The heritage village of Pragpur in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra Valley, has clung fiercely to its old-world charm. Sitting at 2,000ft, with excellent views of the mighty Dhauladhar Range on clear days, this dreamy hamlet is a delightful destination for anyone looking to get away from Delhi over a long weekend or simply to explore this hill state’s countryside. Pragpur was established in the 17th century, by the Kuthiala sub-clan of the prosperous Sud community. With its cobblestone lanes, water tanks, mustard fields and two-storied homes sporting slate-tiled roofs, it was way ahead of its time.
Named after princess Prag Dei of the Jaswan royal family, Pragpur’s most famous landmark, The Judge’s Court, is now a heritage hotel welcoming visitors from across the globe. Built by Bhandari Ram for his son Justice Sir Jai Lal — only the second Indian to be appointed judge during the British Raj — this 100-year old house is surrounded by 12 acres of gardens with shady trees and lush fields. A holiday here truly is an escape into another world.
After a long drive from Jalandhar, we were weary and ravenous, but perked up as soon as we stepped out of the car. The sight of the friendly black and tan resident Bhutia dog, Toby, ambling towards us did wonders for our stiff backs and legs. Much tail wagging, plenty of petting and a hot hand towel later, we had checked in and were sitting in the dining hall. Our meal was simple yet scrumptious, with crispy okra, piping hot moong dal, baingan bharta and rotis. The chef, who is a local, asks every guest for his or her meal preferences and does his best to accommodate all requests. Do try the Himachali dishes he whips up such as the tangy curry made with black chickpeas known as kale channe ka khatta and palda, a curd-based dish. At breakfast, look out for babroo — these spongy not-quite-round flattened balls are mildly sweet and flavoured with fennel seeds. They are similar to fritters but aren’t as oily. I couldn’t stop at two!
The Judge’s Court is like a living museum — the walls of the reception and two living rooms are adorned with black-and-white photos of the family dating back to the late 1800s till the present generation, along with framed letters, invitations and certificates from British officials to Justice Lal. An old brass hammam sits between two chairs in the reception. A wooden staircase, painted white, leads up to the landing on the first floor where you’ll find an invitation he received to the Coronation Durbar of 1911, sitting atop a chest of drawers. The fireplaces in all rooms are functional and are perfect for chilly nights (radiators are also placed in each room and the staff will give you a hot water bag should you feel like keeping your feet warm in bed). Don’t dismiss the cabinets in the dining hall else you’ll miss the elegant silver cutlery and crockery within. An old-fashioned telephone and typewriter sit on sideboards on either side of the fireplace in the same hall.
If you’re here during winter, then the estate’s sprawling garden is the perfect place to catch up on some reading while drinking masala chai. But don’t let inertia rule you because right behind the manor are three abandoned havelis in the midst of swaying fields of mustard, whose bright yellow flowers provide a splash of colour against these faded brick mansions. Similar mansions can be found around the village, as well as in the neighbouring village of Garli. The current owner of the Judge’s Court, Mr Vijai Lal, has also restored his 300-year old ancestral clan home in the village. A two minute walk away from the Judge’s Court, this double-storied brick structure, with simple interiors, is popular with foreign guests during winter.
While you’re here ask your guide or any resident of the village to point you in the direction of the shawl weaver. The artist will be more than happy to show you the shawl he’s working on. We were amazed by how quickly his fingers worked the various threads on the handloom. He keeps a stock of shawls in his workshop, and you can choose from a variety of red, blue, green, white and pink shawls.
A forty-minute drive from Pragpur lies the Dada SibaTemple, which was built in 1831. The temple is known for the Kangra paintings adorning its inner walls. Depicting tales from Hindu mythology, these exquisitely detailed paintings are still vivid since they’ve never been exposed to sunlight. Watch out for the cheeky monkeys who’ve made the temple’s premises their home. Given a chance they enter the priest’s room to steal prasad and remove the clothes off the idols! We nearly had a run in with the leader of the troop, who swaggered up to the priest’s room and yanked open the door when we were inside. In the melee, I jumped behind the door to hide, our guide hid behind my friend, while she screamed “Hold the door!”. Luckily, the caretaker shooed him away.
Back in Pragpur, we took a leisurely stroll out of the main village, into the countryside. Independent houses stood amidst swaying green fields filled with flowers. Every now and then we passed by cows munching juicy greens or dogs lying in the sun. Ladies sat on charpoys outside their homes, often in the middle of animated discussions. They all seemed blissfully unaware of the madness that follows modern life. And I hope they never have to find out.
Several trains like the Shatabdis and Himachal Express ply between Delhi and places such as Chandigarh, Jalandhar, Amb and Una from where a pick up can be arranged. Else fly to Gaggal Airport, which is 55kms from Pragpur.
Where to stay
The Judge’s Court (Tel: 01970-245035, 245335, Delhi Tel: 011-24114135; Tariff: Rs 5,800—7,250) is the best place to stay. There is also the River View Resorts (Tel: 234267-69, Cell: 09810004266; Tariff: `1,500—3,500), with a restaurant, bar and coffee shop; and a PWD Guest House (Tel: 233116, 245056; Tariff: `480) equipped with basic facilities.
What to see and do: Dada Siba Temple, Kangra Fort, Masroor Rock Cut Temple, Pong Dam, Garli heritage village