RECENTLY, a friend and I drove up to Renuka Lake...a small hill town in Himachal Pradesh. The three-and-a-half hour picturesque drive from Chandigarh took us through the outer ranges of the Himalayas…. before culminating at the jade green waters of a lake encrusted in the centre of a narrow valley. Renuka Lake is named after a goddess who is said to have come down from the heavens and ‘entered’ the earth here. Its shape, like that of a woman asleep on her side, is definable most clearly from an altitude. There are vantage points on the road that climbs high to the tall, shadowy peaks that encircle ‘her’ recumbent form. Lotuses bloom in Renuka’s hair… ageing turtles crawl out of the water near her feet and two-feet long mahaseer fish populate her belly. ‘She’ is truly divine.
My friend and I stayed in a modestly priced room (Rs. 600 per night, exclusive of food) at the government rest house run by Himachal Pradesh Tourist Corporation (HPTC). The original building is a little run down but the location (on the lake shore itself) makes it a good bargain for Indian and foreign tourists alike. A group of Israeli teenagers next door to us seemed to have permanently occupied the broad verandah that runs the length of the four rooms of the old wing. Another spanking new structure, with slightly higher priced rooms, looked to be in much better shape. The waiters from the in-house restaurant brought us aloo-parathas and a pot of tea right up to the room...even as we readied ourselves for a walk in the drizzle that had greeted us.
An old pearly white temple rose mesmerizingly through the mist as our feet almost floated over the clay on the left shore of Renuka Lake. Outside the temple’s ancient gate, a wandering minstrel played his flute and sang of love. As we walked the 2 km path that goes right around the lake, baby monkeys blocked our way. As if on cue, an Ayurvedic doctor posted in the valley appeared around the bend and cheerfully showed us how to use sticks and stones in a menacing but non-violent manner. Inviting us to accompany her on an evening walk, she engaged us with cheerful valley folklore before taking us home for dinner in nearby Dadahu.
Next morning, gracefully curving fronds from the palm trees winked back at us from their reflection in the still waters. A short walk to a hill shrine had us tryst with a pujari who wakes up the temple gods with jasmine-scented water every morning. Back at the rest house, a snoring waiter was gently prodded awake to fetch us a ‘bun and omelette’ breakfast… before we hit the road for our return journey to Chandigarh.
(This article first appeared in Chandigarh Times, Times of India.)