HIMACHAL PRADESH — A new beginning


‘Abode of gods’ on road to progress

The three decades of statehood have seen tremendous development on all fronts, says Rakesh Lohumi, mainly because Himachal Pradesh has remained a politically stable entity.

Representing a fascinating part of the mightiest mountain ranges on the globe, Himachal Pradesh continues to be the “abode of gods” with peace and tranquility, which made it the “tapasthali” of saints and sages, largely intact.

The state’s rapid march on the road to development has not diluted its cultural identity and the people still have abiding respect for their rich traditions. The “devbhoomi” has come a long way from an amalgamation of little-known feudal kingdoms to a modern state. The rugged “uncultivable” hill slopes have been transformed into money-spinning orchards, roads have penetrated the mountains in all directions, opening the nature’s hidden splendours to the world.

Numerous turbulent rivers and nullahs criss-crossing the hills have been bridged and some of the big rivers have already been impounded to generate electricity. Efforts are on to harness the vast hydel potential to make the hill state a “powerhouse” of the country. The spectacular achievements of the state, with a difficult topography and varied climatic conditions, have belied the general belief that the people of hills were destined to live in misery and poverty.

The history of the state has been as old as mankind. In fact, it was one of the centres of man’s evolution as evident from the archaeological find in Shivaliks of more than a million-year old fossils of Ramapithecus and a half-a-million-year-old palaeolithic tools. The erstwhile rulers of the princely states claimed descent from the heroes of “Ramayana” and “Mahabharata” and traced their lineage to the sun and the moon. The name of “Trigarta” as Kangra region was known in earlier times, finds repeated mention in the Sanskrit literature, particularly the Mahabharata and the Puranas. King Susharman, the founder of Trigarta, allied with the Kaurvas during the great war.

Himachal Pradesh first came into being as a centrally administered territory on April 15, 1948, by the integration of 30 small princely states. Only five of these states had some size, while 13 of them were less than 100 square miles, three were even less than 10 square miles in area.

When Bilaspur was merged with it in 1954 it had an area of 28,192 sq km. These states presented a picture of stark poverty, illiteracy and all-round backwardness. In states like Mandi and Sirmaur some sort of assemblies were in place but they had no real power and the rulers were in complete command.

The Shimla hills were controlled through a political agent and the Panjab hills through a resident. Since their powers were largely undefined, the rulers were not free even in handling the internal administration of their respective states. The situation changed dramatically after Independence but the formation of the hill state was preceded by some political turmoil as the feudal rulers were not willing to transfer power to the people. With the British no more at the helm affairs, they were no longer in a position to suppress the popular sentiment.

A plan was made to form a union of states and accordingly a constituent assembly was convened at Solan from January 26 to 28, 1948, under the chairmanship of Raja Durga Singh of Bhogat. The Punjab hill states did not participate in the assembly and it was confined to Shimla hill states only. A decision was taken to constitute a union of states, named Himachal Pradesh by the assembly. However, Praja Mandal leaders like Dr Y.S. Parmar and Pandit Padam Dev had other ideas. They foiled the move by apprising Mr Sardar Patel, the then Home Minister, of the real intentions of the princes. They favoured a consolidated hill province by amalgamation of the states and immediate transfer of power to the people. The Government of India supported their viewpoint and refused to recognise the union.

With the coming into force of the new Constitution, it became a Part-C state but it still had to contend with the old bureaucratic setup as the advisory council, comprising three erstwhile rulers and six representatives of the people, had no real power. Important matters were not put before the council and even where the council was consulted, its recommendations were not implemented.

The relentless battle waged by Dr Parmar inside and outside Parliament for democratisation of the administration led to passage of the Government of Part C States Act providing for a democratic government of a limited character in the state. Subsequently, a 36-member Vidhan Sabha was created in November 1951 and the first popular government headed by Dr Parmar assumed office on March 24, 1952. The Chief Commissioner gave way to Lt Governor and Major-General Himmat Singh was the first incumbent to the upgraded office. Subsequently, Dr Parmar managed to convince the Centre of the incongruity of keeping Bilaspur as a separate Part C state and it finally became a part of Himachal Pradesh on July 1, 1954.

The travails of the infant state were, however, far from over as the Justice Fazl Ali Commission, set up by the Centre to look into the reorganisation of state, recommended its integration with Punjab by a majority verdict in September 1955.The recommendation came as a bolt from the blue for the people who had struggled for a separate hill state all these years. They fought yet another battle and succeeded in convincing the Centre about the necessity of Himachal Pradesh continuing as a separate state. The commission had also stressed that in case Part C states were not willing to merge with larger states, they should be put under Central rule.

Dr Parmar and other leaders did not hesitate in making way for the return of bureaucratic rule in the larger interest of the people and maintaining a separate identity of the hills.

Thereafter, the state was governed by a territorial council, a corporate body in which the elected members had no role and the administration was virtually run autocratically under the Lt. Governor. Eventually, in 1962 when the territorial councils were turned into Vidhan Sabhas all over the country Dr Parmar once again took over the reins of the administration. The reorganisation exercise turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the Boundary Commission appointed by the Centre for the purpose recommended that hill areas of Kangra, Nalagarh, Lahaul-Spiti, Kullu and Shimla in Punjab be integrated with Himachal Pradesh. These areas were transferred on November 1, 1966, to more than double its area to 55,673 km.

However, the integration of new areas created a plethora of problems as the higher services were not under the control of the state and rules of business necessitated frequent references to the Centre which exercised strict control over budget. The leaders soon realised that there could be no end to the woes of state until it was granted full-fledged statehood. Yet another movement was launched with the passing of a unanimous resolution on January 24, 1968, demanding statehood in the assembly. The act to provide statehood to Himachal Pradesh was passed on December 18, 1970, and Himachal Pradesh became the 18th state of the country on January 25, 1971. The three decades of statehood have seen tremendous development on all fronts mainly due to the fact that Himachal Pradesh has remained politically a highly stable entity.


Tribune’s eight months at Shimla

How The Tribune left Lahore at the time of the Partition and bravely started publication from Shimla against all odds is the stuff legends are made of

The shock of the terrible disruption and of the heavy losses to the institution during the 1947 Partition was great but The Tribune managed to overcome it by taking its eyes away from the past and fixing them on the future.

Where was The Tribune to be revived and re-established? The call of Delhi, from where most of Lahore’s popular Urdu dailies had been restarted, seemed irresistible. The requisite printing facilities were available there and additional equipment could be obtained without much difficulty. Delhi could also provide certain amenities to the staff to which they had been accustomed at Lahore. Besides, lakhs of Punjabi refugees had settled there. But the basic question was: would it be possible to serve the interests of Punjab from a place outside its boundaries, even though it be the country’s capital?

Production of a daily newspaper of the size and status of The Tribune in the midst of the prevailing chaos seemed impossible. But the sagacity and foresight of the Trustees did not fail them in the crisis. They decided that since the paper belonged to Punjab and had been started by the founder to serve the northern region, it should remain in the State and serve its people as before.

A thorough search was then made for a suitable printing press. From Kangra to Karnal and even beyond up to Delhi there was no press with sufficient equipment for producing anything like a daily newspaper. Simla had a small press near the Ridge, known as Liddell’s, which had a monotype composing machine along with other facilities and could serve the immediate purpose in view, even though inadequately.

No time was lost in acquiring the press. Through the good offices of the Punjab Government and the cooperation of certain highly placed well-wishers, arrangements to bring out the newspaper from Simla were completed in a few days. “Bantony” — a large bungalow off the Mall — was made available by the local authorities for the office and also for providing accommodation to several members of the staff, who shared the three first-floor rooms.

A common, subsidised mess was run on the premises; most of the time the food comprised potatoes and chapattis, variety being out of the question in those abnormal times.

The editorial, managerial and press staff had scattered in various parts of the truncated state, but on getting information that the newspaper was to be started from Simla, they managed to reach the town. Many of them, including the two Assistant Editors and most of the Sub-Editors, had to undertake risky journeys by such road and rail services as were available in those days, to reach their posts of duty.

Some essential stores were taken from the plains to Simla despite the formidable transport difficulties. There were impediments at almost every step, but the devotion and determination of a small band of workers overcame them. As a result of the ceaseless efforts of the team — all of them putting in long hours of work at the office and in the press — the paper was able to resume publication from Simla on September 25, 1947, barely 40 days after leaving Lahore.

Rana Jang Bahadur Singh was the Acting Editor at Shimla until the end of February, 1948. J. Nataranjan was appointed Editor with effect from February 28 of that year.

In view of the disturbed conditions prevailing in most Punjab towns in the immediate post-partition period, the Trustees selected Ambala Cantonment, a centrally situated and convenient railway junction; for establishing The Tribune office and the press. A few weeks later The Tribune establishment made a second migration, this time within the East Punjab region, from Simla to Ambala Cantonment.

On May 12, 1948, the paper started publication from the new centres, without a break the previous day’s issue having been brought out from Simla.

Excerpted from “A History of The Tribune”, a centenary publication of The Tribune Trust.



Remembering my Kangra days

Himachal Pradesh has left an indelible impression on all those who have been associated with it. N.N. Vohra is one of them

This 1962 photo shows (from left) the writer, Dr M.S. Randhawa, Mrs Catherine Galbraith and Ambassador J.K. Galbraith near Palampur.
This 1962 photo shows (from left) the writer, Dr M.S. Randhawa, Mrs Catherine Galbraith and Ambassador J.K. Galbraith near Palampur

Kangra district was among the areas which were excised from Punjab and added to Himachal Pradesh when it emerged as a fullfledged State, in 1966.

About 10,000 sq. miles in area, Kangra was the largest district in the erstwhile Punjab; it was perhaps also among the largest in the country. The north-eastern most district of Jallandhar division, Kangra comprises a vast and heterogeneous tract which, taking off eastwards from the plains of the Bari and the Jallandhar Doabs, traverses across two distinct Himalayan ranges, and stretches as far east as India’s borders with Tibet.

When I joined the civil service in Punjab, nearly five decades ago, Sardar Pratap Singh Kairon was ruling the State. Among his various attributes he had a very good idea of not only the relative development of each district but of each of its tehsils and sub-tehsils. He utilised this knowledge while deciding the postings and transfers of officers, of all cadres, who were to be given field assignments. Excepting those in whom he was politically interested, he invariably posted young IAS officers to the backward and less developed areas of the State. On completion of training I was posted in Kangra district, in 1961.

In my time district Kangra had six subdivisions: Nurpur, Kangra, Dehra Gopipur, Hamirpur, Palampur and Kulu. The remote and extremely difficult to access tribal areas of Lahul and Spiti and the inhospitable Seraj tehsil were part of Kulu subdivision. I served, successively, as Sub-Divisional Officer and Magistrate at Nurpur and Palampur. Thereafter, on deputation to the Government of India, I was responsible for discharging certain security-related duties in the entire district Kangra and far beyond! Consequently, I was walking in the hills for 28 days every month, the remaining 2-3 days being spent to write my report. Luckily, after some time, my jurisdiction was reduced and Lahul and Spiti were entrusted to other functionaries.

Kangra district of my days — which has since been split up into the districts of Una, Kangra, Hamirpur, Kulu, Lahul and Spiti — was conspicuously underdeveloped. The Pathankot-Kangra-Mandi-Kulu road was the principal metalled road in the entire district, with branches from Kangra to Dharamsala and Kangra to Hoshiarpur via Gopipur. The Kulu-Manali stretch was still a narrow gravel road, winding its way along some of the most enchanting views along the Beas river.

Beside the lack of roads, serious inconvenience was caused for want of bridges across the Beas at various points. I remember sometimes spending virtually the whole day at the pattan at Nadaun, waiting to cross over to Hamirpur by boat. Because of the inadequate connectivity with the adjoining areas the local availability of food items was very limited, particularly of vegetables, meat, milk and fruits. Availability of other items of day-to-day household consumption was also unsatisfactory.

The public transport system was limited and travel was irksomely time consuming. A journey from Chandigarh to Kulu via Pathankot could, at times, take three days! The Ropar-Bilaspur-Mandi route was shorter but unreliable in those days. Within the district, besides the Pathankot-Jogindernagar rail link only a few of the more important towns were connected by limited frequency gas-fired bus services.

Impatient in accepting delays in the implementation of development works in the hill areas, particularly those to be executed in Kulu, Lahul and Spiti, Chief Minister Kairon succeeded in compelling the Indian Airlines to operate a daily Chandigarh-Kulu-Chandigarh flight. If I remember correctly the initial one-way fare was around Rs. 30-40 and the three-day journey by road could be completed in less than an hour! The opening of the air link left no excuse for senior officers, particularly of the Forests, Horticulture and Public Works Departments, for not undertaking frequent tours to oversee vital development projects in the Kulu, Lahul and Spiti areas.

* * *

During my long years in the hills I had the opportunity of trekking in some of the most beautiful areas in Kangra district — in Chhotta and Barra Bhangal, in Inner and Outer Seraj, in the Parvati Valley to the Pin divide via the beautiful prairies and lakes, across the Rohtang and Humptla passes to the valleys beyond, in Lahul and Spiti, et al. Besides its perpetual verdure the real beauty of the Kangra valley lies in the ever-changing view of Dhaola Dhar whose snowy peaks rise above 13,000 ft.

Andretta, a small village in Palampur, is known for the scenic beauty of its surroundings and for commanding a most enchanting view of the entire snow range. Norah Richards and Sobha Singh were among the several artists who lived and worked in Andretta.

Talking about art and literature, reminds me about the work done by Dr M.S. Randhawa, an I.C.S. officer, who endeavoured for years to search for Kangra miniature paintings and trace the artists who had done these paintings. The Kangra school of miniature painting had developed at Haripur-Guler, Nurpur, Lambagraon, Tira-Sujanpur, Alampur and Nadaun — all these places were connected with Maharaja Sansar Chand of Lambagraon whose son, Raja Dhruv Chand, had an invaluable storehouse of paintings. A large part of the Kangra collection is displayed in the Chandigarh Museum which Dr Randhawa had established.

When I was posted at Palampur, Dr Randhawa visited many places in my subdivision, in his search for paintings. On one of his visits he was accompanied by Ambassador Galbraith and Mrs. Catherine Galbraith (see picture). Dr Randhawa was of the firm belief that paintings reproduced in books would live for a far longer period than those kept in the personal portfolios of rajahs and maharajahs, and that great national loss would be caused if works of art were destroyed by termite or damaged by the weather.

* * *

I have happy memories of the many good people with whom I had the opportunity to work in Kangra, in the early 1960s. From my Nurpur days I recall a young President of the local Municipal Committee, Mr Sat Mahajan, who, in later years, has been a minister in successive Congress regimes.

Among the lawyers who appeared in cases before my court, Mr Raj K.Mahajan (of Nurpur) rose to be a judge of the High Court, Ch. Sarvan Kumar (Palampur) rose to be Speaker of the State Assembly and Mr Shanta Kumar (Palampur) the Chief Minister. A senior lawyer who occasionally appeared in lower courts, Rana Kultar Chand, was also subsequently Speaker of the State Assembly.

Among the Himachal officers who worked with me, Ch. Dhani Ram and Mr Gian Singh Chambial both rose to high ranks before retirement. A highly respected police officer with whom I worked very closely in establishing an SSB Training Centre at Sarahan, Thakur Gangbir Singh, retired as the Director General of Police some years ago.

* * *

I have not visited Kangra and Kulu areas for many years now. I gather that considerable growth and development has taken place in the past decades. I look forward to revisiting these areas in the near future. After retirement my wife, who has a long association with Shimla, and I decided to live in this town. It is a matter for deep personal regret that the ambience of the capital town has been ruined beyond repair by totally unplanned growth and continuing environmental degradation. Even in Jakhu, which is possibly the only wooded area still left in Shimla, young deodars are felled with impunity and a site allotted by the government for building a single unit residence is used for constructing more than half-a dozen flats! There is not a single walking track left in the town. Even the Forest Hill road has very heavy vehicular traffic. And in whichever direction you go, there are large heaps of foul-smelling garbage.

Himachal Pradesh can be developed into one of the most attractive tourist destinations in our country. However, this cannot happen unless the government takes the most urgent measures to effectively ensure that no new construction, whatsoever, comes up, within and beyond the municipal limits, which is unauthorised or not according to the approved plan. The existing laws should be suitably modified to award stringent punishments to defaulters. If this is not done most Himachal towns will degenerate into organised slums in the coming years.

The writer is a former IAS officer who has a very long association with Himachal Pradesh.



Tea growers hope to regain lost glory

Kangra tea fell on bad times but is trying to stage a comeback, says Kulwinder Sandhu

Tea growers of Kangra have been suffering a lot economically for the past many years but now they have a ray of hope to fetch more price for their produce if enterprising industrialists show interest to produce value-added tea-based products, including a range of beverages with healing properties and wines from the orthodox variety of tea grown in large areas of the valley.

With perfect blend of colour and flavour, the tea grown in Kangra is not only an ideal source of refreshment but also scientifically proved as a good source of nourishment and medicinal values.

The Institute of Himalayan Biodiversity Technology (IHBT) situated at Palampur amid the scenic beauty of tea gardens had in its recent research found that the local variety of tea has up to 13 per cent catechins (polyphenols) that have antioxidant, hypolipidimic, hypotensive, anticarcinogenic, diuretic, antidentalcariatic and antimicrobial medicinal values. It also has 3 per cent caffeine and amino acids like theamine, glutamine, and tryptophan that are important vitalizers and keep the body and mind young.

Keeping in view its unique qualities, this institute has developed a range of beverages and wine that are free from hazardous chemicals to save the flavour of Kangra tea, once known for its superb quality and distinctiveness in the international tea market.

The tea wine is produced by fermenting wild berries and tea leaves are used for activation of yeast. As an alternative to cola brands that have been in controversy for hazardous high chemical content, the institute has come up with a “tea cola” and is now looking for selling out the technology to private investors.

Mr P.S. Ahuja, Director of the institute, has claimed that the value-added tea-based products developed by the scientists of his institute have evoked a positive response in both domestic and international markets.

If things go on the right path and the enterprising industrialists come up to show interest in setting up some tea-based industries, the diversification of tea products would definitely help to pull out the tea growers from the sluggishness of the market.

In the last three decades, three cooperative tea factories at Bir (set up in 1964); Baijnath (in 1982) and Sidhwari near Dharamshala (in 1984) had to be closed down, while the last one at Palampur, operational from 1980, somehow manages to thrive.

The basic reason behind the closure of these tea factories was that the production of tea leaves had declined drastically over a period of time adversely affecting the feasibility of the factories.

Most tea growers in the area had stopped tea cultivation or in a few cases had begun to use their holdings for non-tea plantation purposes. A large portion of the land under tea cultivation at Palampur had also been transferred to the Chaudhary Sarwan Kumar Himachal Pradesh Agriculture University and the Institute of Himalayan Biodiversity Technology.

Tea was first introduced in the 19th century in Kangra valley by Dr Jameson, the then Superintendent of the Botanical Garden, North West Provinces, and Saharanpur. In 1849, he conducted a feasibility survey of the valley and found it suitable for tea cultivation. In the same year, he brought China tea plants from the nurseries of Almora and Dehra Dun and planted them in three government gardens at Kangra, Nagrota and Bhawarna.

As far as the quality of Kangra was concerned the tea estates of Khalet, Mansimbal, Wah and Bundla in Kangra district used to produce quality tea, which was ranked high in the world tea market through its Kolkata-based markets. Kangra tea had also won the gold cup at an exhibition in London way back in 1886 for its superb quality and distinctiveness in the international tea market.

Kangra tea industry occupied prime position with respect to its quality from the last quarter of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century. Tea made in Kangra during this period was comparable with that of any part of India. The mention of quality of Kangra tea in the Gazetteer of Kangra district (1882-83) is like this “The tea now made is probably superior to that produced in any other part of India. The demand for it has been steadily increasing and much is now bought up by natives for export via Peshawar to Kabul and Central Asia”. The gold and silver medals won by the Kangra tea in London and Amsterdam markets in the late nineteenth century (1886 to 1895) bear testimony to its quality at international level. The tea made in the hot weather used to be second to none and was sold as well as any.

The scientists of the IHBT had recently rehabilitated 150 hectares of abandoned and neglected tea gardens in a phased manner with the financial assistance from the Tea Board of India (TBI). It has also introduced Chinese hybrid tea varieties that have a good presence in the global market. Efforts had also been initiated for DNA fingerprinting of tea germplasm so that the genetic properties responsible for its quality could be preserved for future.

Keeping in view the qualitative value of the local tea, value-added tea-based products developed by the scientists of the Institute of Himalayan Biodiversity Technology and efforts to revive the neglected/abandoned tea gardens, the tea growers of Kangra hope that this unique tea would possibly soon regain its lost glory.

(With inputs from Ravinder Sood in Palampur, Ashok Raina in Kangra and Rajiv Mahajan in Nurpur)



Revisiting the titan

Dr Y.S. Parmar is fondly remembered as the “Founder of Himachal Pradesh”. Shriniwas Joshi pays him a tribute

Dr Y.S. ParmarIt is mere coincidence that both my children are born on 4th of August, the day when entire Himachal Pradesh celebrates the birthday of its greatest son, Dr Yashwant Singh Parmar, and fondly remembers him as the “Founder of Himachal Pradesh”.

My daughter Shaily used to brag about it and when she was a primary grade student in Convent of Jesus and Mary in Shimla. Mrs Umasinghji, the eldest daughter of Dr Parmar, was a teacher there. She threw an invitation to Shaily and her mother to join the very homely YSP birthday party at Oakover, the official residence of the Chief Minister, in the year 1972. She was celebrating her sixth birthday and he, his 66th.

Shaily remembers that there was an “utterly-butterly” delicious chocolate cake decorating the centre table. She in her eagerness had moved to cut the cake when a “child” came crawling in all fours and lisped in nasal tone, “I will cut the cake first, I will cut it.”

I questioned to myself whether a shrewd politician announcing and practicing “always kill slowly the ascending slope and the political rival” could ever be that childlike. Yes, he could be — as I had seen him bringing down something of heavenly innocence into the midst of our rough earthliness, showing his childlike fetching for loia (hand-woven warm tunic), doing Nati with full gusto, eating pahari dishes of sidku and askali and Chamba meat with relish — though fish always stood prominent on his a la carte — he would squeak or squawk when playing with babies.

I came to know more of him when I had my first administrative posting at Nahan in 1974, the headquarters of the district Sirmaur, where he was born in 1906 at Chanhalag (Pachhad) village to Bhandari Shivanand Singh Parmar. I found him to be a guide, philosopher and friend to the hill folk leading them from darkness to light. A poet rightly dubs him as, “The only sun / Which pierces through the mountain fog / Chisels the darkness / The Sun / Rises on top of Mount Churdhar / And reflects itself on countless village ponds.”

I not only heard him saying, “no personal considerations should stand in the way of performing duty, live for duty and die for it” but also saw him translating these words into action. It was he who had started the concept of padayatra (walking on foot) by Chief Ministers to attend to the grievances of the people on the spot and to have first -hand knowledge of the living conditions of the villagers. Now these padayatras have been replaced by a journey through cars and vans and are more of a “party” show-off.

At that time when he was about to touch his 70th birthday, he was a tireless walker and felt fresh by having delivered to the needy whereas the young officers escorting him appeared jaded, fatigued and fagged out at the end of those padayatras.

The people of Himachal Pradesh loved him and that is why he remained Chief Minister from 1952 to 1956 and then from 1963 to 1977, the long tenure that could be the envy of any “come-in and go-out” Chief Minister of states in India.

His vision included making Himachal a “Fruit Bowl of India” where not only apples but also mangoes and citrus; litchis and guavas; grapes and stone fruits; walnuts and almonds grew. He was a dreamer and dreamt of horticulture cover for the entire State and three dimensional forest-farming providing fodder for the cattle, wood to keep the pot warm and timber to build the dwelling.

He dreamt of roads going from everywhere to everywhere for this tiny hill State so that farm produce could be marketed. He fostered the State like a mother nurturing her baby.

G.S. Dhillon, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha in the early seventies, paid tributes to Dr Parmar: “I can say that Himachal Pradesh is his baby and all these years I have found that it was a sacred mission to him to bring up this baby to full manhood.” And manhood meant arms long enough to embrace many in its fold. That is why Dr Parmar used to tell Himachalis: “Toil in the soil of the State instead of going out and being a mundu (household domestic)”. Under his leadership, the State started opening up with many fresh job avenues.

Dr M.S. Randhawa verified it, “When people come and tell me that domestic servants are difficult to obtain because young boys have stopped coming from Himachal Pradesh, my heart is filled with joy because this only means that there is more food to eat and money to spend at home for boys, and they are going in for more dignified jobs.”

Dr Parmar, who was an astute politician, felt the winds blowing in reverse direction and before the winds could throw him off balance, he resigned from the post of Chief Minister on January 24, 1977. Off the chair, he had a post-office balance of only Rs 5000 (as told to me by his colleague late Hitendra Singh) and he never felt small by travelling in Himachal Transport buses. He lived in Shimla in “The Roots”, a house built by his second wife, Mrs Satya, and carried a bag on his shoulder in which he used to bring groceries and vegetables for domestic use.

Walking back towards home, he also carried the halo around him that he had earned through selfless service of the people who always gave him utmost respect even when he had no legislative or executive feathers to display.

A man of letters he penned books like “Socioeconomic Background of Himalayan Polyandry”, “Himachal Pradesh, its Shape and Status” and “Strategy for Development of Hill Areas”. He was noble in reason and infinite in faculty who always moved in dignified strides till he slept on May 2, 1981, never to rise again.



Military tradition of Himachal Pradesh

Joining the Army is a way of life in the state. Vijay Mohan recounts this glorious tradition

Beyond the majestic snow-capped peaks crowning the Land of the Gods, lies a military tradition steeped in valour. Himachal Pradesh gave the country its first post-Independence war hero and the saga of valour continued to the most recent conflict, where two of the winners of the highest award for gallantry had been nurtured among the mighty Himalayas.

Major Som Nath Sharma, the first recipient of the Param Vir Chakra (PVC), was born in Dadh near Kangra. His father, Amar Nath Sharma, retired as a Major-General, while his brother, Gen V.N. Sharma, later rose to become Chief of the Army Staff in 1988.

Commissioned into what was then the British Indian Army in 1942, Major Sharma, from 4 Kumaon, along with his company, was deployed near Bagdam Village in the Valley for the defence of Srinagar. Attacked by about 700 enemy troops he realised the direct threat to the town and the aerodrome if the enemy was not held, he urged his men to hold ground, often exposing himself while moving from one post to another to inspire them as well as lay out cloth strips to guide in aircraft. He was killed by an enemy mortar shell.

His inspiring leadership had resulted in the enemy being delayed by six hours, thus gaining time for reinforcements to get into position and stop the enemy advance. Such were his actions that his men, outnumbered seven-to-one, were inspired to fight for six hours, one hour which was after the gallant officer had fallen. His last message to Brigade HQ a few moments before he was killed was, “The enemy are only 50 yards from us. We are heavily outnumbered. We are under devastating fire. I shall not withdraw an inch but will fight to the last man and the last round.”

Another tale of heroism is that of Maj (later Lt Col) Dhan Singh Thapa, an officer who literally “came back from the dead”. Presumed to have died in action, it was later discovered that he had been taken prisoner of war by the Chinese and released after three years.

Hailing from Shimla, he was holding Sirijap Post, north of the Pangong Lake in Ladakh, considered vital for the defence of Chushul airfield. The Chinese opened a barrage of artillery and mortar fire on the post and then attacked in overwhelming numbers. Major Thapa and his men of 8 GR, repulsed two attacks, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. The third attack, supported by tanks, was much more intense, but they held on till ammunition was depleted. When the post was finally overrun by the Chinese, he engaged them in hand-to-hand combat, but was eventually overpowered. He too was awarded the PVC.

Two brave hearts from Himachal, Capt Vikram Batra from Palampur and Sep. Sanjay Kumar from Bilaspur, made their mark in the 1999 Kargil conflict by being decorated with the PVC for their actions.

Captain Batra, of 13 Jammu and Kashmir Rifles was given the task of recapturing Point 5140 in Dras. He and his men ascended the sheer rock-cliff and as the group neared the top, the enemy opened machine- gun fire on them, pinning them on to the face of the bare rocky cliff. Captain Batra along with five men climbed on regardless and after reaching the top, hurled two grenades at the machinegun post.

He single-handedly engaged three enemy soldiers in close combat and killed them. He was seriously injured during this combat, but insisted on regrouping his men to continue with the given task at hand.

Inspired by the extraordinary courage displayed by Captain Batra, the soldiers of 13 JAK Rifles charged the enemy position and captured Point 5140. The capture of Point 5140 set in motion a string of successes like Point 5100, Point 4700, Junction Peak and Three Pimples.

Captain Batra led his men to even more glorious victories with the recapture of Point 4750 and Point 4875. He was tragically killed, when he tried to rescue an injured officer during an enemy counterattack against Point 4875 in the early morning hours of July 7, 1999.

Rifleman Sanjay Kumar, also from 13 J&K Rifles was the leading scout of the team tasked to capture Flat Top in Mushkoh valley on July 4, Having scaled the cliff, the team was pinned down by heavy fire. With complete disregard to personal safety, he crawled up the ledge and charged the enemy bunker. Hit in his chest and forearm, he continued to charge and clearing the first bunker, he pickedup an enemy machine-gun and charged the second bunker. For the most conspicuous act of gallantry in the face of the enemy, he was decorated with the PVC. He is still serving.

Yet another story of a highly decorated officer is that of Major Sudhir Kumar of 9 Parachute (Special Forces). Hailing from Kangra, he was posthumously awarded the nation’s highest peacetime award for gallantry, the Ashok Chakra. Earlier he had been awarded the Sena Medal twice.

On 29 August 1999, Major Kumar led an assault on a militant hideout in Kupwara. He killed four militants before succumbing to their bullets. However, till the end came, he was directing his commandos on radio set and refused evacuation in spite of serious injuries on his chest, face and arms.

Himachal also has a close association with another PVC awardee, Capt Gurbachan Singh Salaria, who was decorated for his actions in Congo while on deployment on a United Nations peacekeeping mission. Though Capt Salaria belonged to Punjab, he was commissioned into 1 Gorkha Rifles, whose Regimental Centre is located at Subathu in the Shivalik foothills. His bust is installed at the centre, where a stadium is named after him.

Himachal Pradesh contributes the highest number of soldiers to the Armed Forces. Information available with the state government reveals that the state has about 1.2 lakh serving soldiers, 93,000 ex-servicemen, 1049 war widows and almost four lakh dependants of ex-servicemen.

As far as the Infantry is concerned, the population of the hill regions forms up the Dorga Regiment. The Dogras, as the hardy warriors are called, were formed into a regiment in 1887, with three Dogra regiments being raised as part of the Bengal Infantry. During the world wars, more Dogra battalions were raised and the Dogra Regiment was further expanded after independence and at present comprises 19 battalions. It has to its credit 11 Battle Honours, one Ashok Chakra, one Padma Bhushan, nine Maha Vir Chakra, four Kirti Chakra and 36 Vir Chakras.

Enrolling in the Army has for long been the ambition and motivation of people of the hill regions. In the economically backward hill regions, soldiering has not only become a substantial part of the economic structure, but the association with the military over the past centuries has also created social and cultural traditions.

Several strategically located forts like those at Gondla, Kumru, Kuthar, Kangra, Nurpur and Sujanpur dating back hundreds of years bear testimony to the state’s military heritage and experience of mountain warfare.

In 1916 at Messopotamia, L/Nk Lala from Hamirpur became the first Himachali to be decorated with the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry. He had rescued several wounded officers by crawling out in the face of enemy fire and dragging them into shelters and then dressing their wounds.

He was followed in World War II by Sepoy Bhandari Ram from Bilaspur. Enrolled into 10 Baluch Regiment which later merged into 8 Dogra in 1941, he fought against the Japanese in Burma. His platoon was pinned down by machine-gun fire. Although wounded he crawled up to a Japanese light machine-gun in full view of the enemy and was wounded again, but continued crawling to within five yards of his objective. He then threw a grenade into the position, killing the gunner and two others. This action inspired his platoon to rush and capture the enemy position. Only then did he allow his wounds to be dressed.

During the Raj, Himachal was closely associated with the military. Several military stations and retreats cropped up at picturesque locations across the state, with Jutog, Kasauli, Dagshai, Subathu, Yol and Dalhousie being some of them. Shimla became the seat of the Commander-in-Chief, and Woodville, stated to be one of the oldest and finest houses of Shimla, becoming his official residence in 1865. The residence of the commander-in-chief later shifted to Snowdon,

Post-Independence, Shimla housed the headquarters of the Army’s largest operational formation, the Western Command, till 1984. At present, the Army Training Command is located there.



The faujiya in Pahari lilt
Roshni Johar

The picturesque stream-dotted idyllic valley of Kangra is a melody by itself that has permeated into the consciousness of paharis, resulting in a unique combination of valley’s lore and lilt, which are incomparable in rhythm and lyrics. Undeniably, folk songs of the region are a frank revelation of paharis’ hardy life from birth to death expressing their joy, despair, love, hate, separation, etc. that lend colour, charm and romance to their simple lives.

A favourite patriotic song of Kangra is “Ji mera Kangra des niara” meaning: my Kangra land is so unique. History reveals that the people of Kangra have bravely faced the onslaught of various battles, being always prepared to lay down their lives for their land of “dudh, malai te chitte chaul.”

This is clearly depicted in “Veeran dian faujaan de bharosey par jeendaji” (Kangra survives on the trust of the land’s brave soldiers). And Kangra simply adores its soldiers. In fact, the very sight of a fauji in uniform makes their hearts sing out with pride: ‘Beat the dholru, resound the baaje, see the victorious faujiya comes!’

During the Chinese and Pakistan aggressions, several Kangra youth were recruited in the army. In fact, a patriotic fever had gripped the area. Even today the desire to be a part of the armed forces remains very strong. In this Kangra lilt, a boy so eager to join army, seeks his father’s permission:

Mein bhi bhartee ho jana merei bapu,

Mein bhi bhartee ho jana O,

Dushman nein hamla keeta asaan tei,

Usa jo majha chakhana O.

(O my father, I want to be recruited in army. The enemies had waged a war on us. I want to teach them a lesson. Please permit me to join the army.)

In a song, a pahari bride implores her husband:

Meiki bhi layee chal sang vo,

Merei banku dia chachua,

Very mein dingi chuk vo,

Merei banku dia chachua.

(I want to accompany you to the battlefield and destroy the enemy).



Shimla’s architectural heritage

Shimla’s architecture lends it a distinctive ambience. Raaja Bhasin throws the spotlight on its varied nuances

Barnes’ Court, the present-day Raj Bhavan.
Barnes’ Court, the present-day Raj Bhavan

Ethnic Himalayan architecture — folk architecture anywhere for that matter — can be generalised as being nearly immutable. It grows out of the land, fulfils local needs, uses local materials, draws on local culture and within its own context is highly evolved and functional. From the elaborate tiers of the monasteries of the trans-Himalaya to the rudest mud shack, traditional building methods have successfully discharged domestic, secular and religious requirements.

As far as the houses of Shimla go, these were additional contributions to the highly varied styles of the Himalaya. The difference was that now, an eclectic collection from all over the world converged on a single place to create a fairly distinct genre.

The growth of Shimla as a town is fairly well chronicled. And the architecture which was to give it its distinctive ambience also slots itself into clear time-frames. The first period began when the “Gurkha wars” came to an end in 1816. In 1821, Charles Pratt Kennedy, the newly appointed British “Political Agent” to the Hill States, built Shimla’s first “permanent” residence — though we are told that there were “a few miserable shepherds’ huts” in the area. Within a few years, the hills around Kennedy House were dotted by houses built mainly by European invalids from the plains.

A Raj-era letterbox
A Raj-era letterbox

The second phase which is the real focus of Shimla’s architecture began when it officially became the “summer capital” of British India in 1864. This coincided with the time period that is often called the “high noon” of the British Empire. It was the time when its power and wealth were at their zenith — and this period also saw the greatest and finest architectural activity in Shimla which continued well into the 20th century.

Imperial edifices were built with all the grandeur, complacency and aggressive display of colonial power. Architects like Sir Swinton Jacob, Henry Irwin, the Colonels Boileau and Abbott, created remarkable structures like the grey-stone English renaissance Viceregal Lodge, the colossal neo-Gothic Town Hall, the Norman Baronial district courts, the rather gaunt Imperial Civil Secretariat at Gorton Castle while the various churches drew on assorted phrases of the Gothic vocabulary.

A superb example of mock Tudor framing still exists at Barnes’ Court, the present-day Raj Bhavan. Cast iron for both structural and decorative purposes was extensively used at Ellerslie, the present-day Secretariat of the Government of Himachal Pradesh, the Army headquarters and most remarkably, in the Railway Board Building.

Somewhat away from imperial architecture, were the houses of colonial Shimla. The primary function of the bungalows, cottages and flats was residential — although some also functioned as offices and depending on a host of seemingly unconnected factors like the occupant’s position, appropriate dimensions, suitable variations and assorted embellishments were added on. Constraints of terrain, climate, sun and wind orientation, woodland and the fact whether the property was owned by the government or by the individual were also considerations.

The most notable characteristic of these houses is that the composition is European, while the structural elements are vernacular. This is quite unlike the theme of domination that is apparent elsewhere. Shimla’s domestic architecture stands out for here, two schools with totally different backgrounds have met as equals on the same plane and have intertwined quite happily. In most cases, local workers, working with local materials on local principals have created buildings as diverse as country manors and neo-Tudor dwellings seen in the British Isles, to Swiss-Bavarian chalets from the Alps. Mature and efficacious structural methodology from the Himalaya was modified or redesigned to suit different requirements and markedly different lifestyles. The result was a curious mingling of forms from all over the world, and each abode was highly aesthetic, functional and at one time, quite inexpensive to build.

One of the interesting peculiarities of the old houses of Shimla is that almost none is designed, at least internally, to face the bitter winter. This was the direct result of the annual migration to the plains in early November when the government shifted to Kolkata and later, New Delhi and remained away till late March.

The skylights, ventilators, louvers and large rooms with high ceilings could have belonged to the “civil lines” of any colonial station in the plains. Yet, the presence of fireplaces and the basic insulation of the materials used, mitigated the cold to a considerable extent.

Today, Shimla’s architecture bears witness to an extraordinary historical episode and provides a remarkable insight to a way of life that has long vanished. In the last few decades, the demographics of the town have altered dramatically and the pressures have multiplied. Our conception of an aesthetic may have altered as may have living systems, but as far as a town’s environment and character go, perhaps the only true benchmark is to be able to look back from the future and wonder if something that we have created today is worthy of admiration or respect or whether we seek clay pedestals for the commonplace and the ugly.

The writer is a member of the Heritage Advisory Committee of Himachal Pradesh



An urban heritage for tomorrow?

Development should not mean flattening hills and constructing multistoreys, warns Pamela Kanwar

Romanticism about Himachal’s largest city, Shimla, looms large. Simla of the Raj became history in 1947. However, it bears the defining stamp of its 19th century origins. Its cottages and chalets — alien and eclectic in architectural styles, yet prettily sprinkled across forested hillsides — are contrasted to the present chaotic urban growth with concrete structures slapped over slopes.

Even as Himachal’s development parameters, bijli- pani- sadak to a predominantly rural state, are a matter of pride; its townscapes have become a clutter of structures.

Simla from the start had evoked memories of an English home. Nursed on nostalgia, built to make memories real, the rugged, wooded Himalayan landscape was perceived and preserved as a make- believe recreation of the English countryside. The pedestrian stretch of the Ridge and the Mall still evoke “a Home Counties English Town” and forms the core of the heritage area. Its fame as “little England” lingers.

Heritage fulfils a need to connect the present to the past in an unbroken trajectory. The old is recycled and viewed through the lens of Indian historical experience. The buildings remained the same yet the frames of reference changed, for buildings are witness to momentous events. Simla heritage coalesces with the Indian identity and lived memories. The Indian middle class also purchased Simla cottages and chalets and borrowed the allusions of an English home. It now searches for a recreation of Shimla in Mashobra and Naldehra.

There are rarely allusions to the ritually planned and sited pre-colonial towns along the banks of the rivers by the erstwhile hill rulers such as Rampur and Mandi. Popular accounts of urban form are crowded with Shimla’s nineteenth century imagery.

Do some of Shimla’s public buildings resemble Elizabethan country houses, others offspring of stone castles from Britain’s feudal past, yet others iron and concrete structures shipped out from nineteenth century London or Liverpool? Building styles and their location were directly exposed to the influences of the colonial environment in which they were created. Structurally, they marked a transition in technology.

Simla architecture was an expression of British society in the summer capital . The lifestyle was escapist and there were efforts to recreate the feeling of home and the countryside. Official notings in files speak of the “ordinary Simla style” of construction of the “better built private residences”, which adapted the local dhajji where the lower walls of stone laid in mud (and later lime) — erecting a wooden frame filled with a mixture of close- packed earth, gravel and pine needles. Dhajji loosely resembled timber-framed dwellings in Europe. To the main structure were added typical English features, gables, ornamental bargeboards, fretwork eaves, bay and oriel windows, dormers, cuppolas and prominent chimney-stacks. However, dhajji and the “Simla style” entail the use of an enormous amount of wood.

Firstly, it is not to suggest that we replicate nineteenth century and early twentieth century technology or the architectural vision that informed them, for it was rooted in their history and culture. The people of Himachal today, can boast of more disposable income, literacy, access to drinking water, healthcare and a general uplift in lifestyle.

Second, we in India tend to lose sight of the existence of the fourth world in our midst. We do not cater for those who subsidise a place like that with their labour. Workers and their families who work in factories as well as in domestic service. Cannot we have serais, made specially for migrant labour? Surely jhuggis and jhompris are degrading. In British Simla, under political and social pressure of the 1940s they built labour hostels for bachelors (chharras). It would be an architectural and town-planning breakthrough if a truly affordable low-cost housing niche was provided for them.

Perhaps a panel of architects and town-planners thoroughly conversant with Himalayan topography and environment, familiar with the new technology at hand, aware of the new emergent social reality be called upon to design and forge architectural statements that reflect and showcase these values.

The new townships, industrial estates in the offing provide a readymade opportunity, just as the creation of Shimla as summer capital did in the two decades after the 1880s. Can the runaway urbanisation by builders be harnessed into imaginative and creatively planned and well-laid out townships? Today, the technological possibilities are far more sophisticated than they were a century ago.

However, it is also possible to bulldoze and flatten a hill and construct multi-storeys that mimic developments in the metro cities. Does the awesome, varied and forested Himalayan landscape of Himachal deserve only such clones?

Today Himachal Pradesh surges to catch up with the 21st century. There has been a steady rise in the per capita income, and proudly the rise in literacy, health care, and the emergence of a more egalitarian society.

Why not an urban environment — a brand Himachal — to match?

Dr Pamela Kanwar is the author of “Imperial Simla: the Political Culture of the Raj, and Essays on Urban Patterns in Nineteenth Century Himachal Pradesh.”



Kinnaur tribals go modern

New-found prosperity has transformed the lives of the tribal people of Kinnaur, writes Kulwinder Sandhu

Modernisation is fast catching up with the tribal people of Kinnaur district, thanks to the economic prosperity that they have gradually gained over the years with the implementation of tribal plans comprising special financial packages granted by both Union and State governments, besides, the hard working nature of the tribal people, particularly, the women.

On the whole, a majority of the people are now well-off. They make good profits through trading, fruit/forest products and as well as from wool and homespun clothes. Undoubtedly, the possession of fruit trees is distinctly a mark of wealth. The production of world-class luscious apples (royal delicious) is the mainstay of economy that alone has entirely changed the lifestyle of the local people. The apples of Kinnaur are mostly exported to foreign countries.

With the dawn of economic prosperity, one could not find any better example than the tribal people of Kinnaur anywhere in the country with regard to the utilisation of this recently-gained-money. Top on the priority is providing quality education to the upcoming generation at Shimla, Solan, Chandigarh, Delhi and other educational centres.

The rest of the money is being utilised by the people for improving their overall living standards, expanding barren agricultural areas into apple cultivation, investing into local business and also fulfilling certain luxurious needs like telephones (including mobile phone), television (with dish antennas), motor vehicles etc. During the last two years, in a population of just 80,000, at least 2000 new cars, jeeps and two-wheelers were purchased by the tribal people and registered by the district administration.

New townships like Reckong Peo, Sangla, Tapri and Bhavanagar have come a long way in attracting the rural tribal people to settle down at these places; as such, multi-storey buildings made up of stones/bricks, concrete and cement have replaced the wooden houses, thereby, changing the very lifestyle of the people.

Interaction with a few families of Kalpa, Ripa, Rispa, Sangla and Pangi villages indicate that the substantial and swift change affecting the economy is definitely urging the people of Kinnaur to leave behind their traditional and age-old methods of living and embrace the values emanating from the new ways of life.

The change is also apparent in their food habits and dress. The traditional dresses of men — chamu kurti, chhuba, chamu sutan — are fast getting replaced with kurta pyjama, pants and coats. Similarly, the traditional dresses of women — dhori, choli, chhanli, gachhang — are also making way for salwar kameez and jeans/tops.

The traditional food comprising olgo, wheat, maize, barley rotis and vegetable, pulses, meat dishes is still prevalent but during the recent time noodles and momos are fast replacing the traditional food items in upper Kinnaur. On the road sides in small townships and villages one can find special eateries offering these recently discovered dishes.

The attaining of modern education has paved the way for the tribal people to get rid of many social evils such as polyandry and child marriage. Polyandry that was prevalent in most parts of Kinnaur is rapidly losing ground to monogamy. The usual practice earlier was sharing one wife among several brothers.

No matter, one could still find many cases of polyandry in the remote rural areas but the upcoming educated class has outrightly rejected this traditional practice of the older generation. Mrs Rattan Negi a resident of village Rispa who has done her doctorate in Hindi from Panjab University, Chandigarh and is married to a lecturer, holds the view: “Polyandry is a curse on society and the educated youngsters are the only ray of hope to bring women out of this hell”.

With the transformation of tribal people to modern civilisation; social services, like modern education facilities, health services, including sanitation, availability of transport/communication, existence of banks and insurance companies are also rapidly coming up to the doorsteps of the tribal people.



The apple man

Samuel Evans became Satyanand Stokes and in the process transformed Himachal into an apple basket, recounts Asha Sharma

Whenever people comment on the remarkable development of Himachal Pradesh and the relative prosperity of its people in comparison to other States, again and again the name of the Pahari American Satyanand Stokes comes up. He was largely responsible for this phenomenon due to his foresight in bringing commercial cultivation of apples to the Simla Hills starting in the 1920s. Rightly he has been described as the Johnny Appleseed of India.

While apple cultivation might be his most well-known contribution, not so well-known is his role in the elimination of impressed labour in the Simla hills and his active participation in the country’s freedom struggle which prompted Mahatma Gandhi to comment: “As long as we have an Andrews, a Stokes, a Pearson in our midst, so long will it be ungentlemanly on our part to wish every Englishman out of India”.

The scion of an affluent family of Philadelphia, Samuel Evans Stokes came to India in 1904 at the age of 21 to work in a Leper Home in Subathu. The same year he chanced to go to Kotgarh, 60 miles beyond Simla, and was struck by its beauty and grandeur. Little wonder that when eight years later he decided to settle in India he chose to build his home in Kotgarh naming it Harmony Hall after his ancestral home in the US.

Once he settled in the ilaqa he focused his attention on eliminating social injustices and improving the economic condition of the hill people.

The Jallianwala massacre and the ill-treatment of the people of Punjab by the British in its aftermath drew Stokes into the freedom struggle. The episode convinced him that the British could never rule benevolently and must leave India. He joined Mahatma Gandhi’s Non- Cooperation Movement and in December 1920 he was the delegate from Kotgarh to the All India Congress held at Nagpur.

After a few years of intense involvement in the freedom struggle Stokes decided to devote his time to the development of the hill. He had been deeply moved by the poverty in the hills where landholdings were small and the uneven terrain made farming difficult and unproductive.

He experimented with several varieties of apples before he came to the conclusion that the American Red Delicious were most suited to the Himalayan region. Once this was established he concentrated on propagation and scientific cultivation of the fruit.

He imported the saplings, planting them on his own land as well as distributing them to his neighbours. To many he gave free of cost and even helped to plant them. At first the poor villagers were reluctant to use their limited land to growing apple trees but Stokes persisted, encouraging them to first plant them on the embankments. Once the trees started bearing fruit and bringing returns there was no turning back and almost all the villagers of the ilaqa and surrounding areas began to plant apple orchards. The American red delicious formed the bed-rock of these orchards and continues to be so even today.

The story of apples since those early days is well-known. Great strides have been made in the field of horticulture in the state which has also earned the name of The Apple State of India.

Asha Sharma is the author of “An American in Khadi: The Definitive Biography of Satyanand Stokes”.



Potato route to prosperity

K.S. Bains was the man who spearheaded the potato revolution in Lahaul

The writer (right) with Mr Brongpa, President of the Lahaul Potato Growers Society, in front of Hotel Chandramukhi which has been built by the society in Manali
The writer (right) with Mr Brongpa, President of the Lahaul Potato Growers Society, in front of Hotel Chandramukhi which has been built by the society in Manali.

Kangra was the largest district of Punjab. Due to its sheer size and topography, administration was always difficult. Kulu district was carved out of it with headquarters at Kulu. This still did not bring sufficient focus on the tribal areas of Lahaul and Spiti.

In 1960, Sardar Partap Singh Kairon, the then Chief Minister of Punjab, created a separate district of Lahaul and Spiti with headquarters at Keylong. To make the district administration more efficient, the district officers were more or less given all powers of heads of their respective departments.

Even though asthmatic, he regularly visited the area taking the ministers concerned and the bureaucrats with him to ensure that they too got involved in the development of the area. Many development works like roads, water-kuhls, schools, dispensary etc. came up.

A German Morvain Mission (All Germans were asked to leave the country during World War II) which served there for decades had made remarkable contribution in introducing growing of vegetables, knitting of socks, sweaters and clothes, better housing and heating systems. It were they who brought the Kuth from Kashmir and introduced it in Lahaul.

The economy of Lahaul depended on Kuth. The only buyer of this herb was China. Following the Chinese war its prices fell from Rs. 800 per maund to Rs. 200. Lahaulis, who were well off, suddenly got into difficult times.

I served as Deputy Commissioner Lahaul and Spiti from June 1965 to October 31, 1966, when following the reorganisation of Punjab, the area became part of Himachal Pradesh. This short stay in Lahaul became a very important landmark in my life as well as that of Lahaul.

Going through the district records, I found that the temperature, sunshine, irrigation and the humidity conditions there were just ideal for potato cultivation. Due to its isolation by high passes (Rohtang, Kunzum, Baralacha ) the area was free from crop disease. It was also time when the technology of producing virus-free potato seed in the plains had not yet been evolved. I had acquired reasonably good knowledge about seed potato cultivation. It struck me that Lahaul was the right place for it.

I invited leading Jalandhar (heart of potato growing area) farmers along with Dr Sikka, Dy. Director, Potato Research Institute, to come and see the conditions in the valley and convince themselves that pure virus-free seed could be produced in Lahaul. They toured the area and were convinced that solution lay here. I organised a meeting with a large number of Lahaul farmers for interaction with their counterparts from Jalandhar. The Jalandhar farmers unequivocally offered that whatever quantity of potato seed Lahaul will produce, will be lifted by them. The price was also agreed upon. I gave the assurance that if for any reason the farmers from Jalandhar did not buy the potato, the government would.

It was already end of July. The Rohtang Pass closes on October 15 and all the arrangements had to be made before that. Failure here would mean delay of 1 ½ years. The proper implements had to be designed, got manufactured and transported into the valley. Similarly fertilisers and other inputs had to be brought in.

The most important element, on which depended the entire success of the project was to procure pure virus-free potato seeds. The Central Potato Research Institute, Shimla, and its regional centre at Jalandhar were contacted. They were impressed by the project and agreed to supply pure “MOTHER” seed from their experimental farms. They also gave guidelines on how to store it in extreme weather conditions so that the sprouting quality was fully retained.

It was a huge task, running between Shimla, Jalandhar, Manali and Lahaul all the time. We finally succeeded in beating the October 15 deadline.

With implements, inputs, and seed safely in the valley, the all important and difficult task was to educate the farmers in scientific potato cultivation. A team of Thakur Devi Singh, BDO (He later on rose to be the Cabinet Minister in Himachal Pradesh), Mr Darshan Singh Sandhu, Tehsildar. Mr Phunchok, Agriculture Inspector, was constituted. The first snowfall is around middle of December. All the training had to be done by that time. Even though the village roads were not there at that time, the team toured each and every village creating small demonstration plots.

Application of fertilisers, making small ridges for seeding, proper irrigation system etc. would be done. Use of the implements was demonstrated. Women who do lot of farm work, participated in the training camps in large numbers. And all other details were gone into. Most of the time, I moved along with the team.

For communicating with and convincing the villagers, there is no better method than a Deputy Commissioner talking directly to them and working with them with own hands. It was a Herculean task but we succeeded in doing before the snow fell. By end of December all the implements, seeds and other inputs had been distributed in every village, and training of farmers had been accomplished.

Come sowing season, (April/May), farmers got to work on field selected for potato even though there was still a lot of snow around. They all cleared small areas to sow the potato. The efforts bore fruits and the potato got sown in time. We again toured extensively to see that all sowing operations were correctly done. By October potato seed, totally disease free having variety and purity was for the first time produced away from controlled conditions of research farms. It was a small miracle that happened.

Lahaul has not looked back since then. The Lahaul Potato Growers Cooperative Society registered in May 1966, handled the transportation and marketing efficiently. Today it has a turnover of more than Rs 100 crore. They own marketing yards, petrol pumps, trucks etc. The society has also built a four-star hotel in Manali. The hotel has been named as “Chandramukhi”, one of the varieties of potato initially introduced.

The society under its various Chairmen, particularly Mr Brongpa, has played an important part in Lahaul’s progress. Today they not only transport and market the potato seed, but also supply the necessities of the villagers. A regular system has been evolved whereby all their household demands are collected, procured from outside Lahaul and supplied right at their door. It also means more efficient use of the transport vehicles.



A natural turf for rallying

Himachal attracts motoring and rallying lovers such as H. Kishie Singh like bees to honey

Himachal, said Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh at a recent press conference in Chandigarh, “is the state for all reasons in all seasons!” Very true. At no time of the year does Himachal disappoint the visitor. The apple and peach blossoms in spring, white and pink, the lofty peaks, some perennially covered in snow, the monsoon rains, fresh water lakes, temples, gompas, gurdwaras, hot water springs, mighty rivers, the Beas and the Sutlej. A state where you can go hiking and trekking and walk up and touch the sky. Where you can have your feet on the ground and head in the clouds! The massive deodar forests and the beautiful winding roads that snake through forests, over high passes and into high altitude deserts. Himachal has it all.

With all these myriad charms at its disposal, where Himachal has really attracted, like bees to honey, is the motoring and rallying aficionado. Some of India’s best motoring events have been run in Himachal and continue to do so till today.

The Himalayan Rally, the brainchild of Nazir Hoosein, considered to be the father of rallying in India, introduced the thrill of rallying in the mighty Himalaya. This began in 1980 and gathered momentum till Nazir followed up with a one-two whammy. In 1988, he gave us the Great Desert-Himalaya. The event was run on the Raid format. A first time in India and Himachal was center stage. From the Thar desert of Rajasthan to the Shivalik hills and then the high altitude deserts of Himachal and Ladakh. The event ended in Srinagar. The 1988 G.D-H brought to the fore driver-Rallyist Farad Bathena in the Open category and the Sakhuja brothers, Deepak and Rupak, who were the national champions.

The 1988 Great Desert-Himalaya was a national event and was followed up by an international event in 1989, the Himalayan Rally. It was the only international sporting event ever held in India. It was not unusual to have entries from Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Holland, the U.K.

The Himalayan Rally faded in the early 90s but Himachal Pradesh continued to be the favourite playground for rally organisers. The Apollo Challenge followed in 1992 and renamed, the Mountain Challenge ran successfully for many years.

By the mid- 90s Himachal’s fame as the paradise for rallying had spread overseas. The London to Sydney event, one of the worlds longest and best known motor sports events, landed in Delhi and spent two days rallying in Himachal.

The drive was a mind-blowing experience for all the participants. From 46°C in Parwanoo, a 20 km drive and a climb up to 2000 metres, in about 30 minutes the temperature was in the low 20°C. The entrants, clad in shorts and T-shirts could hardly believe this transformation. They were frantically looking for their woollens. This is the magic of the Himalaya and Himachal presents it with aplomb. The international media covered this event and Himachal was in the limelight.

Thanks to this media coverage, the Isuzu Challenge, one of the most difficult drives, chose to drive, through Himachal to Leh. Eighteen Isuzu Troopers and Ippon 4x4 vehicles, in yellow and black zebra stripes made a splash through Himachal. Again it was the magnificent mountains, impossible dizzying heights and snaking roads that brought this international event to Himachal.



Lip-smacking dhaam

No celebration in Himachal is complete without the dhaam. Bhawanee Singh goes down the aroma-filled memory lane

One of my fondest trips down the memory lane of my “wonder years” is around the local festivities and their final manifestation, the dhaam. We, in our beautiful hills have for generations preserved and prided on our inherent simplicity, exquisite beauty and heritage in more than one way. dhaam or the traditional Himachali meal for any occasion or reason, still retains the innocence and charm of a bygone era without compromising on our glorious past and our multi-socio-cultural ethos.

As a child no festivity would be complete without us little girls accompanying a house elder going house to house inviting all our neighbours and relatives to the feast. Then it would seem as if the entire town was invited ! Personal invitation was the norm and the food would be cooked by the botis (A particular caste of Brahmins who are hereditary chefs).

An elaborate cooking preparation would invariably lead to an air laden with the rich aroma of spices and herbs much before the meal itself (to the collective delight of all the kids) and the meal would be an event for people to be dressed in their finest (many matrimonial decisions would be at stake !) with the food served on pattals (leaf plates).

The dhaam in Chamba would invariably start with rice and moong dal, only to be followed by an array of the traditional kari boors, dark lentils and the typical khatta (best described as a sweet and sour accompaniment) with some vegetables, but the de rigueur would be the rajma madrah (cooked in signature Himachali style in yoghurt), only to be followed by the much awaited metthey chawl (sweet rice concoction with a rather generous mix of raisins, dry fruits and ghee).

These cooking styles and recipes have been handed down through generations. We have our own stories and myths of how it got enriched by the Mughal influence, the kitchens of Kashmir and then there is even a Greek angle, but all in all, the taste remains unique to the Himachali cuisine.

For the uninitiated, it is surprisingly sophisticated and subtle and like most things about Himachal, remains mysteriously pristine and unknown !

I have travelled far and wide and nothing to me comes close to the uniqueness yet the subtle charms of a dhaam. In today’s day and age of fast-everything, the languid and elaborate customs are usually frowned upon, but ever ask a “Non-Resident” Himachali as to what she misses most about the life outside, the chances are nine out of ten it would be the dhaam. My husband who is from the plains always jokes that you can get a Himachali out of Himachal but never the Himachal out of the Himachali !

Be that as it may, my husband, kids and grandchildren always hope and pray for a Dhaam whenever we get to Chamba during our holidays. The good food, good life mantra of the Himachalis is best personified by the dhaam.

It may be elaborate but it is never ostentatious, it is a part of our culture and an invasion in terms of modification to the format is thankfully still disparaged.

Mrs Bhawanee Singh has authored the only authoritative cook-book from the region, “Classic Recipes from Himachal Pradesh”.



Heli-skiing, anyone?

The only place in South-East Asia to offer heli-skiing is Himachal Pradesh, claims Manjeev Bhalla

Helicopter skiing was begun in Canada some 30 years ago. But the idea of heli-skiing in the Indian Himalayas took shape in the mind of Roddy Mackenzie while on a ski touring expedition in the areas around Manali during the winter of 1988. Roddy was, in fact, preparing for an assault on Mount Everest, which he successfully climbed later that year.

Whether it was his doughty Scottish nature or the spirit of adventure in his Aussie blood, Roddy decided to take on the Herculean task of setting up a world class heli-skiing operation. In the process, wittingly or unwittingly, Roddy also came face to face with the resoluteness of the monolithic Indian bureaucracy which proved more of a challenge and harder to cut across than the deepest of snows he had ever traversed over during his climbing days.

Two years of painstaking work, however, finally led to the launch of heli-skiing in the Indian Himalayas in 1990. Eighteen years on, Himachal Helicopter Skiing (HHS) still enjoys the status of being the only heli-skiing operation in South East Asia.

Not only that, since it started operations HHS has played host to some top businessmen and celebrities. The HHS client list includes the likes of Frida, the female lead singer of the famous 70s music group ABBA, members of the Murdoch and Bronfman business families, Viscount Sir Alex Bridport, the Norwegian ski team to name a few!!

The concept behind heli-skiing is rather simple. A small party of skiers is flown up to the top landing of a ski run. They then ski down to the bottom landing of the run from where they are picked up and flown to the top landing of another ski run. The advantages of this system are obvious. The helicopter acts like a mobile lift. The use of the helicopters does away with the need for fixed lifts, thereby reducing the impact on the region’s slopes. This liberates the skiers from the monotony of skiing the same slope over and over again and offers them the possibility of skiing in different areas and valleys on ungroomed and one hundred per cent natural “pistes”.

Typically, the snow pack here is one of the deepest in the entire Himalayas, and due to the continental climate, snowfalls tend to be of low moisture content. Also, the sun at this latitude, and altitude, is generally very strong. This unique combination allows for much greater “back radiation” which creates excellent recrystallised powder. As an added bonus, the potential is vast for good spring corn season. Takes little guessing then why Himachal Helicopter Skiing has a catch slogan that aptly reads “Curry Powder”!!

HHS operates out of Manali. The skiing terrain and most of the top landings are dwarfed by an array of some of the most spectacular and majestic Himalayan peaks including the likes of Deo Tibba, Indrasan, Mukerbay, Ali Ratni Tibba and Indra Kila. Most of the skiing takes place between 3200 and 4800 metres. Some of the top landings are over 5200 m, which is 600 m higher than Mont Blanc!



Untapped adventure potential

Adventure sports have yet to pick up in many promising areas, laments Kuldeep Chauhan

Though the Department of Tourism and Civil Aviation (DTCA) tries to promote Himachal Pradesh as a “Mecca for adventure tourism”, but the adventure sports have yet to pick up in the Chamba, Dharamsala, Shimla, Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti tourist circuits as these areas need basic supportive infrastructure and marketing.

The DTCA has notified the rules to regulate the adventure sports last year. But enforcement remains weak as the department has not inducted the proper technical experts, who major in each adventure sports. It needs to take initiative to diversify adventure sports from Manali into other areas wedding it to strengthen local rural economy as it has done in Manali.

Moreover, there are no school competitions or training for school and college students. The DTCA and WHIAM and Department of Sports and Youth Affairs work at cross-purposes and not as team, say experts.

For the heat-and-dust weary tourists, snow, sunshine and lush green glens of deodars in the Himalayas promise a vast potential for adventure tourism in these tourist circuits. But except Kulu-Manali other sites lack both local initiative and basic supportive infrastructure.

Manali youth set up their own adventure sports agencies after getting training from the Western Himalayas Institute of Adventure and Mountaineering (WHIAM), Manali or outside and marketing the trekking, mountaineering, paragliding, river-rafting and skiing and other adventure in the country and outside. Today, Solang valley uphill of Manali and Bir-Billing in scenic Kangra valley have emerged as the “Mecca of paragliding” for both tourists and the aerosports freaks from across the globe round the year.

Says Mr Roshan Thakur, a local youth, who pioneered paragliding in Manali: “We used to procure paragliders from foreigners, worked hard to promote sports. Today 100 local youth earn their livelihood from paragliding each season. The scope is vast. But the tourism department should have experts, who know about aerosports, on its technical committee that regulates sports here, he adds.

The DTCA holds pre-World Cup in paragliding at Bir-Billing to popularise sports among the youth. But paragliding as a profession could not catch the fancy of youth except in Solang and Marhi in Manali, where there are over 100 young trained paragliding pilots, all local villagers, who offer joyrides for the tourists and, in turn earn a good income ranging from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakh every year.

The adventure sport sites that need basic infrastructure include Chansel in Rohru, Churdhar-Sarahan in Chopal and Kharapathar-Giri-Deorighat in Shimla tourist circuit, Parashar-Thachi in Mandi district, Truind in Dharamsala circuit and Khajjiar-Kalatop in Chamba circuit and Sangla valley in Kinnaur.

Director WHIAM, Col H.S. Chauhan, says that Himachal offers all adventure sports under the sun. The institute has trained thousands of amateurs in adventure sports and organises camps for students. “Local youth in Manali run their travel agencies and other areas should imitate them to take initiative in the other areas in the state”.

The PGI pilots resent that the DTCA still charges Rs 2500 per pilot which is prohibitive as flying is a seasonal activity and paragliding equipment costs Rs 2 lakh to four lakh. “It should charge Rs 1000 as lumpsum from each pilot per year and allow the association to operate the flights at Solang”, says Mr Thakur and demands that the remote control of aerosports from the Delhi-based Aero Club of India should end.

The travel agents running adventure sports give a damn to the safety standards, which are mandatory under rules chalked out by the Federation Internationale Aeronautics (FIA), a world body that governs the aerosports around the world. As many as four accidents — three in Bir-Billing site and two at Solang — have resulted in death of one flier and three paragliding pilots, due to what officials described as an “error in judgment on the parts of fliers”.



The old, venerable Subathu

Vijay Saighal draws an intimate pen portrait of his hometown

Veer Gorkha Dwar: picturesque entrance to Subathu
Veer Gorkha Dwar: picturesque entrance to Subathu

In the midst of beautiful Shimla Hills is situated Himachal’s oldest cantonment, Subathu. It might be a small and sleepy town, but it has a glorious past which is comparatively lesser known to the outside world. This has a direct link with the first war of Independence deliberately downplayed by the British as sepoy mutiny of 1857.

Yes! It is the same Subathu which remained the battleground of the legendary Gurkha warrior Amar Singh Thapa, besides being the first-ever seat of power of the British in hills. Shimla came into existence afterwards, while Capt. Kennedy, the first political agent of the British had established his temporary headquarters at Subathu much before. The present officers’ mess building formerly known as viceregal lodge is the remnant of the past.

By mid-18th century Subathu had developed as a full-fledged British Cantonment. But as in the case of other parts of the country ambers of freedom struggle had started simmering at Subathu also under the very nose of British rulers. It goes to the credit of the then freedom fighters that their activities went unnoticed till May 1857 when Subathu and nearby areas of Kasauli and Jutogh also experienced the first tremors of war 
of Independence.

The British never expected this to happen here.

On the southern side of Subathu, exists a small old fortress on a hillock. This was built by Gurkhas centuries ago. A temple of goddess Mahakali, main deity of Gurkhas, is also situated nearby. Earlier there was a small temple behind the fortress itself. These places are the silent spectators of the history woven around Subathu. Like the decaying town of Subathu the above fortress may have seen many ups and downs. These days it houses a godown and workshop of the local M.E.S (military engineering service) setup. This is the complex where the great freedom fighter Ram Prasad Bairagi (not Bismil) stayed in the guise of a bearded sadhu and inspired people for freedom struggle.

There are many tales available of the British and their families taking shelter at Shimla and elsewhere in view of the ensuring “sepoy mutiny” in the hills. They were terror stricken and feared danger to their lives. May be the country took long to attain freedom, but we cannot ignore the heroic deeds of Bairagi and others who fought and died for the sake of freedom. Subathu, Kasauli, Jutogh and the adjoining areas would always remain grateful to them. We salute the hero of Subathu on the occasion of 150th anniversary of war of Independence, also known as great rebellion.

It is a coincidence that Subathu at present is the seat of Indian Army’s prestigious 14 Gorkha Training Centre, which is known as a nursery of brave Gorkha soldiers.

The writer is a former Editor of Dainik Tribune



Spectacular toy travel

Kalka-Shimla train travel is a fantasy come true, feels Harish Dhillon

In an antique shop in Kolkata, two years ago, I came across a set of photo engravings of the Kalka-Simla railway. There was a picture of bridge No. 226 between Sonwara and Dharampur, a bridge of five-tiered, multi-arched stone galleries, looking for all the world like a Roman aqueduct. This picture brought home the fact that of the 869 bridges on the route that carry the line over the ravines between the hill spurs, only one is a steel girder and truss bridge — all the others are stone viaducts.

It also brought back memories of a journey which had become an integral part of my childhood. At the end of each school term we would make the journey on the toy train to Kalka, a journey replete with excitement and anticipation of the winter vacation.

When Capt Ross, and his successor Capt Kennedy, built themselves houses in what is now Shimla, they laid the ground for one of the greatest engineering marvels of the world. Enchanted by the picturesque surroundings and the salubrious climate many more people built houses here. By 1831 Shimla had become "the resort of the rich, the idle and the invalid." Shortly afterwards Lord Bentick made it the summer headquarters of the Government of India.

But the journey up to the beautiful hill station remained slow and painful. The mode of travel was the "jampan", a kind of palanquin, and 15,000 men were requisitioned from the nearby villages to carry these palanquins all the way to Shimla. Even when the Great Hindustan Tibet road was built and wagons drawn by horse and bullocks could replace the human portage the journey remained arduous.

The idea for a railway line was mooted as early as 1847 and over the next 50 years a series of surveys were made. Work was finally commenced in 1898. Though official records do not give him credit, it was the "illiterate genius" Bhalkoo, who with intuitive and uncanny sense played a vital role in the construction of the railway line. His contribution was recognised during the centenary celebrations in 2003 and his statue was unveiled in his village near Chail.

The line was finally opened in 1903 but not before a number of gory legends had attached themselves to some of the 102 tunnels. The longest, 3,752 feet long, at Barog, bears not only the name but also the blood of its creator, who committed suicide after making a mistake in its alignment. Another at Taradevi, drew censure from the priests. The goddess, they said, would never tolerate this profane intrusion of her domain and sure enough, halfway through the project, a giant serpent was sighted. The workers rushed to the temple to beg the Goddess for forgiveness. Work was only resumed when the "serpent" was revealed to be an iron pipe.

The opening of the railway contributed a great deal to the development of Simla. Hordes of visitors now made the journey. The train would stop for breakfast at the magnificent dining room at the Barog railway station. Odd pieces of the porcelain used at this meal are still on display there.

The train journey from Kalka to Shimla, though extremely slow, is as spectacular. The track covers a length of 60 kilometres between towering hills and either burrows through the hills or clings precariously to the steep sides making its way over graceful stone bridges with mountain streams gurgling hundreds of feet below them. The line passes through virgin, unspoilt forests, the fresh mountain breeze bringing the scent of pines and the sound of birds through the open windows. One is led into believing that the hills remain as pure and pristine as they have been since primeval times.

Though some modernisation has taken place in the form of diesel engines and spruced up railway coaches to attract tourists, there is much that still remains quaint and archaic. The 18 stations with their Gothic architecture and picturesque locations could qualify as heritage sites in their own right. Mechanical clocks can still be seen at some railway stations and some railway lanterns which, with their red and green light were used to stop and give green signals, are still in use. In the age of computers and mobiles the original communication system is still intact. The stations use block phones to maintain links between two stations and the control phone system is used to keep in touch with other important stations.



Gaiety gets a new look

Shimla’s historic Gaiety Theatre is being restored, reports Pratibha Chauhan

Patronised by the English elite during the Raj era and later by some of the doyens of Indian theatre like Prithvi Raj Kapoor and Balraj Sawhney, the Amateur Dramatic Club (ADC) in Shimla is on the verge of a reincarnation.

The ongoing restoration work on the historic 19th century building of Gaiety Theatre is nearing completion which would certainly be a heart-warming news for the theatre practitioners and connoisseurs.

The top three storeys of the theatre superstructure built by the British in 1887, which were taken apart as a precautionary measure after the devastating earthquake of 1905, have been given a comprehensive make-over. Various agencies of the centre and the state government are engaged in the restoration work which is wholly funded by the Union Ministry of Culture.

Once completed, the theatre is expected to emerge as a cultural centre for attracting talented theatre groups and artists from across the country and abroad. It is a stirring sight just to behold the landscape surrounding the Theatre on The Mall overlooking the majestic Christ Church with cascading hills forming the backdrop.

Inspiration from nature coupled with historical legacy of the theatre induced the likes of Balraj Sawhney and Prithvi Raj Kapoor, his son Shashi Kapoor  and his wife Jennifer to give some of their most enthralling performances of their theatre-days before their artistic journey was daubed with the stardust of Bollywood. Much later, a new crop of would-be Bollywood artists like Anupam Kher, Raj Babbar and Naseerudin Shah also exhibited their talent here.

Going back to another era, it was the British who patronised the ADC and launched it in Queen Elizabeth’s jubilee year in 1887.

It was in the early seventies that Shashi Kapoor wanted that the Gothic style structure in the town, where his in-laws, the Kendell’s and his wife Jennifer performed should be done up and maintained. The proposed project, which was to be billed by Kapoor as a tribute to the memory of his late wife with whom he performed here in the 1950s, never took shape and work on it could start much later after 1998.

Interestingly, even the British who wanted to demolish the entire Gaiety Theatre structure and raise a new one never got down to doing it. Connoisseurs are hoping the restoration would inspire a new generation of artists dedicated to the old-world charm associated with theatre.



Fading charm of Manali

The tale of rise and fall of Manali, as told by Kuldeep Chauhan, is heart-rending

The tin-roofed single-storey Old Circuit House of Manali, tucked away in green environs, where country’s first Prime Minister late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru spent his holidays with his family twice in the 1960s, stands like a marooned island in what otherwise is a nightmarish concrete jungle today.

But this is no news. In fact, the lifeless multi-storey concrete monsters — hotels — are marching uphill along the Manali-Rohtang-Leh Highway and in and around Solang valley, vale of adventure, and on the Manali-Naggar road in Aloe, New Manali, Prini and Shuru. Shanag, Burwa, Solang and Kothi villages are now new haunts for the land sharks, who are allegedly striking underhand deals with local villagers to raise high-rise resorts, raping the green hillsides right under the nose of government agencies.

The 13500-ft-high Rohtang Pass and Beas Kund, associated with sage Vyas, who meditated there, look like a junkyard, although SADA, Manali, claims they bring back the waste after the summer season is over.

The old-timers and well-wishers of Manali find themselves helpless, silent spectators to this mindless construction mania that has spelt doom for this beautiful hill town on the banks of the rushing Beas river. Even deodar trees in green parks around Hidimba Devi, the presiding goddess of Manali, are drying up.

No doubt mass tourism in Manali has contributed to growth of local economy as it employs 15000-20,000 people in 394 hotels and 184 travel agencies, trained mainly from WHIAM over the years. But mass tourism has also turned Manali into a graveyard for trash and junk as there is no efficient system to collect and dispose of waste in town. Over 16- 18 lakh domestic tourists and 60,000-67,000 foreigners, who visit Manali every year during their stay in hotels and guesthouses generate mounds of wastes daily.

The study reveals that just 25 per cent of waste produced in Kulu-Manali is dumped in the designated dumps. “All the rest litters the hillsides and ends up in the Beas river”, commented Dr J.C. Kuniyal, a scientist at the ant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, Kulu. The government has set up waste treatment plant and a sewerage system for Kulu and Mandi towns. But the waste and sewerage that a sprawl of dhabhas, guesthouses and resorts generate goes into the Beas river, revealed the scientist.

The Mall Road and the tow-away zone along the Circuit House have become a pedestrian’s nightmare as there are no sidewalks for them.

The decay of Manali is understandable as the government regulating agencies and the tourism department did precious little to plan and develop proper infrastructure, spacious lanes, bylanes, sidewalks to halt this onslaught of the concrete monsters. Instead, the HP tourism department chose to compete with private hoteliers to build hotels in Manali and other hill stations as trendsetters.



Glamour girls from Himachal Pradesh

Shriniwas Joshi recalls the formative years Preity Zinta, Priya Rajvansh and Kangana Ranaut spent in Himachal

It is a coincidence that the month of March has happy or sad links with the three heroines that Himachal has sent to Bollywood. Priya lost her life on March 27th; Preity was born on 31st and Kangana on 20th of March.

The latest sensation that Himachal has given to the glamour world is 1987-born Kangana Ranaut, who hails from village Bhambla in Sarkaghat sub-division, about 45 km from Mandi. She has won the prestigious Filmfare Award for her debut role in “Gangster” this year along with Sony’s “Face of the Year” award.

Her father Amardeep wanted her to be a doctor but in 2003 when Kangana was studying at Government College for Girls in Chandigarh for her graduation, a deal was struck between the father and the daughter that if she made a mark in a forthcoming beauty contest there then she would be free to opt for a profession of her choice, be it modelling or film-line. If she faltered then she would follow the course chosen by her father.

She was so focussed that she won the first runners-up position in the contest and that opened up the path to glory. And the small-village girl from Himachal has made her entry into the tinsel town with a bang by doing challenging roles in “Gangster” and “Woh Lamhe”.

Kangana proclaims that her mother Asha Ranaut is very giving and not demanding like any other Himachali woman and that she is her alter ego. Her words need believing because Kangana still holds that innocent charm of a hill girl.

Preity Zinta from Shimla is one of the top heroines today. Born in 1975 to Durganand, an Army Officer who died in an accident, and Nilprabha, she started stage performances at the age of six as a student of Convent of Jesus and Mary, Shimla. From that first in a small stage, she made a long journey to the first in big screen in Mani Ratnam’s “Dil Se” in 1998 through “Liril” and “Perk” modelling assignments. She has not looked back since then and has won different awards for her roles in different films, though she considers her role in “Kya Kehna” as the finest.

Several super hit films carry her credits. She was nominated as “Asia’s sexiest woman” in September 2006 issue of a celebrated magazine the Eastern Eye.

This sexiest woman is equally bold too and showed some guts in the court by sticking to a statement made by her before the police despite the threats from the underworld. To her fans, here is the list of her pets. “Envy” by Gucci is the perfume; “Junior” and “Lola” are her dogs; and her steady male companion is industrialist Ness Wadia.

She proclaims to be a proud Himachali willing to do whatever she can for the State and recently donated Rs 25 lakh to the Himachal Red Cross after winning the amount in KBC.

Born in 1937, Priya Rajvansh was Vera Sundersingh when she studied here in Shimla. Her father Sunder Singh was in the Forest Department and his mother was an English woman from where she inherited the anglicised accent. She had her schooling in Convent of Jesus and Mary. She shifted to Bhargava Municipal College (BMC) in 1953 for graduation after having done intermediate from St. Bede’s College.

Dr G.R. Sud, a lecturer in English at BMC, noticed her stage personality. He groomed her to do her first play “You Never Can Tell” by Bernard Shaw. “Monkey’s Paw” and “Progress” followed.

With each play, she improved upon her histrionics. She had a prodigious memory, a dynamic personality, flawless smooth skin and expressive eyes. Drama bug had already bitten her. So, after graduation she flew to England to join Royal Dramatic Academy, London, where under the guidance of Lawrence Olivier, she polished her talent.

She did a small role in an English film from where she was picked up by Chetan Anand. She came to Mumbai and Chetan introduced her as Priya Rajvansh in a lead role in “Haqeeqat”.

Besides “Heer Ranjha” and “Hanste Zakhm”, she acted in four more films under the Navketan banner but her anglicised accent and western feminity did not click with Indian audience.



Fresh hope on information technology front

Rakesh Lohumi says the IT sector is ideally suited for the State

A small hill state like Himachal Pradesh can now dream big in the field of Information Technology. The emerging concept of “small is the new big” has raised a new hope for the growth of the IT industry which has not made much headway in the hill state so far.

A clean pollution free-environment, abundant power and a modern telecom network, the state has all that it takes to attract the IT industry. Moreover, Himachal was one of the states which took lead in setting up a separate department of Information Technology (IT) and framing an IT policy.

Rolling out a red carpet the government tried its best to bring in big players in the IT sector like the Dell, Infosys and Wipro. But the efforts came to nought as the big companies found the low population a major hurdle. These companies required huge manpower to run call centres, business process outsourcing (BPO) services and other IT industries which is not available. As a result the Information Technology (IT) revolution sweeping the country has so far eluded the hill state despite ideal environment.

It seems quite odd that the state which has won a number of national and international awards for pioneering work in e-governance should lag in attracting the IT industry.

However, the new trend of software engineers working in small teams to develop applications could change the fortunes of the hill state. Indeed, small is the in thing in the software industry. The big companies are all there but those hogging the limelight as the big achievers are the tiny companies formed by group of young software engineers. The economy of scales has started working the other way and the companies are realising that big teams require big expenditure and large infrastructure. Besides, working with big teams is not conducive to efficiency as it takes time to take decision and implement them. All this makes products expensive.

What has raised hope for Himachal is the entry of companies like Instablogs which runs Asia’s largest blog network from Shimla with a small team of three programmers and designers and just 30 fulltime employees. With over 130 blogs and community portals it caters consumer oriented news to over 2.5 million visitors every month. Founded by the young husband-wife team of Ankit and Nandini Maheshwari in 2005, the company is cited at the future role model for newspaper by many.

While big companies saw inherent drawbacks in the hill state like deficient manpower and non-availability of readymade infrastructure for their big projects, Ankit finds it an ideal destination for the IT industry, particularly with the “small” happening in a big way. A company has to be good and not necessarily big to deliver. With its uninterrupted and abundant power supply, reliable broadband connectivity, high percentage of English speaking people and a good road network it makes sense for the small startups to open shop in the hill state, he adds.

It is time that government stops running after big companies and promotes small enterprises, including self-employment ventures involving local youth, to take advantage of the IT revolution. Unlike other industries, the IT units could be dispersed across the state to help provide employment to the educated youth.

Mr Sanjiv Gupta, secretary of the IT department, says that the government is working to overcome the numerical disadvantage of low population by improving the quality of manpower. Special training courses are being introduced in degree colleges to enhance the soft skills of students. Software technology parks will be set up at Waknaghat and Nalagarh in Solan and Raja Ka Bagh in Kangra district. The objective is to make the state an ideal IT destination for small enterprises which did not require large manpower.



Where Moharram unites Shias and Sunnis

Nahan is perhaps the only place in the world where Sunnis join Shias in observing Moharram, according to Ajay Bahadur Singh

The history of bitter and bloody conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims goes back centuries. We often hear stories of murderous confrontations between these two factions every year, from various countries, including Pakistan and India.

But in Nahan, the capital of one of the most powerful states in the hills, Moharram is observed by Sunni Muslims as a gesture of goodwill towards the Shia Muslims who were in the state service, at the behest of the ruler of Sirmaur, Maharaja Shamsher Prakash Shias were in minority. Remarkably, Moharram is still observed in the same manner even after years of Independence by the Sunnis of Sirmaur whose population is more than 20,000. There is hardly any resident Shia now.

Sighting the first new moon, on the beat of drums, assembly is called in four mohallas (area) of the town which have traditional Muslim population, namely Gunughat, Haripur, Ranital and Katcha Talab. In the absence of any Imambara (residence of high priest) or ashur khana (hall of mourning) the ceremony takes place in each mohalla in an open space.

The proceedings start with Rasam Mehndi (ceremony of Henna). Devotees assemble and pray for divine blessings and fulfilment of their desires. Offerings are made in the form of henna, Roti Ki Churi (sweet crumbled bread), Chunni (Veil) and other items in the form of Tabarukh(holy offerings) and cash donations for the expenses.

Chirags (oil lamps) are lighted around small Tajias and two Alums (flag poles) bearing emblem of crossed arrows and a bow, two swords, moon and star, the sign of Ali’s hand or even a shield.

Each Alum of an individual mohalla may have one of these emblems. Marsiya (Mourning Poetry) dedicated to Ali and Hussain is recited. After this Mehndi is carried and every house on the way to the symbolic Imambara offers snacks, sharbat and tea while the reciting of Marsiya goes on.

On the ninth night of the moon the Tajias are carried in procession along with the Alums. Only difference is that Alums are not black and instead have green and red cloth attached and the participants do not wear black robes like Shias.

These Tajias are accompanied by drummers. Young and old men display their swordsmanship, Patta Bazi (stick or sword fight) besides other martial arts, while constant recital of Salam (respect) and prayers to Ali and Hussain carries on.

Most significant ritual of walking on fire barefoot is sometimes led by a local Sunni Ashiq Ali.



Potholed drive to industrialisation

Ruchika M. Khanna comes face to face with lack of infrastructure in Baddi-Barotiwala

From vast tracts of barren and agricultural land to the “promised land” of Himachal — there has been complete economic transformation of the once non-descript Baddi-Barotiwala towns to becoming the most sought after industrial belt of the country.

Till 15 years ago, these towns were amongst the many small hamlets located in the foothills of Himachal Pradesh — almost forgotten by the state administration. But considering their topography (these are mostly plains) these towns now enjoy the pride of place in Himachal, thanks to the rapid industrialisation of this belt. No longer are these the sleepy towns; but the epicentre of the industrial revolution in Himachal. It is only because of the industrialisation here (70 per cent of industry in Himachal is located here) that the GDP of Himachal Pradesh has almost doubled in the past decade.

In the past couple of years — ever since the tax sops for industry in the hill states were announced by the previous NDA government — more than 7,600 industrial proposals have been cleared to be set up in the hill state. Pharma majors Ranbaxy, Wockhardt and Dabur, IT giant Wipro, leading FMCG companies like Godrej and Hindustan Lever and textile major Vardhaman are among the companies to set up their units in the Baddi- Barotiwala-Nalagarh belt of Himachal.

These projects have the potential to employ 2.78 lakh youth of Himachal Pradesh. The state has a population of almost 70 lakh of which over 11 lakh are unemployed. These projects will entail a total investment of Rs 23,000 crore. And it is not just the industry that has set base here and benefited from the tax sops. For the locals, too, this industrial success has been a rags-to-riches story.

This prosperity notwithstanding, the development of infrastructure in this narrow industrial belt, has failed to keep pace with the industrialisation. As a result, it is a potholed drive, through the stagnating waste water on the roads, into the plush driveway of these industries. The government will have to create infrastructure in terms of better roads, bridges, housing, educational facilities and planned townships.



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