The Sky colours itself in turquoise; the clouds arrange themselves in their whitest best and soul-stirring patterns. The traditional Khat-khuni houses seemingly sprout amongst the greens adorning the valley. The recurring sounds of temple bells play to match the magnificent sight. A whiff of fresh German bakery air enthralls your senses. When the steam rising up the temple catches your eye, it’s certain that you have arrived in Vashisht. A quiet; sleepy little town nestled above the mountains connecting the Rohtang Pass ahead of Manali. It is also the base village for treks to unexplored villages and waterfalls in the valley. So if you are searching for your quiet retreat in the hills, Vashisht is definitely worth a visit.
It was 5.00 am in the morning when I arrived in this village; the lodges of which were still sleepy. One of the few ones wide awake were the Vashisht temple, the locals and myself. The temple entrance was strewn with shoes of people indulging themselves at the therapeutic temple bath where a natural Sulphuric steam flows. I headed straight to the women’s bath section and refreshed myself over the healing waters and a view of sparkling stars up in the morning sky; waiting for the lodge shutters to roll up. Around 7 am, I found my heaven at a local homestay. Since this day, my healing baths and walks up and around the village continued for three months. It was on one of these days that a brief conversation with a local shepherd ‘Sukhiram’ over Chai steered me towards the path of the majestic Jogini Falls high up amidst the mountains enclosing Vashisht.
I began the trek from a narrow lane by the German Bakery. Laid out stones forming a trail with traditional houses on both the sides took me to a bridge crossing. As I walked further, the sight of the lush valley grew while the houses kept diminishing. A flowing river roared from a distance. The colourful butterflies and flowers graced the moment with their presence. The green spread wider and wider as the trail spiralled up the mountain. The sound of the river grew louder as a downward path got me to a small spring that pooled in the middle of the forest. Stepping over a few stones, I refreshed myself with the spring waters while Sukhiram picked a handful of Wild ginger root and Lingdi – a local vegetable that grows only on melted glacial waters by the waterfalls. He extends his collected treasures in his cupped hands and offers me a huge portion of Wild Ginger roots. The traditional medicine man in him comes alive while he tells me tales of this beneficial herb. “Here…eat some; it will clear your lungs and detox your body” said Sukhiram. “I must warn you, it is going to feel bitter for the first few minutes but it will get better as you chew on”. He then packs some in a cloth and asks me to take home some more from him for future use. I meticulously consumed it as advised; after all Sukhiram shared them with so much conviction in his eyes and the brightest smile. We move ahead on to a narrow slippery path uphill. From a distance I see Sukhiram grazing his sheep around the lush meadows. In an hour I reach the point where Sukhiram is napping over a rock under the tree of an ancient Jogini stone temple. By the temple was a mystical tree adorned with sacred threads and offerings. Sukhiram wakes up pointing at a part of the tree that’s shaped naturally like a deity; telling tales of the Jogini falls. Those were one of the valuable moments of the trek. The sky, the trees and the winds had synchronised themselves to complement Sukhiram’s mystical narrative.
Once upon a time, the Deity of Malana Village Jamdagini Rishi waged a war with his sister. As the fight flared up, he kicked his mighty sister far off the hill. She landed with a thud over the mountain and there sprung a majestic waterfall. There rose the goddess Jogini and waters flowed across villages, nourishing their lives. Picking a few medicinal flowers by the temple, Sukhiram engrossed me in a prominent lore of the residents of Vashisht village. They believed it to be the sacred spot where the unwed daughters of Lord Indra bathed. Hence it is regarded as Jogini or Fungni in the local Kullvi language. The locals gather here for village ceremonies and consider the temple to be a Shakti Peeth – where the divine feminine resides and nurtures lives. On Baisakh and other spiritual days, locals perform rituals like shamanic dances at the Jogini temple and perform the first tonsure of their children. As I absorbed these tales, Sukhiram’s beloved little goat ‘Munni’ was back from her grazing adventure. She was the little one in the bunch who always enjoyed the special privilege of being carried around by Sukhiram.
I walked further appreciating these magical tales in my head; through a path full of pine trees. This route was a diversion from the usual already paved path towards Jogini falls and was Sukhiram’s recommendation for a scenic experience. Further up, when I heard the thundering waters from a distance; I knew I was close to Jogini falls. And there I was; greeted by the mists and chilled sprays of the jogini falls. The sight of the majestic Jogini falls was breath-taking. I remained still, revelling in the magical sight while Sukhiram was already back from a climb up the falls to collect the medicinal “Gucchi’ mushrooms. At first glance, Sukhiram seemed like a simple man with unbridled love for his cattle. But it was in this journey towards Jogini falls, that I discovered the passionate Herbalist in him. In all, three hours of this stunning trek felt like a journey into the unknown side of this village and was a close encounter with nature in full bloom. Since then, it became a trail I treaded more often during my extended stay in the beautiful hamlet of Vashisht; while the stories and people I met here became soulful memories I backpacked around to my next unknown heavenly home.