afternoon, we were back to Manali. We visited a small but beautiful Durga temple on the Mall road and prayed the almighty mother.

After Lunch, we just spend some time visiting the local market.  We also visited a Buddhist temple and monastery as well as a small forest of Devdaar called Manali Van Vihar.

Manali Van Vihar is one of the most frequented attractions in Manali located very close to the Mall Road. This park is populated with many Deodaar (Cidar) trees. It is an ideal place for enjoying picnics and spending good moments with family and friends. Its well-laid paths are perfect for a long and refreshing stroll amid lush greenery. In addition to these, visitors can indulge in boat rides in the park's small pond.
 


Tibetan Monastery is one of the oldest and famous place in Manali. The Gadhan Thekchoking Gompa in Manali was constructed in the year 1969. The architecture of the monastery represents the Tibetan style of architecture. The statue of the Lord Buddha presides in the monastery.

The monastery is on the street, infront of the Manali Van Vihar.

It also runs a Thanka school of arts and a carpet-weaving centre. Handicraft are also kept for sale.

Even in the afternoon, It was still its quite cold with temperature clock displaying 10 degrees.

Day 6: Saturday, 9th April 

Today we had to leave Manali for Kullu. Morning plan was to visit local sightseeing at Manali. Morning we took a small stroll around The Mall and then took toad to Himachal Museum for Culture and folk arts.

It is a good place to get a feeling of Himachali culture. It includes cloths, utensils, models of House at Mandi and Lahaul, music instrument and model kitchen etc. Though small, it gives a fair idea of local culture and traditions.

Nearby are the temples for Hidimba and Ghatotkach .

Hidimba was wife of PandavaBheema and Ghatotkach was their son.

In this part of Kullu both are worshipped and the current temple of Hidimba was constructed in 1553 AD.




The Hidimba Devi temple is built around a cave where Hidimba performed meditation. Hidimba was supposed to have lived here with her brother Hidimb. During the Pandava's exile, when they visited Manali; Bhima killed Hidimb in a fight. Thereafter, Hidimba married Bhima and gave birth to their son Ghatotkacha.

When Bhima and his brothers returned from exile, Hidimbi did not accompany him, but stayed back and did tapasya and attained the status of a goddess.

The Hidimba Devi Temple has intricately carved wooden doors and a 24 meters tall wooden "shikhar" or tower. The tower consists of three square roofs covered with timber tiles and a fourth brass cone-shaped roof at the top. In the small cave below, there is a small (3 inch) tall brass image representing goddess Hidimba Devi.

We paid our reverence and then stroll in the area. There were many locals with Yak. My daughter preferred to take a Yak ride, though my son refused. 


About hundered metres away from the temple, there is a shrine dedicated to Goddess Hidimba's son, Ghatotkacha, who was born after she married Bhima.

There is no “temple” structure here. He is worshipped below a large tree.

He took part in Mahabharat war alongside Pandavas and was killed by Karna.

The entire area is surrounded by thick Cidar forest. Overall its very nice place to be and do meditation.

Next destination was Manu Temple.

It is said that Sage Manu meditated here. Initial name of this place was Manuaalaya  (Home of Manu). Later it became Manali.

This is supposed to be the only temple of Manu in India.

Manu Temple is located in old Manali, about 3 KMs from the Mall Road. The temple is dedicated to the sage Manu, who is said to be the creator of the world.

It is believed to be the place where sage Manu meditated after stepping on earth after “Pralaya”.

There were many shopkeepers trying to sell cheap shawls. My mother was interested but at low prices the quality was not good.

On the way to Temple, I saw one girl weaving a shawl. They spend many days in preparing a shawl and the middlemen get the most advantage.

From Manu Temple we took the road toVashishtha temple. He was Kula Guru of Lord Ram.





This temple signifies his meditation done at this place. It is about 5 KMs from Manali off Rohtang road.

Here at Vashishth there are three temples. First one is the temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, adjacent to that is the Vashishth Temple and hot spring. Just behind the Shiva Temple is the temple of Lord Rama.

Adjacent to the Vashishth temple is a pond from where comes out the warm water. It is said that it was digged by Lakshman so that Guru can take bath.





According to the legend, Rishi Vashishth was left depressed on finding out that his children had been killed by Vishwamitra. Rishi Vashishth tried to commit suicide by jumping into river but the river refused to kill him. The river which took the rishi to the village was named Vipasha, meaning freedom from bondage. The Vipasha River is now known as the Beas (Vyas) River.

The Vashishth temple is believed to be more than 4000 years old. It is decorated with beautiful carvings on wood.

The Vashishth hot water spring is one of the famous attractions of this region. The hot springs is believed to have medicinal value.

There are also separate bathrooms for both men and women. 

Next to Vashishth temple is temple of Lord Ram.



This Ram Temple was built by King Jagat Singh of Kullu. It is said that he got the curse of killing a Brahmin. To overcome this, he asked his ministers to bring the idol of Rama from Ayodhya. Multiple idols were brought by them, and they were installed in different temples. This is one of such temples. Other temples include Raghunath Temple at Manikaran and another one is at Kullu city.

Now was the time to take road to Kullu.  The route alongside Beas was very beautiful and we enjoyed our journey.

There are many Shawl factory on the way and we stopped at one such place, just before Kullu, to buy a few.

There is a Vaishno Devi temple just before Kullu from Manali to Kullu Road. It is very good temple and has place of worship of all different deities. Spread over many floors it has ancient caves with Mother Vaishno Devi and another with Shiva linga.
 




Vaishno Devi Temple is commonly known as the Mahadevi Tirth. The foundations of this pretty temple were laid in the year1962 by Swami Sewak Das jiMaharaj. It is currently managed by Maa Sharada Seva Sangh.

The surrounding views from the temple is just awesome.

Late afternoon we checked in the HPTDC hotel. Weather was warmer at Kullu as compared to Manali.

Day 7: Sunday, 10th April

Today the plan was to visit Kasol Valley and Manikaran.

Manikaran is about 50 KM from Kullu and Kasol is about 5 KM before Manikaran.The road is quite bad but the scenery on the way is worth going. It is very beautiful place. 

Manikaran is located in the Parvati Valley along the banks of river Parvati, northeast of Bhuntar in the Kullu District of Himachal Pradesh. It is at an altitude of about 1800 Meters and is located about 50 KM from Kullu.

Road was quite bad from Kullu to Manikaran. Though the landscape was very beautiful.

Legend is that because of the natural beauty of the place, Lord Shiva stayed here for very long along with mother Parvati. Her Earrings fell down in the river. Shiva asked his Ganas to find it but they failed. Angry Shiva initiated Naina Devi with his third eye and she told that the earrings are with Sheshnaag. Shiva asked Sheshnaag to give back the Mani. Sheshnaag hissed and the water of river started boiling and the Mani came out. 

Happy Shiva promised to be here and hence it became the famous pilgrimage.

The name Manikaran is derived from this legend. The water is still hot and is considered extremely auspicious. The water is so hot that rice for the “langar” is cooked by putting it into a linen-bag and dipping it into the boiling water.

Manikaran is a pilgrimage centre for both Hindus and Sikhs. The area is also well-known for its natural hot-water springs and its beautiful landscape.
 


According to Sikhs, Guru Nanak Dev ji came to this place in 1574 Bikrami with his disciples Bhai Bala & Bhai Mardana. Guru Nanak sent Bhai Mardana to collect food for langar (the Community Kitchen). Many people donated flour (atta) to make Roti (bread). The one problem was that there was no fire to cook the food. Guru Nanak Asked Mardana to lift a stone and Bhai Mardana then lifted a rock and a hot spring(hot water) appeared. As directed by Guru Nanak Dev ji, Mardana put the rolled chappatis in the spring, but to his despair the chappatis sank. Guru Nanak then told him to pray to god saying that if his chappatis float back then he would donate one chappati in the name of God. When he prayed all the chappatis started floating duly baked. Guru Nanak Dev Ji said that anyone who donates in the name of God, his or her drowned items float back.

There are many ponds here where the water is boiling. People here cook rice potato etc in this water only.



After parking the vehicle at parking very close to Gurudwara.  we crossed the Parvati river bridge. On the bridge, both side views are very beautiful. One can see the steam coming out from the boiling water just near the base of Shiva Temple.

Then we visited the Ancient Shiva Temple. The boiling water here is no less than a miracle.

Then through the narrow lanes, we walked to the ancient Rama Temple. 

There are two Rama Temples here, the first one is said to be quite old and established by Pandavas, some distance further there is another Raghunath Temple, built by King Jagat Singh of Kullu. (as I described above in section of Vashishth temple)




Just next to the Rama temple, there is a beautiful temple of Naina Devi. The temple has very beautiful wooden carvings.



Naina Devi was initiated by Shiva as his third eye. Next to this temple, there is also a small pond with boiling water.


Next was the Raghunath Temple. This was constructed by Raja Jagat Singh of Kullu.

We visited these temples and then took the beautiful road back to Kullu.

We ascended through the Kasol valley, which is about 5 KMs before Maniakaran on Kullu Manikaran road.



Kasol Valley is famous for it's beautiful and picturesque views.  This is also famous as many foreigners particularly Israeli people have made this small village their home.

Back to Kullu, we went to Raghunath temple but as the temple was closed so could not have darshan here. We bowed to the lord from outside.

As mentioned earlier, this temple was also constructed by Raja Jagat Singh of Kullu.





One more thing that I would like to mention about these temples are that the idol of Rama is very small and the size is about the size of thumb. This is how it has been described in ancient scriptures.

It was later afternoon and we were back to hotel. About 10 minutes later, I realized the bed and chairs shaking. I did not gave much attention till a few seconds later another bigger shock hit and I realized the bed and tables, chairs etc. sliding. The adrenalin got active and we all ran away out of room to the garden outside. It was 6.8 scale earthquake with center at Hindu Kush in Afghanistan.

Himalayan belt is very active seismic zone.

Masters say that Himalaya is very young and shakes itself occasionally to keep off the dirt!

Manikaran and Kasol are really beautiful places sans the bad road.

Day 8: Monday, 11th April

Morning after breakfast we started for Shimla.

Weather was not good and started raining heavily as we approached Mandi. The rain slowed down us but the rain made the surroundings even more picturesque.

Till Mandi the road was along Beas river and as we approached close to Shimla we went along with Sutlej. 

On the way, we also visited Markand. This place is sanctified by Sage Markandeya by his meditation. It is about 60 KMs from Shimla.

Markand is is where Maharishi Markandeya performed the strictest austerities.There is a way behind the temple to go to “VyasaGufa (Cave). It is said that Sage Vyasa meditated there. According to a legend, a tunnel connected Markand and Vyas cave and the two rishis, Vyas and Markandeya used to visit each other through this path. In addition to a shrine there is also a water spring, where a night fair is held annually on Baisakhi day.




It was quite hot noon. There was no rush in the temple. Preparation for Baisakhi fair was in progress, which was just two days ahead.

At around 4/430 PM, we were at the city of Shimla. It looked like to me as any other popular hill station, full of people and vehicles. Temperature was moderate but quite warm as compared to Manali, though night was very cold.

It took us almost seven and half hour to cover about 240 KM from Kullu to Shimla.

The HPTDC hotel was quite good and provided very good view of Shimla city. 

Taking some rest at hotel, we went out for a walk on the famous Mall road. It was full of tourists and locals alike. Nice place to spend evenings. 

Day 9: Tuesday, 12th April 

Morning first destination was the Jakhoo Hanuman Temple.

Jakhoo Temple is an ancient temple in Shimla, dedicated to Lord Hanuman. It is about 5 KMs from Mall road. At a height of about 2500 meters, this is Shimla's highest peak and offers a panoramic view of the Shivalik Ranges.The engine of vehicle is thoroughly tested in negotiating the altitude to reach there.





According to mythology , during the battle between lord Rama and Ravana at Lanka,Lakshmana was injured from an arrow from Meghnad and turned senseless. In order to save his life, when lord Hanuman was moving towards Himalaya to get sanjeewani herb, he saw Yaksha sage on this mountain in penance.In order to gather more details about sanjeewani , lord Hanuman landed here . As a result of which this mountain which earlier was much  higher,half sunk into earth .After getting all the clarifications about the herb, lord Hanuman started his journey towards mount Dron. Lord Hanuman had promised the sage Yaksha to meet him during his back journey.However due to shortage of time, he had to return back to Lanka via shorter route.The waiting sage got very sad. Lord Hanuman appeared before the sage and told him the reason for not keeping his promise.When lord Hanuman disappeared, an idol of Lord Hanuman appeared by itself and is present in the temple till date.

The name of this hill is named after the Yaksha Sage.
Yaksha -- Yaak -- Yakoo -- Jakhoo

Monkeys are a menace there. They snatch everything including glasses, dupatta, purses and anything which they can carry and return only after some food items are offered in return!

They snatched glasses of my father as well as mine and returned only after good barter. Glasses of my father got broken, mine survived with minor injuries.

We prayed at the temple. Just behind the temple, there is a small shrine with “Charan Paduka”, we visited that place as well.



A giant 108-feet-high idol of Hanuman was unveiled at Jakhoo Hanuman temple in 2010, overlooking the entire city. At 108 feet at the highest altitude of over 8100 feet, it surpasses the statue of 'Christ the Redeemer', which measures at 98 feet and stands at an altitude of 2296 feet in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

After Jakhoo we took the road to famous hill station of Kufri. 

Enroute we stopped at Green Valley view for some clicks. It is a dense forest of Devdaar. 


Situated near the Himalayan range, Kufri is a picturesque hill station situated about 15 KMs from Shimla. Kufri derives its name from ‘Kufr’ which means lake. The cool and pleasant climate, along with stunning natural beauty, makes Kufri a perfect summer getaway.




Kufri is also the venue for annual winter sports festival held in February. Organized by the travel and tourism department of Himachal Pradesh, the festival is a major attraction with tourists. The skiing competition is the main event at the festival.



At Kufri we need to take horses to reach the famous tourist points located at the summit of hill. My son did not agreed to sit on horse but me and my daughter took a horse each to reach the summit.

Walking was not an option as the route has been thoroughly made worse by horses and their owners.



Summit provides quite good view of snow clad himalayan ranges. It also has a NaagDevta temple.

Influx of large number of tourists have made the place dirty. Things can be managed better.



With the help of small telescope, we witnessed some distant place. This includes the apple orchards, the hotel where Shimla accord was signed with Pakistan, the 365 room palace of Maharaja of Patiala etc.

Afternoon, We returned back to hotel from Kufri. It was about 4 PM.

After some rest, late evening, we went to home of Aditya, who is brother-in-law of friend Mayank. They received us warmly and home food was a good thing to have after so many days eating in hotels.

From the roof of their home, we witnessed the Shimla in night. Aditya also showed me the distant Tara Devi temple.

Shimla is a beautiful town but civilization is taking its toll in form of environmental degradation and Vehicular rush and pollution.

Day 10: Wednesday, 13th April 

Wednesday April 13 was last day of our 10 day Himachal trip.  Morning we started leisurely and about 11 AM after checkout from our Shimla hotel we took the road to IIAS campus (Indian Institute of Advanced Studies).

This building was actually the Residence of Viceroy of India during British time.  The Shimla used to be the summer capital of India. 

This building is also know as Viceregal Lodge and is located on the Observatory Hills of Shimla. It houses some of the most ancient articles and photographs going back to the times of the British rule in India.
 



The Viceregal Lodge was designed by British architect Henry Irwin and built in the Jacobethan style during the regime of Lord Dufferin. Its construction started in 1884 and was completed in 1888.

President Dr. S.Radhakrishnan transferred to the Ministry of Educationto be handed over to the Indian Institute of Advanced Study for higher studies in humanities.

 


We took the tickets. There was about 30 minutes for the guided tour. We spend the time while roaming and exploring the gardens and surroundings to of the beautiful place.

Four rooms are opened for visitors.  One guide explained us about the history associated.  He also explained about the architecture of the building and safety measures taken in those days against a possible fire threat.

For me the attraction was the room and table on which the partition of India was decided.

Next destination was the Army Museum.

It is a small but beautiful place. It includes dresses, flags and other history of Indian armed forces. It also has some Guns a kept in lawns.
 




This museum is located in the Annandale area of Shimla. Big Devdaar trees welcome as one reaches here. There was very little rush. The surroundings and soothing environment were just amazing.

At the gates a brave jawan was on strict vigilance with his gun.There were a few guns ket in the lawns, the 25 pounder and the 100 mm.

The museum is very well maintained true to the glory of our armed forces. It showcases a variety of things. Starting from the motto of the Army inspired by the Vedas and the Geeta, the dress code of the different regiments, Medals, weapons of the past (including bows and arrows, sword, mace etc.) and the latest guns etc. all were there.

 


There is also a beautiful greenhouse with the cactus and other arid plants.

It was very proud feeling to be there. I recommend it all tourists who visit Shimla.

With this our Shimla excursions are over and we took the road to Chandigarh.

On the way there are two famous temples and we decided to visit both.

These are Sankat Mochan and Tara Devi Peeth. 

Sankatmochan Temple is on road itself and TaraPeeth is about 5 KM detour from main road.  Both are very famous temples and attract huge crowds. Their location is also very beautiful and commands the view of Shimla and other Shivalik hills.

First we visited SankatMochan Temple. It is very close to Shimla.

Unlike Jakhoo, not very monkeys were here. This temple complex has a beautiful Ganapati temple, and NavagrahaTmeple. Infront of the temple, there is a big platform, from where the beautiful views of Shivalik ranges and Shimla city is visible.
 


In the main sanctum, there are idols of Lord Rama, Shiva and Hanuman. 

The history of the temple dates back to the late 1950’s, when Baba Neeb Karori Ji Maharaj visited this serene place, perfect for meditation. Baba Neeb Karori Ji Maharaj stayed here in a hut for about ten days and being deeply fascinated  and charmed with the  place expressed his keen desire for a Hanuman temple to be constructed at this very location. Baba's devotees the than Lt. Governor of Himachal Pradesh late Raja Bajrang Bahadur Bhadari and Sh. Bhagwan Sahai took the responsibility to fulfill their Guru’s desire and began with the construction of the temple in the year 1962 and finally it was consecrated on the 21st of June,1966.

The view of Shimla is very beautiful from here.

There is also a statue of Neeb Karori Baba ji Maharaj just infront of the temple.

Ram Navami was approaching and so the preparation was on full swing in temple.

From here we took the road to Tara Devi Peeth.

It is a few KMs detour to main Shimla Chandigarh road and located on TaravParvat about 15 Km from. The location of the temple on the Hill top makes it appear that the goddess mother Tara Devi seems to keep everyone under the protective eyes,showering blessings on everyone. The picturesque view from the temple is indeed breath taking with the superb panorama of the lofty and majestic forested mountains around.

The history of this temple dates back to about 250 years when this temple was built here.  There is a belief that the goddess Tara was brought here from Bengal.  It is said that a king from the Sen Dynasty visited this area.  This king had brought his family deity in the form of a small gold Idol encased in a locket, which he always wore around his upper arm.  For many years the idol remained encased  but in the 96th generation of sen dynasty, Raja Bhupendra Sen one day had an unusual  experience while  hunting in the  dense forest, nearby of the  present  temple, where he had a vision  of his holy family deity goddess Maa Tara along with her Dwarpal  Bhairav and Hanuman Ji , who expressed her keen desire to be unveiled before the  people. The Raja got constructed a temple there, in which a wooden idol of the  Goddess was installed.  Later Raja Balbir Sen of the same dynasty had a dream in which  the Goddess expressed  her desire to be installed on the hill top of Tarav Parvat.  The Raja on the advise of one of his pandits got a beautiful Idol prepared and had it installed in the Vikrami  era, 1825 on the Hill Top of Tarav Parvat , where it stands  today.  The Sen dynasty of the Keonthal State till date is  carrying on with  the age old tradition  of worshipping their family deity  Maa Tara on Ashtami during Sharadiya Navratras each year when a fair is also held in the same day in the temple complex.  



About 500 meters behind there is another temple of mother Dodhadhari Vaishno Devi. It is also very beautiful and we walked among the beautiful surroundings to worship the almighty mother.

Their was a langar going on the temple. One temple executive, who was taking acre of shoe house, asked us to take it. As he insisted, we all took the much required food, that too the prasad of mother Tara.

It was about 4 PM as we descended to the main road and proceeded to Chandigarh.

There is a place called The Timber Trail on the way just before Kalka at Parwanoo. The ropeway connects the main road to a beautiful hotel across across a wide ridge, which is about 1.8 KM wide. It would been a fun to explore that and going there and coming back on that ropeway but rush was high and our number was due only after couple of hours so we dropped the plan.

We were in Chandigarh at about 7:30 PM. Our train to Lucknow at 9:10 PM.

This concludes our 10 day Himachal excursions.

Thursday morning, we were at home sweet home!
 

6 comments:

  1. It took me around 30min to read this post.I must say very well planned trip.And hats off to ur parents who joined you.As I travelled this part in May ,I can understand how humid would be the weather.wish little more pics in this blog.

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  2. Nice experience about your trip.It was indeed a great post about how you planned your trip and i undetrstood you had great time.Plan your trip to these place Book your tickets in Kallada Travels

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  3. Thanks a lot for sharing the beautiful trip to Shimla experience with us. It is very much captivating one to go through the whole page. This will be very much useful to the tourist to decide the tour in the best possible way. One should try to visit to this place very often because it is the nice place which i have ever seen in India.

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