Afrayed honey-coloured Himachal Pradesh guidebook has always been a favourite amongst my cache of travel books. Idly leafing through it one evening took me to the Kangra valley. The blistering heat of Delhi, and the serendipitous stop at the yellowing page, culminated in a trip to Garli, a relatively unknown village in the state.

I believe the real identity of a destination comes alive when its history lives on. Accredited as a heritage village by the Himachal Pradesh tourism department, Garli stands testimony to a bygone era. Dotted with old buildings and mansions, it is pleasantly off the famous tourist circuit, effortlessly preserving its old-world charm.

My Kangra sojourn started with the Dada Siba Temple, built by raja Ram Singh, an 18th century ruler and a follower of Lord Krishna. Inspired by the ornate Shekhawati paintings of Rajasthan, the Radha-Krishna temple was once covered in bright frescoes. Only parts of the colourful murals can now be glimpsed between the thick foliage of overgrown surroundings.

The temple is close to the Maharana Pratap Sagar Dam, and our guide suggested we eat our packed lunch by the sprawling waters of the reservoir. The cool breeze and the tempting blue of the water made for a breathtaking picnic spot.

On our way back that evening, we took a detour to Jwalamukhi Temple. After all, Himachal has been awarded the moniker of “Devbhoomi—Land of Gods", and a visit to a spiritual site fit my history-themed holiday perfectly. The temple is commemorated as the spot where goddess Sati’s tongue fell after Lord Shiva danced with her flaming body. The temple is also known for housing a stone that is perennially aflame.

Next morning, I walked around the village with the guide, who had plenty of stories that featured the prosperous Sud community traders of the early 19th century. They are the ones who established Garli and its many ornate buildings and mansions. They seem to have been an experimental lot, infusing local architecture with the Portuguese, Belgian, Italian, Islamic and Rajput architectural styles. Intricate brick-jaali work, gabled roofs, woodwork reminiscent of Rajasthani architecture, and Gothic windows inspired from European designs dominate the streets. Amusing nameplates like Raheeson Wali Kothi (house of the rich) and Santri Wali Kothi (the house of guards) adorn the gates.

A visit to Kangra valley is incomplete without a trip to Kangra Fort. I drove one-and-a-hours from the village for a quick stop. Said to have been built around 3,500 years ago by maharaja Susharma Chandra, it is regarded as the oldest documented fort in India and the largest fort in Himachal Pradesh. It has come under repeated attack—52 times, to be precise—over the centuries, from Muhammad bin Tughlaq to the British.

Maybe its enviable location, atop a hill with spectacular views, attracted rulers. Or, maybe the exquisite stonework was worth the battles. Looking at the fort, I certainly understood why it was a treasure fit for kings.

Delhi to Garli

Distance: Around 410km

Top tip: Stop at the Dhoni dhaba between Kangra Fort and Garli for their delicious stuffed ‘parathas’.

Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The author tweets from @thehummingnotes.

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