Dating the divine

Dalit deities move in and people for animals are demanding an end to the slaughter as modernity clashes with tradition in the celebration of the internationally acclaimed Kulu Dasehra. Is the Dasehra losing its divinity, asks Kuldeep Chauhan

On October 2 all the roads lead to the historic Dhalpur Maidan in Kulu town in the valley of Gods for the world famous weeklong international Kulu Dasehra festival. For local devotees Kulu Dasehra is a great event when over 365 devtas and devis of the valley assemble for a divine get-together. The devtas, carried in palanquins draped in golden or saffron silk are a unique attraction. The dhol, shehnai and nagara and other traditional musical instruments played by the devotees send Kulu town into a divine frenzy. The funny tunes invoke a mood of festivity and divine piety as the deities camp in the Dhalpur Maidan for a week.

New trend

A new phenomenon in the Kulu Dasehra is that even newer deities represented by the dalits, are coming for the divine show the past few years. In the years after independence the dalits are asserting their rights and Dasehra is changing. In fact, when the giant effigies of the Ravana and Kumbhkaran that symbolise the evil empire of mythological Lanka, go up in smoke ending the Dasehra in rest of the country. But that day, the sacred rath of Lord Raghunath, pulled out by thousands of devotees, rolls out on the historic Dhalpur Maidan in Kulu town, heralding the start of the Kulu Dasehra. Unfortunately, if one goes by a series of past events, Kulu Dasehra is under strain from the two major different mindsets — modernists and traditionalists, each trying to prevail upon the other. This heady struggle between them has turned Kulu Dasehra into a theatre for furthering their own agenda, lament devotees. The modernists want to see Kulu Dasehra in a “more democratic modern avatar” shorn of feudal autocracy and political colour. Incidentally, the present scion of the erstwhile Kulu kingdom Maheshwar Singh, who is the Chief Representative of Lord Raghunath, the presiding deity of Kulu Dashera is also a senior BJP leader.

Old order

On the other hand, the traditionalists want to celebrate Kulu Dashehra just as it used to be during the heydays of the then kings of Kulu. Ironically, both want that Kulu Dasehra be kept out of politics, but both indulge in politics accusing each other of dragging devtas into the political arena for furthering their political agendas. Even oracle sessions are re held to look into the merits and demerits of development projects. The three major disputes remain unresolved. First relates to the Kardars of two Devtas —Balu Nag and Shringa Rish both from Banjar — for occupying a place to the right of Lord Raghunath for the Rathyatra in Dhalpur Maidan. The Kardars of both devtas claim their respective right to occupy the place as a tradition. In fact, the dispute arose over the years as Balu Nag devta, believed to be an avatar of Lord Laxman, did not come for years for Dasehra, and Shringa Rishi, a guru of Lord Raghunath, occupied his place’.

The Kulu police has decided to impose section 144 for not allowing Balu Nag to participate in the rath yatra on Dhalpur Maidan as a preventive measure as once the dispute had erupted into violence, reveals a member of the Kulu Dasehra Committee.

Disputed devata

All efforts put in by the Kardars’ Sangh at resolving the dispute have failed so far. The Kardars of Balu Nag have been protesting every year that they have been denied their right to participate in the rath yatra. They even refused the nazarana paid to each of the devtas by the KDC. The Kardars of Shringa Rishi claim Kardars’ Sangh in 2001 had supported them, but Balu Nag devotees rejected the decision, saying that tradition or divinity could not be decided by the human voting. The Kardars of Balu Naag insist that only Lord Raghunath is authorised to settle the dispute during the  ‘Jagati Pooch’, a ritual in trance in which He decides by choosing one of the two names wrapped in a piece of paper. Secondly, the modernists charge that as a representative of Lord Raghunath, Maheshwar Singh should not be carried in a palanquin carried by men during the ‘Jaleb’ ceremony and during ‘Lanka Dahan’ ceremony at the bank of the Beas River on the last day. It smacks of feudalism, they claim.

Animal sacrifice

Even champions of animal rights demand that animal sacrifice of the eight innocent creatures during the Ashtang sacrifice to enact the Lanka Dahan be stopped be held as a symbolic sacrifice. But the traditionalists believe if they even think of stopping the sacrifice they will incur the wrath of the goddess Hidimba Devi, who comes from Manali, her native home, and is the chief guest of Lord Raghunath during Dasehra.

Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh last year kicked up another issue when he declared that the government would create the Raghunath Temple Trust at Sultanpur Kulu. His proposal raised the ire of Maheshwar Singh, who claimed, there was no need for such a trust as his ancestors have worshiped Lord Raghunath as the Kul Devta down the line.

Virbhadra Singh had said that the devtas were not a personal property of particular individual, but belong to all of them”. On other hand Maheshwar Singh had claimed that the temple was well-maintained and welcomed devotees as and when they wanted to visit the temple during the visiting hours.

Even the VVIPs, who come for Dasehra create hassle for the visitors and tourists, who do not find accommodation in Kulu town during Dasehra, complain stall owners. “The most hotels and government rest houses are booked for the cultural troupes and artistes for the cultural nights”. Even then Punjab government, when Kulu was part of it, had issued an official circular stating that no VIP would visit Kulu during the Kulu Dasehra. “The idea was bring more tourists and visitors from all over the country. Last year over dozen visitors visited during the Kulu Dasehra”. The entire staff was devoted to look after the VIPs and their families that sapped most of Kulu Dasehra Committee’s time, money and energy, while the management of Dasehra festivities suffered.

In fact, the circuit house and rest houses and even private and HPTDC hotels are booked in advance for the VIPs during the Dasehra, while tourists are thrown out even if they have booked those places, local residents reveal.

As a result, local handicrafts and handlooms stalls do not find enough buyers. “For tourists there were no proper cleanliness, no new attractions as nothing new has been added to attract the visitors here”, rues Rathna Raul, who runs a fast food joint in Bhunter. Even the KDC books the private hotels owned by the party in power, regardless of whether or not they have facilities or the rooms are occupied or not”, reveal locals. The dasehra committee members express their helplessness, disclosing that the politicians decide the priorities during the festival. “The VIPs come here then administration is bound by a protocol”, says an official.

The Kardars believe that “petty politics has taken its toll on the sanctity of the Kulu Dashera since Maheshwar Singh joined the BJP in 1978. “But only people play politics, not the devtas”. Is the Kulu Dasehra losing its divinity? The Kardars and devotees raise concern, demanding that KDC should resolve issues with consensus in the bud itself. “The Kulu Dasehra must maintain its “rich traditional flavour and colour” without offending the tastes and values of the modern democratic society”, comments a writer from the Kulu valley.



HIllside view
Parents, let them grow and go…
by Vepa Rao

What I say here may pain some parents a bit. But please do think about it. Nobody likes injections, nobody likes surgery — but we take them when there is no choice. Life demands that we keep modifying our notions, attitudes— without disturbing our ethos, basic values, essential strengths. If we stand rigidly, dogmatically against the changing times, we will break— just like those brittle straws in the wind.

Let me tell you the story of Vashi, a bright and charming girl from Sirmour. Twelve years ago, a leading lady star of television came to Shimla. Out of hundreds of students “dying to join” her famous programme, she picked up Vashi, who had done Journalism from H.P. University. Vashi was to get the contract and join the organization in Delhi within 15 days. A dream come true, a celebration time on the campus.

The joy was short-lived! Vashi’s parents, educated and working, wanted her to complete her M.A. in English by next year, and go on to become a teacher. How could she “manage” in Delhi? How could she waste a year’s study in M.A so far? Wouldn’t teaching be a better career? Her father expected her professor to dissuade her from going to Delhi. But the teacher, who had already arranged her stay in Delhi in a close friend’s home did not oblige her father. At the end of a hectic emotional battle, she had to give in.

Vashi completed M.A, did a computer course, and was married off to a nice boy, into an affectionate family. But somewhere in her heart rankles that botched up dream. To get such an offer, that too twelve years ago— what a star she would have become by now! Salaries of some of her juniors in the electronic media are well over Rs 1 lakh a month these days. Instead, she took up a part-time newspaper assignment years later, just to appease herself.

Boys’ case is only slightly better. Aman, along with two other batch-mates, joined a leading media outfit in Delhi this winter during their internship there. A bright career was ahead for this sincere, young fellow. His mother met me and the other teachers asking about his “future prospects”. She went back unconvinced. Aman grappled with his mother’s entreaties. She wanted him to come back and join MBA and later work “closer to home”, preferably in Shimla. He has recently bounced back — the dropped opportunity casting a shadow on his happiness.

Yet another case— a hard-working boy for whom we had big dreams, joined a leading TV channel in the south along with many from Shimla last year. He quit within months “on health grounds” and is back here. His mother is happy. He has started the job-hunt all over again.

A modern profession and a good married life can go well together. It depends on individuals. The answer lies in equipping them to handle such situations— not in shunning these professions. And, a happy marriage is not guaranteed if a girl becomes a teacher, or a boy becomes a government employee. Sarkari naukhri is no longer the mantra for a “settled life”. Most of the young ones want corporate jobs, a rapid rise in career, a different style of living. Can we stop this new generation?

But there are Vashi’s all around even today. Amans too. Many parents allow them a choice of courses, but not careers— they go along for a while, thinking dekha jaiga (we’ll see) if and when a ‘job situation’ arises. Their fear of modernity and life in big cities springs mainly from the melodramatic stuff fed by movies, tele-serials, and the bloated reports of such things in the ‘news’ media. And from the ill-formed opinions and advice of the ‘know-all’ friends and relatives. In other words, these children may dream their own way, but are allowed to live only the dreams of their parents.

Himachal is passing through a silent revolution of a kind — massive industrialisation and its first signs of consumerism are there to see. The electronic media is giving even homes in far-flung villages a taste of glamour, modern mindsets and aggressive life-styles. Rising ambitions have made contentment a forsaken concept. This transition, requiring a balance between modernity and tradition, is particularly painful for the young ones. They need courage and wise backing from their elders. And timely guidance from good teachers who often see their students’ merits which over-protective parents may overlook.

We cannot tie our children to our apron-strings and define happiness for them. Neither can we let them dictate the terms of our own happiness. We must see the new grammar emerging in these relationships. These children moving from an agrarian to an industrial culture resent when we summon them to attend a distant relatives’ marriage, a hawan, a mundan ceremony in the neighbourhood. We have no option—we must learn to accept their preferences on many matters. Culture is best preserved through inspiration— not imposition.

All parents fear for their off-springs’ safety. But they can’t insulate them from the harsh realities of life. The only way is give them strong wings, teach them to fly, and let them go where they want to. Let them work outside the state, toughen up a bit, learn to handle the big bad world there. The breeze from that world has begun to blow into our hills, anyway…



Saving a dying art
Vibhor Mohan

Aggressive marketing and training avenues. If you though these were the two key things missing for proper promotion of the Kangra school of paintings, the district administration has chalked out a detailed plan to save the dying art.

The three main temples in the district—Chamunda Devi, Brajeshwari Devi and Jwalaji—are imparting training to artistes on the temple premises and their work is being put up for sale at Kangra Museum.

To facilitate marketing of the paintings, the administration has tied up with a NRI, Mr Akshey Ranchal, who has offered to sponsor the artistes and take their work to the public.

Deputy Commissioner Bharat Khera says some of the extraordinary paintings have also been scanned and put on the Inernet. It has generated interest from art lovers and many orders have been placed on the Net itself.

“The temples are now offering a platform to upcoming artistes by putting them on the rolls. While some of the paintings are sold out in the temples itself, the rest are brought to the museum,” he says.

There is also a proposal to set up workshops of Kangra paintings in the Tourist Information Centre, to be set up in these three temples shortly. “This would bring the paintings in public eye and make up for the lack of marketing. We are bringing out brochures on selected paintings, which would have a picture of the painting and text on the theme on the back,” he says.

Texts of the Gita Govinda, Bhiari’s Satsai, and the Baramasa of Keshavdas are the main themes to the Kangra painters. Krishna and Radha as eternal lovers could be found in every other painting. The Kangra miniatures are also noted for portraying the famine charm with a natural grace. The paintings based on Ragmalas (musical modes) also found patronage in Kangra.

The ‘barah masi’ series, based on the 12 months are also very popular among the art lovers. The greenery of the landscape, brooks, and springs are the recurrent images on the miniatures. The colors are usually extracted from minerals, vegetables and possessed enamel-like luster.

It is believed that during the rule of Sansar Chand (1775-1823) of the great Katoch dynasty, the Kangra School flourished happily. The legend has it that Sansar Chand’s love for a gaddi maiden drove him to commission the paintings.

The Kangra Fort, where he used to hold court, had paintings displayed all over and it attracted art lovers from far and wide. Later he moved his capital to Nadaun and finally to Sujanpur Tira. The temples and palaces at each of these places were also adorned with miniature paintings. The 1905 earthquake damaged many of these buildings but one can still see some of the miniature wall paintings. 



shimla Diary
Charity ends at home

For so many people these days ‘charity not just begins at home’ but ends there too. Not being any different, the Transport Minister, Mr G.S. Bali, too has no qualms in giving priority in getting government projects, schemes and even jobs for the people of his constituency, Nagrota Bagwan in district Kangra.

It was not just the Opposition, which cried hoarse about the unfair and disproportionate number of youth from Nagrota Bagwan getting jobs as conductor in the Transport Department but even the Congress ministers and legislators complained about it openly.

Not the one to be cowed down by such criticism, Mr Bali did it once again when at the National Road Safety and Transport Development Commission meeting held here, he managed to get maximum benefit for his own constituents. He got a Trauma Care Centre approved by the Union Transport Minister, Mr T.R. Baalu for Nagrota along with another on for Rohru.

When it came to providing another facility like vehicle interceptor, Mr Bali once again had only Nagrota in mind. It is learnt that one of the two national highways that the Centre intends granting to Himacahl shortly, will start from Nagrota instead of the earlier proposal of it starting from Mcleodganj. The people of Nagrota might consider themselves lucky for having a very resourceful representative but others feel that it is by denying them their right that the Transport Minister is pampering his own men.

Fighting for a cause

A workshop on advocacy for having deafblindness as a separate disability under the amendments of the Disability Act 1995 was held here last week.
It was the state branch of the National Association for Blind and Sense International who organised the workshop. Out of a population of one billion, there are about 4.25 lakh persons suffering from deafblindness in the country. Speaking on the occasion the Deputy Director (Programme) Sense, Ms Sumitra Mishra, said unfortunately out of this number of deafblind in the country the needs of only about 3,500 were being taken care of.

She stressed the need for including MMR (measles, mums, rubella) vaccine under the compulsory vaccination programme so as to prevent deaf and blindness. “Out of the 3,500 deafblind persons who are being trained in India, 70 per cent acquired the disability because of rubella,” she stated.

Zameer, Advocacy Officer with Sense International, India and suffering from the disability shared his personal experiences with those attending the workshop. “It was at the age of eight while I was attending a school for hearing impaired children that I started loosing my vision as a result of which I had to finally leave school,” he said.

It was much later that he was able to join the Hellen Keller Institute for Deafblind and learnt computers, English, maths and the sign language.
The participants stressed the need for having an appropriate definition of deafblindness under the section of disability in the Act and demanded that deafblind children should be included as a unique group. They further said that in order to meet the unique needs of deafblind children, an appropriate professional and technical education programme should be developed. They also demanded that a representative of an NGO working with deafblind people and a deafblind person should be included in the Central and State Coordination Committees.

Woman as decision maker

A-week-long UGC programme on the Capacity Building for Women Managers in Higher Education was organised by the Centre for Adult, Continuing Education and Extension at the Himachal Pradesh University (HPU). The main objective of the workshop was to focus on sensitisation and awareness building of women managers in higher education and to stimulate women to become administrators by providing the requisite skills. Over 45 participants from various colleges of the state and outside and senior faculty members attended the workshop.

Speaking on the occasion the Vice-Chancellor, Prof L.R. Verma stressed the need for educating the girl child for development of a healthy society. “It is due to lack of motivation and social support that women have not been able to surge ahead in the field of management,” he opined. In her keynote address, Ms Pam Rajput said there was an urgent need for providing equal opportunities to women at all levels, especially in decision-making. “Women academicians all over the world, particularly in management are under represented as male culture still prevails,” she said.



Naldehra greens
Roshni Johar

Greenery, golf, pahari culture…Naldehra showcases all. Only 22 km from Shimla, Naldehra (2044 mt) nestles on edge of dense conifers’ grove on a green glade having two small circular water ponds, once belonging to Raja of Koti, with a grand view of Saila peak. On its fringes, is an ancient exquisite pahari temple of Mahunag Devta Naldeo from where Naldehra takes its name.

A traveler finds himself in a place, of which little is known. Himachal’s history reveals that despite the British Raj’s annual exodus to work in summer capital Shimla’s cool climes, they still desired a place for occasional escapes from tedious ‘despotism of despatch boxes.’ They found this in Naldehra, lured by its sheer scenic charm and close proximity. A journey on horseback or by rickshaw takes about two to three hours. The angrez sahibs, memsahibs and babalog with their retinue of khansamas/khidmatgars, pitched their tambus here on weekends despite the leopards. Lords Dufferin and Lansdowne adored Naldehra. Lady Lytton in her letter of June 16, 1878 described its idyllics, often relishing food on its grassy slopes.

On this scene, entered Lord Curzon (1899-1905), a Laat Sahib completely beguiled by India, nay all that’s orient. This British Viceroy was so enchanted by Naldehra’s sylvan charm that he immediately gave it as a second name to his one-year old daughter, being called Lady Alexandra Naldehra. He often functioned from a big tent here, preferring it to imposing Viceregal Lodge.

It was on one of these excursions that a golf course’s idea was born. Lord Curzon personally supervised the layout of country’s perhaps oldest and most challenging course. Old Thacker Spinks ‘Guide to Simla’ mentions the golf course.

Legend reveals golf glade’s bare look. Heat of a fierce battle between two local devtas, burnt forests, melting limestone rocks, leaving only grassy slopes.

Creating a niche in sport of golf, today it’s a prime property of Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation that runs the Naldehra Golf Club as promotional activity. Golf in Naldehra is guided by rules of Royal and Ancient Club of St. Andrews, its byelaws framed to suit local conditions. It popularises golf, provides equipment/opportunity to budding golfers and holds tournaments.

The former Chief Minister, Dr. Y.S. Parmar, former Governors, Mr. R.K.S. Gandhi and Mr. Surindra Nath, are among prominent personalities who golfed here. The Lahore-Shimla Goodwill Golf Tournament was held in 2004.

Many caddies, who maintained springing turf, became seasoned golfers in their own right. Picnics on slopes are banned, preventing trampling on manicured greens. Named after golf, Naldehra houses Hotel Golf Glade and log huts among deodars, having pony rides or treks.

A stopover en route to hot sulphur springs of Tattapani, Naldehra is a popular destination for Bollywood film makers. Films like Kudrat, Diwana, Achanak, Pardesi Babu, Pyar Jhukta Nahin, etc. being shot here. The annual Sipi fair held nearby is a big draw with paharis.



Dress code for the hills

It is the dress code of thepeople and more so the women of a place that reflects the culture of apeople, their pride as well as in many cases their prejudice. The ethnic dolls of Himachal Pradesh represnt the people themselves and the colourful dresses add warmth to the cool climate of the hills. The Chamba doll (extreme left) wears a check woolen frock over her chooridars and a yellow odhni on her head. The Lahauli dolls (centre) are fully draped in woolens to keep away the chill and caps crown their heads. The Shimla doll (left) wears a long dress over her chooridars and the headgear is a yellow scarf. The dolls are adroned with jewels special to a particular region of the hill state.



Queen of hills to breathe again
Rakesh Lohumi

The ‘queen of hills’ may finally get respite from the irritating traffic jams sparing lakhs of tourists, who throng the hill resort round the year, of the parking blues shortly. The government has prepared a comprehensive Rs 100 crore project to decongest the city under which the more than century old Cart road (now known as Circular road) will be upgraded to a double lane highway. Besides, six parking –cum-shopping complexes will be built to create parking space for about 2,000 vehicles.

The tunnel near Auckland House will be lowered by about 10 m and converted into a double lane traffic tunnel to help circumvent the 600 m narrow stretch of the Circular road skirting the Government Girls College at a cost of Rs 6.5 crore. The crumbling curved wall supporting northern portal of Victory tunnel will also be redone to widen the road.

Double laning of the existing highway from Barrier to Victory tunnel will be undertaken. The Circular road here will be widened up to the Sanjauli bypass in the north and up to Bamloe on the southern side. In all about 12 km of road length will upgraded at an estimated cost of Rs 50 crore.

A proposal to provide two more links to the by pass road from the circular road is also in the pipeline. The first plan will take off from Bamloe and join the bypass near Tutikandi. The second link will join the Navbahar road to meet the bypass below Sanjauli. It will provide a second bypass to the congested Sanjauli locality. Each of the link-road will be about 4 km in length and the total cost will come to about Rs 40 crore. The project will be implemented as part of the Jawahar Lal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission.

The portion between Bamloe and Sanjauli has already been widened, while new road to bypass the congested Sanjauli Bazar and the Dhalli tunnel is already under construction. It is likely become operational by October 2007. As such the entire circular road and the portions of the highway falling between Dhalli and Barrier will be upgraded.

Multi-storied parking-cum-shopping complexes will be constructed at Sanjauli near the existing PWD parking, Indira Gandhi Medical College, near the divisional forest officer’s office Nigam Vihar. Surprisingly the most essential parking complex, which was to be built at the abandoned railways goods yard has not been included in the project. The state has been pursuing the proposal with the Ministry of Railways and both Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav, the minister concerned, and Mr Nitish Kumar, his predecessor, had agreed to execute it jointly with the state agencies. Apparently, the proposal was not pursued seriously at the official level. It is the most important parking project as the site is close to both the railway station and the bus stand where hardly any parking space is available at present.

In the second phase the municipal roads will also be widened and wherever possible the existing ambulance roads will be upgraded to regular vehicular roads. The objective is to get rid of roadside parking of vehicles. At present the residents of the localities, which are not connected with a motorable roads, park the vehicles on the circular road creating traffic hurdles.



New look for Dalhousie Youth Hostel
Balkrishan Prashar

Dalhousie’s Youth Hostel has undoubtedly helped in putting the popular virgin hill station of Dalhousie on the International map of tourism by connecting it to International Online Booking Network recently. The youth hostel has done a tremendous job by bringing the hill station to the limelight thereby giving a much-needed fillip to the thriving tourism industry of this picturesque alpine region. In the 1970’s, the then Dalhousie Municipal Committee President Amir Chand Mahajan in his representation to Dr Karan Singh the then Union Minister for Tourism to sanction some project for Dalhousie, which could give a boost to tourism in this wooded hill town. The Union Minister visited Dalhousie and sanctioned the construction of a youth hostel, which was meant for promoting youth tourism and youth activities.

Commissioned in 1972, the youth hostel of Dalhousie was constructed by the Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. Since then the youth hostel has been attracting the youth to this virgin hill station. The Youth Hostels Association of India (YHAI) started national-level winter trekking at Dalhousie in 1993 and since then this programme has become an attraction among trekkers from all across the country. This is also contributing to the economical development of the place, especially during the winter.

Of late, the International Youth Hostels Federation (IYHF) President Dr Harish K Saxena has termed this hostel to be of minimum required international standards and hence this youth hostel has also been listed in the IYHF brochures. ‘Nature study for students’ – of the age group of 10 to 15 years at this youth hostel is one more programme started here.

The main objective of the youth hostel is to provide good accommodation at nominal tariff and serve as a home away from home for the traveling youth where stress is laid on a disciplined way of life. Consequently, the 90-bedded youth hostel has been attracting students and youth groups from different states of the country and foreign tourists from 16 nations across the world.

Lauding the phenomenal growth of this hostel in the recent years, Mr. Ashok Thakur, Principal Secretary of Youth Services and Sports, Government of Himachal Pradesh, who is also the chairman of the Hostel Management Committee claims that since the hostel has been linked to the ‘International Online Booking Network’, it has put Dalhousie on the International map of tourism and providing easy access to the foreign tourists.

The other adventure activities of the hostel include trekking for student groups and river crossing besides interacting with the villagers living in the difficult mountainous terrains about the varied culture of Himachal Pradesh state.

To relish the great delicacies of various parts of the hill region by the youths is also a part of their ‘village tourism programme.



In sync with time: Soods

There is a radical change among the Soods of Himachal who were once known as the Banias of the hills, says Akshay Sood

Members of the Sood community along with Khatris and Mahajans were the principal castes engaged in business in the Kangra and Hoshiarpur hill regions. The Kangra Gazetteer (1883-84) equated them with the Banias of the plains. Pahari (uchandia) Soods invariably originated from Garli-Pragpur, Jwalamukhi, Dehra, Amb and Palampur areas of Kangra. They found their Diaspora in Shimla where they took over the place of the missing commercial castes. Their fortunes got linked with the British Sarkar, around 1840. The 3 S - Shimla, Soods and Sarkar got interlinked since. The Sood oldies, fondly recall the leading role of the community in establishing and nurturing Shimla.

Early settlement

Later on, Soods migrated to other areas as Jubbal, Kotkhai, Rohru, Rampur, Kullu, Solan etc. They were mostly commission agents (arhatiyas), moneylenders, retailers and wholesalers. Rai Sahab Puran Mal, Devi Saran, Mela Ram etc. were the earliest leading business figures. Soods excelled as lawyers also. Justice Jai Lal (1880-1975) from Pragpur, rose to become a Judge of Lahore High Court in 1924, till he retired in 1941. His grandson Vijay Lal, has some time back converted his ancestral home in Pragpur in Dehra tehsil into a heritage home, Judges Court, which nowadays is the cynosure of the foreign and affluent domestic tourists.

Leading businessmen like Rai Bahadurs Jodha Mal and Mohan Lal prospered from the lucrative timber trade. Jodha Mal invested his earnings in charities, building sarais at Dharamshala, Jubbal, Jawalamukhi, Hardwar etc. The Rajendra Prasad Medical College at Tanda (Kangra) has been established on the sprawling TB sanitarium premises established by him. In Shimla, Ram Mandir Serai, Puran Mal Serai, Butail Serai, Bindu Raj Dharamshala, are contributions of this community.

Social dos

Caste consciousness, relative numerical strength and organisation helped this community to emerge as a strong force in Shimla. Their scion dominated Arya Samaj, Santan Dharam Sansathan and the local Bar Association, at one time. In the natal areas of Kangra, this service caste not only suffered the disadvantage of numerical weakness, but its ritual status too was low. Economic opportunities too were lacking in the arid Kangra hills. Migration to Shimla hills, Kullu and other small towns made ‘passing’ possible (to use MN Srinivas’s sociological term) and the community was able to don new cultural robes.

Unlike the old times, when most Sood families went back during winters to their ancestral villages, to renew their agnatic links, today, the trend is on the decline. The crumbling havelis in Garli-Pragpur, Haroli, Jawalamukhi, Dehra Amb, Ambota and Pir Saluhi etc. bear testimony to these tenuous links.

Future perfect

Like all other communities, the cultural and social morals of the community are also changing under the impact of modernisation and westernisation. Inter-caste marriages are on the increase. Younger generation is looking outwards, towards modern professions/occupations and education. Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh and phoren lands are their new Diasporas. Purdah i.e. ghoonghat among women is rightly on the decline. And therein lies the big leap to modernity and universal values. The rivulet-like existence of this community faces the challenge of merger with the mainstream urban river. The process is inevitable and irreversible. In another few decades, it may very well become a truly modern, urbane community, having only a remote connection with its agnatic lands.



Nature’s Splendour
The Great Himalayan National Park in Kulu valley is an example of how an area can be preserved along with its pristine beauty if given due attention, says Vishal Gulati

Sartoo glacial pond located in the Great Himalayan National Park at an altitude of 3,500m.
Picture perfect: Sartoo glacial pond located in the Great Himalayan National Park at an altitude of 3,500m.

If you are the one who loves to enjoy virgin nature, wildlife and exquisite flora and fauna, the Great Himalayan National Park in Kulu district is a perfect destination to visit.

Blessed with magnificent glaciers, lofty mountains and gurgling streams, the park is an ideal getaway for tough trekkers. The beauty of the 754 sq km park is that it is untouched by any road network.

The overwhelming silence in the park makes one wonder whether the park is devoid of animal life. But it is everywhere. You just have to locate them. For this, one should be vigilant and have knowledge of flora and fauna species.

The dense forests are home to 203 species of aves, including the western tragopan, an endangered species, the monal, the koklas and the chir. Similarly, the park supports 31 species of mammals, three reptiles, nine amphibians and 127 insect species, besides 425 species of flora. The park has the largest remaining population of the Himalayan thar in India.

Starting with an altitude of 1,700m, the highest peak within the park approaches almost 5,800m.


The general climate is quite temperate and the best time for visiting the park is April to May and September to October. In the winter, the possibility of snow storms is more. Snowfall occurs throughout the park. There are 49 glaciers of varying sizes.

Trekking routes

The park has four valleys — Tirthan, Sainj, Jiwa Nal and Parvati. The boundaries of the park are connected to the Pin Valley National Park, the Rupi-Bhawa Wildlife Sanctuary and the Kanawar Wildlife Sanctuary. The valleys offer moderate to strenuous treks.

The all-weather road from Aut to Gushaini is 52 km. Gushaini, which is located 8 km before the park, is the last village connected by road. From here, one can trek to Tirthan valley.

Starting from Aut, the 46-km road in Sainj valley ends at Neuli, where the trekking starts. Five km before Neuli is Ropa village from where a gravel road climbs up to Shangarh, which is famous for its large meadows. In the Sainj valley, the trek beyond Shakti and between Neuli and Bah is in poor condition and requires care.

On the Sainj road, about 35 km from Aut, is Siund village, where the Jiwa river meets the Sainj river. Siund is the starting point for reaching Jiwa Nal valley.

From Manikaran, one can reach up to Barshaini, which is the starting point of popular treks up to Mantalai and further up to the Pin-Parvati pass (5,319m altitude).

From Kulu, Bhuntar and Aut regular bus and taxi services are available for reaching Sainj and Tirthan valleys.

Ecozone tours

The ecozone areas are adjacent to the park and provide a combination of natural and cultural experience. The best time to visit the park is during Dasehra when hundreds of local deities are brought to Kulu from surrounding villages. An exciting display of people, music, costumes, etc, fills the air with the spiritual festivities.

The other important festivals are Basant Panchami, Phagli, Sainj mela and Banjar mela.

Lapah and Ghat Seri villages have sacred tree groves. Almost every village has a temple. Some of the ancient temples like the Pagoda style temple of Manu Rishi, Thakur’s tower in Shenshar valley and temples of Gushaini and Galiar with wooden carvings are of great architectural interest.

The ecozone contains 160 small villages with a population of nearly 14,000 persons.

In addition, there are two wildlife sanctuaries adjacent to the park — Sainj (90 sq km) and Tirthan (61 sq km).

Trek preparations

A trekker should be physically fit and determined to climb up to 4,000m. Some trekking routes are strenuous like crossing the Pin-Parvati pass demands excellent physical health and stamina, basic mountaineering skills, serious trekking experience, snow walking and orientation.

There are 14 inspection huts inside the park for trekkers. A local guide will be of help in selecting a place to camp.


There is a fee for entering the park. Rates for Indians are lower than foreigners, who enter the park.



A peep into past
Jagmeet Y. Ghuman

Coin collection is not just a hobby for him. Rather, it’s a passion of peeping into the history of every single coin that Ankur Bansal gets hold of. He’s been doing it from the age of seven, and now, when he is in his late twenties, his hobby has become his commitment. Ankur, who hails from the quaint hill town of Kasauli, has travelled many ancient places in North India to claim his hunger for coin collection.

The prime sources of his coin collection are the places where his relatives reside. He’s been helped a lot by his uncle based in USA, in collecting rare and unique coins of foreign countries for him. As of now, Ankur can boast of coins of almost every country in the world. Ankur’s room in his home at Kasauli can simply be called a small world of coins. Not only has he collected the vast stock of coins, but also priceless antique items like age old medals, old watches and furniture lying well placed in his room. Ankur has also treasured some very old copies of foreign newspapers. As per him, coin collection provides a real time to peep into the past and has its own charm and splendour.

The great history of our country has inspired him to collect coins of every era. He says the 2500 years long history of India had witnessed a rise of various ruling dynasties that issued coins of various metals. “India was the pioneer in issuing coins much earlier than any other country even thought of them. Gold being cheaper, the earliest coin in ancient India was that in silver. With burgeoning population, flourishing trade and commercial activity, seals were introduced. Seals were small, non-metallic and irregular pieces, stamped with animal figures. These are known to have been used during the Indus valley civilisation. In Dwarika, Lord Krishna’s capital (now submerged) probably some 5500 years ago, seals were used as an identity proof for people entering the kingdom vis-a-vis being used as a mode of exchange”.

While sharing his analysis on coin history, he elaborates the emergence of new and distant markets that marked the introduction of regular and standardised stamped metal pieces. “Bearing the mark of a responsible authority, coins brought about a metamorphic change in the exactness of weight and quality of metal. Metal was first melted and then treated with alkalies before being beaten into sheets. These sheets were cut into pieces and finally stamped with dies having symbols. Kautilya’s ‘Arthasastra’, compiled in the fourth century B.C. provides a peek into this coin minting process.

Coins, according to Ankur, are a principal source of information about various monarchial states the world over. The social life, culture and flavour manifest itself in a latent manner in the coins of these states”. The coins “Mahamood Gazni and Muhammad Ghori, the early Muslim invaders of India are known as antagonists of Hunduism but their coins tell a different story, Mohamud Gazni had placed the true translation of the Kalima in Sanskrit and in Nagari characters- the language and script of the Hindus. Muhammad Ghori had stamped the figure of Lakshmi on his gold coins and put his name in Nagari characters”.

Expressing concern over the present state of coin-collection, Ankur says that a majority of collectors are not aware of the historical importance of the coins they have. Their only aim is to collect coins for passion or to get a fair deal in case it’s a rare collection. Such collections should be looked upon as an investment just like stocks, antiques, gold and other works of art and not merely a hobby. The collectors should keep themselves abreast about the finer nuances of coin collection. Research opportunities for the coin collectors are enough as this field remains much to be explored, Ankur sums up.



Forgotten Creator
Kiran Deep

SILENT SUFFERER: The Brahmhuti temple at Una remains neglected by both people and the administration. Photo by the writer
SILENT SUFFERER: The Brahmhuti temple at Una remains neglected by both people and the administration. Photo by the writer 

You have heard people often complaining about God neglecting his favourite creatures, but people neglecting Him? Unheard of. But true. Brahma, the creator of the universe and of all beings, is suffering this very fate.

If you are having difficulty believing this, pay a visit to the Brahmhuti temple, which was built during the period of Mahabharata, to dedicate to Brahma who had worshiped here in Handola village at Una, from what one hears from the local priests and villagers.

The temple is situated on the bank of Sutlej at the backdrop of a hill covered with lush green trees. The view is magnificent and the crystal-clear water of the river rejuvenates one. A bath in the river here is considered to be sacred. But you will hardly find any devotees.

“The reason of this temple for not getting recognition as many people still fear to worship Brahma. As per the mythology, Brahma decided to perform a yagna at Pushkar, but his wife Savitri was late in joining him. Later when she came and found Brahma performing yagna with another woman, she cursed Brahma that he would only be worshiped at Pushkar. People still believe that the only place in the world where worshipping Brahma is considered auspicious is Pushkar,” according to the head priest of the temple, Mr Mahesh Giri.

“Though we requested many officials and politician to visit the temple, but none of them have ever done. The people still keep distance from this temple because of its myth. The affair of the temple is being run through donations which is barely enough for the langar. However, on Baisakhi and some other festivals, a large number of people visit this place to pay obeisance” he added.

However this is not the only reason. Pilgrims from far-flung areas of the state and other places coming here have to track several kilometers on this hilly area to reach the temple, which is devoid of road connectivity. Despite the existence of the temple, which has both historical as well as religious value, the place has not attracted the attention of the Tourism Department or any other concerned authority to put this place in tourist map.

The temple has witnessed a little renovation in past few years. Earlier, the old temple remained submerged in Sutlej following a high-rise in the riverbed. Only when it declined, the temple re-emerged. However, it is said till 50 years ago, the temple area enjoyed protection and patronage from the authority and people.

People living in this area feel this place has enormous tourist potential and inflow of the tourists would help out the locals to earn additional income. Majority of the locals here are having small land-holdings or running roadside shops.



Crisis in a coffee cup
Vibhor Mohan

The favourite hang-out of intelligentsia in Dharamsala, the Indian Coffee House, is on the verge of closure.

With net losses running over 35 lakh, the coffee house authorities say they are unable to meet the demand of the Municipal Council to hike the building rent and the head office of the Indian Coffee Workers’ Co-operative Society Limited in Delhi has already given a go-ahead to close down the cafe.

It was, in fact, the district administration that had approached the society for setting up a coffee house in Dharamsala in 1991 as ‘the town was next only to Shimla in the number of government offices, with a sizable population.’ But the conditions of the coffee house have been deteriorating over the years due to the indifference of the same administration.

Mr P.D.Pradeep, Manager of the ICH, told The Tribune, that contrary to the initial promises, no separate entry to the coffee house was provided. “Most people don’t even know the location and the way to the coffee house. There is liquor vend on one side and the other route is too filthy for quality customers. We were asked to set up the coffee house urgently and the pending works were to be completed immediately but nothing has been done,” he says.

Leaking roofs, open sewerage, dirty toilets and perennial shortage of water supply have added to the woes of the coffee house. The coffee house authorities have also been repeatedly raising the demand for a parking lot in the area for its clientele.

The LPG storage of the coffee house also poses a danger to the shopping complex as the vegetable vendors set the garbage on fire next to the storage tank and there could be an explosion anytime. “We have asked the MC to shift the tank as it has a capacity of 16 LGP cylinders and there could be major fire,” he said.

Till about two years back, the administration used to avail the services of the coffee house at its official functions but this regular source of income too has dried up.

Known for its delicious south Indian dishes, the Indian Coffee House is one of the 15 such units in this region under the Delhi society. There are nearly 400 such coffee houses in the country, which are a part of the chain.

“We met the Deputy Commissioner and sought remittance of the pending rent of two years. He has assured as to take a sympathetic view of things or else we will have to close down. The staff had not been paid salary for months due to the heavy losses, what to talk of paying hiked rent,” he said.

Mr Pradeep admitted that lately, there had also been deterioration in the quality of food at the coffee house but he said massive improvement had been made in the last four months. The sales have risen from Rs 800 to Rs 2,000, despite it being rainy season.



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