Traditional architecture has always made the best use of locally available material. Builders in the plains of Bengal preferred terracotta (burnt bricks) as clay was plentiful in this riverine land. Similarly, builders in the high Himalayas depended on wood and stone. The artisans developed their own styles while using the locally available material.
One such style is the now vanishing ‘Kathkuni’ woodwork of Himachal Pradesh. From homesteads to temples, once upon a time it was very popular in the region. Years of neglect and ill-advised renovation as well as advent of modern building materials have almost dealt a death blow to this vernacular art.
Apart from landmark buildings (such as the Hadimba Devi temple in Manali or the former castle of Naggar), you will be able to see remnants of these exquisite wood works in people’s home, especially in the deep mountain hamlets – walls of houses, a carved door or window, etc. So if you are planning to visit Himachal Pradesh any time, do keep a sharp look out for this legacy architecture.
One of the highlights of Himachal Pradesh’s wooden architecture is Kathkuni. The term originated from two Sanskrit words – ‘kastha’ meaning wood and ‘kone’ meaning corner. This indigenous style in simple terms consists of walls made of interlocked wooden planks with stones packed in between without mortar. It is said that this type of architecture helped the buildings survive many earthquakes. Another characteristic of the temples and other buildings are the various styles of roofs – tower-shaped, pyramid-like, gables, etc. Many of the upper stories have balconies with ornamental railings.
Some of the popular temples and palaces on the Kullu-Manali circuit are a treasure trove of the indigenous wooden architecture.
Nestling within a deodar forest, the Hadimba Devi Temple in Manali is a popular tourist attraction. Also known as the Dungri temple, it was constructed in the mid-16th century. The façade and the windows of this pagoda-style temple are embellished with wood work. Traces of old wood work can be seen on the projected balconies and the door frames.
In fine weather, you may try trekking to the Manu Temple which is about three km from the heart of Manali town. However, note the climb is a tad steep.
The Vashisht village, is also easily accessible from Manali market. The temple and the hot springs are popular among the local people as well as tourists.
Naggar, an erstwhile capital of the Kullu royals, is less than 21km from Manali. The palace and many of the temples here are fine examples of the indigenous wooden architecture. The Naggar Castle (now a heritage hotel of HPTDC) is said to be built in the mid-15th century in the prevailing Kathkuni style of architecture.