Monday, November 14, 2005

Off-beat Dehradun : Santhala Devi Temple

Off-beat Himalayas is a popular term generously used on the net to attract exploring tourists to those little known destinations which are off the radar of the average tourist that travels to well known destinations only. Such places are everywhere, but because of lack of information one tends to stay away from it. Last Sunday, we have been to one such place within Dehradun which I am certain that even many Dunites living here for years have not seen. The place is a temple named Santhala Devi.

The place was just 7.5 km (excluding the 2 km track) drive from the ONGC colony towards Garhi Cantt. This means it is a mere 4.5 km from the junction at Garhi Cantt. It is the same road that goes to the more famous Tapkeswar Temple. But instead of taking a left turn, keep moving straight by the main road. Soon after crossing a bridge, you will get a cantonment complex named Birpur Estate. Further ahead you get another cantonment complex named Gonghora. Move ahead right through the gate of this complex. The army personal posted at the gate will not stop you. If you get a fountain named Phillora Fountain then you are on right track. A few meters ahead you get a diversion at Milan Chowk. Take right turn. There is not much confusion beyond it. Keep moving till you reach the end of the road. The road will take you to the foothill of the temple. A stream, may be a rivulet, gently flowing has made this place a picnic spot. The day being a Sunday, the place was bustling with picnic goers. Maneuvering the crowd and haphazardly parked vehicles, we reached the paid parking lot and parked our cars.

Then we set out on the track to the temple. The temple is on the top of a nearby hill. It was 2 km up from this point onwards. The climb was very stiff. It was difficult to ascertain how much you have climbed. When we asked those coming down as to how much is left, the common reply was that we had covered only half of the track and half is still left. The demoralizing effect almost made me gave up after traveling 3/4th of the track. Take my advice, do not ask anybody coming down a hill. It took almost an hour for us to reach the temple.

The temple is dedicated to Snthala Devi, probably a loacl deity as I have not heard of any such godess. Being inside a cantonment area, some unit of army has facilitated construction of the temple complex. Besides, the reigning deity, there were few other idols including that of Vishnu. Out side the temple, there is a tree where devotees tie knot with the traditional red ribbons to seek good luck. These will probably be untied when the wishes are fulfilled. There is no place left on the tree. I have seen that people had inserted small papers writing their names within the knots so that they can identify them later. Some has even put visiting cards. Ingenious ideas! There also is a viewpoint in the complex.

Animal sacrifices are made in the temple. There is a sacrificial spot just outside the temple. The blood of hundreds of animals that have been killed here over the years has covered the place in gory red colour. It was generating the kind a foul smell you get at butcher’s place. This signifies that some form of Shakti is worshipped here in the name of Snatala Devi. We did not witness any sacrifice during the half hour stay, but while coming up we saw many headless goats and chickens being carried by devotees. This is the second sacrificial spot I have seen in my life. The other such place I have seen is in the Kamrup Kamakhya temple in Guwahati. That was a long time ago when I was a kid, probably 6 years old. I have heard that large animals are no more sacrificed in Kamakhya.

Coming down was much easier. We made it in about half an hour. Picnics have reached their peak or the effects of booze have reached its peak. It was high time for lunch. We spotted a group that were enjoying picnic with the chicken sacrificed in the temple. Only the head is offered to God, the body is for mortals to eat! Who would eat a chicken head anyway? We too were feeling hungry after spending so much of energy. Many roadside hotels have sprung up in the foothill area which is very common in such places around Dehradun. But all of them seem to sell chowmin only. So we left the place to find a proper eatery for a late lunch.

That summed up the trip. It was more a tracking trip then pilgrimage. The quickest one this year, but undoubtedly the one that required maximum physical effort.

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