Built along the Beas river is the historic town of Mandi, the gateway to the Kullu valley. Literally meaning market, Mandi was on the salt route to Tibet. This place offers better option to break journey to the Kullu valley. A district headquarter, Mandi is also renowned for its 81 old stone temples with exquisite carvings, thereby earning it the title of 'Varanasi of the Hills'. The town also has some remains of old palaces and notable examples of the 'colonial' architecture.
The Shivaratri Bhutnath celebrations in the Bhutnath temple attract tourists every year in large numbers. There are also two lakes near Mandi, which provide a good breather for the visitor. About five kms from the main town is the Tarana hills and on the top of the hill is Rani Amrit Kaur Park. From here one gets very good view of the nearby areas. The park has enclosed the Syama Kali temple, which was, built some where in the 17th century.
In the days of yore, the pious sage, Mandavaya, performed long and severe penance and practised unthinkable austerities on his body, on the right bank of the river Beas, near the present town, which, then took his name.
The town has many hotels but the perfect place to stay is Ramshackle Raj Mahal, overlooking the Town Square is a period-furnished palace with a good restaurant. For a bit more comfort try Evening Plaza, Vyas Guest House and the Arayan Bungalow.
In town look for good handicrafts near Bhutnath temple and in Seri Bazaar. Mandi raw silk has acquired wide fame.
In winter, the temperature can however around freezing point when heavy woollen clothes are required. During summer, the climate is hot and cottons are recommended.
Air: The nearest airport is Bhuntar about 57-km from Mandi.
Rail: The broad gauge railhead is at Pathankot, a distance of 210-km. From Pathankot the narrow gauge railway connects Joginder Nagar, which is 55-km from Mandi.
Road: Mandi is well connected by road to other places. The main bus stand is just above an open playing field, where the National Highway- 21 continues along the left bank of river to Pandoh.
It is built in the Nagari style with a tiled roof. The temple at the centre of a group of sculpted stones shrines, overlooks the river and offers good views. Inside the temple, Lord Shiva has been depicted as the lord of the three worlds, at the Panchvakhra he has five faces, expressing his five aspects.
Practically synonymous with Mandi and located in its very heart, this temple is as old as the town itself, dating back to the 1520's. It has a Nandi or god Shiva's bull facing the ornamental double arch to the sanctuary. The modern shrines nearby are brightly painted. In the month of March, the festival of Shivratri is a major event and Bhootnath Temple is its focus.
Also known as the Tarna Devi Temple, this temple is situated on the Tarna Hill, which rises above the town. Raja Syama Sen built the temple in the 17th century after a particularly trying time when the goddess gave him success.
This 7th century specimen of temple architecture, enclosed structure of Lord Shiva in a composite form with the right half as male and the left half as female- symbolising the male and female principles of cosmic evolution.
About 25-km from Mandi, and 14-km from Ner Chowk is the Revalsar lake, famous for its seven floating islands of reed. It is maintained that all seven of them can be moved by prayer or breeze. Here are three shrines - a Buddhist monastery, where elaborate rituals are performed, a Sikh gurudwara and a Hindu temple. It was from this place that the Sage Padma Sambhava, a zealous teacher of Buddhism, left as a missionary to preach the doctrine of "The Enlightened" in Tibet.
In February-March, Shivaratri fair is held in Mandi. In weeklong celebrations, full of music and dance, temple deities from hills and around are taken in procession with chariots and palanquins to visit the Madho Rai and Bhutnath temples.
The town of Mandi with its ancient temples revels in the Shivratri fair for a whole week.
On elaborately decorated palanquins, hundred of local deities are carried to the town. Accompanied by folk bands, they make their first stop at the 'Madho Rai' temple and then go to pay obeisance to Lord Shiva at the Bhootnath temple.