Shankh Pal is the spiritual deity of the Lander region. A temple dedicated to this deity is located at the highest point on the Shankh Pal ridge. Situated at an altitude of 2,897 metres, the temple is a short trek from Sanasar.
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Locals maintain that the original temple was over 400 years old and that no mortar was used to build the temple. However, looking at the stone idols lying around the temple, I believe that the original temple was much older. The original temple has since then been replaced by a temple that is bigger and grander. However, this new temple still maintains the rustic charm of the original, with its pleasant proportions and the use of local rock in its construction. Every year on Sawan Dashmi, a festival is observed at the temple which draws thousands of people from surrounding villages and from places as far off as Ramban.
Local folklore states that the Indian Air Force wanted to build an encampment on the ridge along this temple. To this end, a reconnaissance party was dispatched to scout the area. The members of this party would camp at Shankh Pal for the night, but everyone would wake up at a completely different place in the morning. This happened a couple of times and the reconnaissance party was soon convinced that the “Devata” was unwilling to have an installation built near his abode. This air force installation was later built at Nathatop.
Shankh Pal is one of the best camping ground around Kud-Patnitop. It is pristine, secluded and provides a spectacular view in every direction. The sunrise is a sight to behold as the sun emerges through the early morning mist and lights up the Pir Panjal range in shades of pink and orange. On a clear night, the sky is lit up by countless stars which are rivalled by the twinkling lights of Udhampur city in the Southwest.
I had hardly set up my tent when a group of men from Landar village joined me. This was the advance party to prepare for the annual Sawan Dashmi festival. For that purpose, this party was carrying a huge canvas tent and enough utensils to sustain an army. Night fell and it started to drizzle as I retired into my tent. By 9 PM the drizzle had turned into a windy thunderstorm. The wind was howling, and I had to press against the wall of my tent on the windward side to prevent it from collapsing. At 10 my position was unsustainable. The tent was barely standing upright, despite my weight pressing against it and its stay rods were bucking under the intense gale. Rain or no rain, I figured it was time for me to abandon the tent and seek shelter in the small temple sanctum. It was a momentous struggle to break tent, pack it up and run to the temple. Thoroughly drenched, I enter the temple to find the entire group of men already shivering inside the small temple sanctum. All my extra warm clothes are graciously received. A reed thing young guy eyes my down sleeping bag and asks if he can borrow it. *”What about me”* I ask -
भाई जी आपके पास चर्बी है। Translated - “Brother you’ve got fat on you”
I look at my rotund form in a new light and decide I cannot argue with such impeccable logic. So I will have to spend the night in my wet clothes hoping that my *”fat”* suffices.
At 4 the thunderstorm passes and we step out at first light to evaluate our losses. The big canvas tent is gone and so are the heavy utensils these guys had carried 10 kilometres from their village. Search parties are promptly dispatched, I join one with my weight critic and after a couple of hours of searching manage to return with one of the huge woks. Between us and the other search parties we’ve only managed to recover a tenth of what they had ferried. 2015 Sawan Dashmi festival will go on nonetheless. देवता की यह ही मर्ज़ी है - This is what the Devata wills.
The trek starts just short of Sanasar on the Patnitop-Sanasar Road. A well defined, stone-paved path leads off west from the road head. Follow the path as it gradually winds north though electricity pylons and mud dwellings called theras. The terrain for the most part, is grass or mud and the trail is wide and well defined. After an initial ascent of 2.5 kilometres, the trail eases into a relatively flat walk. The next 2 kilometres are level and quite scenic with grassy meadows on your left and Sanasar Valley to your right. I recommend a few side trips to explore these meadows to your left. This is also the right place to catch your breath for the climb ahead. After this relatively flat stretch, the trail turns north-west and starts to climb for the next couple of kilometres. The temple is visible from this turn. The last couple of kilometres are a moderate climb along a grassy ridge covered with shrubs. Take your time to admire Nathatop on your left and the pristine forests that lie below the ridge on your right. The trail rises and falls over this ridge with four well-defined humps. The temple is located at the highest point on this ridge beside a shallow depression.
- Type - Day/Overnight Trek. Moderate and child-friendly.
- Difficulty - Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) Scale - T1.
- Hiking Time - 3.5 hours ascent, 2.5 hours descent.
- Hiking Distance - 6.4 kilometres.
- Start & Finish Point - Patnitop-Sanasar Road (J&K) 2 km from Sanasar, with an option to continue to Lander village from Shankh Pal.
- How to reach Shankhpal - Bus / Taxi. Bus available between Patnitop and Sanasar twice daily. Taxi can be hired from Patnitop. Hitchhiking is an option. The nearest train station is Udhampur (J&K).
- Hotels and Stay - An unfinished hall for temple visitors.
- Weather - Pleasantly cold during the day, usually cold and windy to extremely windy at night.
- Summary - A moderate ascent over a well-defined trail. A highly recommended overnight stay.
- Caution – The ridge is exposed and it can get very windy. Wind gusts may reach over 100 kph during a thunderstorm. This wind speed can flatten tents and blow away anything that is not staked down. Ensure that you choose your tent site with care and your tent is secured with extra guy lines at night.
- Two to three litres of water per person. There is only one water point (a little off route, see waypoints in GPS tracks) and there is no potable water at Shankh Pal.
- Extra guy lines for a tent as it can get very windy at night.
- A warm windproof jacket is recommended for evenings.
- Headlamp / Torch – if you are camping overnight, or if you are delayed on your descent.
- A camera tripod for the early morning and late evening photograph.
GPS Map, Waypoints & Log
- Patnitop to Shankhpal trek as an interactive map. Move your mouse pointer/finger over the elevation chart in the bottom right.