Where four monasteries and a sacred lake dwell: Rewalsar, Himachal Pradesh
Rewalsar is a religious town built around Lake Rewalsar or Tso Pema as it is more fondly known by locals, in the Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh. The town is situated at altitude of around 4,460 feet above sea level (1360 metres). Riwalsar is located around 23 km south west of the district head quarters of Mandi.
The town of Rewalsar is located around 451 km from the city of New Delhi. It takes around 10-12 hours to cover this distance since most of the roads are narrow single lane mountain strips. From Mandi, one will need to take a local bus or a private taxi to Rewalsar. The local buses are a cheaper option but take a little longer to reach. There is a bus every hour starting at 6 am.
An important thing to note is that three religions consider Rewalsar to be a special place – Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs. Each has staked out their territory around the lake. According to Buddhist traditional beliefs, the lake was created by the great Guru Padmasambhava, an Indian siddha (accomplished master) from the 8th century, who came to the area to teach Buddhism to Mandarava, the daughter of the King of Zahor.
Local gossip began about Princess Mandarava spending a lot of time with what looked like a vagabond, and when the rumours reached the king’s ears, he had Mandarava thrown in a pit of thorns and put Guru Padmasambhava in a fire ring. The fire created a lot of smoke but did not die down. After a few days when the king and ministers went to check out what had happened, they found an eight-year-old boy sitting on a lotus in the middle of a lake. Lake in Tibetan is tso, and pema means lotus, hence the name Tso Pema.
The king, understanding at this moment that he had made a grievous error, gave his entire kingdom, even the clothes he was wearing at that moment to Guru Padmasambhava, and begged for forgiveness and asked to be taught the Dhamma. Mandarava refusing to come out of the pit of thorns, but agreed to after her mother’s pleaded. She then joined Padmasambhava in studying and practicing Buddhism in the caves in the hills above Tso Pema. At present, the caves are a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists from all over the world, and many disciples of Padmasambhava live in small huts and ancillary caves around the main caves, living and practicing there for their entire lives.
Getting around the town of Rewalsar is simple since it’s very small; there is no need for any transport. Nearly everything worth seeing is within walking distance. Padmasambhava’s cave and Naina devi temple are the only attraction which involve a challenging 40 minute hike. There are also buses which go up in the morning or you can rent a taxi, too.
The main attractions within walking distance of the town are the four Buddhist monasteries, each from a different tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. The first monastery established in Rewalsar is the Nyingma Gompa, hence it’s position right along the lake front. Drikung Kagyu Monastery is the second monastery that was established. Zigar Drukpa Kagyud Monastery is situated on the west side of the lake near the side road, is the home to the big statue of Padmasambhava that can be seen from most of Rewalsar. The statue, completed in 2011, is 20 meters tall and cost $2 million dollars to be built. Zangdok Palri Palace Monastery on the North side of the lake is named after the Copper Coloured Mountain Temple where Padmasambhava went to reside when he left Tibet in the 9th century. This is the last monastery that was built in Rewalsar.
Some of the must do things in Rewalsar include taking a walk around the lake, feeding the fish, having an afternoon meal in the Gurudwara. Avoid feeding the monkeys since they create a nuisance.
Rewalsar has plenty of eating options in the form of local Dhabas which server tasty food at economical cost. The Dhabas are located around the bus stop area and on the streets adjacent to that. There are also a couple of office shops which serve filtered coffee and a variety of teas. An important thing to keep in mind is that all the shops shut by 8:30 pm so dinner has to be eaten early.
Accommodation in Rewalsar is best at the monastery guest houses with all four monasteries providing a stay to tourists in the town. The monasteries have rooms of various types to meet the needs of all kinds of travellers from budget rooms for backpackers to deluxe rooms for families. All rooms are neatly kept and provide a very good experience of the town.
Rewalsar can be visited throughout the year but the best time to visit is from March to May and September to December. Since the rest of the time it’s either raining very heavily or extremely cold.
The town of Rewalsar is the kind of a place which is an ideal place to unwind and reconnect with nature and your spiritual side by spending a day or two in the town or the caves. Many travellers come to Rewalsar for a day or two and end up loving the place so much that they stay for much longer, some even stay back for months.
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