Today is 17th November, a special day for my batch in college… The 2006-2011 class of Architecture from School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. Because I love and miss everyone, I dug out an old article I had written about a college trip we had taken to Pragpur and Dharamshala back in 2008- my first ever attempt at travel writing.
“Pragpur”, they said. I’m sure I was not the only person who wondered where on earth we were being taken to for our study trip. Pragpur, I echoed silently. I’ve always loved traveling, but a glance through several websites did nothing to make me look forward to the trip. There was never much information about the small heritage village we were going to visit. And the fact that the place was cold only added to my doubts about the choice of place.
But then, we reached. Right from the start I was amazed. Throughout the 2 hour taxi journey from UNA railway station to our hotel in Pragpur at the foothills of the Himalayas, I was spellbound. And I’m certain I wasn’t the only one. The place was beautiful- idyllic, calm and the perfect place to spend a lazy weekend.
Sure, we weren’t there to laze around, but the atmosphere made the not-so-appealing job of measuring small-small details a lot more bearable. In fact, I can safely speak for everyone when I say we all thoroughly enjoyed our work. The people were pleasant and friendly. Everyone seemed to know that some 30 odd architecture students had come from Delhi to document the place, and they were downright eager to converse with us. When we weren’t working we walked around the place, exploring narrow streets and overgrown paths that weren’t strictly part of our designated areas, and discovering wonderful secluded places where we could take photographs.
One evening we had gone to the banks of the river Beas. That was an experience! We walked nearly 5-6kms uphill and exactly at the places we had to go downhill we got rides from two bumpy tractors going our way.
But who’s complaining? The rides were incredible! Nearly everyone standing fell down and bumped on their seats all the way to the end. But the smiles made it all worth it. The destination was beautiful- crystal clear water, white sand. It was clearly a place not visited too often. There were rocks we could climb, all clean. It was a wonderful change from the city life that we all have got accustomed to.
We had bonfires, the first proper bonfire I had ever been to! Thankfully the stay was comfortable. So by the end of the first half of our journey, all my misgivings about the place faded away.
By then, it was time to move on to Dharamshala. We stopped at the majestic Kangra Fort on the way. The Fort was, naturally, huge. I was completely in awe of the place. The Kangra Fort stands on a steep rock in Purana Kangra dominating the surrounding valley. It was strategically built at the confluence of the Banganga and Manjhi (also called Fatal Ganga) streams which serves as a natural moat for the fort. Weather beaten yet stoic among the surrounding hills, Kangra Fort has braved, and survived(to a large extent),many natural onslaughts and destruction by invaders. The history of the Fort is synonymous with the history of the town. Kangra belonged to him who owned the Fort. Today most of it stands in ruins, an existence taken advantage of by creepers and shrubs, but that doesn’t belittle the Fort’s grandeur in any way.
Our next stop was Dharamshala, a journey of 20 short kms from Kangra Fort. I had heard about Dharamshala before, and I knew, to some extent, what to expect. I knew it was a nice little hill-station amidst the Himalayas, and having had been to hill-stations before, I was prepared for a good time. We roamed Dharamshala at our own leisure, and tasted the local delicacies.
We visited Didi Contractor’s place, an American woman who had married a Gujrati and decided that India was to be her home. She specializes in mud architecture, and is firmly against the use of concrete except where it is strictly necessary. Being a semi-environmentalist myself, Istrongly empathized with her opinions and visions. She showed us two buildings she had designed- a house and a clinic- that were homey, functional, beautiful and interesting, all qualities seamlessly woven into one structure. Then we visited a site, where construction work was in progress. Most of us got to make mud bricks and lay them with our own hands!
The same evening we saw a monastery, Norbulingka. There were souvenirs, a doll museum and we got a guided tour of the monastery and everything about it, the traditions etc, by one of our Buddhist classmates. An extremely hectic and tiring day, but a very enlightening one at that!
The next day we were taken to see a pottery studio, very beautiful and the creations were absolutely stunning as well. We were all amazed at the high level of skill and got to know that at that moment they were taking care of an order placed by FabIndia.
We all wanted to see snow, and so were taken to this place where we were to walk for an hour and we’d get to see patches of snow. But being restless and not getting tired easily, we walked further and further till we saw a GOOD amount of snow, got to play in it AND had a mini-bonfire to thaw our frozen hands. There WAS a slightly disturbing issue of a few of our classmates disappearing and none of us being able to reach them, but they soon contacted us themselves and since all’s well that ends well, we got to know just in time that it wasn’t too great a cause of worry!
At the last leg of our journey, some of us got to see McLeodganj as well, which is the home of the Dalai Lama. Although we hardly got to spend an hour and a half there, it was a memorable time. Very commercialized, but extremely charming, McLeodganj is a tiny place bursting at the seams with foreigner tourists and spiritual followers of the Dalai Lama. The shopping was fabulous, and the lucky ones(including me) who had managed to go there laid their hands on some beautiful souvenirs.
Finally, it was time to get back. A week in such a beautiful State had left me speechless. Before leaving Delhi, I had wondered however was I going to survive a week in a land so cold and in, my mind’s eye, so desolate? But when it was time to leave I realized the week had just flown past, and I’d have jumped at the opportunity to spend a few more nights there. Probably just goes to show how we should never jump to conclusions, because this was one trip I’m not sure I’ll be able to forget so easily…
And I guess I was right. It’s been almost 6 years (WOW! I just calculated!!! :O ) and I still remember the trip like we just came back. I suddenly really miss everyone right now 😦