You want to add this to your winter bucket list
It is true that sometimes the lack of information and at others, lack of access to pretty places to visit, leaves Pakistanis with no choice but to resort to food for recreation. Not that I mind resorting to food at any given time of my life, my heart the traveler never stops wanting to discover not just the world, but more of Pakistan. Without a doubt, there is no dearth of natural beauty as well as history in our beautiful country and mano ya na mano, there are several opportunities to be out-doorsy, especially when the weather is a treat during winters. My day trips around Lahore and Karachi and longer ones to Bahawalpur in Punjab and Kund Malir beach in Balochistan have left me convinced that when you have the will to ignore a few unpleasantries on the way (such as bathrooms) , Pakistan is an ideal place for tourism. In the summer, there is ample Switzerland-like beauty in the North and in the winter, a plethora of historical sites to visit across the country.
So, to feed the perpetual tourist in me and to avail the good weather that Punjab sees for a short while, on a recent trip to Islamabad, I made my tabeeydaar husband take a detour to Katas Raj Temples, something I had been wanting to do for AGES. And what a great decision it was. The Katas Raj complex, which houses about 10 Hindu temples, lies just ahead of Kallar Kahar and is accessible through a proper pakki road. We reached an hour before sunset and a hailstorm had just ended – the entire area was beautiful and the dhula dhula sama simply breathtaking. The leaves painted in autumn colours looked wonderful. Lush green hills lined the outskirts of the area, looking nothing less than the Scottish countryside. The Katas Lake displayed shades of blue and green. And the grey sky, not letting in the harsh sunlight, created just the right photo opportunities (keep reading for saboot).
What is this place all about? Well, it is one of the holiest sites in the world for Hindus (with an active Shiva temple), and allows you to flip through various chapters of history during your visit. The temples relate accounts of the past 5000 years, from acting as hosts for Ram and Sita to witnessing the rise of the Mughals, the advent of the British, and Ranjit Singh’s victory of the area. Empires and rulers exchanged hands over centuries, making their own architectural contributions to the complex.
The story goes that the Katas Lake was formed by Shiva shedding tears on the passing away of his wife (as told by our tour guide). One tear fell here and the other in Ajmer in India, forming the Pushkar Lake. Two tears, two lakes and one interesting story.
Every year, Hindu pilgrims from all over India and Sindh in Pakistan travel to the holy shrines to celebrate the festival of Shiva; with pooja, ritual dances and bhajans adding colour to the atmosphere. Pilgrims also bathe in the holy pool as a part of the festivities.
Today, these temples stand mostly financially abandoned, with the government doing less than little to protect these historical gems. As is true for any other historical site in Pakistan, the age old wall art has been destroyed by graffiti which is extremely saddening (unless you want Aslam or Rahim’s mobile numbers – the walls are almost like the ‘fraaandship’ yellow pages I tell you). It is a beautiful, peaceful place nonetheless, definitely worth a stopover, especially during this beautiful weather. I consider it a moral duty to acquaint myself and my daughter with the heritage and beauty of Pakistan and this is a great point to start from. Also, travelling up and down the motorway often and making detours helps to keep up with O Levels Geography (that’s how I was so good at it during my school days BTW). Here’s some practical information in case you plan to visit Katas Raj temples soon.
10 Things to know:
- On taking the exit at Kallar Kahar and driving on to the Chooa Saidan Shah road (yeah, it’s a weird name for sure, mostly because of Chooa, reminding me of chooha) in about 25 minutes time, you reach the temples.
- This detour takes 1 hour going and coming.
- You will spend about an hour’s time or a little more touring the place and taking pictures.
- Tour guide is available at an unfixed cost – khushi se jo aap dena chaahein, de dein. He will tell you stories of all thetemples. I am not sure how correct they are, but they surely are interesting enough to make the tour worth it. Therefore, hiring a guide is highly recommended.
- As of now, there is no café to have a cup of tea or a snack after the tour involving lots of stairs. Therefore, fuel up at Bhera in terms of food and relieve yourself as well in terms of bathroom requirements.
Special Tip for those who are not on the M2 that often – the best araam gah at Bhera, at least for me, is the KC Grill (KC for Kitchen Cuisine). The food is decent and the bathroom the best you will get on the motorway. You will find toilet paper as well as soap in it (happy dance).
- If you are dying for tea/coffee after your tour, in 25 minutes you will reach the Kallar Kahar exit again, where you can buy refreshments from the petrol pump. (I was in a blissful state on my way back because luckily I had Oreo Cheesecake from Hotspot with me for this drive. Tip applicable only in winters. DO NOT try this in the summer unless rotten cheesecake is your secret weakness.)
- With ageing bones like mine and a herniated disc in my spine, I don’t think a day trip from Lahore JUST to Katas and back is worth it. The total travel time from Lahore to there is 3 hours. The thought of going back was kind of a killer so I was glad we did this on the way to Islamabad. For those residing in Isloo however, a day trip is do-able. [For young school and college students, one could push it to be a day trip since, with junk food, good music and each other’s company they will be happy to spend all that time in the bus.]
- Personally I think the temples look the most beautiful during rain which gives the dramatic background and the dhuli dhuli look that I love. So, the best time would be rainy winter days or barsaat to make sure the day is cloudy. The area is, of course, uncovered, so a trip during dry summer months would be torturous and aesthetically unpleasing. It will also take a toll on your fair and lovely skin.
- A stopover at the Khewra Salt Mines can be coupled with this to make the trip even more educational. An electric train takes tourists deep inside the mines to experience the grandeur and learn a thing and a half about salt mining. Since we have already toured those before and taken pictures with the Minaar e Pakistan and Iqbal’s statue inside it, we let it be this time. The stalactites and stalagmites, salt pools, light shows and salt sculptures are quite spectacular.
- Avoid going on a Sunday so random peeps don’t photo bomb your pictures.