The rugged and mountainous expanse between the Satluj and Yamuna Rivers in the western Himalayas, irrespective of the administrative boundaries of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, has broadly been occupied by heterogeneous group of people; some of whom are native to the land and the others who settled here under various socio-economic pressures. Much like the rest of the Himalayan interiors, the area has remained dominated by primitive animistic cults, a reason enough to invite curious travellers to the region.
A few months back, while returning from Har-Ki-Dun, we went over to the Hanol village in the scenic Tons (or ancient Tamas) Valley in the Bawar region of Garhwal. The village happens to be the main seat of the chief deity of the region – Mahasu Devta, an embodiment of Lord Mahashiva, the supreme God of not only the mortals but the innumerable subordinate Gods and Goddesses of the Himalayas.
Surrounded by small hills, the ancient Mahasu Devta temple is sited on a clearing just below the main Tiuni-Mori road by the left bank of the crystal-clear Tons. Built in the ninth century, the temple is secured by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and has emerged as a prominent tourist attraction of the area near Chakrata. Named after a Brahmin – Huna Bhatt, the temple was initially constructed in Huna architectural style and subsequently acquired a mixed style with expansion.
The Mahasu Devta temple of Hanol lies just at the administrative boundaries of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. The temple is located at a five minutes walking distance from the GMVN property. Having devoted the early hours of the day for birding, we left for the temple quite late after breakfast. Even though, the village market was yet to open, the prasad shops selling flowers, malas and other religious offerings were fully opened for business. Barring some locals, a few goats and lambs, there weren’t many living beings when we entered the temple complex. The small doors of the sanctum sanctorum were still locked.
The remote location of the temple may not be as frequented by tourists but is held in very high regards by local Jaunsar-Bawar hill people. Legend has it that in the times gone by, the surrounding hills were terrorized by a demon named Mandarth until pious Deoladi Devi pleaded with the Shiva, who incarnated as her sons to defeat the demon. Since then, the villagers started worshipping the four brave sons – Botha Mahasu, Pavasik, Vasik and Chalda here in the region. The temple of Botha Mahasu is the main shrine at Hanol even as the Pavasi Devta’s temple is located just across the Tons atop a small hillock. The Vasik Devta’s temple is a 40km trek up the mountain from Pavasi’s temple, whereas the Chalda Devta’s temple is a 2km trek from Tiuni.
Lore goes that during the Mahabharata era, the King Duryodhana reached the area after travelling through Kashmir and Kullu. He ultimately preferred to settle down in the region. So he is said to have prayed to the Mahasu Devta at Hanol asking for a piece of land. The deity not only accepted his pleas but made him the king of the area. He made Jakholi his capital village where a temple is commemorated to him.
As we roamed around in the complex, we came across some more stories related to the temple. The locals told us about the site where animal sacrifices were held annually until the tradition was reversed in the year 2004. A fair at the temple is held every year in August when the deity is taken out in a procession by the followers comprising people from nearby districts. Architecturally, the Mahasu Devta temple at Hanol is a perfect example where stone and wooden structure harmoniously blends to form one composite grand edifice. It took a while before the doors of the main shrine were opened.
On a different note, a curious aspect of the Hanol temple is that what the people worship as the Mahasu Devta in the sanctum-sanctorum, in fact, looks to be a statue of the Buddha seated in the bhumisparsha mudra. It may bring us to the point that before this area was overtaken by the Shivaism, the complex at Hanol might have been an active centre of the Buddhism. Even the layout of the temple complex indicates the possibility of existence of a well-defined monastic complex.
All in all, other than your religious inclinations, if you have interest in culture and history of the region, devote at least a day to Hanol. Take a walk along the Tons valley floor or the road towards Mori, for watching birds.
The heritage temple of Hanol is located at a distance of nearly 100 km from Chakrata. The road length from Dehradun is approximately 190km. Budget more time than usual to cover the stretches because of bumpy and patchy road network. Another approach from Dehradun could be via Mussoorie, Naugaon and Purola.
Average Altitude: 1230m
Best time to visit: Winters and spring
Travel Lure: Heritage and Birdlife
Accommodation: Limited with a GMVN facility