Musings from Naggar : The Old Capital of Kullu

Once upon a time in the cold winter of 2014, after having been to Rishikesh and McLeodganj in January, destiny led me to Manali in February. After wandering around for a week or two, one sunny day I took a bus to Naggar. It used to be an offbeat destination at that time, primarily known for Naggar Castle that was the old capital of the princely state of Kullu.

Naggar Castle other side
The other side of Naggar Castle.

I walked from Vashisht to the bridge in Manali and it didn’t take long for a Naggar bus to arrive. There was no agenda with regards to places to visit and as it was still early morning, I had the entire day to explore. The road is surrounded by dense deodhar forests and small streams and also affords the possibility of angling near Haripur. The bus dropped me on the main road from where Naggar is a short uphill climb. A chai conversation at some dhaba informed me that the Russian painter Nicolas Roerich used to live here and that his home has been transformed into a museum.

Naggar valley views
Splendid views of Kullu valley from Naggar town.

Little did I realise that, this was just the start of a long affair with Naggar. I was to visit this quaint little hamlet multiple times over the next few years. Recollecting various places that I have visited in and around Naggar. Naggar has many cheap homestays and long term travellers and families prefer staying here over staying in Manali. What was once a very sleepy town has now a fairly developed market with a few hotels.

Finding the offbeat in Manali

Naggar village does not lie on the main NH-21 highway but is on the other side of Beas River on the Manali-Aleo-Naggar route that is also known as left bank. During the popular touristy months of June and July, most tourists from Manali opt to visit Naggar as a day trip.

Naggar Castle courtyard
Fantastic place to have lunch at the restaurant of Naggar Castle.

Although Naggar is the ideal place for slow travel and experiencing these places on your own, here’s a brief list of places to see in Naggar :

Naggar Castle

The imposing stone and wood constructed Naggar Castle was converted into a heritage hotel in 1978, but tourists can still visit it for a small fee. There are sweeping views of Kullu valley from the central courtyard of Naggar Castle where the Jagatipatt temple is also housed. Since there were no other visitors at the time when I was there, the manager took me for a round around the small museum and the castle itself.

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Naggar Castle
Side view of the stone and wood Naggar Castle, old capital of the Kullu kings.

He informed me that the Naggar Castle has been built in the the Kathkuni traditional local architecture style that comprises of walls constructed of alternate layers of wooden beams and stone slabs. In the castle itself, there are exquisite wood carvings and arched balconies. The open air restaurant in the courtyard of the castle is a highly recommended place for a memorable afternoon/evening. Also, the rooms at the castle seemed very nice and value for money too; it is run by the state tourism department HPTDC.

Jagatipatt Temple
The very very pretty Jagatipatt temple in the Naggar Castle.

Jagatipatt Temple : Also in the courtyard of the Naggar Castle, is a temple that has an interesting legend attached to it. The locals widely believe that the stone slab in the temple was carried here across the high mountains by honeybees. The temple had immaculate wooden carvings and looks very pretty, especially with the splendid wooden door.

Read : Ten foodie delights of Manali

Nicolas Roerich Art Gallery

The Roerich Art Gallery is the prime reason for the steady stream of westerners visiting Naggar. After a short walk from the Naggar Castle, I entered a small compound with lots of greenery around and the house of the Russian painter, Nicolas Roerich that has now been converted into a museum.

IMG_0304
A selfie attempt since no photography was allowed inside the Nicolas Roerich Art Gallery.

There are a multitude of paintings spread across different floors in the museum. Most paintings feature nature in the form of Himalayan landscapes. A few parts of the house are closed and visitors are not allowed inside. The art gallery is a haven for tourists interested in slow travel and appreciating the intricacies of paintings by the philosopher Nikolai Roerich who was so fond of this region that he actually decided to settle here.

Lunch time meant that there was a possibility for me to have random conversations with the museum staff. They told me that over the years, famous personalities such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Indira Gandhi have spent considerable time in Naggar.

Check : Offbeat Explorations in Leh

Urusvati Himalayan Folk & Art Museum

To be honest, I had no idea that a place like this even existed. I think it was a mistake in translation that made the locals lead me to the Urusvati Himalayan Folk & Art Museum. It was a chance find and it also meant that the random excursion to Naggar was getting better. The Nicolas Roerich museum ticket also enabled entry in this museum. It was established by the Roerich family too.

Rumsu Village old home
A view of the houses of Rumsu village.

The air was crisp as the Himalayan Folk and Art Museum is perched at a higher altitude than the other places. A row of sculptures greeted me in the garden outside the main building; upon inquisitive conversations I was told that these were the memorial stones of Kullu Kings and queens. Artefacts inside the 1928 museum include old utensils, fossil stones, crafts, tribal costumes etc.

Read : Temple of ‘Divine Madman’ in Bhutan : Chimi Lhakhang

Temples of Naggar

Being an ancient town, Naggar has many old temples and a walk is the best way to experience them. On my first visit, I didn’t know much about the same and ended up going only to the Gauri Shankar Temple. For many years, I thought that the temple I had visited was the Tripura Sundari Temple (Ha ha).

Tripura Sundari Temple
The three tiered Tripura Sundari temple.

The Tripura Sundari Temple is perhaps the prettiest of all temples in Naggar. It is dedicated to the main deity of Naggar village and is built in the pagoda style with a pretty three-tiered roof. The wood carvings in the temple are really old and artistic. A festival is also held sometime during the year at Tripura Sundari Temple.

Tripura Sundari Temple1
The entrance to Tripura Sundari temple seems to have been recently built.

There are many stone temples in Naggar village. Vishnu Temple is an 11th Century stone temple which is one of the oldest temples in this region. Apart from this, Gauri Shankar Temple complex has a few other temples too that are maintained by ASI (Archaeological Survey of India). I thought I had seen everything in Naggar on that visit until I returned again in 2016. A chance conversation with a local introduced me to Murlidhar Krishna Temple.

Gauri Shankar Temple
Visible from the Naggar Castle, Gauri Shankar is an old stone temple.

Krishna Temple is located farther away than all other temples and monuments in Naggar  and is located in the midst of cannabis fields. There were very few visitors here even there it appeared that there was a winding road through the village to reach the temple. I had walked with a local via a steep uphill climb who knew the priest. The temple has fantastic carvings in stone and I was lucky to have seen this. There are a few other relics outside the temple, and set in lush greenery it is a beautiful walk downhill.

Check : Life in Malana, In Photos

Wood Carvings Naggar
Exquisite door of a small temple somewhere in Naggar.

Wood fire pizza & other cafes in Naggar

On one of the walks from Naggar to the main road, the charming food at Nightingale is a must if one is staying in Naggar. There are many other new cafes that spring up during season time. The dhaba at Jana waterfalls serving an authentic Himachali thali is a popular favourite not to be missed.

Read : Top Experiences and Places to Visit in Barot Valley

Naggar cafe
This pretty cafe made me stop in my tracks and enjoy the solitude with some delicious wood fire pizza.

If one is staying in Naggar for a bit, I highly recommend a walk to the old wooden village of Rumsu. The temples of Khakhnal, Jagatsukh and Sajla are wonderful too and of much interest for the culture, heritage and architecture enthusiast.

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