The Manimahesh Kailash Peak, also known as Chamba Kailash, which stands towering high over the Manimahesh Lake, is believed to be the abode of Lord Shiva, the (Hindu deity). It is located in the Bharmour subdivision of the Chamba district in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. The peak is 26 kilometres (16 mi) from Bharmour in the Budhil valley. It is one of the major pilgrimage sites in Himachal Pradesh. The Manimahesh Lake is at the base of the Kailash peak at 5,653 metres (18,547 ft) and both are held in deep veneration by people of Himachal Pradesh, particularly the Gaddi tribes of the region, as the abode of Lord Shiva. In the month of Bhadon, on the eighth day of the new moon period a fair is held in the precincts of the lake that attracts thousands of pilgrims.
Manimahesh Kailash has not been successfully summitted by mountaineers and is thus a virgin peak. An attempt to climb the peak in 1968 by an Indo–Japanese team led by Nandini Patel was aborted. This failure is attributed to the divine prowess of the peak since it is revered as the holy mountain of Chamba according to the staunch devotees of the Manimahesh Lake and the peak.
There are several mythical legends narrated on the sanctity of this peak and the lake at its base.
In one popular legend, it is believed that Lord Shiva created Manimahesh after he married Goddess Parvati, who is worshipped as Mata Girja. There are many other legends narrated linking Lord Shiva and his show of displeasure through avalanches and blizzards that occur in the region.
According to a local myth, Lord Shiva is believed to reside in Manimahesh Kailash. A rock formation in the form of a Shivling on this mountain is considered as the manifestation of Lord Shiva. The snow field at the base of the mountain is called by the local people as Shiva’s Chaugan (play field).
It is also believed that Manimahesh Kailash is invincible as no one has so far scaled it, in spite of claims to the contrary and the fact that much taller peaks have been scaled, including Mount Everest. According to one legend, a local tribe, a Gaddi, tried to climb along with a herd of sheep and is believed to have been turned into stone along with his sheep. The series of minor peaks around the principal peak are believed to be the remnants of the shepherd and his sheep.
Another legend narrated is that a snake also attempted to climb the mountain but failed and was converted into stone. Devotees believe that that they can view the peak only if the Lord wishes so. Bad weather covering the peak with clouds is also explained as a displeasure of the Lord.
Manimahesh Kailash or Mountain Kailash is in the watershed of the Budhil valley, which forms part the mid-Himalayan range of hills near Kugti pass and at Harsar. The perpetually snow-covered glacial peak, at the head of its own range, is the source of the sacred lake of Manimahesh situated beneath it. Manimahesh Ganga River originates in a cascade from the lake and joins the Budhil River on its left bank. This hill range is a contiguous spur that conjoins the main range near the Bara Banghal pass of the Pir Panjal range. After the Budhal River rises from the slopes of the Kukti (Kugati) pass and Bada Bangal pass, the watershed formed by the Budhil and Ravi rivers takes the form of an inverted triangle with its base at Khadamukh. Budhil itself is formed by several streams which rise from different faces of the Manimahesh Kailas peak. The streams which rise from the peak are: the ‘Bhujla’ (derived from Bhuja meaning the arm) from the left flank of the peak, which meets Bhudil (also spelt Budhal) below Kukti village; the Dhancho nala, rising from the snowy ranges of the southern flank of the peak, flows in northward direction; Androl stream carrying holy waters of the Manimahesh Lake flowing to the north of the peak and through the Barachundi Meadow, the Siv Karotar stream rises from the foot of the peak and joins Androl; and the Gauri stream from the Gauri Kund joins Androl. All these streams constitute the Dhancho nala that confluences with Budhil at Hadsar. In view of so many streams originating from the Manimhesah Peak and the Manimhaesh Lake, and all of which are also linked to legends and the annual yatra pilgrimage, the Budhal or Budhil River is also highly venerated by the Gaddi elders and is nicknamed as ‘Bhujl’. Pir Pinjal lies in the lesser Himalayan Zone, which forms the central part of the state of Himachal Pradesh. The peak lies along the water shed between the Chenab River on the one side and Ravi and Beas on the other side.
A research study has been carried out on the glacial status of this peak and its range by the Geological Survey of India. It indicated that the Manimahesh Kailash peak is part of the range, which is 4.6 kilometres (2.9 mi) long. The average elevation of the studied peaks is 4,960 metres (16,270 ft). The glacial melt from this range flows towards the north and extends over an area of 4.58 square kilometres (1.77 sq mi). The ice content of the glacier has been assessed as 0.137 cubic km. The composition of this proglacial region is reported to be a mixture of ground/recessional moraines with linear country outcrops protruding out. The glaciation must have extended up to a little downstream of Dhanchu as revealed by the terminal moraine hump. During the last 37 years, the glacier receded by 1,075 metres (3,527 ft) with an average retreat of 29.05 metres (95.3 ft)/year. The area vacated is estimated at 0.679 square kilometres (0.262 sq mi).
Possibilities of climbing the Manimahesh peak, an important peak in the Chamba region, has been examined vis-a-vis the past failed attempts. It is assessed that the ascent and descent of the peak could be achieved in 3 days along a traverse of the N ridge and E flank into the Nainoni Valley and down to Kugti village. However, the rock conditions are assessed to be poor at higher elevations of the peak. The reported past attempts of an Indo-Japanese women’s team in 1965, the Italian POW escape in 1945 and an ascent said to have been achieved in 1990 are all inferred as “fanciful”.