Saturday, 23 June 2012

Of PRAGPUR’s Cobbled Streets & Mud Houses


PragpurWith its idiosyncratic architecture and unusual zest to promote itself as a tourist location, Pragpur can be an unusual little town. Located in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, Pragpur was part of the Principality of Jaswan whose chief, in the late 16th or early 17th Century decided to venerate Princess Prag of his royal lineage by building a town and naming it after her.
PragpurMud House - PragpurNow, mostly a cluster of old mud houses, parts of which have collapsed this place still maintains its rich cultural history. One can still see women cooking in traditional mud ‘choolhas’ or gases, the cow-sheds built in a traditional pattern and houses with low rise ceilings built above the shops in the main bazaar dotted with narrow streets. The core area of Pragpur has been declared a Heritage Village and the surrounding area including Garli has been declared as a Heritage Zone.
Judge Court - PragpurJudge Court - PragpurThe main attraction of this town is The Judges Court, now a heritage structure, built in the 20th century. It also happens to be India’s first heritage country manor. Built in an Indo-European style, this elegant piece of architecture stands amidst a 12-acre orchard consisting of mango, lychee, plum, citrus and exotic trees like camphor, clove and cardamom.
Taal - PragpurTaal - PragpurThe owning Kuthiala Sood family that runs it has been a part of Heritage Village Pragpur since the time it was founded. Legend goes that when this town was established, there was no source of water and hence the then rulers decided to draw water from a source, fifteen kilometers away. They used bamboo as pipes and filled the pond at the main square with water. The pipes were then replaced by iron pipes in the 20th century and they’ve been the same ever since. The pond, called The Taal by the locals is surrounded by many heritage structures. The Nehar Bhavan  a 250 year old structure, Naun, a 150 year old structure, a drinking water facility by the Nehar Committee; Dhunichand Bhardial Serai, a village inn, and a Radha Krishna Temple, which is alive with ‘bhajans’ throughout the day.
Mud HousesThe market is a reminiscent of the mid-British era in northern India during the Raj and the old school architecture hasn’t changed in decades. If anyone remembers the narrow by lanes and markets as filmed in 1942 – A Love Story, this place looks every bit like that and will take you right back in time.
PragpurAs you walk from Judges Court, you will enter dilapidated ruins of a town that once used to be synonymous with a royal town. Narrow by lanes, cobbled roads and the maze of many a mud house later, you will reach the main square. The main square looks nothing short of a set from a movie. A pond in the center, old manors surrounding it, a temple by the side, a group of men playing a local version of Ludo outdoors and beyond them is an alley that leads to the main market.
Baba Sidh TempleAnother interesting place to visit is the Baba Sidh Temple, located about four kilometers from the heritage village. The locals believe that in the Mahabharata, when Arjuna was challenged for a duel by a holy man, it happened here, at the site of the current temple.
The shoot of Rishi Kapoor’s Chintuji, a couple of years ago and the recent shoot of the latest Tata Nano advertisement has created a flurry among the locals, who’ve now been touting themselves as a potential film city and their enthusiasm shows.
The whole layout of the town can be fascinating. Be it way roads were made of cobble stone and the houses made of local mud or how they were among the last ones to ever use locally made thin bricks in construction or how the town in spite of being really tiny, houses two lakes and numerous heritage structures and most of all, how it has managed to stay on this way for so many years.
Unfortunately, the place started falling to ruins from the last half of the previous century due to lack of funds to maintain the grandeur but recent intervention by the Himachal government has led to some damage control. Nevertheless, much has to be done to conserve such places as, these are nothing but history’s gift to us and holding on to them is what will help bridge the gap between the years.
For those who are looking for a detailed insight on this town of medieval Indian architectural reminders, or just interested in the history of the place, one must certainly make a trip to Mr. M.L. Kapoor, a government approved guide for Pragpur. A centenarian of many a virtue, he is the ultimate person to speak to regarding the village, for he is the only one who has kept a track record of all the changes, the place has seen.
How to get there:
By Air – Gagal Airport (Kangra) is at 45 Km. Amritsar International Airport is 170 Km from Pragpur.
By Rail – There are several convenient overnight trains departing Delhi for Pathankot, amongst them the like the Jammu Mail, which leaves at 2100 Hrs, arriving there at 0730 Hrs. It connects to a narrow gauge train of the Kangra Valley Railway System departing Pathankot at 0840 Hrs reaching Guler Station at 1140 Hrs, travelling through lovely countryside giving a panoramic view of the Valley of the Gods as Kangra is known. Guler is 30 km’s from The Judge’s Court.
By Road – From Chandigarh where there are national air and rail links, including the Shatabdi train from New Delhi, the distance is 175 Km’s. This is an easy four hours drive through the historic landscape of Punjab. Taxis are available at all stations. The distance from Amritsar is 170 Km. On 72 Hours advance information, The Judge’s Court can provide pick-up.
Where to Stay
One can either put up at Judges Court, a beautiful manor and an enhancing experience to live at is the budget is right and if high end is not the idea, there are small lodges and home stays available around the market area that offer rooms and food for affordable rates.
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