Manali/4: the First Capital of Kullu

While planning the vacation we had picked one of the most over-commercialised, touristy places of India. Yet our trip ultimately got saved from being a stereotyped one. We did not visit Shimla. We did not visit Rohtang. We did not do paragliding at Solang Valley. Instead we rode our bike and headed straight for Naggar. And we stayed there for the last two days of the trip. The best two days – the highlight of the entire trip. The journey from Aleo to Naggar was short but unforgettable. We devoured the beauty of life-size portrait of the valley. We felt the rush of cool mountain air on our face. We gaped open-mouthedly at canopied stretch of road that popped out of nowhere. We halted to give room to a hoard of goats and felt even that to be a priceless part of our journey. But isn’t that what travel does to you? It brings back that version of you to life that dies a slow death everyday while performing the routine job of living.

Most people visit Naggar as part of day trip from Manali. Only a few stay, fortunately. We were among those very few. And we had gone for the best option to stay there – the Naggar Castle. Raja Sidh Singh of Kullu built this castle in the year 1460 when Naggar was still the capital of Kullu. In 1978 the castle was turned into a heritage hotel run by HPTDC. Nagger Castle is more popular as shooting location of various Bollywood movies. They even had a notice board where Kareena Kapoor had danced away in front of Shahid Kapoor in Jab We Met. However, instead of drooling over superficial memories of movie celebrities we were constantly feeling amazed to be standing on the ground of a place that was built more than five hundred years ago.

On our way up to the castle we had spotted a small restaurant that was offering authentic Italian cuisine apparently. The decision to have lunch there had been accepted unanimously. When we came down after checking into our courtyard view room clouds had already begun to set in the afternoon sky and it started raining as soon as our Italian chicken burger and veg calzone arrived at the table. We were sitting on the open veranda which was under construction. A foreigner couple was sitting nearby chatting and smoking pot and drinking espresso.

Nagger Castle stays open for the visitors till evening. And during that time it is absolutely not advisable to stay even in the vicinity. So we started walking after lunch, leaving the castle looming over the valley behind us. We had no idea where we were heading for. We were just walking ahead. Naggar’s uniqueness lies in its temples. Naggar has a plethora of ancient temples dedicated to various gods. And all of them exhibit the typical wood and stone work architecture that is the signature style of Kullu. The first temple we visited on our first day was the Tripura Sundari Temple. Long back I had visited a temple dedicated to the same goddess. That temple is situated in a village not so far from our own city. A village that is still famous for a very different reason.

After crossing the temple the road took a left turn and went uphill towards the art gallery where would be heading the next day. For today we decided to deviate from the main road and chose the path that went straight ahead. The jagged trail had wound up in the woods. Like a curvaceous woman it was luring us to explore her unexplored twists and turns. We are faulty human; we did not have enough willpower to resist such lusty invitation. We started climbing and very soon I was dragged off the actual path and coerced into taking more vertiginous shortcut route and my fancy sneakers were dangerously on the verge of losing their grip. Suddenly the path came to a halt and we found ourselves standing in a meadow. And an old, abandoned house was sitting amidst like a snoozing giant. If you touched its wall it would wake up from its stupor and start telling you the stories hidden in its dark, shabby belly. A solitary crow was sitting quietly on the edge of what seemed like a small pool. You know they say it is someone’s spirit disguised as a crow? I shivered a little. The whole place was absolutely tranquil barring the noise of leaves beneath our feet. Are we the only two people left in this whole world? The sun had started going down for the day and the chill in the air was not so pleasant anymore. The clouds had already given us warning a few times. We left our meadow behind and started climbing down.

To be continued