Himachal is a destination that is home for Vidur since his mom belongs to Shimla. So when we took off on a six-month Himalayan trip, he wanted to explore much more than the Shimla. We aimed to cover the small town, historic villages, and local cuisine of Himachal, and our research pointed us towards Chateau Garli.
Not too far from the overcrowded city of Dharamsala, lies a hamlet that has a collection of heritage buildings, including the Chateau Garli. Garli is an excellent destination for anyone looking to get away from Delhi over a long weekend or to explore Himachal Pradesh’s countryside. Garli and the nearby city of Pragpur have been designated heritage zones by the Ministry of Tourism, HP.
Visiting Garli is like taking a step back in time to the old villages of Himachal and Punjab. You can wander down busy, narrow alleys two-storied mansions and local shops selling samosas. But what strikes you in Garli, is the architecture and sheer size of some of the kothis. The Suds travelled extensively during the British Raj, which exposed them to various cultures.
These kothis reflect a unique blend of architectural styles that will capture anyone with an appreciation for history and art. Look out for intricately carved designs on massive wooden doors, beautifully designed jharokha windows, and big courtyards in the center of the haveli. Sadly, most of these beautiful homes lie abandoned, and most of them in a state of despair.
Our stay at the Chateau Garli
Most of the owners had left Garli by the 1950s in search of better opportunities, and as a result, their homes fell into a state of disrepair. But there is one house that stands out in the village – like an oasis in a desert. This one is Mela Ram’s residence, Chateau Garli, which was abandoned for 20 years, and has now been restored into a beautiful boutique hotel by his son, Yatish Sud.
Driving into the typical Himachali village, you won’t even imagine that it houses a building as exquisite and unique at the Chateau Garli. The building looks similar to a European castle within its pointed towers and colourful windows. And even the insides remind you of a different time. A gramophone and large wooden radio in the living room brought back memories of my nana’s home. The large paintings, beautifully crafted carpets and vintage furniture, all reminded us of a time people took such care to decorate their homes artistically.
A large copper platter, known as Chamba thal, adorns one wall. It depicted the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu and was used during religious and cultural ceremonies. At the reception of the Chateau Garli, you will see the organ and a telephone that looks more like an old accounting machine. Moving past the reception and the living area, we arrived towards a pool from where we took a flight of stairs to reach our room. The simple room gleams in the brightly coloured light coming in through the pretty windows, and this adds to the charm of the place.
The journey to Garli hadn’t been a long one, but we were still famished. Luckily it was time for lunch, and we headed towards the pool. Our lunch was served by the pool, off a mud-plastered counter lined with large brass pots and an earthen chulha. The staff made us a set meal of some regional specialties that included daal, pulao, chicken, and locally sourced veggies. The most delectable item was the fresh, soft naans that paired perfectly well with all the gravies.
Post the heavy lunch; we made our way around town. Walking through the narrow, aroma filled streets, we moved into the village to take a look at some of the havelis here. It was an exciting trip as not many communities can boast of some heritage buildings. But sadly, most of them are abandoned, as their owners chose to relocate elsewhere for economic prosperity.
But the buildings do tell their own story, and from European to Islamic and Rajasthani, these heritage homes showcase an amalgamation of architectural styles that will capture anyone’s attention. Apart from the triangular roofs with slate, the builders tried to outdo each other. Either the size of the Kothi or the amount of artwork, probably determined which family was better off than the rest. The tour lasted an hour, and calorie burn was well rewarded by a visit to the halwai, from where we picked up hot samosas for everybody.
Having samosas for us is a novelty since we stay in the South, yet the other guests and staff seemed to relish them more than us! At night, all the guests huddled around the pool near the bar and got to know each other. Sitting by the poolside, we observed the chefs tossing roomali rotis in the air, and the aroma of fresh tikkas filled the air. Nothing beats the aroma of food cooked in earthen pots on an open tandoor. That night we relished butter naan, chicken curry, kebabs, and piping hot Gulab jamoons.
Places to see near Chateau Garli
High Tea near the Beas River
Undoubtedly, the best thing to do while in Garli is a visit to the Beas river for your evening tea. The ride itself is fun as you drive through country roads cutting through small hamlets, fields, and orchards. To get to the riverbank, it took 30 minutes from Chateau Garli.
From the main road, a 2-minute drive over river stones takes you to the water; the drive is not easy, and unless you have an SUV, do not attempt to go near the bank. The staff asked us to click pics while they set up the counter. IN about 10 minutes, we were walking along the river, with a hot cup of tea, samosas as listening to Kishore Kumar. Wow, the evening couldn’t have ended on a better note.
The Kangra fort is India’s oldest dated fort, said to be built around 3,500 years ago by Maharaja Susharma Chandra, a descendant of the Katoch family. You have to take the audio guide during your tour of the fort.
Narrated by Roshan Seth, it brings the history of the fort and its inhabitants to life as you walk along the ramparts and explore the ruins. While a good portion of the fort was destroyed in 1905 during an earthquake, luckily one intricately carved wall of the Laxmi Narayan temple within the complex escaped destruction.
Masroor Rock Cut Temple
Masrur is 32 km from Kangra on Nagrota Surian link road and is famous for a remarkable group of rock-cut temples. They form a group of 15 monolithic rock-cut temples in the Indo Aryan style and are richly carved. These richly ornamented cave temples are the only rock shrines in the northern part of India.
Dated to the 6th— 8th centuries, this series of temples were carved out of massive rocks in the classical Indian architectural style featuring shikharas (towers). Exquisite carvings on the towers and lintels depict gods and goddesses. A large pool in front of the complex reflects the temples, reminiscent of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Sometime in the 1920s, when the British Empire was in its days of decline, a young Irish woman named Norah Richards arrived in Andretta on horseback. Norah built herself a traditional Kangra-style mud house, known as ‘Chameli Niwas,’ employing local style and material, using mud, slate, and bamboo.
Soon, she also built a makeshift proscenium and invited Punjabi theatre amateurs and professionals to perform plays here. Despite its remote location, Andretta soon began to attract artists from all over, especially Lahore. The modern Andretta Artist Village is immensely famous for its Norah’s Centre for Arts, Andretta Pottery and Craft, Norah’s Mud House, and Sir Sobha Singh Art Gallery.
Best time to visit Garli
Summers are a good time here due to the long days and brilliant sunshine. But day time temperatures can reach the mid 30’s, and outdoor activities might be a sweaty affair during peak summer months. Monsoons can also be tricky since they will limit the amount of time you can spend outdoors as the areas around Chateau Garli as best explored on foot. Therefore the best time is just after monsoons or from February to March when the weather is still pleasant.
How to reach Garli
It is about 70km from of Dharamsala, 170km from Amritsar, and 425km from New Delhi.
By Air – The closest airport here is the Gaggal Airport located close to Dharamsala. It is 60 km away but the journey can take you close to 2 hours. However, the nearest international airport is in Amritsar, 170 km away.
By Bus – Garli is well connected to most towns in Himachal and other states as well. In case you don’t get a direct bus, you can get one to Chintpurni and then catch a local bus or taxi from there.
By Train – There are no regular trains from other major cities to Garli. An overnight train, Himachal Express, connects Delhi with Amb/Una. Pragpur is 60km by road from here. Various trains connect Delhi with Pathankot that is further connected by a narrow gauge Kangra railway line to Guler.