Exploring the once mighty Shardah temples
Somewhere in the 11th century, a scholar Hema Chandra was compiling an encyclopedia of contemporary social sciences in the Darbar of Hindu Raja Jia Semha of Gujrat. The scholar was having difficulty in finding some critical information so he sent in a request to the Raja for an audience. The good old scholar told the Raja that to complete his seminal research, he’d need access to some rare books, available only in the libraries of a University far in the mountains of Kashmir. Raja Jia Semha commissioned a delegation to the Raja of Kashmir right away. After months of travelling through plains, jungles, ravines and mountains, the scholar reached the court of Raja of Kashmir, who graciously allowed the scholar to travel onwards to the University up in the Kishan-Ganga valley, to a place called Shardah.
As we set out from Muzaffarabad to Neelum valley, the drive was picturesque along the turquoise blue waters of Neelum or Kishan-Ganga River, surrounded by tall, dense pine trees. The road is pretty reasonable and there are nice stopovers for chai and snacks along the route. The whole valley is heavily guarded as it is quite close to the Indian Occupied Kashmir.
In around four hours from Muzaffarabad, and after crossing Jagran nullah, Kuttan, Athmuqam and Keran, we finally reached Shardah. To reach Shardah town, we had to cross the Neelum River via a suspension bridge, good only for one vehicle at a time. Once in the town, we parked our car in the bazaar, asked the locals about the whereabouts of the Shardah temples, and set off towards a wide gorge in the direction of the Indian border. We had reached a bit deep into the gorge, when a few giggling school children informed us that we had left the Shardah temples far behind us.
We eventually turned back. When we reached the upper limits of the bazaar, a gentleman pointed us to the direction of the Shardah ruins. In another couple of minutes we were standing in front of the sixty-three step stairs made with huge chiseled boulders. The number sixty-three is very significant in Hindu mythology. To this date some tribes in India decorate elephant crowns with sixty-three jewels during religious processions. The upper floor opened into a small ancient walled compound. At the centre of the compound stood the huge temple with all four walls intact but without a roof above it. Some of the boulders used to build the walls were more than six feet in length. I saw the use of similar boulders in Tulaja Fort near Sakesar last year and the knowledge still amazes me.
Some researchers believe that these are the remains of some Hindu temples, whereas others think these temples were part of a larger complex, essentially a seat of learning or university.
There are varying views on the origin of the Shardah temples. Some researchers believe that these are the remains of some Hindu temples, whereas others think these temples were part of a larger complex, essentially a seat of learning or university. Similarly, according to some references the Shardah temples were established around the First Century AD, while other more plausible theories state that this happened around the Eighth Century AD. The temples had a pond filled with sulphur water from a nearby fountain, known as the ‘healing pond.’ The pond is not there any longer. According to one myth, it was in these temples that the right hand of Hindu Goddess Sati fell off, while she was descending from the skies. There was a time when Hindu pundits would travel across the difficult terrain to pay homage to the Shardah temples annually.
We took our time exploring the temples but the time eventually came when we had to bid farewell to them and head back to the bazaar. On our way back we stopped by at the Neelum River bank and enjoyed our lunch while looking at the calm, blue waters of the river. The river is slow and peaceful here and the suspension bridge gives a beautiful backdrop. There are a number of government guest houses and second-tier hotels in the area, making it easier for the tourists to stay and enjoy the serene landscape. Shardah is also the launching pad for the jeep trek that can take you to Jalkhad in Naran Valley in about five hours, however, it is a tough trek and should only be ventured into with experienced drivers.
Better regulation to promote sustainable tourism, coupled with general awareness of the heritage, can be good for economic development in Neelum Valley.
The writer is a development professional with a passion for travel and heritage. He blogs at www.countryroads.pk and can be reached at email@example.com