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Why You Should Visit The 8th Century Rock-cut Masrur Temples in Himachal Pradesh

Updated: Jun 27

When one thinks of Himachal, conjured are images of the snow-capped Himalayan peaks, the vacation favourites Shimla and Manali, the other-worldly Spiti Valley, the hippie town of Dharamkot, and the Tibetan outpost of Mcleodganj. But noone really imagines that tucked away in the same state, on a 2000-feet elevation are the gorgeous and epic Masrur Rock temples that have survived over 1000 years through earthquakes, landslides, and many invasions. Their remoteness makes them virtually a ghost site and if my Tweet is anything to go by, it's the first time most had even heard of them, including some locals. But by all means, the Masrur temples in Himachal Pradesh should be a must-visit for every traveler.




Since living in Himachal Pradesh for a couple of months, after my volunteering stint at Peepal Farm, the usual idea of a weekend trip has been a hike to one of the best cafes in Dharamkot and Bhagsu, a waterfall, or a music or spiritual event. But thanks to a group of people, I ended up joining a trip to the Masrur temples and as an Indian history and architecture nerd, having my mind blown.


Even though I've been to the Hindu temple ruins of Angkor Wat and Hampi, literally tucked away in a remote location in Himachal are the well-preserved 1200 year-old ruins of a grandiose temple from a bygone era. I say "ruins" because even though the temples were seemingly not destroyed or mutilated by the Mughal invaders like the others in North India, the temples have suffered considerable damage from a 1905 earthquake.



History of the Masrur Temples


Unfortunately, despite historians' best attempts, most of what is known about the temples is approximation and estimates. Known to have been built around the 8th century -- almost 1200 years ago -- due to their resemblance to the "Gupta style of architecture" from the same period. The temples are a "version of North Indian Nagara architecture style, dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, Devi and Saura traditions of Hinduism."


The temple complex was first reported by British explorer Henry Shuttleworth in 1913 bringing it to the attention of archaeologists. Although, little research is done around the temples, Historians assume that the remote location of the temples is the reason they have managed to survive over 1000 years of invasions, a fate most other Hindu temples of the period cannot not claim to boast of.


However, earthquakes have said to have caused significant damage to the temple buildings, giving them them their characteristic look of temple ruins.


How to get to Masrur temples


Located about 36 kms away from Dharamshala in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh in a remote area called 'Lunj', the temples can only be visited by a private vehicle as no public transport goes to the village due to the nonexistence of any civilisation within miles around.


A 4-hour drive from McLeodganj or a 3-hour drive from Dharamshala, through the undulating but barren landscapes of Eastern side of Himachal gets you to Masrur.


We started from Dharamkot, stopped enroute at the ancient Aganjhar temple (but not as ancient as Masrur) and waterfalls with a langar lunch and then proceeded towards Masrur, losing our way a couple of times.


While the first two hours are mostly through plains, about one hour away from the temples, the roads wind through pine trees-lined hills, making the drive to Masrur almost as good as the destination itself. (However, avoid going in the peak of the summers!)

What to do inside Masrur temples?


One can easily spend 2-3 hours inside the temple. As you enter, first take a good look at the temples from across the emerald "sacred pond" that give the rocky and sandy appearance of the temples a contrast and makes them even appear more glorious. You can get some photos clicked at the 3-step staircase in the middle of the pond which looks straight to the temples.


An online-only entry ticket


Rather interestingly, the entrance ticket to the temple is only online through a QR-code that leads one to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) website where you fill up your details, pay the 20 rupees and get an instant ticket on your phone!

The ticket allows you entry inside to admire the temple complex from close quarters as well as visit the functional shrine dedicated to Lord Ram, Sita and Laxman.


Even though most of the temple facades seem to have faded over time, one can see hints of the intricate inscriptions and carvings throughout. On one face of the temple, there's an interesting layout of 3 Buddha-like faces carved deep into the stone, each one fainter than the one lower to it, making you wonder if the masons just gave up halfway or some great calamity struck leading to such desecration.

A few chambers of the temples are closed to visitors, but outside one can roam around the temple complex to get different perspectives.


A rough flight of steps leads you to a terrace that gives a top-down view of the temples, making them look like cluster of jagged rocks - which the temples essentially are. Carved from monolithic sandstone rocks, the Masrur temples are reminiscent of the rock temples of Badami as well as the grandiose temple ruins of Hampi, the latter being much more recent. (For context, the Vijaynagar empire temples of Hampi are about 600 year old in comparison to the 1200~ year old Masrur temples.)



There is also a little dhaba inside the temple compounds that serves freshly squeezed sugarcane juice, samosa, chai, and chole-naan at incredibly cheap prices. Make sure to give them your business as the establishment exists only to serve the visitors of the temple.


When is the best time to go to Masur temples?


The temples would make a great one-day trip during any season, except for the peak heat of May. Each season presents a different look. On a weekday, we found the temple pretty empty save for a few local devotees and weekend travelers.


If you have the time, try to be there around sunset time as the orange-pink hues during the sunset cast a stunning background to the grey-beige temples, making them look almost like a painting! (Unfortunately my camera was dead by this time so no pictures and you just have to visit and find out for yourself.)


But visit these temples you must as they are but one of the last few relics of a glorious Indian temple architecture legacy.

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 I (Monica) am a lifelong traveler, (40 countries), sustainability and veganism advocate, and a marketer by profession. I'm old school in that I still like to blog and document rather than shoot and post.

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