Summers are already in, cities are heating up, school are closed for summer vacations, children are craving for an outing, isn’t it enough to drive you to take a relieving soujourn somewhere in the mountainside. So here we go on a stroll to such a refreshingly beautiful and serene lake in the lap of the majestic Himachal hills.
It was the end of March and I had taken a long break from my work to wander in the mountains. When it comes to choosing a destination, a detailed map does come really handy along with some google searches. Since I have an inclination towards hilly lakes, it was almost sure to be a place covering a lake. I had been hearing about Prashar Lake (approx. 2600 mtr) a lot in the recent past and it was near to the place (Mandi) where I had been a couple of times, so it was an obvious choice. A couple of years back, I had seen some photos of one of my friend who went to Prashar Lake sometime in March and was lucky to find himself surrounded with a whole lot of snow. They had gone there on their bikes and the amount of snow was such that they had to leave their bikes much before the lake and had to walk upto the lake. Since then, I had this ambition of visiting this place when it is a bit snowy. While I was planning to set out on this wandering, I shared the thought with a couple of friends who might have liked the idea of exploring this place and finally one of my friends (Bibhuti) showed his interest in joining me.
As always, we took an overnight bus to Mandi from ISBT Delhi which took us to Mandi via Chandigarh, Bilaspur, Sunder Nagar on Delhi – Manali Highway. We reached Mandi the next day early morning and it was good for us as there are very few timely scheduled buses to reach Prashar and we were lucky to get onto a bus taking us towards our destination. The distance between Mandi and Prashar is approx. 45 kms which can be covered by local buses to nearly 35 kms till Bagi via Kataula and it normally takes approx. 2 hours to reach Bagi. Though there is a motorable road till Prashar Lake, but the public buses run till Bagi only after which one has the option of either hiking or to take private vehicles. Our motive was of course to choose the hiking which provides splendid views of the valley passing through jungle and some open meadows at times. It is an easy enjoyable hike (approx. 8 km) to Prashar Lake from Bagi which takes between 3 to 5 hours depending on your speed and stamina. Before we would start our hike uphill, we thought it was good to pick up some stuff to eat on the way and then we proceeded. One of the major reasons that we do not plan much and let the surprises come our way is to rely on locals for their expert advice on where to stay, how to reach etc. which always proves pretty economical. We were trying the same this time too and were chatting up with a village girl who was on her way to home, she told us that we should not worry about accommodation near Lake as there are a few options available (Forest Rest House, PWD Guest House, Temple premises etc). But then, she thought for a while and said that it might be a bit difficult to get accommodation today as there is a big puja ceremony going on in the temple and we might not get space to stay at temple. While bidding us bye, she offered to come and stay in her village in case we did not find any place to spend night at the lake…I was pondering how large hearted and welcoming the people in hills are, their hearts surely are much more spacious than their homes…
While we were proceeding enjoying our gossips and the gifts of mother nature, Bibhuti felt a bit hungry as always. He is such a brilliant companion in the hills who is ready to step up with you however demanding the walk is untill he is fed well. So I make sure to keep enough supply with me whenever travelling with him, the food is his power…whenever I see he is getting a bit slow, I just give him something to munch and he is back on track after a few bites. So we chatted, passed through jungles, took short breaks, clicked some pictures, ate some food.
After all this we were nearing a place which seemed pretty open and some surrounding hills were now in sight. It was an indication that now we were at some height and were about to reach the lake. It was feeling good to be out in the open sky after a long trail of the poorly lit jungle.
This was a place where we enjoyed some beautiful views and rolled on some slanting meadows. Further walk brought us to a larger meadow where a bunch of horses were grazing and when we came near to them, they were throwing tantrums as if they were some royal horses…though some of them were really looking royal. It was here, we could spot a forest rest house. We crossed some mud huts, some cattle houses (gaushalas) and here we were on the road that connects Bagi to Prashar and we could see some private vehicles on the road who probably belonged to the devotees who came to offer prayers to the deities.
But among all this, one thing was strangely missing that we were trying hard to find and that was ‘snow’…’hey not a single patch of snow’, was I befooled by my friend who came here during the same time witnessing tons of snow?…and here we were trying to look for imaginary snow that we had visualized all through the hike…even the search for snow made us forget Prashar Lake for a while, but then we realized it was not the snow mainly that we were here, it was the lake…so let us relish this hidden gem.
We further started climbing up towards a barbed wired boundary and the lake was supposed to be across this boundary downwards surrounded by small hills as seen in the photos. Seeing a place in photos and seeing it revealing itself in front of your eyes are completely two different things, the second one is surely an experience that one cherishes forever, it gets captured forever in your memory by the best lense that the almighty has given us. When we reached at the top, we were stunned at its majestic beauty. Surrounded by beautiful small hills it was looking like a small gem in the middle and a pagoda styled temple was all adding charm to this serene lake. We kept sitting on a small hillside for a while silently enjoying this marvel.
Then we saw some locals passing by and thought to visit the temple. As the name suggests, this temple and the lake is dedicated to Rishi Prashar who meditated here on this place. It’s a 3 storey pagoda styled temple constructed by King Bansen in 14th century. When we reached near the temple, a big feast was going on in the backyard of the temple. First we went inside the temple leaving our lather stuff outside which is not permitted in any temple in himachal and paid obeisance to the deities. The temple structure and carvings were pretty impressive. When we came out, we first checked about staying options, but since there was a small gathering of locals there, so we were not hoping to get any accommodation in the temple premises. But they asked us to come a bit later to see how many devotees were staying back and how many were leaving. So we started exploring the lake from different angles and different view points.
After a while, Bibhuti was a bit hungry and a bit tired too, so we came back to the shop near the temple and ordered 2 plateful of maggi. While we were waiting for our maggi lunch, we met a guy from UK who was travelling alone and had come with his entire camping gears…I was hoping that someday, we will do the same. We chatted for a while and enjoyed our maggi from the lakeview dhaba. We again started our exploration this time towards the road going ahead of Prashar, here we could get to see some small patches of melting snow. We were getting ourselves clicked in such poses so that it looked as if we had a lot of snow around us. Since we had clouds all over us, we could faintly see the majestically scattered Himalayan ranges which were filling us with awe on closer examination. We kept loitering around for some time and when the sun was about to set, I asked Bibhuti if he wanted to come up and try to see the sunset (which was seeming to be almost impossible with such cloudy weather). He was tired by now and his straight answer was ‘NO’. So I asked him to check out the staying option near the temple while I was going up to try my luck with the weather.
At such a place, the higher you go, the better the views are. I kept following a long ridge in the parallel direction of the sunset, but except few sunrays, everything else was covered by dark clouds. I kept walking along the ridge for nearly an hour and it was getting dark now, so I decided to move back. Though I could not witness sunset, but the views of the deep valleys were amazing from atop.
When I reached near the lake, I saw Bibhuti seating on a rock waiting for me. He told me he was tired and did not go to temple to check about accommodation. While we were enquiring about the stay at the shop, the caretaker of a Forest Rest House (FRH) had come to shop to buy some supplies and said if you want you can stay at FRH. Bibhuti was tired, so we thought let’s check out the FRH. The caretaker told us that normally he doesn’t allow people without booking, but since it was empty he would let us stay there. When we checked about the rates, he said it was for Rs. 500 for two of us which was a bit high for us at that time. So we started negotiating with him for a lower price and our constant request did help and he finally agreed to give us room for Rs. 350 including a good dinner to our fill. Since it was a bit cold there at that time, he also arranged for hot water for us, it was not a bad deal at all. After dinner, we came out in open to stare at the star studded sky for a while and then went back to sleep with a promise to witness a sunrise early morning. I guess we took a good decision to spend night at FRH as it was cold during night at this height and we were not sure if would get blankets/quilts at temple premises. Before sleeping, we checked with the caretaker about the timing of the bus that would get us to Mandi as we had to get back to Delhi the next day. My faint memory says that the bus was supposed to be leaving perhaps at around 9/10 am.
The next morning when we woke up after freshening up, we dropped the idea of going uphill as the sky was still not clear and we had high chances of missing our bus to Mandi. So we bade a goodbye to Prashar with a promise to come again sometime in future. The night’s sleep helped us get refreshed and we were rushing downwards like the hilly goats. We reached Bagi on time, the local folks were waiting for the bus. It was a good opportunity to grab some light breakfast, we picked up a cup of tea with some biscuits. In the meantime, we heard the bus coming and here it was. Since there were very few locals at Bagi, we were not in rush to get onto the bus to get seats. We boarded the bus, got a seat with good views and reached Mandi enjoying the enchanting views enroute. We did not want to be in Mandi for long, so hopped on a bus which was destined for Bilaspur as soon as we arrived Mandi. When we reached Bilaspur, we had enough time here as the bus to Delhi was leaving in the night at around 8/9 pm. So we thought to walk around Gobind Sagar Lake and explore nearby areas which was again a good decision. We walked along the lake and were enjoying to see people trying to catch fishes and waiting for the boats to cross the lake. All these sights were forcing us to discuss some silly things among ourselves.
We came up from the lake side and visited a small temple nearby. We did a good use of our leisure time in Bilaspur, we had our dinner at a local dhaba before we boarded the bus to Delhi and reached Delhi the next morning. This trip was a short weekend getaway, very much recommended to city dwellers who wish to go out on weekend with family or kids to some destination far away from crowd in the peaceful and awe inspiring mountains…so what are you waiting for?