Trilokinath Temple at Tunde near Udaipur is one of the most important temples in Himachal. It is rarely visited by outsiders due to the remoteness of the Lahaul circuit but for the locals, it is a very important pilgrimage, and more importantly, it works for both Hindus and Buddhists, as it happens in many of parts of the state.
The best way to reach Trilokinath is the reach Keylong first and then take a bus from there the next morning. The 6.30 AM bus ti Killar or 8 AM bus to Shukto-Khanjar (Miyar) should be ideal. It should take no more than 3 hours to reach Trilokinath Temple, which is surrounded by a small village.
I have technically “been to” Trilokinath Temple several times. Not because I planned to but because all buses connecting Keylong to Miyar and Pangi take a short diversion and stops at this place. This time also, we were on our way to Miyar. The morning bus started on time, as HRTC usually does. We quickly drove along the Bhaga river to reach Tandi, the confluence of Chandra and Bhaga, where they form Chadrabhaga (Chenab). This early stretch along the Chandrabhaga is called the Pattan Valley. The road mostly runs parallel to the river, offering great views of the fecund slopes that help the locals grow cabbages, potatoes, and peas during the brief summer. There are a few colorful buildings I always notice from the bus. I wish someday they are converted to homestays.
Trilokinath is a short diversion from the main road, after crossing a bridge on the river. We reached on time but usually, buses do not stop here. They simply drop the people and return back to the main road. But this was a good day. Some of the passengers wanted “darshan” of Trilokinath. So, the driver decided to wait for 10 minutes. This also gave us some time to get some photographs of the temple.
History and Mythology of Trilokinath
As of now, Trilokinath is a Shiva Temple, complete with a Nandi statue at the courtyard. Yet, local Buddhists also regularly visit it and there is a series of prayer wheels too. So, one can be tempted to simply call it an example of syncretic culture like the Bering Nag Temple in Sangla or Rewalsar in Mandi. However, there is more to this place and as usual, some of the mysteries will never be solved.
According to most experts, it was a seat for Arya Avalokitesvara, one of the primary manifestations of Avalokitesvara. Later on, it became a Hindu temple, maybe through conquest or through gradual demographic change. This can also be seen in the population that reside along the Chandrabhaga, where both Buddhist and Hindu population can be found. Even beyond Lahaul, if you enter Pangi Valley, you will find Hindu villages and shrines on the lower riches and Buddhist villages at the uppermost levels complete with Gompas, such as Hudan Bhatori and Sural Bhatori.
So, I think the present situation has been reached after several phases (It is just my assumption). Some experts think that the original shrine dates back to Kushan era, which makes it almost 2000 years old. Kushans were mostly Buddhist patrons and Buddhism was yet to enter Tibet back then. Later on, Buddhism declined in India but spread in Tibet and other parts of Asia. This is why we see a Hindu resurgence. However, in the middle ages, Tibetan Buddhism probably spread back into the Western Himalayas, especially in the higher reaches of Ladakh and Himachal. This is what gives us the present combination.
So, the main temple looks fairly new and conventional. Probably it has been recently renovated. The main idol inside probably is also not very old. I heard of another story that the original Avalokitesvara idol was stolen, but was later found near Tandi and is now housed in Guru Ghantal (a tough hike above Tandi). I can’t verify it though. I once made a failed attempt to reach Guru Ganhtal. Will have to do it someday.
Stay at Trilokinath
Anyway, we made a quick visit and came back to the bus which was raring to go. But I wish I could stay there for a night as there were views to be savoured beyond the temple itself. I noticed some lodges in the village too where one can stay. I think, they are designed more for local pilgrims rather than backpackers.
Before I wind up, I must mention another failure from last year. One major even in Trilokinath is the fair that happens every monsoon. Various ethnic groups in this region participate here, so it is a great time to witness them all, often with their traditional costumes. I was in Manali last year around the same time. However, it rained so much that I got stuck at Rohtang for several hours, and eventually I gave up and returned. With the Rohtang Tunnel opening soon, I hope, we will be able to avoid such disappointments in the future.