Karen Faye D’Souza

Located in the heart of Kangra valley, this charming little village is waiting to be discovered

Karen Faye D’Souza 

October 30, 2017

garlivillageviewNot far from the Dhauladhar range in the Kangra valley, lies a hamlet that is a treasure trove of heritage buildings. Garli is a delightful destination for anyone looking to getaway from Delhi over a long weekend or simply to explore Himachal Pradesh’s countryside. The former bastion of the Sud clan, prosperous timber merchants who built grand homes here in the early 20th century, Garli and near by Pragpur have been designated heritage zones by the Ministry of Tourism, HP.

Garli was a pioneering village in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It’s founding fathers built educational institutions for boys and girls, a women’s hospital, a veterinary hospital as well as infrastructure for sanitation and waterworks.

A walk around Garli is like stepping back in time. Armed with a handy map that details the sights of interest, wander down cool alleys and lanes flanked by thick foliage to discover decrepit two-storied mansions. Even in their state of disrepair it is obvious that they must have been glorious in their day. The Suds travelled extensively during the British Raj, which exposed them to various cultures. From Portuguese and Italian to Islamic and Rajasthani, these heritage homes showcase an amalgamation of architectural styles that will capture anyone with an appreciation for history and art. If houses could speak, these structures would have fascinating tales to tell. Apart from the gabled roofs with slate shingles, which are common to all, the builders of these homes tried to outdo each other. Keep an eye out for unique features like two sentries standing guard on either end of the roof in one house to rose and jharokha windows in others. One structure has elegant brick jaali work. Sadly, most are abandoned, locked up or have caretakers living in them – their owners having moved away for better jobs. Fortunately, this is slowly changing. The descendants of those who built these homes are returning to their ancestors’ village and discovering the potential it holds.

IMG_20170813_152405_HDRFaçade of Naurang Yatri Niwas

One such person is Yatish Sud, the owner of Chateau Garli, a heritage property now being run as a hotel. Restoring the mansion built by his great grandfather in 1921 was a joint effort undertaken by Yatish, and his children Amish and Tarini. They retained the essence of the original structure, only adding modern amenities to suit travellers of today. They also built a new wing that overlooks the swimming pool. Prepare to be dazzled by the striking red, blue, green and yellow windowpanes in this building, which create a dramatic effect once the sun sets and the lights come on indoors. It reminded me of a grand cathedral with stained-glass windows.

The old house is a treasure trove of items from a bygone era. A gramophone and large wooden radio in the living room brought back memories of my grandfather’s home. Don’t forget to look up as you explore the interiors or you’ll miss the beautiful blue and red Belgian chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. A large copper platter, known as Chamba thal, adorns one wall. It depicts the 10 avatars of Lord Vishnu and was used during religious and cultural ceremonies. A cabinet in a corner contains a set of ivory handled knives engraved with Yatish’s great grandfather’s initials. Notice the door handles in the dining room – they’re shaped like peacocks. Pop into the reception to see the organ and a telephone that looks more like an old accounting machine. Out in the verandah sit a huge hammam that was used to heat water and a food smoker cum heater made from solid Burma teak, along with various other knick-knacks from the past.

If you truly want to experience Himachali cuisine then request the kitchen at Chateau Garli to prepare a dham for you. Dishes with flavours ranging from spicy and sweet to sour and tangy unite on a thali ensuring that you will enjoy every bite. This is also the place to binge on fresh fish. If you’ve been consuming frozen or a day-old fish for years, you’ll be able to tell the difference right away.

PKP_1973-1024x681Puneet K. Paliwal

The sentry on the rooftop of Bishnu Niwas makes this heritage building stand out from the others

Further down the road from Chateau Garli, lies Naurang Yatri Niwas. This striking brick edifice was built in 1922 to serve as a sarai (inn) for travellers. As with several buildings in Garli it fell into neglect after a couple of decades. Thankfully Atul, the grandson of the original owner,  and his wife Ira decided to restore it a few years ago. It recently opened its doors to visitors. A wide corridor at the entrance leads onto a sunny central courtyard, around which lie the rooms and common areas. They have taken great pains to ensure everything is spick and span. The rooms are simple yet tastefully furnished and the lounge and dining rooms are comfortable and inviting. The Rang outdoor café adjoining the inn, also run by them, is the perfect place to spend an evening under the stars.

Ira has also been instrumental in reviving the tradition of patchwork in Garli. She’s taught a group of local women the art and together they create bedcovers, table runners and cushion covers, etc., with patchwork. These items are sold in the local crafts shop on the premises of Naurang Yatri Niwas, as well as in exhibitions in Delhi.

maxresdefault-1The Masroor rock-cut temple

A visit to Garli would be incomplete without a day trip to the Kangra Fort and Masroor rock-cut temple. The former is the most magnificent fort I have ever seen. Built atop a hill with a sweeping view of the valley, it’s no wonder that this fort was a much sought after conquest by invaders and other northern kingdoms within the subcontinent. Built around 1500 BCE (when the Bronze Age Civilisation was at it’s peak) by one of the Katoch kings, it is one of India’s oldest forts. Opt for an audio guide during your tour of the fort. Produced by Narrowcasters and narrated by Roshan Seth, whom you may recall was nominated for an Oscar for his role in the film Gandhi, it brings the history of the fort and its inhabitants to life as you walk along the ramparts and explore the ruins. While a good portion of the fort was destroyed in 1905 during an earthquake, luckily one intricately carved wall of the Laxmi Narayan temple within the complex escaped destruction. Remember to wear a cap or hat especially in summer as the sun gets very sharp by mid morning.

It is hard to describe in words the feelings of awe the Masroor rock cut temple evoked in me the first time I saw it. Dated to the 6th– 8th centuries, this series of temples were carved out of huge rocks in the classical Indian architectural style featuring shikharas (towers). Exquisite carvings on the towers and lintels depict gods and goddesses. A large pool in front of the complex reflects the temples, reminiscent of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Unfortunately several parts of the complex were destroyed in the earthquake of 1905.

Karen Faye D’Souza

The remaining wall of the Laxmi Narayan temple and the ruins of the central courtyard in the Kangra Fort

Back in Garli, don’t miss out on a night safari. A reserve forest near by is home to several animals including leopard and wild boar. Even if you don’t see anything, driving around in forested hills in the dead of night, never knowing what might appear around the next bend will set your pulse racing. If you’re lucky you might just spot smaller animals in the village. I saw a civet cat walking along a wall one evening! Another thrilling activity is a Beas safari. If the riverbed is dry then your tour guide may just take you for a bumpy drive on it, else picnic on the banks and enjoy a beautiful sunset.

I would have happily spent a few more days in Garli, enjoying the clean air and quite village life. But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. I promised myself that I’d return in the near future.

The Information

Getting there

IndigoSpice JetJet Airways and Vistara fly to Chandigarh, which is 3.5 to 4 hours away from Garli by road. Alternately take the Kalka Shatabdi till Chandigarh and then carry on by road.

Getting around

Prior booking is recommended. Rakesh can be contacted at +91 9816363598.

What to see & do

Garli is home to several heritage buildings. Start early in the morning as it can get very hot later in the day. If you’re feeling peckish, check out the local bakery, which offers fresh buns around 7.30am.

The Kangra Fort is 47km away and can easily be covered in a day trip.

The spectacular Masroor rock cut temple complex lies 57km from Garli.

For more information, please see:

www.garli.inwww.chateaugarli.com

12 Hole Golf Course

 

 

Surrounding Chalets Naldehra

While staying at The Chalets Naldehra, there are many picturesque destinations for sightseeing or day excursions – or for a taste of soft or hard adventure. With Naldehra as the base, all areas around can be covered. Many places are accessible by vehicle, while for some, hikes or walks are suggested. The popular places around are Shimla, Mashobra, Tattapani, Kufri, Chail, Fagu and Narkanda.

1. The Carignano Trek (Beginners’ family trek):

A circular trek takes you around the hillock of Carignano. This is our most popular trek, starting from Mashobra, just 11 km from The Chalets Naldehra and ending at the Fruit Research Centre.

2. The Mashobra Valley Trek:

This is one of the more popular treks. Starting from the town of Mashobra, it descends down to Sipur through thick deodar forest, and at Sipur you can see a 400-year-old temple. You can return back or carry on to Mulkoti for a longer trek, which is more challenging and takes about three hours. A total distance of eight kilometers will be covered.

3. The Century Old Trek:

An 11 kilometers trek for duration of three hours from Mashobra to Dak Bunglow. The trek finishes at an altitude of 2350m. This is a strenuous trek.

4. The Neckline Trek:

This is a three hours moderate trek through eight kilometers from Mashobra and ending at Kotidhar. The last lap is strenuous.

Durga Puja Experiences in Kolkata

Durga_Puja_Pandal_-_Ballygunge_Sarbojanin_Durgotsab_-_Deshapriya_Park_-_Kolkata_2014-10-02_9092The festival of Durga Puja has a cult of its own in Kolkata. It draws all kinds of crowd from far and wide. The City of Joy turns into a joy-filled heaven when the season for ‘pujo’ sets in. The beauty of the festival lies not only in the arrival of the Goddess along with her divine retinue and her ceremonial worships, but also the paraphernalia that has got attached to the festival over the decades. And, hands down, Kolkata is one of the best places to experience puja in its all festive spins. So with this in mind, we picked the top Durga Puja experiences or things to do in Kolkata during Durga Puja that every Bong knows and a non-Bengali in the city can look forward to. After all, why should Bengalis have all the fun?

Experience the Mahalaya

Mahalaya indicates the onset of auspicious Devi Paksha, which sets the stage for the oncoming 5-day of festivities. Get up before day break to witness the priests and devotees invoking the Goddess with Vedic incantations and rites at different pooja pandals. Lazy bones or those who are unable to make it to the wonderful scene can tune into the radio or FM to be a part of it.

Watch the Ashtami Pushpanjali

 

maxresdefault-1The most auspicious day for Durga Puja is the day of Ashtami. Almost every Bengali looks forward to make a flower offering to the Goddess on the morning of the eighth day of puja. For non-Bengalis, this is a not-to-be-missed experience.

Kumari Puja or worshipping the virgin is an important ritual during the festival. A girl aged between 5 to 8 years is chosen for a very elaborate worship on the Ashtami day before the idol of Durga. It was the great saint Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa who performed the first Kumari Puja by worshipping his divine spouse Sharda Devi at the Dakshineshwar Kali Temple. This soon spread among many devotees of the saint and that’s how it all started. The Belur Math in Kolkata performs unparalleled Kumari Puja in the entire city.

Witness two different pujas

 

Durga Puja is celebrated in two different ways in Kolkata. First is meant for the society that features lofty pandals and bedecked community halls, glittering lights and a diverse crowd. Second, the barir (home) puja is way homey that aims to bring together people and re-connect to their root. Such pujas are a sure-shot way to experience the real Bengali culture. Such pujas happen in old residential societies of North Kolkata or the upscale dwellings of South Kolkata. Some of the families have been celebrating the puja since long back, and they have interesting stories to tell about how the trend of special family puja started.

Be a part of carnival

Beauty contests for young ladies, dance competitions, fancy dress competitions for kids, drum-beating challenges for men and women are events that take place in nearly every puja organised by different housing societies. All are welcome to show their skill and prowess and take home a gift. People attend the fest dressed in the best of traditional finery; watching their spirited interactions is also an interesting sight.

Sandhya Aarti

 

As the sun sets, a mystical air and festive fervour fills up the ether because it is time for the sandhya aarti and the devotees are all geared up to pay homage to the World Mother with all pomp and gaiety. At every pandal, the appointed priest waves numerous lit-up butter lamps before the Goddess, while the gathered devotees perform dhunuchi naach at the irresistible beats of dhaak. The zest and worship goes on till the following dawn.

Dig into the festive fare

Deluxe Room Puja OFFER The Astor, Kolkata Kolkata is a foodie’s hogging ground on any given day, which turns even more vibrant during the pujo. Many households even lock up their kitchens during the five-day-long festivities, and get their daily fill from local restaurants, kiosks in pandals and other street food vendors. Taste a bit of everything―all things are good.

Be there at Maddox Square

The young crowd of Kolkata hits the Maddox Square in Ballygunge to experience merrymaking at its best when the puja vibes are in the air. Hundreds of youngsters from across the city assemble at this venue to witness band performances, TV shows broadcasting live and other events. Something or the other keeps happening here all the time. And if you are a local, you are sure to bump into a friend or an acquaintance.

Be a part of Sindoor-Khela

 

DSC_0831On the last day of Durga Puja, the married women indulge in a hearty sindoor-khela (playing with the vermillion) by smearing red vermillion on the pretty face of Holy Mother first, and then, besmearing each others’ faces with the sacred powder as a mark of goodwill, auspiciousness and luck. Ladies, please take note.

Behold the immersion rites

The Goddess is bid adieu with as much fervour as her homecoming. Watching uncountable idols of the Goddess being immersed in the Hooghly River, which passes through West Kolkata, is a sight worth remembering and capturing in your camera. Make sure you do not skip this event!