Kangra had very pleasant weather, considering it was the fag end of December and it actually felt quite nice after coming back from the extreme cold of Kugti. We had acclimatised and gradually got used to the cold in Chamba & Bharmour before walking the final distance to reach frozen Kugti village.
The bus meandered along the road and made intermittent but timely stops for breakfast and lunch. I love the food at the stops that the bus drivers make. The dhabas are cheap and nice and breakfast usually consists of aloo paratha, while the lunch affair means unlimited offerings of vegetables and rajma chawal. The day had begun in Bharmour and after a bus change in Chamba, it was dark when the bus finally pulled into Kangra Bus station.
Kangra is a big town and is also one of the most populated districts of Himachal Pradesh. It lies almost in the foothills of the Himalayas in the vicinity of the mountain ranges of Lower Shivaliks and Dhauladhars. The ancient name of Kangra used to be Trigartha and it is still sometimes referred to as Nagarkot.
On many road trips to Himachal, I had only had brief flings with Kangra as it was overlooked for its illustrious neighbours – Dharamsala and McLeodganj. Sometimes some destinations become like that, only to be visited when time finally calls. It was a comedy of errors when I tried finding the PWD rest house and couldn’t manage to convince the watchman to let me stay. After almost two hours of wandering around town, we were still on the road and it was only when a nice autowallah intervened did things materialise.
A nice and comfortable 800 rupee room was found close to the road where the path to Kangra Fort bifurcates. It was quite a sight in the morning, when sunrise involved many colours of Kangra Valley. We set about walking to the one of the biggest forts in India, Kangra Fort and some other sights in the vicinity.
It was sheer luck to be given a ride on a scooter, that paved the way for more adventures!
Top sights in Kangra
This colossal fort is perched on a steep cliff and towers above the gentle looking Kangra Valley and is situated above the confluence of the Manjhi and Banganga Rivers. Kangra fort faced massive destruction in the earthquake of 1905. It was originally established even before the 11th Century and was used by Hindu Rajas, Mughal Emperors and even the British.
A stroll through the fort felt like walking through centuries of history. The views of Kangra Valley from the ramparts of the fort were quite nice and we could see the far away Dhauladhar mountains.
The fort has quite a history, Mahmud of Ghazni attacked it in 1009 AD. There are two ancient temples in the upper region of the fort with intricate carvings on stone – Ambika Devi Temple and Shree Adinath Jain Temple. The gates of the fort are huge and have mythological names. We were told that the fort was famous for a treasure it harboured inside its premises, which may have been the reason for Mahmud of Ghazni to invade it.
Jwala ji Temple (Also Jawalaji Temple)
First a brief legend regarding Hindu mythology and 51 Shaktipeeths :
Parvati’s father once insulted Lord Shiva and unable to accept this, she killed herself. Parvati was Lord Shiva’s consort. When Lord Shiva heard of his wife’s death his rage was immense and holding Sati’s body he wandered in anger. The other gods were scared and appealed to Lord Vishnu for help. Lord Vishnu let fly a volley of arrows which struck Sati’s body and burnt it and severed it to pieces. At the places where the pieces fell, the 51 sacred Shaktipeeths came into being and those places are revered as temples and holy spots.
It is located around 3o kms away from Kangra in the small town of Jawalamukhi. Jawalaji temple is one of the 51 Shaktipeeths, and marks the spot where the tongue of Shiva’s first wife, Parvati (Or Sati), fell after her body was consumed by flames. The gold dome of the temple was reportedly donated by Emperor Akbar and the spire was installed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
An eternal blue flame burns inside the temple and there’s a local folklore about the finding of the spot of the temple.
Archaeological Museum at Kangra Fort
This is a small museum just before the entrance of the Kangra Fort. Although recently established, it has a marvellous collection of stone carvings from temples inside the compound and miniature paintings from the Kangra School.
It is maintained by the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) and has a historic collection of stone tools from prehistoric periods; and also rare sculptures, coins and paintings of the historical periods. I was amazed at the wealth of history in the museum and kept hoping to find someone who could shed more light on the artefacts in the museum, but there was no one around.
Photography is not allowed inside the museum; it is best to club this visit before visiting the fort.
Maharaja Sansar Chand Museum
There is a privately owned museum near the fort and has a priceless collection of objects from the royal era. It showcases the life of Raja Sansar Chand, who was a renowned patron of Kangra Miniature painting. I was especially pleased to know the family’s Rajasthani connection upon seeing the Vintage Car that had a Rajasthani number plate. Needless to say, it made me even more happy to flaunt my Rajasthani roots!
Brajeshwari Devi Temple
After the fort, the scooter guy gave us a ride to Brajeshwari Devi Temple – which we may have skipped otherwise. It is one of the 51 Shaktipeeths (the legend is in italics above). The temple is hardly 10 minutes walk away from the main road and is best clubbed with a visit to Kangra Fort.
The Brajeshwari temple marks the place where Sati’s breasts fell. While the present structure doesn’t seem too appealing to the eyes, it is said to have been a spectacular structure built more than 1000 years ago. The Brajeshwari Devi temple was plundered by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1009 AD; who looted away all its wealth. The temple itself was built in 1920 after the earthquake of 1905 totally destroyed it.
The temple is dedicated to Goddess Parvati or Brajeshwari. According to a local legend, the goddess used butter to heal the wounds she suffered during her battle with the demons. So as a tradition and respect to the deity, the villagers decorate the temple with a layer of butter during the festival of Lohri.
The Rock Cut Temples of Masrur
The spectacular 10th century temples of Masrur are located around 30kms away from Kangra, the village of Masrur is close-by. These rock-cut temples were constructed in the 9th or 10th Century and were constructed out of a huge single rock. There are a few direct buses from Kangra to Masrur and an easy way to reach here is to get to the highway stop of Nagrota Suriyan.
In total there are fifteen temples devoted to Shiva, Sita, Ram and other Hindu gods and goddesses. The carvings are exquisite but eroded. In the pathways, there is a way to climb up to a flat roof above the main temple, the views from there are very nice.
Kangra Valley Toy Train
One of my most endearing experiences in this region has been the journey on the meandering narrow gauge toy train from Kangra to Baijnath Paprola. The train runs from Pathankot to Jogindernagar and is a fascinating memory for only 20-30 rupees per ticket. The track passes through endless pine forests, the aroma from which is enriching and on some stretches it feels as if the train is headed straight into the snowy peaks.
Read more : A lesser known ‘Himalayan toy train’
I was keen on visiting Pong Dam after hearing about the birds and tranquility but I couldn’t. The tea gardens of Palampur passed by & it was a pure joy to explore the exquisite carvings and statues of the Shaivite 8th or 9th Century Baijnath Temples at my own pace. It was divine intervention when an aarti was held at the exact moment I was there. I was lucky to have been to some of the 5 devi darshan of the temples in Kangra Valley earlier and saved that for another day.
The tranquil town of Gunehr, Bir & Billing welcomed and it was a time to relax after sweating it out in the extreme winter cold of Himachal Pradesh. A homestay was found; for 500 Rupees per day with a kitchen – and that was exactly what we needed.
Read more : Bir, Himachal’s latest beauty. Go now
I started writing this as a travelogue but ended up as a small travel guide! Do you like it?