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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Saint John in the Wilderness and the magic of Mcleodganj

  When the itinerary for the Himachal was planned ,this place had somehow escaped our notice.Saint John in the Wilderness ,the name suggests nothing about the place ..a treasure hidden in the midst of the deodars of the hilly slopes of Mcleodganj.It was only when we set out for Mcleodganj from Dharmashala that our driver insisted that we visit this church. Church...something I was never much interested in..I had visited many in Goa ,Kerala and even in Mysore.At first sight that was just another deodar forest but slowly disclosed this breathtakingly beautiful sight.

  Built by the British about 2 centuries ago ,this church had survived the earthquake of 1905.The earthquake destroyed the bell tower of the church .In 1925 a new bell was brought from England ,but the bell being too heavy could not be installed in place ,so it lay in the church premises,but soon in a few years time attempts of theft were made for this bell ,consequently this is how the bell can be seen today in the churchyard.
We visited the church in a Sunday ,and saw the Father holding the morning prayers ,the church is very much in use till today

James Bruce the erstwhile viceroy of India was buried at this very place.where the grave memorial now stands in the churchyard..The mortal remains of the.lieutenant general of Punjab Donald Friell McLeod after whom Mcleodganj was named was also laid to rest in this churchyard.

early morning rays in the churchyard

We had already made a fine start to the day with an early morning visit to the church,and now proceeded on the journey uphill ...a quaint small place ,Mcleodganj awaited us a little up the slopes. 
If I were to describe my first glimpse of this place, I would say it was  a rather crowded place,something I have always tried avoiding ,but slowly as I walked down the lanes of this place ,my perception about this place changed as I soaked up the ambience of the place .In my entire trip of the state it was one of the very few places where I came very close with the local people and saw them busy in their daily routine  .For once I felt that not many things were designed only for tourists like us ,rather they let us blend into the environment,as life moved at its own pace .

I can recall my first glimpses of children going to school , narrow lanes lined with shops selling every possible ware , fair skinned foreigners strolling  leisurely around  cafes which served Italian pizza or lasagna and Tibetian thukpa or  momos with equal ease.

I had visited the church ,and the Bhagsu Nag temple (a shiva temple)a little downhill and now I was about to visit the monastery for which Mcleodganj is so renowned....as we all know this was the seat of the Tibetian government in exile and the residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Amidst all this chaos and confusion which by now I had started enjoying, had I missed out on something ,I guess yes, I know ,I had not noticed that the place which was called little Lhasa was actually a melting pot of different cultures and religions from far and wide.

The monastery casts its divine spell on one as one makes the rounds of the different halls with towering statues of the Buddha (photography is prohibited inside the monastery,so could not get pictures).A few words of enlightenment did penetrate our minds if not but for a few moments.As I turned the prayer wheels inside the monastery a lady of Tibetian origin  walked up to me and told me a few words...Om Mani Padme Hum...These were the words I should have uttered while turning the prayer wheels.When she saw me fumbling with the words she made it simpler saying "Just say Jai Shri Krishna ,you see it is all the same"......insightful words from plain mortals ..an experience  that shall remain etched in my memory forever.

This was a home to the monks who walked past every now and then in their maroon robes,they always seemed to be deep in conversation with their companion.

A place where prayer wheels and stupas could be seen even in the market place,and a place where prayer flags were put up to bring luck ,happiness ,compassion,prosperity,longevity and even to bless the surrounding countryside ,brightening up the green landscape in red and yellow splashes.

It was a place with never ending lanes of shops selling statues of Buddha ,Ganesha and Natraja

and the everlasting bounty of nature which rendered the atmosphere so sublime......


what then could stop the magic of Mcleodganj linger in my mind for quite sometime.

Mcleodganj is located at a distance of & 7 kms.from Dharmashala in the state of Himachal Pradesh .A quaint little hillstation situated little uphill from Dharamashala,Mcleodganj can be reached by car ,in an hours time.The nearest airport is at Dharmashala. The Dal Lake of Dharmashala and the Church Of Saint John  can be visited on the way to Mcleodganj. The Bhagsu Nag temple and the Bhagsu Falls are the major tourist options from here. Mcleodganj has many mid and high range stay options .One need not drive back to Dharmashala the same day ,instead can spend one night here.The food as said above, varies from Tibetian to French. Situated only 10 kms from Triund , Mcleodganj is also a trekkers paradise. Sorrounded by the snow capped  Dhauladhar ranges, Mcleodganj presents a very unique character that can be comprehended only when experienced.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Kangra fort ---history in the lap of nature

        Built by Raja Bhuma Chand of the Katoch dynasty,ransacked by Mahmud Ghazni,conquered by Mohammad Bin Tuglaq,garrisoned by Jahangir, reconquered by Raja Sansar Chand the second,attacked by Akbar the great, usurped by the Gorkhas ,annexed by the Sikhs ,and finally overpowered by the British; need I say more about the significance of this place.!!!!!!!
    So this is a fort in a place called Kangra about 17 kms from Dharmashala in Himachal Pradesh.It was once the capital of the Katoch rulers and a part of the ancient Trigartha kingdom.The ancient Trigartha kingdom finds mention in the epic of Mahabharata and was spread  over Kashmir,Himachal Pradesh, Multan ,Punjab and even Uttar Pradesh. 
The view of the fort from the well manicured lawns at the entrance of the fort
The fort was built in an elevated piece of land covering an area of nearly 4 square kilometres.

The picture above shows the Jayanti Mata temple ,a temple built by the Gorkhas after their victory over the fort.

another view of the temple from the fort premises
Kalpa ..a complete guide to the mesmerizing hill station in the Kinnaur Valley
Sarahan (Kinnaur Valley)---Why you should include it in your itinerary
Rakcham .Why we preferred it to Sangla (Kinnaur)

The main entrance to the fort also known as the Ranjit Singh darwaza.The fort has several gates each one attributed to the invaders who held the fort .Interestingly, the gates were built in succession, the outermost one ,that is the one in the picture was built by the Sikhs.Another prominent gate which comes next as one enters the fort is the Jahangiri gate ,named after the Mogul emperor who captured the fort a few centuries before the Sikhs. The innermost gate which leads us to the palace area is the Darshini gate ,is the oldest gate in the fort
     .Does this imply that as more and more invaders eyed the fort ,the ones who were successful felt the need of fortifying themselves even more.Why was the fort such a coveted one ?This was the question that kept bothering me.Was it only the strategic location of the fort that made it so important,that the rulers wanted to use this place as a bastion for their future territorial ambitions.?       
There used to be a common saying in Kangra that he who holds the fort rules over Kangra .I guess then it was perhaps the territory of Kangra which held a significant place in history.

    A few more minutes of pondering ,and I know the answer----,it was the sheer magic of the place ,with an abundant greenery ,and the overshadowing snowcapped peaks of the Dhauladhar ranges that awed the rulers as much as we are awed now. Happy with my conclusion I continued my journey into the annals of history.......

A moment of pause for a photograph at the Jahangiri gate.

Ever wondered why the forts had such  narrow gates?Was it easier to keep the invaders at bay from inside the fort.

A view of the many darwazas inside the fort and one of the two dogs that gave us company till the top .

The  Darshini gate flanked by the defaced statue of the river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna,needless to say it was built by the Hindu rulers of the fort.
And at last, we are at the top...through the Darshini gate ,to the place where once existed the temples the palaces and the courtyards,most of which are in ruins now.The Kangra fort suffered huge damages in a massive earthquake in 1905.
The first view of the place after we entered the Darshini gate
The dome shaped temple...the Adinath jain temple, which can be seen at the corner is the only one still in worship.This temple was the only one which survived the earthquake.

The walls of the Sitalamata temple and the Lakshmi Narayan temple,only  one wall and the platform on which the temple was built remains now.The intricate carvings on the walls gives us an indication of the grandeur of these temples

The walls of the Sitalamata and  Lakshmi Narayan temple

Do you notice the courtyard on the other side of the walls..the temple doors opened to this courtyard..probably used for public gatherings inside the fort.Nothing remains of the palace except for a raised platform.

The fort is located on a hillock at the confluence of the rivers ..the Banganga and the Patalganga..the confluence though could not be spotted from the fort.The rivers formed a natural moat around the fort.

 A view of the fort gates from atop the fort,the elevated level of the fort allowed the guards to keep constant vigil on all directions .

                  One of the many arcades and walls of the fort which stand tall even in the ruins,bearing testimony to the battles fought in this very place.
         So this was a place which  witnessed many invasions one after the other,a silent onlooker of  greed and an insane craze for power which we humans term as glory and which leaves a subtle message to linger in our minds long after........

How to reach and where to stay
The airport at Kangra is known as the Gaggal airport, about 10 kms from Kangra town.Kangra is well connected by rail to Pathankot about 94 kms from here.
The nearest place for boarding and lodging is Dharmashala ,17 kms from here,where options are in plenty ,including HPTDC hotels which can be booked online.
One can visit the Kangra fort as a one day trip from Dharmashala coupled with a visit to the ancient Masroor temple which is only 20 kms from here.