The Undiscovered Kangra

Kangra is a region of Himachl Pradesh, India that is over 3500 yrs old and dates back to the Vedic Times finding mention in the ‘Puranas’ and the Mahabharata. The district derives its name from Kangra town that was known as Nagarkot in ancient times.

Sheltered by the Dhauladhar range of the lower Himalayas, Kangra District is a green and luxuriant paradise for tourists with interesting trekking trails, nature parks, heritage buildings, adventure activities, angling and a pleasant climate. Crafts like the exquisitely designed shawls and miniature paintings of this region are well acclaimed.

 

Kangra

KANGRA Kangra is the former capital of the princely state of Kangra. This bustling pilgrim town has the famous Brajeshwari Devi Temple, one of the 51 Shakti Peeths. The over 1000 year old formidable Kangra Fort, Maharaja Sansar Chand Museum and the Masroor rock cut temples are other interesting places to experience.

Pong Dam

 

pongMaharana Pratap Sagar, also known as Pong Dam Reservoir or Pong Dam Lake was created in 1975 building the highest earthfill dam in India on the Beas River in the wetland zone of the Shivalik Hills in Kangra. Declared a bird sanctuary in 1983 and one of India’s 25 international Ramsar sites in 2002, the reservoir is additionally one of the leading fish habitats in the Himalayan states, and provides vital habitat to a host of mammals including leopards, sambar, wild pigs, barking deer and oriental small-clawed otters.

Dharamshala

DHARMSHALA Dharamsala is the headquarters of the Kangra district and a popular hill station lying on the spur of the Dhauladhar range about 17 Km north- east of Kangra town. This hill station is wooded with oak and conifer trees and snow capped mountains enfold three sides of the town while the valley stretches in front. The snowline is perhaps most easily accessible at Dharamsala than at any other hill resort . It is possible to make a day’s trek to snow-point after an early morning’s start. Upper Dharamsala area comprise of places with names which bear witness to its history like McLeod Ganj and Forsythe Ganj. Since 1960, when it became a temporary headquarter of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dharamsala has risen to international fame as “The Little Lhasa in India”, McLeodganj, is 9 Km from Lower Dharamsala. Other Interesting points include, Kangra art museum, St John Church, Kunal Pathri, Kotla Fort etc. Dharamshal is also home to the famous cricket stadium where IPL matches are held.

Palampur

palampur

Palampur, also known as the ‘Tea Capital of North India’, is a not so popular hill station. It is known to a few for its scenic beauty but also for the beautiful temples and buildings built in the Colonial period. The town has derived its name from the local word pulum, meaning lots of water. There are numerous streams flowing from the mountains to the plains from Palampur. Behind this town stands high ranges of Dhauladhar mountains, whose tops remain snow-covered for most part of the year. Here, a nature lover can enjoy a quiet stroll while feasting his eyes on the natural beauty and an outdoor lover with a taste for adventure can enjoy long hikes and treks.

Pragpur

pragpur Pragpur is a small village, about 50 km from Kangra. It has been enlisted as the World Heritage Village in India. The pristine beauty and glorious historical background makes it a wonderful destination that showcases the traditional values of the local folks.

Baijnath

baijnathIt is a small town 51 km from Kangra and 16 km from Palampur. Famous for the over 800 yr old Shiv Temple of the same name. The temple is a beautiful example of early medieval north Indian Temple architecture known as Nagara style.

Bir

BIR Bir is situated in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas in the Kangra District, just 30 Km from Palampur and is a noted centre for ecotourism, spiritual studies and meditation. The greater Bir area includes Billing, the Tibetan Colony in Chowgan, Ghornala, and Sherab Ling in Bhattu. It is home to a diverse community of over a thousand Indian villagers, a Tibetan refugee settlement, and a small but growing international population . Bir is so charming that one of the joys of getting around is doing so slowly, out in the open. The many villages and fields of greater Bir are interconnected by webs of walking trails. Do yourself a favor by getting out and walking as much as you can . Paragliding is one of it’s biggest draws for outdoor enthusiasts and thrill seekers. Bir is regarded by international paragliding groups as the second best site in the world for paragliding (after Lake Como in Italy).

To discover Kangra contact Road2Travel for any information. You might want an extended trip to Himachal including Shimla and Manali. A number of Budget and Deluxe hotels are available like Hotel Kalpna by R C Hospitality at Manali. Road2himachal our Himachal division would be eager to help you out.

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MASROOR ROCK CUT TEMPLES KANGRA

The Masroor Rock Cut Temples are a little known architectural wonder in Himachal Pradesh. Just 38 km from Kangra town on the Nagrota Surian link road, is this amazing monolithic rock cut temple complex of 15 temples, carved out of a single rock. The complex is surrounded by deodar trees and along this complex is a small pool of water giving it a surreal feel of an era gone by. These are the only rock cut temples in north India.

masroor3In the centre of the complex stands the principal and most elaborately carved shrine – the Thakurdwara. This temple is carved inside and it enshrines black stone images of Ram, Lakshman and Sita facing east. The rest of the 14 temples (7 on either side of the central temple) are carved only on the outside. The entire theme of the temple carvings revolve around the festivity and coronation of Lord Shiva who is the centre of the Hindu pantheon. Locals believe that the Pandavs built the Masroor Rock Temples during their period of exile and pray in the temples even today.

masroor2The remote location of these temples protected them from the invading army of Mahmud Ghazni and their stone construction prevented severe damage in the 1905 earthquake. But now only a few of the original shikhars stand and some of the beautifully carved panels are in the state museum at Shimla. As such one is well aware of the neglect of most ASI monuments and The Masroor Rock Cut Temples are no exception.

masroor5

masroor4Surprisingly this exceptionally beautiful monument does not form part of any popular itinerary of Himachal Tourism. Road2Himachal plans to set this right…

You can see a detailed walk through by Google at http://goo.gl/WDrTY1

The umbrella people: a visit to the craftsmen of Bor Sang in Chiang Mai

Umbrellas are pretty ubiquitous in Thailand – hardly surprising in a nation where the sun mercilessly beats down for months before the skies release their heavy monsoon rains that soak in seconds – if you’re caught brolly-less.

Umbrellas offer protection from the sun and rain but can play a cultural role as well as a practical one. They are an important symbol of royalty: Thai monarchs sit on thrones under nine-tiered umbrellas, the tiers representing the eight points of the compass and the burden of power. While in Buddhism, the umbrella represents protection from suffering and harm.

Umbrellas and parasols have a long history and have been developed the world over – usually to keep off the sun rather than rain. They’ve been found depicted on ancient Egyptian carvings in Thebes, and the ancient Persian capital Persepolis, and it is thought the opening kind, with ribs supporting fabric, were developed in China over 2,000 years ago. In many nations, umbrellas are seen as a symbol of power – the king of Burma used to be referred to as “The Lord of the 24 Parasols”.

umbrella1

 

 

The story behind the famous umbrellas of Thailand is that they were brought back by a monk called Phra Intha, who travelled to Burma (Myanmar) and discovered the people making lovely umbrellas with mulberry bark (sa).

Being oiled, these umbrellas kept people dry as well as cool. Impressed, the monk took some examples back to his home of Bor Sang village in Chiang Mai and taught the people how to make their own. The talented artisans would add distinctive artistic flourishes, and the industry grew as umbrella making gave people work during the rainy season.

Bor Sang remains the centre of handmade umbrella production and they’re made in a huge variety of sizes, alongside large brightly colourful fans and gorgeous lamps. As it’s always a pleasure to watch master craftsmen working at their art, I went to Bor Sang, on a suitably rainy day, to look around.

Don’t picture a modern factory. The craftsmen in the village set up a cooperative in 1941 and the Bor Sang Umbrella Making Cooperative Ltd. is dedicated to maintaining the traditions and craftsmanship of the trade. You can wander around the open-sided wooden workshops and watch each stage of the umbrella making.

The first stage is the preparation of bamboo for the umbrella handle and struts. The workers sit on the floor and their knives move fast, slitting and splitting in a dazzling display of skill. It’s a wonder they don’t cut themselves, especially as most of them are casually chatting with each other as they wield their knives.

With the frame being made, the sa paper (although sometimes cotton or rice paper) is added. The workers turn the umbrella frames, some supporting the base of the smaller umbrellas between their toes. As they turn, the handmade mulberry cover is attached and strengthened and waterproofed with layers of lacquer.

umbrella3Finally comes the finishing touch – the colourful paint. This is what most tourists want to see because the talent of the artists painting the umbrellas and fans is amazing. Within a few minutes they create lovely patterns or pictures, generally of typical Thai scenes and symbols; such as, elephants, rice fields, sunsets and wildlife.

The umbrella artists won’t stop at painting umbrellas and handicrafts. They offer to paint the bags, shoes and clothes of tourists –so if you bring something to be painted, you’ll have a lovely souvenir.

From the examples I saw, it seems that darker items allow the bright colours to be seen at their best. One young boy was so delighted to have dragons painted on his shorts that I imagine his mother will have a hard time getting them back when laundry day comes.

The umbrellas are then fitted with a boss or ferrule at the tip and left to dry. The designs are so eye-catching that they are often bought as house decorations. Tourists were buying the smaller ones as souvenirs or ordering the larger ones, with custom art to be sent home, which the sellers are more than happy to do.

The umbrellas are so vital to the local economy, that they’re celebrated in a three-day umbrella festival every January. The Bor Sang Umbrella and Sankampaeng Handicraft Festival, sees the streets illuminated by lanterns and strung with the most colourful examples of the sa umbrellas. Of course, there’s a contest to see who can create the best and most beautiful umbrella.

In January, Chiang Mai is wonderfully cool so it’s the perfect time to explore Bor Sang and enjoy the festivities. And don’t forget to buy your own umbrella – the hot and rainy seasons are always around the corner.

Travel tips:

The umbrella making centre is open from 08:30 till 17:00 hrs. each day and can be found on San Kamphaeng Road some 8 km east of Chiang Mai city centre. It’s easy to arrange a tour or hire one of the city’s songtaeos to take you there.

Courtsey: tatnews.org

Forts of Rajasthan : Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer Fort is one of the largest fortifications in the world. It is situated in the city of Jaisalmer, in the Indian state of Rajasthan. It is a World Heritage Site. It was built in 1156 AD by the Bhati Rajput ruler Rawal Jaisal, from whom it derives it name. Deep in the heart of the Thar Desert is Jaisalmer,. Founded on what was the cross – road of lucrative trade routes, this remote settlement came to be celebrated for the valour of its rulers, and for the aesthetic sense represented by their palaces and havelis. The rich merchants engaged stone – craftsmen who worked delicately on the sandstone mansions they built, filling up facades with sculptural filigree, screen windows, delicate pavilions and beautiful balconies. Today, these veritable art – museums are still inhabited, and their colourful celebrations and festivals have placed Jaisalmer Fort firmly on the world tourism map.

Apart from the artistic havelis the Jaisalmer Fort is home to Jain Temples which are a must visit site. You will find these temples to be very old with high pilgrimage as well as archeological value attached to them.

Jaisalmer fort , over 800 years old, is the second oldest in Rajasthan. Two hundred and fifty feet tall and reinforced by imposing crenellated sandstone wall 30 feet high; it has 99 bastions, 92 of which were built between 1633 and 1647. Wells within the fort still provide a regular source of water. Even today, you will find that nearly one fourth of the old city’s population resides within the fort. If you are a student of cross-cultural merging, the subtle fusion of Rajput and Islamic architectural styles, visible in this fort, will catch your fancy. Ganesh Pol, Akshya Pol, Suraj Pol and Hawa Pol are a must see.

You enter the fort from its east side and pass through four massive gates on the zigzagging route to the upper part. The fourth gate opens into a large square, Dashera Chowk, where Jaisalmer Fort’s uniqueness becomes apparent: this is a living fort, with about 3000 people residing within its walls. It’s honeycombed with narrow, winding lanes, all of them paved in stone and lined with houses and temples – along with a large number of handicraft shops, guesthouses, restaurants. Fortunately cars cannot drive beyond the main square. The fort walls provide superb views over the city and surrounding desert – it’s fantastic to stroll around the outer parts at sunset.The fort stands proudly amidst the golden stretches of the great Thar Desert. Its massive yellow sandstone walls are a tawny lion colour during the day, fading to honey-gold as the sun sets, thereby camouflaging the fort in the yellow desert. For this reason, it is also known as the Sonar Quila or Golden Fort.

Contact Road2Travel for your glimpse into the majestic Rajput Forts and Palaces of Rajasthan