With Delhi NCR’s air getting more noxious by the minute, people prefer heading out for the long weekends. This poses a dilemma of choosing a destination. With Mussoories, Shimlas and McLeodgunjes crawling with Delhiites a la Chandni Chowk, the choices surely shrink. In such dire times, I am glad to have found an unexplored heritage gem during this year’s World Heritage Week. All thanks to a FAM trip organised by SoulMedia! Read on and enjoy – ‘Garli – Pure Air. Pure Art. Pure Heritage.’ Hopefully, you’d also personally discover it soon enough!
Garli – Pure Air. Pure Art. Pure Heritage.
I had just returned from Iceland (more about it later). And within 48 hours of arriving, I was off again – this time, to an unheard of a place called Garli (pronounced ‘girlie’). Garli is a small village in the sprawling district of Kangra in Himachal Pradesh. Unlike some of the preferred-but-distant hill destinations like Dharamshala, Manali, and Palampur, it is just 180-km from Chandigarh. And that translates to a comfortable 8-hour drive from Delhi!
Dharamshala – Doorstep of Dazzling Dhauladhar is a crisp account of my visit there; When Palampur Said – “Hail, Bloggers!” would throw some light on Palampur and its surroundings!
We had reached Garli by taking the morning Delhi-Kalka Shatabdi (a fast train) till Chandigarh and covering the rest of the journey in a Tempo Traveller. During the journey, we had made a couple of short stops – at Kurali to enjoy jaggery that was being freshly prepared, and at Rupnagar (Heritage Haveli) for lunch.
As we had made these short halts during our journey, we reached Garli in the evening twilight hour. While the excitement and the journey had tired us out, our first glimpse of this piece of heritage was enough to mitigate our fatigue. It was a tasteful amalgam of Portuguese, French, and Kangra architecture.
Upon arrival, we were promptly given our room keys. The rooms were delightfully ethnic and spacious, and the size of the bathroom, awesome.
An Evening in Garli
After taking the time to freshen up, we stepped down to the poolside. Yes, it has a cute blue pool! The bonfire was crackling. The comfortable cane chairs were informally strewn around. And a full bar was a welcome sight after a long day!
Shortly, with drinks in hand, Yatish Sud, the owner-mastermind behind the tasteful creation called Chateau Garli, escorted us around the Haveli-turned-Boutique-Resort. As we moved from one nostalgia-filled space to the next, our eyes kept popping out a few millimeters at a time. The entire Haveli (mansion) was a veritable history epic of the last hundred years!
As I contentedly settled down near the bonfire, I felt like a character in a period etching!
Our First Introduction of the Hidden Treasures
While others in the group had completed their morning heritage walk around the village, I groggily woke up around 8.30am. I realised I was still terribly jetlagged and was floating around in the GMT time zone that prevails in Iceland. All the same, I bathed and readied myself for the excitement that had been planned for us. After breakfast, we were proceeding for a day-picnic to Pong Dam Lake (Maharana Pratap Sagar) – around 35 km from Garli!
Our day’s explorations began soon after we loaded ourselves in a Thar and a Tempo Traveller. Our first stop was an ancient temple in Dadasiba, another small village near Pong Dam Lake. The temple seemed ordinary enough till we entered its sanctum sanctorum. Each wall was depicting some mythological tale or the other and the ceiling took the cake! It was covered in one of the most intricate patterns I had ever seen. And to imagine that it was a usually simplistic Kangra Painting!
Water, water, everywhere…
From Dadasiba, it was a 10-minute drive to the Pong Dam Lake. As we spilled out of our vehicles, we spread out in awe as an octopus’ tentacles’ would – in different directions. Our expressions were torn between exuberance and awe! Beyond a 50-feet slope sprinkled with ellipsoidal pebbles and stones lay a vast body of water. At the first glance, it seemed like the sea!
Pong Dam Lake overwhelmed any imagery we may have conjured up in our mind. To call it huge would be an understatement. Between how-do-I-go-down-the-slope and hundreds of selfies, the next couple of hours just flew by.
All this action led to hunger pangs. And the Chateau Garli staff pulled out their casseroles, crockery, and cutlery boxes. A look at aloo subzi (Potatoes), paranthas, and pooris (varieties of India Bread) was enough to induce an all-pervading silence that was only punctuated by ‘can you pass the beer, please?’ or ‘where is the water bottle?’
Blue Hour at Chateau Garli
After a few joyful hours at the Lake, a few of us decided to rush back as we wanted to capture Chateau Garli in all its glory at the blue hour. This magical time window lasts around 10-15 minutes. Hence, I could only capture the new wing of the haveli. With the pool in the foreground, it sparkled like a jewel. Have a look at the shot above!
Another relaxed session over some fine drinks around the bonfire and a fish-and-chicken dinner wrapped up this enjoyable day!
Going back in time – All the way to 3500 years ago
Next day, we made a brief stop at Pragpur’s Butel Haveli. This haveli has 7 sections – each belonging to one of the seven Butel siblings. While no one resides here today, the family has still maintained the ancient glory of the heritage haveli well enough.
Moving on, we travelled for another hour and reached Kangra Fort. Kangra Fort is less than 50 km from Chateau Garli. While I had passed by this fort on numerous occasions, it would be the first time I would enter it. It is said that this is the oldest fort in India – built around 3500 years ago by Raja Susharma Chandra, a Katoch descendant.
While this fort rebuffed more than 50 attacks over the centuries, it fell to nature’s wrath in 1905 during the Kangra earthquake that measured 7.8 on Richter scale!
Revisiting the lost glory
Armed with an audio guide, we made our way into the fort that is mostly in ruins now. But as the famous Urdu couplet goes – Khand-har bataa rahein hain, kabhi imaarat bulund thi (The ruins are enough to tell how impressive it used to be at one time).
As you wind your way up the fort, you pass through 5 gates. While there are stories around each of them, the common refrain that binds them is ‘you must enter leg first or else the guard might behead you’. Its location and layout made it invincible. And the Katoch army’s bravery is considered to be legendary. Little wonder it remained unconquered during most of its history.
Legend has it that the fort had 21 treasure wells – each 4mt deep and 2.5 mt in circumference. Mahmud Gazhni looted 8 of these; the British looted 5 of these, and it is said that another 8 still lie hidden inside.
While the fort is magnificent, those who may not be interested in the history and heritage need to know this fort offers some stunning viewpoints of the surrounding ranges!
Back to Blue Hour
As I had only managed to photograph the new wing of Chateau Garli the previous day, I again rushed back to catch the blue hour light for shooting the old wing that dates back almost 100 years. A patient wait of 45 minutes for the right light resulted in the shot you saw above. I hope you are as pleased with these images as I am.
The dinner served this evening was the famed Himachali Dham – the elaborate local festive cuisine. While it was delicious, I will refrain from providing details of Dham as I am not much of a foodie!
And miles to go before I leave…
Next morning, before we were to leave for Chandigarh on our way back to Delhi, Yatish took us around for a riverbed safari. The local fishermen were pulling out their nets. The foggy morning provided enough mystique to the images I captured.
Soon after, he also took us around for a heritage tour of Garli. Amongst the many havelis we visited, one that stood out had already been earmarked for renovation. Regrettably, the renovation plan seems to not take into consideration the restoration the ancient Kangra wall paintings that adorned its various rooms. I do not know how long these will remain, but an art aficionado may want to hotfoot it to Garli and witness them before they are no more.
As we were waving our goodbyes to the hospitable staff of Chateau Garli, my note-to-self was ‘I’ll be back soon!’