Away from the cacophony that is Shimla, Sarahan, nestling on the slopes of Bashal Peak, is ideal for a small quiet holiday.
Sarahan, also known as Shontipur, (pronounced ‘Shondpur’ in the local tongue) is a small village set against a backdrop of pines and deodars of the Bashal peak. Across the valley lies the snow capped ‘Shrikhand’ which is considered holy in the village. The friendly faces of the people, the narrow winding roads, the perennial chirping of birds and the overwhelming presence of mountains lend Sarahan a peace that proves elusive in a hill-station.
The main occupation here is agriculture. The farmers who used to grow wheat, rajma and dry fruits like walnuts for their livelihood now have apple orchids since it yields more money. Agriculture is restricted to the months of April-September. After that the entire area is covered with snow. During harvesting, Nepalese from across the border work as farmhands.
The Bhimkali temple at Sarahan attracts many tourists from and outside India. Hotels, restaurants, photo studios and small memento shops thrive on the business offered by devotees and tourists visiting the temple. During the tourist season many farmers from the neighbourhood make a beeline for Sarahan for some extra earnings.
The Bhimkali temple is one of the oldest temples in this region. This temple has a distinct Tibetan architecture. Sarahan came under the Bushahr kingdom, which included parts of present day Tibet. The devastating earthquake of 1905 tilted the temple forward. Thanks to the strong foundation (that runs three storey deep) much damage was avoided. However, in 1936, Raja Padam Singh build a new temple next to the ancient structure to house the deity. The leaning temple continues to be an attraction though no one is permitted to enter it.
The two temple buildings have similar structures, but the new one has more intricate carvings. The walls consists alternate layers of stone and wood. The upper two storey are completely made of wood with intricate wooden carvings. The sloping roofs of the temple are of stone.
Inside, the flooring is wooden and walls are covered with wooden panels. Narrow wooden stairs leads you to the upper storeys of the temple. The moortis or the idols are kept on the third storey of the temple. The golden moortis are that of Goddess Bhimkali and nine other avatars or incarnations of Goddess Durga. Interestingly, there’s also a moorti Gautama Buddha.The temple complex houses a museum, which has artifacts of the ancient kingdom of Bushahr. The temple complex also has its own guesthouse, which has a nominal charge of Rs. 150, 200 and 300 for clean rooms with attached bathrooms with hot water.
Sarahan is not just about temples and mountains. People here are enthusiastic about sport. Comments Yong Sung, a local, “Football was popular here. Since 5-6 years it’s only cricket that is played.” Sarahan has a small stadium, ‘Nalati Stadium’ one km from the village. The stadium hosts a tournament every year where teams from Sarahan and neighbouring villages clash against one another for glory. People from all villages pour into the Nalati stadium cheering their home teams!
If you are the type who wants to break from the hustle bustle of urban life then Sarahan is a better option than Shimla. It is quieter, cheaper and friendlier.
Locals who treasure their privacy have turned to the havens of the forest above. One can always find slated blue roofs with yellow walls amidst the forests of the Bashal peeking at the hubbub below.