Sometime ago we visited the Yamuna Valley in the Garhwal region of Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. We took the route through Dehradun and Chakrata so as to avoid the touristy humdrum of Mussoorie. Having already visited the Ashokan rock edict at Kalsi, I was particularly motivated towards visiting yet another site of archaeological importance – Lakhamandal – situated in the Yamuna valley itself.
Capturing various hues and tones of the landscape as well as the rich birdlife on camera, we made slow progress on the bumpy, dusty narrow stretch of the road from Chakrata to Lakhamandal. On the way we stopped briefly for lunch by the famous Tiger Falls located just over 20km from Chakrata. Locally known as Keraao Pachad and with a spectacular fall of 312ft, the Tiger Falls are said to be highest waterfalls of the state. Being much away from the hustle bustle of Mussoorie, Chakrata or Dehradun, the falls are relatively untouched by crass commercialisation and attract many a trekkers. People I know prefer to trek all the way to Lakhamandal from Kalsi edict; taking about three days to cover the distance over multiple ridges. Tiger Falls are a natural choice for a an attractive halting place or a preferred option for a brief stopover on such treks.
Ahead, the bumpiness and dust of Garhwal hillside had clearly overtaxed our bodies. The antiquarian paradise of Lakhamandal, a small village in the Jaunsar-Bawar region of Garhwal is situated at an altitude of 1150m on the rolling slopes of a rugged mountain range that runs parallel to the Yamuna on its right bank. After the recent construction of a regular motorable road from Mussoorie to Yamunotri via Chakrata on the opposite bank along the river, Lakhamandal was left unconnected on the other side. Situation improved gradually.
Being right on an ancient trunk-route that connects the Indian mainland to Yamunotri and beyond to the trans-Himalayan destinations, Lakhamandal had all the reasons for its flourishment and prosperity. It was because of its advantageous position on the spur of a mountain overlooking the valley that it became a convenient halting stage for the travellers and pilgrims heading towards upper Himalayan destinations. The village was once an active centre for the mercantile trade and religious activities; a fact which is so well attested by the ruins of the ancient structures spread all around in the locality.
At the village entrance, one is greeted by an ancient yupa inscription. Around here, small stone relics or inscriptions could be spotted piled on one of the village chabutras. One might get surprised to find sculptural fragments or even stone images lying uncared in and around the village. Farmers occasionally dig out pieces of carved stones and images from the fields. Such fragments of stones could also be observed fitted into the boundary walls of village houses. Out on the village streets near the temple complex, such antiquarian wealth dot both sides of lanes.
Even with the archaeological and religious wealth that abounds this village, surprisingly, it has largely remained a terra incognita even to the Yamunotri bound pilgrims. The situation unquestionably should not have been so in the sixth or seventh century when a Shiva (Bhava) temple was said to be constructed here by a princess named Ishwara. The temple was constructed over the base of an earlier brick structure that could well have belonged to a non-Shiva deity. This happened when the Brahminism was going through a revival in the area. Today, the indigenous Khashia Brahmans, who revere the characters of the Mahabharata, largely populate the region. The magnitude to which the Brahminical Hindu elements have been able to influence the native social system could directly be felt in the legendary association of the Kauravas and Pandavas with this area. They are believed to have lived in this region with the locals for many years during their incognito exile.
Even with respect to the temple, legend has it that the Kauravas built lakshagriha, the house of shellac, here for the Pandavas to stay in. The idea was to trap the Pandavas inside the highly inflammable house and set it ablaze. However, the Pandavas escaped to a place called Chakrapur through a tunnel. That place is associated with the present day Hanol. Similarly, yet another folklore associates the place to which the Pandavas escaped with present day Chakrata (ancient Ekachakrangari).
Built in North Indian architectural style, which is common in the hilly regions of Garhwal, Jaunsar and Bawar, Lakhamandal gets its name from lakha meaning “many” and mandals meaning “temples” or “lingam”. In its heyday, the temple must surely have been popular but to the western world the temple site attracted the attention of archaeologists for the first time in 1892 AD when George Buhlar discovered an inscription dated sixth to seventh century AD.
The heritage temple at Lakhamandal is 128 km from Dehradun and nearly 70 km from Chakrata. The road length from Mussoorie via Chakrata is approximately 100km. Budget more time than usual to cover this stretch as you could never be sure of the road condition.
Average Altitude: 1150m
Best time to visit: Winters and spring
Travel Lure: Heritage and birdlife
Accommodation: Limited; confirm in advance