All these years I had been making best use of my Navaratri days by happily capturing various phases of Durga Puja, starting from idol-making to burning of Ravana effigies on Dussehra. But this year, I was too trapped in my less adorable priorities to live free on my own. Things were not falling in place at all. What my heart longed for was being snatched away from me by uncompassionate time and that too repeatedly! At first, the end-monsoon Kurseong trip, then the family trip to Kashmir valley in mid-October and finally, the work related Udaipur trip, all of them had to be called off one by one. When your travel appetite is high but you are left to grieve with your hung up boots, you start hearing whimpers of your otherwise inanimate travel companions- rucksack, camera or the most manly member of the troop, your vehicle. It doesn't mean that you are hallucinating. The simple message is: Get out of the maze and submit yourself to the wanderlust...
|Parasnath range of hills as seen from the Delhi-Kolkata highway.|
Strictly adhering to the Navaratri lingo, I was free from Chaturthi to Shashthi (5th to 7th October), of course not by choice. In a 3 days/ 2 nights itinerary, a starving traveler might want to circumnavigate the world (mathematically, around 25,000 miles) but that's super surreal. I had already fixed my mind on a motorcycle trip. The first destination that struck my mind was Kakinada, a coastal town in Andhra Pradesh, roughly 1,100 kilometers distant from my home. Due to feasibility issues I ruled out Kakinada and settled with Parasnath Hill. Yes, Parasnath Hill was the right call. It is less than 250 kilometers away from my home and beautifully connected by NH-2, the Delhi-Kolkata highway. Plan was to ride to Madhuban (the northern entry point to the Parasnath pilgrimage trail), stay overnight, hike to the summit of Parasnath Hill in the following morning, descend back to the village of Madhuban for a goodnight sleep and vroom back to Bardhaman on the third day. Pretty elementary you see!
|A glimpse of the white Parasnath Temple at the very top, partially veiled in mist and clouds.|
Parasnath Hill is the loftiest member of the Parasnath range, located towards the eastern edge of Chota Nagpur plateau in the Giridih district of Jharkhand. Although Parasnath is the highest (4,429 feet) mountain peak of Jharkhand, its prominence in the travel map of India is purely due to its religious significance among Jains. Every year thousands of Jains hike to the top of Parasnath Hill or circumambulate (parikrama) this hill at its base as a part of their religious endeavor. The peak of Parasnath Hill is more popular among Jains as- 'Shikharji' (venerable peak) or, 'Sammet Shikhar' (peak of concentration), and they believe that this is the holy site where twenty of the twenty-four Tirthankaras attained Moksha (salvation).
|Jain pilgrims cover a mountain trail of about 27 kilometers on bare feet as a part of their religious endeavor!|
My ride to Madhuban along most familiar NH-2 would haven uneventful sans the continuous drizzle that kept me wet and cold throughout the journey. Obviously the driving time got prolonged and I was all muddy as I reached the village of Madhuban. On the last leg of the ride, the road connecting Dumri-more to Madhuban was very scenic, quite similar to those picturesque foothill frames you often come across. I was too apprehensive to take out the camera in rain and chose few missed opportunities over risking my photographic gear. Before the daylight drew its curtain I could reach Madhuban. My first impressions of Madhuban were definitely positive.
|Pilgrims who are not in positions to walk can avail 'doli' services for the entire Parasnath trail.|
Madhuban is a tiny town (don't know if I should call it a village) studded with many Jain temples, mostly crowded by Jain pilgrims, and locals carrying pilgrims in dolis (palanquins/ litters) is a common sight over any street of Madhuban till it gets dark. There is no commercial hotel available at Madhuban but you'll find a lot of rest houses which primarily accommodate Jain pilgrims. They won't refuse to provide you a room unless you act fishy. It has to be understood that Shikharji is the holiest Jain pilgrimage site in India and during festival times when the tourist influx is high you might not be able to find an accommodation on the spot without prior booking. You shouldn't mind the justified discrimination if a Jain visitor is given priority over you. Considering my solo status as a traveler the first lodge denied me a room. I didn't have to toil though. I managed a spacious room at Yatri Niwas. They have both AC and non-AC room options. Be careful before inclining for air conditioning because it might not just work, owing to bad voltage or faulty compressor.
|Early morning chill encasing the hill and chirping of birds as the sun rises make the ascent more delightful to nature lovers!|
Pre-hiking excitement didn't let me savor a wholesome sleep and I wok up before four in the morning beating the punctuality of the cellphone alarm. Many Jain devotees flags on their pilgrimage by 02:00 AM and cover a mountain trail of about 27 kilometers on bare feet in 10-12 hours which includes worshiping breaks at various temples along the hiking route. Those of you who're accustomed to my religious bankruptcy already know that my purpose of hiking was anything but pilgrimage. I was there to tease my subzero stamina (as a result of sedentary lifestyle) with few hours of mountain walk and get the bird's eye view of the plain below from the top of Parasnath Hill. For me the hiking trail didn't have to be so painstaking like Jain pilgrims. My planned hiking route was modest 20 kilometers and hardly did I know when I commenced my trek at 05:30 that I would be huffing and puffing right from the midway!
|At every 500 meters or so, you'll come across a stall selling lemon juice, tea and bottled water.|
Do not underestimate the vital role of a walking stick while hiking to Parasnath Hill. Keep your backpack very light. Hydration is essential but you don't have to mule a large supply of water because, at every 500 meters or so, you'll come across a stall selling lemon juice, tea and bottled water. If you are hiking for non-religious reasons do remember to put on a good pair of hiking boots. They will save your toe joints, ankles and calf muscles from extreme stress especially during downhill walks. The route to Shikharji is paved with concrete slabs all the way up and there are several places along the trail where steps have been constructed. Although the path is good steep slopes probably make this hike more challenging. Early morning chill encasing the hill and chirping of birds as the sun rises make the ascent more delightful to nature lovers.
|A doli is carried by either two or four bearers, depending on the weight of the passenger.|
Pilgrims who are not in positions to walk can avail 'doli' (litter/palanquin) services for the entire Parasnath trail and these can be arranged right from the rest house at Madhuban. A doli is carried by either two or four bearers, depending on the weight of the passenger. A devotee weighing within 69 kg can opt for the simple-doli (carried by 2 doli bearers) and above that one has to go for chair-doli (carried by 4 doli bearers). If arranged from Madhuban, doli fares are usually fixed and ranges from 1984 to 7935 rupees, depending on the body weight of the devotee. While hiking up the hill you may come across a number of doli-walas ferrying empty dolis who would try to convince you for their services. They do not nag and usually quite helpful. But once you're already out of breathe, easy availability of a comfortable vector can alter your hiking determination. After 4 kilometers from the base there is a gurgling stream called 'Gandharva nala'. Pious Jains consider the trail from Gandharva nala up to the summit very sacred. About 7 kilometers up the trail one would find a bifurcation. The left path shall take you to the Gautam Swami Temple and the right one directly takes you to the Parasnath Temple at the top. Pilgrims first reach the Gautam Swami Hill, then head towards Chandra Prabhu Hill, then back to Jal Mandir and finally to the Parasnath Temple. I simply took the path to my right.
|Everything around the Parasnath Temple was too smoky and mystic to reveal much to any mortal!|
Just 1-2 kilometers before the reaching the summit you'll come across a dak-bungalow. One can experience an overnight stay there by booking it from the base at Madhuban. Increase in the frequency of snacks stalls and roomy tiled steps mark the arrival of your destination. You get a glimpse of the white Parasnath Temple at the very top, partially veiled in mist and clouds. The weather at the top is seldom clear. Clouds were brushing the floor of the temple and hiding the vista of the vast plains lying below. I wanted to spot the NH-2 but everything around the peak was too smoky and mystic to reveal much to any mortal! After a humble peep inside the Parasnath Temple it was time for descent. Steep gradients are equally energy consuming during downhill hike. After all human bodies are not equipped with anti-lock braking system, right? In 2-3 hours I climbed down to Madhuban concluding my hike to Parasnath Hill. It was time to rest, recap and rejoice the memory. In a travelogue the writer often misses out the shitty part of the trip to make it look all buttery. So did I. Keep guessing my act of omission. More importantly, if you've sound physical and mental health, and of course desire to travel, waste no time and pack your rucksack for Parasnath.