Dharamsala Travel Guide

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Dharamsala stands on a spur of the Dhauladhar range amidst magnificient deodar and pine forests, tea gardens and beautiful hills.

Lying 526-km northwest of New Delhi, Dharamsala is the headquarters of the Kangra District in the Indian State of Himachal Pradesh. Kangra valley is one of the most pleasant, relaxing and spiritual places in the Himalayas. Marvelously scenic, especially upper Dharamsala is well wooded with oak, cedar, pine and other timber yielding trees and offers some lovely walks and finer views.

In 1855, Dharamsala had only two major areas where civilians settled in: McLeodganj, named after Lieutenant Governor of Punjab "David McLeod", and Forsyth Ganj, named after a Divisional Commissioner.

Lord Elgin, the British Viceroy of India (1862-63) fell in love with the natural beauty of Dharamsala because of its likeness with Scotland, his home. Lord Elgin died in 1863 while on a tour. He now lies buried in the graveyard of St. John's Church-in-Wilderness which stands in a cozy pine grove between McLeod Ganj and Forsyth Ganj.

A Legend has it that Lord Elgin liked Dharamsala so much that he had sent a proposal to the British monarch to make Dharamsala the summer capital of India. However, the proposal was ignored. By 1904, Forsyth Ganj and McLeod Ganj had become nerve centers of trade , business and official work of Kangra District, But on April 4,1905, as a result of a severe earthquake, whole of the area was devastated. Alarmed at the massive destruction, the British government decided to shift the district headquarter offices to the lower reaches of spur. As a result, the present-day district courts and kotwali bazaar areas came into being which earlier had only a jail, a police station and cobbler's shop to boast of. Until India attained independence from Britain on Aug. 15,1947 McLeod Ganj and Forsyth Ganj continued to serve as health resorts and resting places for the British Rulers. But all this changed when the government of India decided to grant political asylum to the 14thDalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatsho, in 1959. In 1960, he was allowed to make McLeod Ganj his headquarters . After his arrival, trade, commerce and tourism picked up afresh. Because with the Dalai Lama came thousands of Tibetan refugees, who gradually settled in McLeod Ganj. During the last three decades, The Tibetans have built many religious, educational and cultural institutions in and around McLeod Ganj, which has helped in preservation of their culture. This has been a keen area of interest for the people around the world and as a result they flock at Dharamsala at various times.

The present Kangra district came into existence on the 1st September 1972 consequent upon the re-organization of districts by the Government of Himachal Pradesh. It was the largest district of the composite Punjab in terms of area till it was transferred to Himachal Pradesh on the 1st November, 1966 and had Six (6) tehsils namely Nurpur, Kangra, Palampur, Dehra Gopipur and Hamirpur. Kullu was also a tehsil of Kangra district up to 1962 and Lahul & Spiti, which also formed a part of Kangra, was created as a separate district in 1960. On the re-organization of composite Punjab on the 1st November, 1966 the area constituting Kangra district were transferred to Himachal Pradesh along with the districts of Shimla, Kullu and Lahul & Spiti and tehsils of Una and Nalagarh and 3 villages of Gurdaspur district.

Kangra Valley

Kangra district derives its name from Kangra town which was called Nagarkot in the ancient times Kangra proper originally was a part of the ancient Trigartha (Jullundur) which comprises of the area lying between the river "Shatadroo" (probably Sutlej) and Ravi. A tract of land to the east of Sutlej, which probably is the area of Sirhind in Punjab also, formed a part of Trigratha. Trigratha had two provinces. One in the plains with headquarters at Jalandur and other in the hills with headquarters at Nagrkot (the present Kangra).

In the time of Harsha, the famous Chinese pilgrim Huien Tsiang visited Jullundur some time in March 635 AD and in his writings he has referred to the principality of Jullundur situated towards the north- east of China-Po-ti (China Bhakti) and towards the south east of Kiu-lo-to (Kullu). From the history of Kashmir given in the Rajtirangini, Raja Shanker Verma (883 to 903) of Kashmir held suzerainty over Prithi Chand of Trigartha.

In ancient times a number of petty chiefs ruled in the hills within their respected domains owning allegiance to the powerful Raja at the center. However, Katoch princes ruled over Kangra from the earliest times. At the time of invasion of Punjab by Alexander in 326 BC Trigartha was ruled by a Katoch prince.

In the beginning of 11th century, Mahmood of Ghazni finished the Turki Shah family and the Hindu Shahi dynasty of Kabul in Afghanistan and after defeating a large Hindu army at Ohind and later at Peshawar, advanced into the plains of the Punjab. After defeating the Hindu king at Lahore he invaded Nagarkot. He was attracted by the prestige of Kangra fort. After defeating the Rajput Raja at Kangra, who had sent most of his men to fight the Muslims elsewhere, Mahmood satisfied his lust for wealth by carrying away on camel backs, enormous wealth of gold and silver from the fort and temple of Kangra. After this storm had passed away, the Katoch kings continued their rule over the Trigarth area undisturbed. Even after the conquest of Lahore by the Turks the Katoch family held some territory of Jullundur in the Plains. However, one lbrahim of Ghazni conquered this territory from the Katoch King Jagdeo Chander in 1070 AD

In1337.Mohd. Tuglak, an Afghan king of Delhi, captured the fort at Kangra in the reign of Raja Priti Chand. In 1351, however, Raja Purab Chand recovered the fort from the Muslims. One of his successors, namely Raja Roop Chand, became ambitious and led an expedition into the plains of Punjab, plundering the country right upto the outskirts of Delhi. This was an act of effrontery which could not be condemned by the Sultan of Delhi. So Firoz Shah Tuglak invaded Kangra, in 1366, to punish the Raja. The fort was surrendered after a long siege. After the death of Roop Chand, his son Singara Chand succeeded to the throne and was ruling over Kangra at the time of the invasion of Timur.

Sher Shah Suri, the Afghan king, who turned out Humayun from India, also captured Kangra in 1540. By 1555, the Muslim influence again declined. Akbar, however, subjugated the entire hill Rajas. Occasionally the hill Rajas rebelled against the imperial authorities, but after a few skirmishes with the Mughal Generals, they submitted and renewed their pledges of loyalty.

Jahangir also became interested in the kingdom of Trigarth of Kangra. He wanted to annex the territory of this state and to capture the fort, because a lot of prestige was attached to the fort of Kangra. It was said that who-so-ever, held the fort was the ruler of hill state. The invasion took place in 1615 under the command of Sheik Farid, Murtaza Khan and Raja Suraj Mal of Nurmal who was in the confidence of Jahangir. The fort could not be captured and after one year the siege had to be given up. Next year, Jahangir under Shah Quli Khan, Mohammed Taqi and Suraj Mal sent another expedition, but Suraj Mal proved unfaithful. The emperor had to send another strong force under Sunder Dass against Suraj Mal and also against the Raja of Kangra. After One year and two months siege, Sunder Dass captured the fort in 1620. The Katoch ruler lost the fort at least for 160 years. The entire state was annexed to the Mughal Kingdom and a strong garrison was left incharge of the fort. In 1622, Jahangir and Begum Nur Jahan came to Kangra via Siba and returned to Delhi via Nurpur and Pathankot. They were fascinated by beauty of the Kangra valley.

In 1752, the weak Mughal rulers of Delhi transferred Punjab to Ahmed Shah Durani. The Afghans could not successfully control these far flung areas from Kabul, so local governors were appointed to administer the territory on the behalf of the Afghan rulers. In 1758, Raja Ghamand Chand was appointed Nazim or Governor of Jullundur Doaba under the Afghans. Ghamand Chand was a brave man and a strong ruler who restore the prestige and glory of Kangra. As he was unable to capture the Kangra fort, he built another fort at Tira Sujanpur on the left bank of the Beas almost opposite to Alampur on a hill overlooking the town. This great ruler died in 1774 and was succeeded by his son Tegh Chand who died after one year in 1775

Kangra then saw the rise of another great ruler Sansar Chand(II). Though the Punjab has been given to the Duranis, the old Mughal officers had been proclaimed their independence in some outlying part of the country. Nawab Saif Ali Khan at Kangra was one such officer. Raja Sansar Chand had an ambition to recapture the fort and in 1781, he called to his aid Sardar Jai Singh of Kanhaya Misal. The Mughal officer surrendered the fort in 1783 but it fell into the hands of the Sikhs. Sansar Chand got the fort after some years by exchanging it with some territory, which he had won in the plains of Punjab. After getting the fort, Sansar Chand revived the tradition and laid a claim to supremacy over all the principalities and hill states of the Jalandur Circle. He made the hill chiefs tributary to himself in his capital at Teera Sujanpur. He erected a great Darbar Hall. For full twenty years he reigned supreme over all the hill states of Kangra, Mandi, Kullu and Chamba. Sansar Chand was well known for his generosity, kindness, bravery, justice and good administration, patronage of art and shewd judgment of men and matters. Sansar Chand was also a great builder. He had beautified many places in the territory ruled over by him. He planted numerous gardens and the one at Alampur is said to have been as beautiful as the Shalimar Gardens at Lahore. However, reckless bravery and unlimited ambition of this great Raja ultimately ruined him. His dream was to regain the far-reaching dominions of his ancestors and even to establish the Katoch rule in the entire Punjab. In 1803-1804, he invaded the plains of Punjab twice but was defeated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In 1805 he annexed a part of Bilaspur state, thus coming in conflict with the Gorkhas, who in the later half of the 18th century moved south to establish their dominion over the entire hilly part of India from Nepal to Kashmir and had actually come up to the river Sutlej. Gorkhas became angry at the annexation of a part of Bilaspur State,. They invaded Kangra, but were defeated. The hill Rajas of Kangra however, were feeling sore against Sansar Chand. They all approached Raja Amar Singh Thapa of Gorkhas through the Raja of Bilaspur to invade Kangra again. In 1806, with the help of the hill chiefs, the Gorkhas defeated Raja Sansar Chand who had to take refuge inside the fort. The country was laid waste and was plundered by the enemies. During the siege of the fort, a state of anarchy prevailed throughout the Kangra valley. The siege lasted for four years. After the Sansar Chand managed to get out of the fort and fled to Tira Sujanpur.

In 1809, Maharaja Ranjit Singh visited Jawalamukhi temple where Sansar Chand met him and entered into a treaty with him. It was agreed that the Maharaja should help Sansar Chand in expelling Gorkhas from the state and that in return the Maharaja would get the Kangra fort along with nearby 66 villages. The combined forces of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Sansar Chand defeated Gorkhas. The fort of Kangra with 66 villages surrounding it, was made over to Ranjit Singh. Dessa Singh Majithia was appointed the Nazim or Governor of the fort and Kangra hills and from that day all states of the Jullundur Circle become tributary to the Sikhs. Sansar Chand returned to Tira Sujanpur where he died in 1823.

Sansar Chand's son, Anirudh Chand succeeded his father in 1823 but he was not destined to rule for a long time. Raja Dhian Singh, the Dogra chief of Jammu, the most powerful man in the Sikh kingdom after Maharaja Ranjit Singh, desired to marry one of the two sisters of Anirudh Chand. For the rulers of the Katoch family, this demand in itself was an insult. Anirudh Chand was adamant not to permit that alliance. The Maharaja got angry and led an expedition against him. Anirudh Chand had to flee and Sikhs occupied the entire state of Kangra.

After the first battle of Sikhs in March 1846, the territory of Punjab lying between the Sutlej and Ravi rivers, including the hill states of Kangra proper and Kullu were ceded to British Government. The entire area, comprising Kangra proper, Kullu and Seraj and the tracts of Lahul-Spiti, was now constituted into the Kangra district, with its headquarters at Kangra. After a few years, the headquarters of district was transferred to Dharmshala because that place was considered cooler and healthier for the British officers and also the slopes of Dhauladhar provided ample room to accommodate in a newly raised local contingent for the army.

THE KANGRA FORT The Kangra Fort was the seat of power of the Katoch Rajas from the time of its 234th Raja, Raja Susharma Chand Katoch, if not from the time of its first legendary Raja, Raja Bhoomi Chand Katoch onwards. It is said to have been founded by Susharma Chand Katoch, an ally of Kauravas in the Mahabarata war. It was the ancient capital of the Katoch kingdom and symbol of power in Punjab Hill States.The Fort is situated on a precipitous cliff overhanging the Ban Ganaga and Manjhi rivers. The ruins still dominate the Kangra valley. One can enter the fort by a narrow path. It was protected by a number of gates named after its winners like Jahangir, Ranjit Singh and the British. At the top of the fort, there was the palace of the Katoch kings.

When Mahmud Ghazni conquered it in 1009, the place was known as Bhima Nagar probably after Bhima, the second of the Pandavas. Muhammed Tughlaq also plundered the fort in 1337 but could not hold it for long. Feroz Tughlaq also invaded Kangra and laid siege of the fort in 1365 AD For six months the siege went on. Raja Rup Chand Katoch exhibited great courage and endurance, but ultimately submitted and offered apologies to the Sultan who with much dignity placed his hand on the back of the Raja.

Jahangir himself states that Akbar could not succeed in capturing the Kangra fort, it was he who did so in 1619-20. Akbar made many attempts to capture the fort but failed. However, his frequent visits to Kangra can also be inferred from the popular song sung in the hill states and elsewhere in the country in praise of Durga Jawalji.

"Nangi-Nangi Peri Mata Akbar Aya, Sone Da Chattar Chadhaya"

Encouraged by the anarchy, which prevailed in the plains, during the reign of Akbar all the chiefs of Hill States, resumed their independence and recovered the tracts of which the Mughals had deprived them. It is found that the states of Kangra, Chamba, Jammu etc. were clashing with one another frequently. Raja Bidhi Chand of Kangra and a number of Rajas of the Hill States were involved in the revolt which took place in 1889-90 AD. The 35th year of Akbar reign.

The Mughals later made friendship with Raja Sangram Dev of Jammu and with his help invaded in 1621. The Mughal forces led by Jahagir’s officers, Qasim Khan and The Raja of Jammu succeed in reducing Kangra. The Mughals entrusted the task to Sundar Das. He along with the forces of Raja Sangram Dev and also of Raja Jagat Singh of Nurpur took over the Kangra Fort the same year. The occupation of the Fort continued with the Mughals from 1621 to 1782. From 1782 to 1785 it remained under the Sikhs. Later the Mughal during the time of Shahjahan captured the Nurpur fort also in 1641.

The fall of the invincible fort of Katoch to the Mughal was possible only with the help of the Hill Rajas adjoining the state of Kangra. The Rajas of Guler and Nurpur and in particular, the Raja of Jammu, played a very important role in helping the Mughal. They were all aware about the secret hideouts of the fort, the style of defence of Kangra Rajas and their internal weakness.

In 1805, General Amar Singh Thapa invaded Kangra and laid siege of the fort for four years. Maharaja Sansar Chand had to take assistance of Ranjit Singh of Lahore who in turn wanted to take over the fort before expelling the Gorkha invaders from the Kangra valley. Maharaja Sansar Chand had to agree to the demand of Ranjit Singh and in 1809 itself the fort was taken over by the Sikhs from Maharaja Sansar Chand. The Sikhs expelled the Gorkhas from the hills forever.

After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the British violated the Treaty of Amritsar and defeated the Sikh forces. It took them only 10 years to capture Punjab and along with Punjab, Kangra fell into their hands also. During the British rule, the fort remained in their control.

The earthquake destroyed the palace and the fort in 1905 in Kangra. It is now in ruins. In the courtyard there are two temples. One is that of Lakshmi Narayan and the other of Ambika Devi, a family goddess of Katoch. Jain temple with Adinath in stone image also exists.

Jains found this place as a tirtha and settled in Kangra. The fort remained neglected during the British period but now the Archaeological Department of the Government maintains it. The fort is still an attraction to the tourists and the pilgrims visiting Kangra.

Under the shadow of the great rock wall of Dhauladhar, where those legendary shepherdesses, the Gaddi maidens, immediately above Dharamsala rises one of the main spurs of Himalayas, the dark, pine covered mountain-side reaching out towards the upper peaks that soar into the regions of eternal snow. Divided into upper and lower towns with a difference of some 457 meters (1,500-ft) between them against a background of snow-capped mountains, forests if giant conifers meet carefully cultivated tea gardens at the beautiful resort of Dharamsala which stands on the spur of the Dhauladhar range. The mountains enfold the three sides of the town and the valley stretches beyond to the south. Known for its scenic-beauty amidst high pine trees, tea gardens and other timber-yielding trees vying with one another for height, calmness and serenity. Dharamshala’s altitude varies between 1,250 meters (4,400 ft) and 2,000 meters (6,460 ft). the snow line here is perhaps more easily accessible than at any early morning’s start. The glittering rays of the sun fall upon the glossy snow and cast their reflections back in the valley in all the seven colours of the rainbow, beckoning people on.

The scene shifts as one approaches Dharamsala, the plains below wear a veil of blue while the Dhauladhar spur on which Dharamsala stands rises dark and pine covered. Now the seat of his holiness, Dalai Lama, after the Chinese conquest of his country, Dharamsala is evocative of imperial days in places like McLeodganj and ForsythGanj. Headquarters of the Kangra District, it became the capital in 1852 and is 52 years old.

Wrecked by an earthquake in 1905, it rose like a phoenix from the ashes, more resplendent than ever steadily acquiring a pride place among tourist attractions in Himachal Pradesh. When Tibetan exodus began, they first went to Dalhousie but later shifted their colony to McLeodganj in upper Dharamsala. Dalhousie’s loss was Dharamshala’s gain.

Since 1960, when it became temporary headquarters of the Dalai Lama, Dharamsala has risen into international repute as "The Little Lhasa in India".The high altitude, cool and favorable weather has contributed towards the creation of a Tibetan environment. More than 3,000 Tibetan have made Dharamsala their temporary living mostly in McLeodganj.

People

Predominant population of the district comprises of Hindus followed by Muslim, Budhists,Sikhs, Christians and Jains constitute the negligible proportion of the district population. The Hindus mostly constitute Rajputs Brahmins and Scheduled Cast. The main Rajput community in the district are viz. Katoch, Pathania, Mankotia, Dogra, Jasrotia, Jaswal, Jamwal, Katwal, Guleria, Mian, Thakur, Rana, Rathi etc. The Rajputs are well known in the history for displaying their valour and fighting qualities. The Rajput of high class never gave their daughters in marriage to those belonging to lower ones. The Brahamin generally acted as priest and religious devotees. During the early period they occupied an important position in royal courts as well as in the religious life of the people. The Brahmins also constitute various classes/groups. Those belonging to high class generally act as priest and preceptors of the people. The lower class Brahmins apart from their religious function also plough their fields. Still lower in hierarchy are Acharj and Ghirath. The matrimonial alliances of the Brahamin of different classes are restricted to their own class/group.

Apart from these, the cast Hindus also constitute communities like Sood, Khatri, Mahajan, Walia, etc; who are mainly engaged in business activities.The scheduled castes constitute Chuhre/Bhangi, Barad, Chamar, Chime, Dumne, Julie, Lobar, San-ai, Teli etc. (Hindi caste names) Matrimonial alliance of Schedule Caste are also restricted to their own community. The scheduled Tribes population is negligible in the district Gaddi and Gujars two tribal communities have lost their Scheduled Tribes status in district because of area restriction. The persons belonging to other Scheduled Tribe communities in the state mainly represent the Scheduled Tribe population in the district who are mostly in government service.

Folk Dances

Jhamakada is a group dance performed in Kangra. Women exclusively perform this dance. The dance is accompanied by a variety of percussion instruments and lyrical songs.

Fauna & Flora

Fauna

The district is rich in animals and birds, which include some of the rare species.The animals and birds that are found in the district are- (1) Ghoral, (2) Kakar, (3) Kastura, (4) Aimu, (5) Ibex, (6) Blue mountain sheep, (7) Thar, (8) Black Bear, (9) Brown Bear, (10) Panther or Leopard, (11) Snow Leopard, (12) Wild Boar, (13) Spotted Deer of Chital, (14) Samber, (15) Porcupine, (16) Flying squirrel and (17) Himalayan Pine Martin. Apart from the important game animals described above animals like Jackal, Monkey, Langoor, Fox etc. are also met within the area.

There is a variety of birds in the district like Monal pheasant, Snow cock, Western horned tragopan, Juguriam, Pea-cock, Ring dove, Spotted dove, shikara, parrot, tawny eagle, green pigeon, pigeon, gritton vulture, tits, nut cracker, Pies, Wood peaker, Crow, Himalayan fly catcher, etc. which are found in the tract of this district.

Flora

This district is rich in flora. The following various species of plants and forest trees are generally found in Kangra district.

 


 

Part or or all of this text stems from the original article at: http://www.billingview.com

Contributors

September 26, 2014 change by www.billingview.com

January 05, 2010 change by katochb

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