Trekking is something I have always loved. It is an adventure into the unknown, where one gets to know the terrain as also the flora and fauna of a place. Meeting the local people of the area also gives one a glimpse of the culture of the area. The spin off benefits are it keeps one physically fit and mentally alert – and that is a boon to all veterans like me.
It was by chance that I came to know of Sakand Mata Hirthi Devi temple, located near Kandaghat, which lies about 28 kms short of Shimla on the Kalka-Shimla National Highway. Stopping over at Kandaghat while proceeding to Shimla, a range of high hills greet the eye when you glance towards the right of the road. The hills are lower towards the left, gently tapering down to a narrow valley. The ancient temple of Sakand Mata Hirthi Devi lies in the high hills on the right of the road, on a peak to the extreme left of these hills. A narrow unmetalled motorable road emanates from Kandaghat, which finishes about a km short of the temple. Trekkers generally walk from the right most extreme, along the spurs, as it is a gentle climb, though a bit longer. But those who prefer a steep climb, move towards the left side of the hill and then go for a steeper but shorter climb.
We took the middle path, starting the trek from the bottom of a spur near Hotel Falcon, located 4 kms ahead of Kandaghat town towards Shimla. We were pleasantly surprised to know that the hotel is owned and managed by two veterans from the Armed Forces. to all military personnel staying in their hotel, they give a whopping 50 percent discount on all types of rooms. We spent a night at the hotel and early next morning, at 6 am, we started our trek. For the first hour or so the climb was steep and tiring, but the winding path was pleasant to walk on. We moved through a mass of pine trees, gently swaying in the breeze, which covered the whole hill in their embrace. The steep climb done, we moved left towards the temple, and now the climb was gentler. Moving up and down over small hillocks, the peace of the area broken only by our own heavy breathing. Mercifully, the hills retained their pristine purity, and there were but three isolated houses, located well away from each other, that we crossed along this route. We spoke to the occupants who told us that rabbits and wild boar were a nuisance for their crops at night. Their womenfolk looked after the households and cattle, while the men worked in the fields or did odd jobs in Kandaghat. In one of these households we saw an apricot tree, heavy with fruit. A lot of ripened apricots had fallen to the ground, and there they remained, perhaps because they lacked the means to market them in the town, where this delicious fruit was selling for Rs 100 a kilogram! There was a farmer though who had five cows and trudged daily to the town to sell his milk. We were offered tea and water, and were overwhelmed by the hospitality of these people. They spoke a dialect different to Dogri which we knew, but we still managed to converse with them.
Finally we reached the sanctum sanctorum – the ancient temple of Sakand Mata Hirthi Devi. In the sacred Hindu festival of Navratri, (meaning nine nights), nine forms of the Divine Mother Durga are worshipped, one on each night. Sakand Mata is worshipped on the fifth night. It is here that the temple gets its sanctity and importance. A committee of prominent local people manage the temple, which was under renovation. After paying our obeisance, we returned to the hotel, tired but happy. It was a trek to remember.
Col Pala Ram was commissioned into Army Educational Corpson 13 Jun 1981. He is a Post graduate in Zoology from Kurukshetra University and has served as Headmaster in Sainik School Purulia(WB) from May 1993 to December 1996 and thereafter as an instructor in the IMA. He has a passion for adventure and trekking.