कांगड़ा: Adventures in the Kangra Valley

Our second day in Dharamsala, Katherine and I decided to leave the cool air of Dharamsala behind and venture down into the Kangra Valley. We hired a taxi and set off for an all day adventure to see the Masrur Rock Cut Temples, the Fire Temple, and the Kangra Fort. The drive through the Kangra Hills to Masrur took a good two hours but it was the first time that either of us was able to see the surrounding fields and villages. We passed roadside dhabs selling lime soda, chapati and samosas, as well as small farms were women and men worked under the sun. The road to Masrur led us through red rock hills and groves of eucalyptus trees that reminded me of Northern California.

When we finally arrived at our destination, the ancient carved temples took our breath away. The temples, which date back to 800AD, were partially destroyed during the 1905 Earthquake but many of the carvings and caverns still remain. Both Katherine and I spent the next hour wandering around the temple grounds taking in the scenery. After taking off my shoes, I climbed a narrow interior staircase to the upper floor of the temple and was able to get a closer look at the intricate carvings of this Shikhar temple complex. After purchasing a lime soda from a roadside dhab, we headed out on the second leg of our journey.

The Jwalamukhi Temple, also called the Fire Temple, is dedicated to the Goddess of Light. There are no deities in the temple, only eternal flames that are worshipped as a manifestation of the goddess on earth. The nine flames within the temple have been burning through fissures in the stone for hundreds of years without assistance. To reach the temple, you climb through a hilltop bazaar where vendors sell rice, marigold wreaths, turmeric and other offerings for the Goddess. Once you reach the white marble archways of the temple, you have to take off your shoes and climb the steps to the temple’s atrium. Along the way, Katherine and I were stopped by numerous families making the pilgrimage and asked our names, where we were from and whether we would take pictures with their families. Our visit to this temple was definitely a taste of an India vastly different than the multicultural hippy melting pot of McLeodGanj.

The final stop on our whirlwind tour of the sites of Himchal Pradesh was the Kangra Fort. This ancient fortress is the largest fort in the Himalayas and is believed to be the oldest dated fort in all of India. The fort was built by the royal family of Kangra before the 4th Century BC. According to the delightful British man on my audio tour of the fortress, Alexander the Great fought at Kangra but the outcome of the battle is disputed. The fort was held by the Maharajah’s of Kangra for thousands of years until the family lost the fort in the early 19th century to Ranjit Singh, who promptly lost the fort to the British a few years later. After the deadly earthquake in 1905, the fort was abandoned and returned to the family of the Maharajah. The family gave the fort to the state with the understanding that it would be preserved as a historical site. The fort was in the process of being restored when we visited and several portions of the fortress were off limits to us. Nonetheless, the massive structure was a fascinating place to visit and the panoramic views of the Kangra Valley were truly extraordinary.

A wonderful day was had by all. Until next time.