By Nivi Shrivastava There is so much to see and learn from history; and, travelling to a heritage destination is just the perfect way to travel back in time and revisit the lifestyle of our ancestors through monuments that still preserve the essence of good ol’ days. If you love to explore picturesque hill stations sprinkled with historical buildings (as old as 300-year-old) and wish to experience life from the Raj era, you must consider visiting Pragpur, a small village situated in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. The village of Pragpur along with a nearby village called Garli was declared as the “heritage village” and Special Area by the State Government in the year 1997. The twin villages promote rural tourism and are famous for old, rustic hilly manors that attract tourists from all over the place.
According to the history, Pragpur and Garli villages were developed around the Dhauladhar range almost three centuries ago by the Sood clans of Kangra valley. If you take a stroll on the worn-out cobbled streets of Pragpur, you’ll spot several age-old houses made of mud brick, accentuated with wooden floors and slanted rooftops. The typical hilly homes are painted in bright hues of blue, green, red and yellow – giving an impression of a live landscape painting from olden times. Go closer to these homes, and you’ll be able to see the remains of bygone era scrambling for survival in modern times as the villagers aren’t allowed to reconstruct or meddle with the preserved heritage buildings that are now in shambles as most of them were constructed before the partition of India.
What to see around:
Although there are quaint little reconstructed chateaus, mansions and havelis in the village that are delightful pieces of European-inspired architecture and design – the trip will be incomplete without visiting the magnificent heritage hotel called the Judge’s Court. The landmark building was built during the First World War by Justice Sir Jai Lal between the years 1914 to 1918, and is spread over 10 acres of land. It is now a part of WelcomHeritage group with 30 rooms that are restored by the current owners Kamini Rani and Vijai Lal Kuthiala Sood, who is the grandson of Justice Lal. If you are lucky like me, you might be able to meet the family members and learn about the history of the place straight from the horse’s mouth. The generous couple not only showed me around, but also gave an insight about the village and mentioned, “A clan of the Kuthiala’s, with the permission of the Raja of Jaswan, settled in his territory about 350 years ago and this led to the foundation of Pragpur in commemoration of a princess, Prag of Jaswan. Prag in Sanskrit means pollen. True to its name, Pragpur became a prosperous habitation and blossomed into one of the finest examples of rural heritage. The village was laid out as per the ancient precepts of Vastu Shashtra and is a living example of Indian culture. Each community was given an identified living space thus there are areas for the Brahmins, artisans, artists etc and these distinctions still exist today.”
The mansion is open for the public to visit and stay (reservations need to be done in advance), and is surrounded by exotic flora and fauna that were planted by the erstwhile royals and diplomats of the region. From picking gooseberries and mangoes from the collection of H.H Maharaja of Benaras to talking a walk in the local garden with trees like camphor, clove, plums, and other hilly blossoms – one can experience the benevolent nature and indulge in some quality me-time at this beautiful property. If you are fond of ancient artifacts and vintage memorabilia, do spend some time here and sample the extensive library, Kangra artworks on the wall, vintage typewriters, Petromax lanterns, huge brass vessels and other peculiar things like fresh water flowing through drains from a perennial underground source and reaching in the entire village. If you are fond of Himachali cuisine, do try out the fresh food prepared using mountain veggies and spices. The traditional meal served on leaves, is known as Dhaam is meant to be eaten with friends and includes plain aromatic rice, fried pulses or dal, spicy vegetable curry of red kidney beans, sidu (local bread), yoghurt peas (madra) and sweet rice (mittha bhatt).
While you are in Pragpur, keep a day to visit the majestic Kangra Fort which is around 40 km from the village and was built by the royal Rajput family of Kangra State (the Katoch dynasty). The massive fort has is perched on the hilltop overlooking confluence of Banganga and Majhi rivers. The entrance to the fort is through a small courtyard enclosed between two gates called the Ahani and Amiri Darwaza (gate). After a small climb, you’ll reach the Jehangiri Darwaza followed by the Darsani Darwaza, which leads to the ruins of the stone shrines of Lakshmi-Narayana, Ambika Devi and a Jain temple. Adjoining the Fort is the Maharaja Sansar Chand Katoch Museum, where tourists can find audio guides and cafes.
From history to spirituality – Kangra valley is famous for the Shiva and Devi temples like Chintapurani Mata Mandir, Jwalaji Mata temple (a renowned shaktipeeth), Chintpurni Temple (where wishes are fulfilled) and the Bagla Mukhi temple, where ministers, diplomats as well as the Presidents of India visit regularly to clear obstacles. Near Pragpur, is also a unique educational establishment called the Sanskrit University, where in addition to the language there are courses for becoming Pandits, the study of astrology, Vastu and several old heritage aspects. If you are in a mood for temple run in the Kangra valley and learn about the various myths and folklore from the hills, this would be an ideal experience.
How to reach Pragpur: Pragpur is well-connected by air, rail, and road. The nearest airports to this town are Gaggal (around 55 km), Adampur (around 80 km) and Pathankot (about 100 km) away. By train, it is connected by the narrow gauge Kangra Railway, that starts at Pathankot and nearest railway stations are Guler or Jwalamukhi, both about 20 km away. If you are catching a train from Delhi, you can reach up to Amb and catch a cab from there to reach the village. By bus, it is 6 km from Kalhoa on National Highway 70, connecting Amb to Hamirpur.