Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Dear Friends,

Thank you for keeping up with the blog. This is to inform you and those who have been extremely kind to follow that the blog on KOTGARH has moved from to

I would like to apologize for the inconvenience and hope you will like the new look and feel of the blog.

Appreciate your feedback!




[older posts are still available]

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What’s killing my apple tree?

Manoj J , shimla: May 19 2008 [from Insta Blogs]

What’s killing my apple tree?

As a child it was a joy to visit my apple orchard. Planted by my grand father it grew and flourished under the tender care of my father. Today maintaining it has been an uphill task. New trees simply don’t survive and older ones are dying fast. This is the story you will hear all over the apple-growing belt of Himachal Pradesh and farmers attribute this to climate change.

Over the years, fruit growers in Himachal have observed significant variations in climate. This awareness of climate change is based mainly on the associated impacts on the apple crop especially on blossoming, fruit setting, yield and increased incidences of pests and diseases.

Over all the climate is described as being much warmer and people perceive a definite reduction in snowfall over time. Not only has the actual amount of snowfall decreased but changes in timing of snowfall have also been noticed. Snowfall in December and January has become rare and the period of snowfall now extends through the months of February-March. There is also a perception that weather has become more erratic. For example the hottest month is no longer the traditional month of jeth (May-June) but has shifted ahead. Similarly, spring is colder and winters warmer than the usual.

Warmer climate has made it harder to get a decent crop in the lower and middle elevation belt and apple orchards have shifted to higher altitudes to find a cooler place to grow. Bajoura, located in the lower part of the Kullu valley, produced good quality apples about a few decades ago. Today, there is a general consensus that the lower limit of apples has now reached Raison about 30 kilometers up the valley. Similarly in the Kotgarh region, villages in the middle elevation belt produced some of the finest apples during the 1970s and early 1980s. Today farmers here are struggling to replant their orchards. A similar trend is noticed elsewhere in the state. Apple growers also attribute climate change to the increase in plant diseases and pests and an increasing numbers of sprays are now required for the routine control of pests.

As temperature continue to rise and rainfall becomes more erratic, apples are struggling to survive and cope with increasing stream of new pests and diseases. Large orchard owners may well survive this onslaught initially, but it is the small and medium farmers who are a worried lot.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Starry Starry Night.

Most people rarely stop to gaze up, to see the wonder of the night sky, except maybe to wish upon a star, every once in a while. The myth goes, that when bodies die, they die; but the souls and spirits live on, perhaps turning into stars. "For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars, makes me dream." I can still remember, my grand father teaching me how to find the North Star, when I was a little girl. He said to trace the "Ursa Minor" till you get to the tip of it, and to stop at the brightest star. One thing is for sure - if you learn to do that, you will never be lost.

There's nothing quite as magical as the cover of sparkling stars on the never-ending setting of the 'Kotgarh' sky. The woody scent of the pine resin is soothing and you know, that the forest isn't very far away. The night is quiet, occasionally broken by the shrill cry of an owl, or the grunt of a bear, digging up its favorite root. The smell of burnt firewood in the distance, carried along with the faint breeze, totally consumes your senses. You lie there in the still of the night, gazing at the marvelous sky, so clear and bright, as if attempting to relay some sort of a heavenly message.

Gosh! It feels so good to be home.

Apple Growing Stages

It is fascinating to watch the growth of an apple from bud to mature fruit.

Dormant apple buds begin to swell in the early spring. The buds show a silver, fuzzy tissue then a green tip develops. This is the beginning of leaves; the leaves start growing, and as they fold back, they are called "mouse ears." After a few days, closed, hairy flower buds become visible.

The Flower Grows
As the flower buds grow, five green hairy sepals surround red petals. The flower stalks grow longer as the flower buds get bigger. White flowers tinged with pink burst open. The first flower in a cluster to open is known as the "king bloom." It often turns out to be the largest apple yielded from that cluster of blossoms.

Pollination Follows
White stalks flare from the center - these are the stamens, and they are topped with tiny yellow anthers that bear pollen. To lure honey bees, the blossoms produce a sweet nectar at the base of the petals. Bees move from blossom to blossom collecting pollen from the anthers on their hairy bodies; as they visit blossoms on other trees, the pollen rubs off on those blossoms. Stigma - When the blossoms have shed their pollen, the petals begin to wilt, and the anthers begin to shrivel. The female stigma becomes visible; this is where visiting bees deposited pollen. The stigma makes the pollen available to the ovary so that it can begin growing into an apple.

From Ovary to Apple
The petals begin falling.
The green sepals are still attached - as the ovary grows, the flared sepals turn upright, and the stamens shrivel and dry up. Below the sepals, fuzzy apples begin to grow rapidly. In about June, smaller apples drop from a cluster; this is called the "June" drop.

The Apples Mature
Several weeks later, soft hairs disappear from the developing apple. The expanding apples begin storing sugar. They get larger and turn green then red. Their weight makes them hang from their stems.

Visit Kotgarh and experience the richness of culture and the juicy apples straight off the trees.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A full day drive to Thanedar


- by barunroy on December 28, 2008

Hidden away in the Shimla hills, Kotgarh is famous for its apple orchards but very few knows about the inspiring feature that makes an excellent spring-summer destination.

Close to Narkanda, the hill range known as Kotgarh is just 16 kilometers from National highway that heads into the valley through Kumarsain, Rampur and Kinnaur and towards the Indo-Tibetan border. A branching spur breaking out from the Hatu peak Range that is splited by the fault line carved by the Satluj river, deep in the valley, makes up for what is known as the Kotgarh region.

Hatu peak can be accessed by a narrow motorable road from Narkanda that is functional during the summer months. Alternatively, the 8 kilometer of trek through dense pine, spruce and oak forests are a better option for reaching the mountain top that also mark the tree line of the Himalayan terrain. The view from Hatu Peak is breathtaking. Besides the perennially snow capped chain of the greater Himalayan ranges, very few peaks in the vicinity match the grandeur on display from here. The rarified air and the clouds gliding by, give Hatu peak a surrealistic setting. In early May, hundred of people from near and far villages trek it to the mountain top to savor of a spring fair held at Hatu.

Pre-dating the advent of British settlers in the early part of the 19th century, Kotgarh was overrun by Gorkha warriors. These hardy warriors are said to have established a fort on Hatu peak to maintain suzerainty over the surrounding territory which they held by force. Today, no traces of the fort can be seen as nature has reclaimed the remnants.

An 8 kilometer drive from Narkanda on the road to Thanedhar takes you to a ridge-top lake, popularly known as Tani jubbar, ‘a meadow within a Lake.’ This is a tranquil point, offering solace. A temple in a pahari architectural style sanctifies the lake as a holy one. The enclosing deodar forest keeps the spot shaded and hidden away. Trans-continental migratory birds sometimes do spot the water body and there have been some occasions when some of them have rested by a week or more during the winters.

On the last day of May, a spring festival held at Tani jubbar and this is a good occasion to witness local celebration and gaiety. The local deity, carried in a palanquin, with believers dancing to drum beats is integral to this local fair held amidst scenic settings.

Further on the road beyond Tani jubbar is Thanedhar which used to be the market centre of Kotgarh till it burnt down in the mid 1970′s. Long before this, during British rule, it was a major transition station for those heading into or out of Tibet.
‘Barubag’ is the ridge top at Thanedhar. This was where the American Quaker missionary, Samuel Evans Stokes chose to settle down. He bought the property from an English lady, married a local girl, converted to Hinduism and built Harmony Hall, the name he gave to the house that still stands on the spot. At a little distance from his house, Stokes built a temple, which perhaps is one of its own kinds in the whole of north India. The Gita Temple that Stokes built does not have ant idol protected in its sancto-sanctorum. In place of this, there is a sacred fire place (Havan Kund), where amidst the chanting of mantras, a sacred fire was lit where Stokes attended the ceremony religiously every morning.

The temple and Harmony Hall still mark the presence of the man who introduced commercial growing of apples to the hills. In less than a hundred years, apple as a cash crop has become so successful that it gives a livelihood to over a million people and churn up an economy of Rs 1,500 crore, each year. A summer fair held in mid-June ia a good time to be around Thanedhar.

Other than the Hatu peak, Tani jubbar and Barubag there is the locality of Kotgarh village, lower down in the hills, from where the whole area derives its name.

About two hundred years ago, the first British soldiers who came to fight the Gurkha occupation in the hills, converted Kotgarh village into cantonment. Locally the place till date is known as Chavani (cantonment).

Like every civilization, the invading soldiers carried their religion and gods along. So A church was established and this 1841 structure is still exist. Near Kotgarh village is the village of Melan, where temple dedicated to Chattar Mukh, the presiding deity of Kotgarh is housed.

Apples have substantially changed life patterns and made life in the hills sustainable. Prior to introduction of this cash crop, it was the fertile irrigated fields on the bank of the river satluj, deep in the valley, that provided the bread and butter for the most of residents. The higher altitudes provide only malginal crops and were used as grazing lands for sheep and cattle in the summer months. A trek or a drive into the valley provides glimpses of variant crop patterns thriving in temperate to tropical climatic zones. Famous for not having introduced commercial growing of fruits into the hills, the unique dress that the Kotgarh women wears ‘raista’, a full length skirt like garment with a attached blouse which has become trademark of Himachali women.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Himachal predicts all-time high cherry production

Express News Service Tags : season, less rain, no hailstorm the reason Posted: Monday , Apr 26, 2010 at 2319 hrs Shimla:

Figure set to touch a record 900 tonnes; less rain, no hailstorm the reason, say experts

Cherry production in the state is likely to touch an all-time high in the current season and the estimates project that it will be double the quantity produced last year.

Due to favourable weather conditions during March and April, in the absence of hailstorms that used to badly hit the crop earlier, the production is set to touch a record 900-tonne mark. While 25 per cent of the harvest is already out, the season is set to continue till July 15.

“This year is set to get a bumper cherry crop. Orchardists in the apple belt of Kotgarh and Narkanda, who have of late shifted to large-scale cherry production, are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries,” said horticulture department research officer Daulat Ram.

The previous year’s cherry production was 419 tonnes and the figure was 698 tonnes in 2007-08.

Vikram Rawat, an orchardist in Chindi area of Karsog in Mandi district, said: “Several orchardists in Karsog have already started to reap harvests from their rejuvenated orchards. The weather has come as a boon for them.”

Rawat, however, said since the number of people experimenting with cherries is not very high in Karsog, they were facing problems in marketing the produce.

He said the sweet varieties grown in the area did not have a long shelf life. “Many people have, therefore, started shifting to tart varieties, which have a longer shelf life and the produce can wait for some time to be marketed,” sad Rawat.

The tart varieties are, however, yet to catch up with the popularity of sweet varieties that are more liked by Indian consumers.

The higher reaches of Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Chamba, Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti have now emerged ideal for the cultivation of cherry.

The horticulture department’sestimates say at least 10,000 small and medium-scale farmers in the state have grown cherries on approximately 405 hectares as an alternative crop.

In the traditional apple belt of Shimla district, too, many orchardists have shifted to cherry.

Ramdass Chauhan, an orchardist at Ekantbadi near Matiyana, said: “With cherry, we do not have much problem meeting the required chilling hours, unlike apple. This year, in the absence of required quantity of snowfall, we were skeptical about apple production, but it spelled boon for cherry.”

“As compared to apple that requires 1,200 to 1,600 hours of chilling till March, before flowering, cherry requires less than 700 chilling hours. Of late, the cherry prices have also turned out to be more attractive, selling at Rs 100 to 120 per kg, even with a bumper crop,” said S P Bhardwaj, senior horticulture scientist at the Y S Parmar Horticulture University in Solan.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A correspondence Extolling KOTGARH - 1860

A correspondence from The Memoir of George Edward Lynch Cotton, D.D., Bishop of Calcutta, and Metropolitan.

To Mrs. Arnold.

Kotgur, near Simla, September 1860.

. . . The place from which I am now writing is about fifty miles from Simla, on the Thibet road, and therefore quite in the interior of the mountain land. We came here partly because it is a mission station which wants a good deal of organising and stirring up, partly to get a little more knowledge of the Himalayas and health from their breezes, before we go down again into the plains. I have often tried to compare this Himalayan scenery with that of other mountain countries; but the result has been an increased conviction of the proverbial odiousness of comparisons, and a determination to enjoy what is before me without hankering after the unattainable. Doubt- less one may miss here the lakes of Italy, the glacier scenery of the Bernese Oberland, and the peculiar repose, freshness, and mountain streams of Westmoreland. But nowhere have I seen such foliage and vegetation ; the forests are of a grandeur and solemnity which remind me of the effect of a great cathedral, and from any height the enormous scale of the green land- scape, the vast ranges of hill-sides clothed in verdure and rich cultivation, the lines of mountain rising one behind another and terminating with the distant snow, give you the impression of a ' mountain country ' far more than any other scenery, and realise the fact that you are in the loftiest mountain range of the world. On Saturday morning we went up Hawathoo, 11,000 feet high, in this country of course a mere dwarf, but famous for its beautiful view. In the Alps at this height we should have been in the midst of ice and bare rock: here we sat down to a breakfast of coffee and mutton chops! on a greensward covered with potentillas and other flowers un- known to us, but some like anemones and others like China asters, with oaks and pines all around us and the ruins of an old Ghoorka fort to lean our backs against. The lichens and ferns are of great beauty, and the trunks of trees are clothed with the Virginia creeper which now has turned red, just as we have seen it against an old English manor house or a college in Oxford or Cambridge.

Read it @

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Photomontage Kotgarh

© FB Group
- I am from Kotgarh... Need I say more!!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cuisine of the OLD Kotgarh Hills

Ever wondered what the people of the Kotgarh Hills ate before dal-chawal-subzi-roti took over. Most ate food which was quite plain and dull but provided high heat and energy to see them through the day of hard work in their fields. The vegetables preparations were almost non existence except for the ubiquitous tubers. The different forms of bread cooked in different styles formed staple with rice and milk based products and a few homegrown pulses and cereals were also used in some main course preparation. Meat was always a luxury as one had to loose his livestock for dinner nonetheless the people of the hills ate sheep, goats and lamb.

Enter any Kotgarh kitchen (rasoi) today; the traditionally chulla (fed by forest wood) has made way for more convenient and modern ovens, microwave, and LPG fed stoves. The layout and the utility have also changed with time. Most of the fare has been renegaded to special occasions primarily because of the availability and affordability of the seasonal vegetables, pulses and cereals. Today an average kitchen churns out all sorts of meat, lentil and cereal preparations.

I have put together a list of dishes and preparations from the Hills. Some of them have been long forgotten but some still retain their popularity.

Baturu - Leavened bread cooked on a griddle
Lauta - Wheat flour pancake (thin and soft)
Patanda - Wheat pancake (large and thick)
Chalaudhi - Unleavened maize bread cooked on a griddle
Seegdi - Leavened bread with stuffing - steamed
Zarigra - Like seegdi of Barley (smaller in size)
Panigri - Stuffed dumplings bread - poached
Bathodi - Unleavened Millet bread
Kadraudi -
Mashroudi - Unleavened black gram (urdh) bread
Pakain - Wheat flour leavened bread - fried

Main Course:
Baadi - water+ghee+ salt or sugar +wheat+ cook
Gadani - water + Jagger + wheat
Khatta - curd accumulated in a clay urn over time and whey discarded each day; cooked with spices
Bada - black gram fried dumpling
Churah - buckwheat flour sweet fried bread
Sanshe - suju or maida pancakes (sun dried) and fried
Khobdru - atta dumpling
Katrari - rice + lassi (cook)
Aaalo le bhazi
Indra - kolth + aloo
Dhandra - arbi leaves
Lapphi - coarsely ground maize + roasted millet = cooked (accompanied my chas)
Daauna - wheat flour+maize flour bread stuffed with jaggery etc and cooked in warm ash/amber (It was a favorite with the folks who had to wait for their turn at the gharat) and another favorite delight was roasted potato (bhozena adho) - roasted in the warm ash.
Sattu - grounded rosted dried corn or barley dried accompanied by buttermilk

Non-Veg Delicacies

Meenz bedhau- (fat of goat/meat used for stuffing in seedgi)
Tongra shooruo - soup of animal totters
Bhozena shkar - meat roasted in warm ash and amber (viz. chalza-liver, buktu-heart, bhash-lungs)
(-------------- )- Sheep/Goat intestines stuffed with blood (palach) and wheat flour mixed with spices and boiled (just like blood sausages)
Dalkhi - stewed meat

Pudina Chutney
Delle ke Chutney (apricot kernel)
Till ke Chutney
Chas (buttermilk)

Sweet Dishes:
Meetha bhat (branz)
Seera - sweet dish cooked in ghee from the extract of the wheat grain (endosperm)
Atta Halwa - ghee+atta+Jaggery

Wild Ingredients:
Kungshi (Nettle) - used as stuffing (bedho) or for broth and as veg
Balaltu (Field grass) - used for veg
Rachi (Wild mushroom - Chanterelle)
Chauen (Morels)
Lengude (Fiddlehead Fern)
Chaulai (Amaranth)

(I have tried my best to get the name and ingredients right. I would build and fix the recipes in due course. In case correction need to be made please drop a mail at

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Photographic print & Lithograph - Kotgarh/Narkanda

From the archives of British Library :

Photographer: Bourne, Samuel Medium: Photographic print Date: 1860

View of the dak bungalow overlooking the smaller village houses at Narkunda, from the Elgin Collection: 'Spring Tours 1894-98'. This is a late print of a Samuel Bourne photograph, Bourne's original negative number (1426) has been scratched out and replaced by a later reference. Narkanda is a small village situated high in the Himalayan Mountains. The bungalow in this view provided accommodation for travellers on the old Hindustan-Tibet caravan route. Narkanda has awe-inspiring views of the snowy peaks as it is located on the ridge of the last watershed before the Himalayan range. Below Narkanda, to the north is the Sutlej Valley and beyond it is the snowy massif. The ridge on which Narkanda stands is the watershed between the Sutlej on the north and the Giri river. The sleepy town of Narkanda sits astride the watershed between the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal.

Photographer: Bourne, Samuel Medium: Photographic print Date: 1863

Photograph of a view on the road to Narkanda, Himalayas from the 'Strachey Collection of Indian Views', taken by Samuel Bourne in 1863. Samuel Bourne, the bank clerk and amateur photographer arrived in India in 1863 during the early years of commercial photography. Photographs taken during three expeditions to Kashmir and the Himalayas between 1863 and 1866 demonstrate his ability to combine technical skill and artistic vision. These views display a compositional elegance which appealed to Victorian notions of the ‘picturesque’; strategically framed landscapes of rugged mountain scenery, forests, rivers, lakes and rural dwellings. What gives Narkanda its awe-inspiring view of the snowy peaks is the fact that it is located on the ridge of the last watershed before the Himalayan range. Below Narkanda, to the north is the Sutlej Valley and beyond it is the snowy massif. The ridge on which Narkanda stands is the watershed between the Sutlej on the north and the Giri river. The sleepy town of Narkanda sits astride the watershed between the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal.

Artist: Scott, Mrs WLL Medium: Lithograph Date: 1852

This lithograph was made from plate 14 of 'Views in the Himalayas' by Mrs WLL Scott. It was sketched from the verandah of the staging bungalow at Kotgarh in the Himalayas, at sunset. In the middle distance is the village of Kumarsain, and on a high hill behind is the Ramgarh Fort of Kulu. Providing background are the Kangra mountains and the snow ranges of the High Himalayas.

Mrs Scott wrote of the light in the mountains, which changed hourly and transformed the appearance of the region radically. She confessed to finding it difficult to convey the beauty of these changes on paper.

Artist: Scott, Mrs WLL Medium: Lithograph Date: 1852

This lithograph is taken from plate 13 of 'Views in the Himalayas' by Mrs WLL Scott. In 1850 Scott sketched this view at sunset at the staging bungalow in Kotargh. She wrote that the mission here was run by a German sent by the Chuch Missionary Society. There had been initial mutterings about him "taking his hire when his labours were so unfruitful, but he has lately had such good cause to be satisfied and thankful, that he has requested of the Society a fellow-labourer to assist him." The river Sutlej runs between the hills in the two nearest ranges.

In the early 20th century, an American missionary imported apple seeds to Kotgarh and today Himachal Pradesh is a renowned apple-growing region of India, with Kotgarh at the heart of its orchards.

St Mary Church and the Gorton Mission School Kotgarh

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Legacy to cherish The CMS church in Kotgarh stands as a symbol of the early missionary work in Himachal Pradesh. Though the town does not reflect strong Christian characteristics, the legacy is depicted in the church and the school, says Manpreet Kaur

KOTGARH, a small hamlet in the state of Himachal Pradesh, is around 10 km from Narkanda. Surrounded by the Himalayas, the town is famous for its apples, but a less known fact is that Kotgarh was one of the earliest mission stations of North India, the history of which is gathering dust in the mission archives. A visit to the place rekindled my interest on this neglected topic.

The compound of the missionary school (right); and the CMS church,  which stands out for its Gothic architecture
The compound of the missionary school (right); and the CMS church, which stands out for its Gothic architecture

Kotgarh, in the 19th century, was a part of the province of Punjab. Going back to the early establishments of mission centres, the Presbyterians from America led by Rev John C. Lowrie were among the early missions to establish their headquarters in Punjab at Ludhiana in 1834. But after a decade in 1844, it was Church Missionary Society (CMS) from England that opened its centre at Kotgarh. It became a mission station along with Simla, Kangra and Dharamsala. Kotgarh was ideally situated in terms of Christianisation.

To comment on the impact it would have, Robert Clarke, a pioneer of CMS — when he came to Kotgarh after almost 40 years of its establishment — called it as a mission on a hill "to give light to the whole country between China and the plains."

Kotgarh grew with references like these, and by the early 20th century, the field work as described by Rev HFT Beutel comprised an area of about 2000 sq miles. In 1911, there were around seven male native Christian agents.

Kotgarh was not alien to the British establishment at the time of the ecclesiastical invasion. It had already become a station of the British army during the 1814-1816 Gorkha war. A two-storey building was erected to serve as British officers’ mess. In the coming years, the British army withdrew from Kotgarh. Some time later the missionary spirit took root. CMS at Kotgarh worked in close connection with the Berlin Ladies’ Society. Unfortunately, I couldn’t trace any literature on the latter society with regard to their activity in Kotgarh.

What draws attention while one visits the place is a church that stands in the middle of the town. Built in 1872, the CMS church is near the Army mess. Set in the rugged mountainous site, it stands out as an example of the Gothic architecture. The church, a not-so-tall building, has an apse and a tower bell. The front window has a painting of Christ. The exterior is a combination of austerity and simplicity. It was used for daily morning and evening services.

The church — now filled with mature shrubs and apple trees in its backyard — enhances the settings of what is one of the historic buildings of early mission work. Along side the church, a school was opened, and was named after Gorton, a distinguished servant in Simla. Later, it came under the mission control. The school grew gradually, and in 1886 it could boast of a substantial figure of students studying here — 13 boys and two girls.

Interestingly, some medical work was carried at Kotgarh, too. A hospital that comprised only four beds was highly beneficial to the natives and the mission societies alike. Though the hospital was not a missionary enterprise, the latter through its "care and cure" policy spread the message of gospel to the patients. They believed it would facilitate conversions .The mission reports do throw light on incidents that showed interest of the indigenous population towards Christianity.

For instance, a Brahmin, who brought his son for treatment, expressed a desire to learn about Christ. Similarly, a young man in government service with a small salary regularly gave one Re 1 a month as a thank offering for the benefit derived at the mission school. Such descriptions were pronounced but baptism was rare. There are no figures available that tell the exact statistics of the indigenous Christians of that time.

Kotgarh, with its picturesque location, soon became a summer retreat for the missionaries in the plains. Books written during the early 19th century have travelling experiences of missionaries on ponies. Dr Brown of Women’s Christian Medical College and Hospital from Ludhiana was a regular visitor who spent her early summer holidays here. A stay at Kotgarh for her meant time for learning a language like Urdu. Despite the Christian credentials of the place, Kotgarh witnessed a partial process in the spread of Christianity.

Towards the later decades of the 20th century, there was little impetus of mission work here. From this standpoint, ironically, when Samuel Stokes settled in this part of the country, he found his missionary image "unsatisfactory," and became a Hindu to establish a rapport with Indians.

Presently, Kotgarh does not reflect strong Christian characteristics. However, the legacy of the missionaries is depicted in the domain of the church and the school.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Phrases, Idioms & Sayings from Kotgarh

1. Mochi le cham, zimidar le kam (no dearth)
2. Jehne Maa tene Dhee, Jehno Halh teni see (core value and structure)
3. Harye khetey Gaban gai, tebe jadno jebe ghara le aye (don't coun't your chicken before they hatch)
4. Jai mere mathae bhag, te kye kara tero Deo Nag (no one can change my destiny)
5. Jai Gae na deya ta Mae ke deya (Cow Is Supreme)
6. Chupikya chawal gunthia gheo, puru mukha (little by little we eat into our resources)
7. Ghaniye bharti katano ghas, hamasha le nahi randho. (things don't last for every)
8. Gudae gudae ke raash, gudoe gudaye nash (bit by bit we built and bit by bit we can destroy)
9. Bheena chawziye ghor, bheena marda doar (only women can run the house and the men keep things in control)
10. Ghor seenchi aapu le, bhaun begano (look after thing at home then gathering stuff in the wild)
11. Ghort chala pani ke, ghor gharthani ke (women is important to run the house as is the water to watermill)
12. Kachi kanaki bauna satt sawari (the young mind could be molded in any shape)
13. Neenge nee loodhi satro, bhukh nee loodhi chookan (in extreme situations we forsake comforts)

*I would try to add more as and when I stumble upon them.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The legend of Deota Melan or Chatur Mukh in Kotgarh


Deota Melan or Chatur Mukh in Kotgarh – The Deota is believed to be one of the most powerful gods in these hills. He is the family of the Kot Khai and Khaneti chiefs and also of the Thakur of Karangla. More than 3,000 years ago, when there were no Rajas or Ranas in the country (except perhaps Banasur in Bashahr) the people obeyed the deotas as spiritual lords of the land, while mawannas held parts of the country. The deota Kana was supreme in Kotgarh and Khaneti Shadoch country. As he had only one eye, he was called kana. He delighted in human sacrifice, and every month on the Shankrant day a man or woman was sacrificed to him as a bali. Each family supplied victims by turn.

Legend says that there was a woman who had five daughters, four of whom had in turn been devoured by Kana Deo and the turn of the fifth was fixed for the Shankrant day. A onctemporary god, called Khachli Nag, had his abode in a forest called Jarol, near a pond in Khaneti below Sidhpur (on the road to Kotgarh). The poor woman went to him, complaining that the deota Kana had devoured hundreds of human beings and that her four daughters had already been eaten and the same fate for the fifth was fixed for the Shankrant. She implored the Nag to save her daughter, and he having compassion on her. said that when Kana deo's men came to take the girl for the bali, she should look towards the Nag and think of him.

The woman returned home, and when on the day fixed Kana deo's men came for the girl, she did as she had been told. At the same instant a black cloud appeared over the Jarol forest, and spread over the village of Melan and the temple of Kana deo, with lightning and thunder. There was a heavy downpour of rain, the wind howled, and a storm of iron hail and lightning destroyed the temple and the village. Both the temple of Kana and the village of Melan were swept away, but their remains are still to be seen on the spot. They say that large stones joined together by iron nails are found where the temple stood. Images of various shapes are also found in the nala.

Now, there was no other deota in this part of the country, and the people began to wonder how they could live without the help of a god. The custom was that they could hold no fair without a god riding in his rath, so they took counsel together and decided that the Deota Nag of Kachli should be the one god of the country. They chose his abode in the forest and begged him to accept them as his subjects, promising that they would carry him to Melan, build him a new temple, and love frim as their lord, and that on mdd days he should ride in a rath and be carried from place to place and be worshipped as he might please. But the Deota Nag was a pious spirit, his ascetic habits would not permit of pomp and pageantry, so he declined to offer himself as a god of the country, but told the people that he was a hermit and loved solitude, and that if the people were in real earnestin wishing for a god, they should seek one at Kharan (a village in pargana Baghi-Mastgarh, now in Bashahar) where there were three brothers, deotas in a single temple. He advised them to go to Kharan and beg these deotds to agree to be their lords, and promised that he would help them with his influence.

The Kharan Deotas came in their raths for a mela at Dudhbalt (in pargand Jao, now in Kumarsain) and there the Sadoch people proceeded to obtain a deota as king over their country. While the three Kharan brothers were dancing in their rath, the people prayed in their hearts that whichever of them chose to be their god, might make his rath as light as a flower, while the other raths might become too heavy to turn. They vowed in their hearts that the one who accepted their offer should be treated like a king, that his garments should be of silk, his musical instruments of silver, that no sheep or she-goats should be given him, but only he-goats, and that his dominion should be far and wide from Bhaira near the Sutlej to Kupar above Jubbal (the custom still ia that no sheep or she-goat is sacrificed before Chatar-muth deota and no cotton cloth is used)- Their prayer was accepted by the second brother, who was called Chatar-mukh (four-faced); The name of the eldest brother is Jeshar and of the yaungest Ishar. When Chatar-mukh caused his rath to be as light as a lotus flower, eighteen men volunteered to carry it away from the mela, and dancing bore it home on their shoulders.

The Kharan and Jao people, finding that Chatar-mukh was stolen from them by the Shadoch people, pursued them shooting arrows and brandishing dangras. The brave eighteen halted at a maidan behind Jao village, where there was a free fight, in which Kachli Nag mysteriously helped them, and Chatar-mukh by his miraculous power turned the pursuers arrow against their own breasts and their dangras flew at their own heads, until hundreds of headless trunks lay on the maidan, while not one of the Shadochas was killed. The Shadoch people then carried the rath in triumph to Shathl village (in Kotgarh), in the first instance, choosing a place in the middle of the country, so that the god might not be carried off by force by the Kharan and Jao people. Thence the deota was taken to Sakundi Village (in Kotgarh), but the deota did not like to live there and desired the people to build him a temple at Melan, nearly a furlong from the destroyed temple of the deota Kana Deo to the Kotgarh side. This was done gladly by the people and Chatar-mukh began to reside here.

The people say that nearly 150 years ago Chatar-mukh went to Kidar Nath on jatra (pilgrimage), and when returning home he visited Mahasu Deot at Nol, a village in Kiran in Sirm6r (Kiran is now British territory, probably in Dehra Dftn District) as his invited guest. But one of Mahasu's attendant deotas troubled Chatar-mukh in the temple at Nol and frightened his men so that they could not sleep the whole night. This displeased Chatar-mukh, and he left the temple at daybreak much annoyed at his treatment. He had scarcely gone a few steps, when he saw a man ploughing in a field, and by a miracle made him turn towards the temple and ascend it with his plough and bullocks.

Deota Mahasu asked Chatar-mukh why he manifested such a miracle, and Chatar-mukh answered that it was a return for his last night's treatment ; that he, as a guest, had halted at the temple for rest at night, but he and his Ioshkar had not been able to close their eyes in sleep the whole night. Chatar-mukh threatened that by his power the man, plough and bullocks should stick for ever to the walls of the temple. Mahasu was dismayed and fell on his knees to beg for pardon.

Chatar-mukh demanded the surrender of Mahasu's devil attendant, and he was compelled to hand him over. This devil's name is Shirpal. He was brought as a captive by Ohatar-mukh to Melan, and after a time, when he had assured his master that he would behave well, he was forgiven and made Chatarmukh's wazir, as he still is, at Melan. Shirpal ministers in the temple and all religious disputes are decided by him ; e.g.> if anyone is outcasted or any other chua case arises, his decision is accepted and men are re-admitted into caste as he decrees (by oracle).

Some other minor deotda also are subordinates to Chatar-mukh, the chief among them being : (1) Benu, (2) Janeru, (3) Khoru, (4) Merelti and (5) Basara. These deos are commonly called his bhors (servants). The people cannot tell us anything about their origin, but they are generally believed to be rakskas, who oppressed the people in this country until Chatar-mukh subdued them and made them his servants. These bhor deos are his attendants and serve as chaukidar at the temple gate.

Benu is said to have come from Bena in Kullu. He was at first a devil. When it is believed that any ghost has appeared in a house or has taken possession of any thing or man, Deo Benu turns him out. Janeru came from Paljara in Bashahar. He, too, is said to be a devil, but Chatar-mukh reformed him. His function is to protect women in pregnancy and childbirth, also cows, etc. For this service he is given a loaf after a birth, Khoru appeared Khoru kiar in Kumarsain. He was originally a devil, and when Raja Mahi Prakash of Sirmor held his court at Khoru and all the hill chiefs attended it, the devil oppressed the people until Chatar-mukh made him captive and appointed him his chauukidar at Melan temple. Merelu came out of a marghat (crematorium). He, too is looked upon as a jamdut or rakshak. He had frightened the people at Sainja in Kotgarh, but was captured and made a chaukidar at Melan.

Basara Deo is said to have come from Bashahr State, and some say that he was a subordinate deo of Basaru Deota at Gaora and troubled his master, so Basaru handed him over to Chatar-mukh ; but others say that Powri, wazir of Bashahar, invoked Chatar-mukh's aid as he was distressed by the devil Basara, and Shirpal, Chatar-mukh's wazir, shut Basara up in a tokni. Thus shut up, he was carried to Melan and there released and appointed a chaukidar- The utensil is still kept at Melan. This deo helps Benu Deo in turning out ghosts (bhut, pret, or charel). Basaru Deo was given Mangshu and Shawat villages where only Kolis worship him.

The people of Kirti village in Kotgarh worship Marechh deota. Less than hundred years ago Chatar-mukh deota came to dance in a kirti jubar, and Marechh deota opposed him. Chatar-mukh prevailed and was about to kill him, when Tiru, a Brahman of Kirti village, cut off his own arm and sprinkled the blood upon Chatar-mukh, who retired to avoid the sin of Brdhm-hataya, (murder of a Brahman). Chatar-mukh, feeling himself polluted by a Brahman's blood, gave Marechh deota the villages of Bhanana, Kirti and Shawat, and then went to bathe at Kedar Nath to get purified.

Every twelfth year Chatar-mukh tours in his dominion, and every descendant of the eighteen men who brought him from Dudhbali accompanies him. They are. called the Nine Kuin and Nine Kashi. Kuin means original people of respectable families, and Kashi means f those who swore/ The Nine Kuin took with them nine men, who swore to help them to carry Chatar-mukh from Dudhbali. When the deota returns from his tour, these eighteen families are each given a vidaigi gift of a pagrari, and all the people respect them.

An annual mela is held at Dudhbali, to which Chatar-mukh goes to meet his two Kharan brothers. A big Diwali mela is also held at Melan every third year. Every year Chatar-mukh goes to the Dhada mela in Kotgarh, and in Sawan he goes on tour in Kheneti State (Shadoch pargana).

'The old pujaris of Kana deota were killed by lightning or drowned with the deota, and when Chatar-mukh settled at Melan, the Kharan pundits also settled there, and they worship him daily morning and evening. His favourite jatra is to Kedar Nath, and this he performs every 60 or 60 years. He does not approve of the bhunda sacrifice, though his brothers in Kharan hold every twelfth year a bhunda, at which a man is run down a long rope, off which he sometimes falls and is killed. Chatar-mukh goes to see the bhunda at Kharan, but does not allow one at Melan. There is a big fair at Melan every third year. The deota's image is of brass and silver. When he returns from Kidar Nath, a diapan jag meld is held.

People believe that Chatar-mukh is away from his temple in Magh every year for 15 days, and that he goes to bathe at Kedar Nath with his attendants. They say that the spirits fly to Kedar Nath, and all work is stopped during these days. His bhandar (store house) is also closed, and his deva or gur, through whom he speaks, does not appear in public or perform hingarna. The people believe that Chatar-mukh returns on 15 of Magh, then his temple is opened amid rejoicings.

Some say that there is a place in Bashahar, called Bhandi Bil, where the hill rakshasas and devils assemble every year early in Magh, and Chotar-mukh with other deotas of the hills goes to fight them and returns after fifteen days. The people say that Chatar-mukh has eighteen treasuries hid somewhere in caves in forests, but only three of them are known. The treasures were removed from the temples, when the Gurkhas invaded the country. One contains utensils, another musical instruments, and the third gold and silver images of which it was once robbed. The remaining fifteen are said to be in caves under ground. The deota holds large jagir from the Bashahar, Kumarsain, Kot Khai and Khaneti chiefs.

His chief Kardar are the gur, bhandari, khazanchi, darogha of accounts. Four of them are from Kotgarh, and two from Khaneti. All business is transacted by a panchayat. The deota also holds a jagir from Government worth Rs. 80. Kumarsain has given him a jagir of Rs 11 and Khaneti one of Rs. 22. The three Kharan brother once held certain parganas in jagir, pargana Raik belonging to Jeshar, pargana Jao to Chatar-mukh, 'and pargana Samat to Ishwar, but they have been resumed. Nearly 150 years ago the Melan temple was accidentally burnt, and when a Sirmur Rani of Bashahar, who was touring in her jagir came to Melan, the deota asked her to build him a new temple. She asked him to vouchsafe her a miracle, and it is said that his rath moved itself to her tent without human aid, so she then built the present temple at Melan, some 30 years before the Gurkha invasion. The devotees of other Deotas jest at Chatar-mukh's powers.

Till nearly seven generations ago the Ranas of Kotkhai lived there and then transferred their residence to Kotgarh. When at Kotgarh, the tikka of one of the Ranas fell seriously ill and the people prayed Chatar-mukh to restore him. Chatar-mukh declared he would do so, but even as her gur was saying that the tikka would soon recover, news of his death was announced. Thereupon one Jhingri killed the gur with his dangra, but the Rana, was displeased with him, and the family of the murderer is still refused admission to the palace. Some say that the blow of the dangra was not fatal and that the gur was carried by a koli of Batari to Khaneti where he recovered.

Chatar-mukh has given the Khaneti men the privilege of carrying him in front, when riding in his rath, while the Kotgarh men hold it behind, Another mark of honour is that when Chatar-mukh sits, his face is always placed towards Khaneti. He is placed in the same position at his temple.

Chatar-mukh does not like ghosts to enter his dominion, and when any complaint is made of such an entry, he himself with his bhors visits the place and captures the ghost. If the ghost enters any article, such as an utensil, etc., it is confiscated and brought to his temple.

Chatar-mukh is a disciple of Khachri Nag, who has the dignity of his guru or spiritual master. Kepu deota at Kepu in Kotgarh is a mahadeo and Chatar-mukh considers him as his second gurti. Dum deota at Pamlai in Kotgarh, a derivative of Dum of Gathan in Keonthal, is considered subordinate to Chatar-mukh and has a separate temple at a distance. Marechh Deota of Kirti and Mahadeo of Kepfi can accept a cloth spread over the dead, but Chatarmukh and Purn cannot do so.

What became of Kana deota after the deluge at Melan can not be ascertained, but a story believed by some is that he took shelter in a small cistern in Sawari Khad. A woman long after a deluge tried to measure the depth of the cistern with a stick and Kana Deo's image stuck to it, so she carried it to her house and when his presence was known, Chatur-mukh shut him up in a house at Batari village. Some say that the woman kept the image of Kana in a box, and when she opened it, she was surprised by the snakes and wasps that came out of it. The box was then buried for ever.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

From the archives

- submitted by Avninder Thakur

Endree tendree pankhi poli
Tetha ka nikhlo Hinsru koli
Hinsru koli ye phukre naal
Tetha ka nikhlo doom chamar

Doom chamare Khauto kaam
Tetha ka nikhle saat daam
Saata daame maiyen roopi
Tetha ka nikhle soniye topi

Soniye topi mein Deo li dene
Deo e mule ghandi dene
Ghandi main ghasariya li dene
Ghasariya mule ghas deeno

Ghas mein gowe deeno
Gowe mule doodh deno
Doodh main Dadu le deno
Dadu e mule ghar deno cheeni

Friday, March 5, 2010

Revive the glory! (KOTGARH)

Perhaps you are not new to the debate of decline in the apple production and thus the income in Kotgarh notwithstanding looking for new oppertunities to showcase Kotgarh's natural wealth and history and in the process making some money.

A well documented discussion from the people of Kotgarh Hills cutting across boundries of wealth, experience, education and social standing.

It would leave you richer and thinking. In case you have something to say; you could join the discussion.

Visit the below listed links for the complete Discussion.
Revive the glory! (KOTGARH)
Prospects of tourism in Kotgarh

Friday, February 26, 2010

Apple Blossom

It is almost springtime and your apple trees would soon be in full bloom.

The early-bloomers and the trees at low altitude are in full bloom (by mid March) with hundred of beautiful pink and white blossoms. Those beautiful apple blossoms, if pollinated, will each result in an apple.

You can get the best view of the Kotgarh valley in spring from Kumarsain.

Picture Credit : Rajat Jamwal

Some tips on how to make most of these blossoms:

# Remove a few, should help your fruit grow bigger and better.

# Place the freshly removed blossoms in a bowl in your bathroom to add a light fragrance and their beauty for the day.

# Use some of the blossoms to decorate the braids in your hair.

The Unfinished One

I sit under the bright starry night sky,
My fragile dreams won't survive;
The time fly,
And my dreams need some hope.

My apple trees need some rest,
They endured a long summer;
I have done my best,
And I tolied in my orchards hard.

If you don't show me your kind light,
I would loose my hope in you;
If the flakes don't warm my cold cheeks this night,
Never would I be the same.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Women of the Kotgarh Hills

A strong social fabric and a tough women keeps thing together in Kotgarh. An expert in managing the house and the fields enjoy equal rights and call the shots.

The tireless hardy woman of the Kotgarh hills starts her day early. The usual routine included handling, milking cows and cleaning the cowshed. Hauling the kilta (conical cane basket) on back with gobar (cow dung) to the gobash (dumping ground) and bringing back the green grass from the fields for cows in neat and secured bindka (bale).

Preparing breakfast, helping the fussy kids with their homework, sorting things for them and sending them packing to the school. Not to mention dusting, sweeping, moping and swabbing the house. Picking fresh vegetable for lunch from the garden and cooking lunch - which would be packed for consumption while at work in the orchards. Directing the farm help (the Nepali Ghurkhas) what to do... and not to mention handling the over fussy older lot - (this all packed in the first 3 hours of the day).

And you call your job a tough one.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In Keeping With Tradition

Kotgarh has managed to retain its culture and the old traditions to quite an extent. The wave of modernity that has swept the state has definitely changed things for good but in Kotgarh modernity still co-exists with the old. To quote Raaja Bhasin an eminent write, "If modernity is there, these places (Kotgarh) still speak of tradition – and as an example, the odds are that you will see most of the women still wearing reztas...".

The "Gora Sahib" - the white skinned gentleman not only brought his friends to Kotgarh but a bit of the Victorian culture which is clearly visible in the 'full-length buttoned-up, long-sleeved rezta' - Victorian Style gown well modified to suite the Kotgarh climates. Not much is known how rezta took its current form.

Among the slew of fast cars and designer attire the good old rezta and the saluka still rules.

The traditional dress of womenfolk comprises the rezta (long dress), the dhatu (head scarf) and the saluka (waist coat) with rebdar pajama while the male dress includes the Kullu/Busheri cap (some could even be seen wearing the gandhian cap), kurta, and saluka (waist coat) and woolen coat (jacket). Older folks could be seen using a gachi (waist band) too straighten their back.

The ornaments includes: Chhak, a hollow ‘U’ shaped silver ornament - used for decorating hair and the Tikka is placed on forehead.
Ear ornaments: Baddi, Kantay, Darotu, and Bragar.
Nose ornaments are: Long, Tilli, Nath.
Neck ornaments: Ambli, Jantar, Haar, Kanthi.
Wrist ornaments: Shangley, Choodiyan band.
Finger: Kangri.
Toe: Poole.
Ankles: Paizab.

Most of these ornaments are being used only during the festivals and social functions.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My fond memory - The Tani Jubbar Fair

Often, I see articles in prints about this picturesque place. A lot has been mentioned and written about it an it rightly deserves a spotlight. I fondly remember the place and its colours and those once a year visit to the fair.

Each year we kids used to look forward to the Tani Jubbar fair, it was listed as a Holiday in our school calendar. A day before, our gang after a heart fill of cricket would sit under the open starry sky and plan for the most important day that year. Every gang member had a suggestion to push - 'when to start?', 'how much money to carry?', 'which route to take?', 'to walk or wait for the overcrowded bus or hitch a hike?'

Mom used to have a difficult time with me fussing about my clothes and the pocket money. I only insisted on wearing a new pair and nothing else and always demanded more pocket money on that special day. My demands were met only after I would promise and assure her that I would keep my little brother close and return home well before sunset and won't venture too close to the lake.

A promise of exciting day ensured a sleepless night. I would peep from under the covers all night hoping to see some light through the window; my eagerness used to be met by my mothers admonishment. My mom would warn me of catching cold and was very firm to keep me tucked in till the sun was up.

On that day to everybody’s surprise I would be the first to jump into the bathroom for a nice scrub. And the remaining morning would be spent preening in front of the mirror - my little brother could never understand it.

The gang would group around my house. It would gradually increase in size as we moved through the village and then made our way through the forest trail. The excitement and exhilaration used to be palpable. We would fool around and enjoy the up hill climb through the sea of people to be greeted by the beautiful serene lake with ancient Nag Devta temple on the other end. We were in awe of this beautiful lake – a small placid shimmering lake surrounded by deodar tress on the northern and the southern slope and by apple orchards on the western and eastern front. We always loved coming back to see it.

One could see the bright coloured rezta/dhatu donned womenfolk’s with kids in tow. The place used to be filled with colours, smiles and the smell of cheap perfume. Groups and groups of womenfolk and kids would emerge from nowhere and then disappear in the crowd. The electric environment would rub on to everybody and we rarely saw a sad soul around.

The courting couple were a real delight to see and then there was the younger lot showing off to attract attention and the old folks catching up on the good old times. One could also catch sight of some tourist in the swank cars and inapt attires - we kids always had a laugh at them.

The day would be spent eating juicy jalabies, water melons, cheap ice candies and frolicking around. I was always scared to ride the swings and the wheels and admired the easy which which they were operated. Quite a time was also spent checking the toy guns at the hawkers before settling for a good one.

The most awaited moment used to be the arrival of the Deota (It is his festival), a mesmerising sight. He would be carried on his rath to the main ground preceded by the baja. The whole place was filled with an air of charm and divine blessing. As the day passed we weary kids would look for some shade in the slopes and on most occasions disturbed the courting couples. Later it was the nati that attracted us - everybody could be seen joining in irrespective of the cast and social standing. The day would get noisy with every passing hour and influx of the devotees and visitors. The evening was always reserved for the folk dance competition. A lull used to fall when it would start followed by cheers and applauds.

A blissful day would come to an end and remembering mom’s instructions we would regroup and make our way back home with the toy guns and memories and a promise to come back next year.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Care & Share

Someone died today. You might have known him well - he slogged for you in your orchards, run errands for you, maintained your house, brought news and gossip to you, kept you in good humour with his jokes and stroked your ego. Literally, he was your 'pacemaker' and let’s call him that. He died but you are still alive.

The 'pacemaker' had inherited nothing and was raised on doles, didn't get much education and food. He lived in squalor but dreamed big - he dreamt of being you someday but he couldn’t even come close.

I came across couple of archaic articles in news print which lauded Kotgarh for its economic progress - one of the articles says Kotgarh has the highest per capita income (rural) in Asia and then an article published couple of years later says it has the highest per capita income in the South East Asia. My chest is already puffed up but the news of the death of 'pacemaker' deflates my jubilations - we could have made a difference to his life.

I remember meeting an elder from Kotgarh about a year ago who was aghast at the appalling attitude of the youngsters toward the elders and he was quite eloquent in expressing the though that more than the cast and the religion it’s the economic divide which separates the people in Kotgarh. The display of bonhomie is pseudo and the relations are all but for personal gains.

Have you done your bit for your ‘pacemaker’? Do you ensure his family is taken care of? His kids have decent education and his small dream are supported. Don't wait for him to die.

Next time in case you are driving back home from Narkanda in odd hours, check if you could help someone reach home for dinner.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

An ancient ritual.

The recent solar eclipse on January 15, classified as the longest eclipse of the century, reminded me of a practice followed by the locals on such celestial occurrences. It was believed that the sun was being devoured by a demon and needed help. People would gather in front of their houses and offer seven types of grains to the demon and plead with him to release the sun. They would chant:

"Chaar papiya chaar, jetre gule tetre khaar" meaning,

Please release the sun we offer you these grains consider each grain equivalent to one khaar.

The measure of quantity was volume and grains were measured accordingly. The smallest measure was a patha. It would work out to slightly more than one kg. 16 pathas equaled 1 bhar and 20 bhar was 1 khaar.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The traditional Kotgarh 'baja'

Not much has been captured and written about the traditional
baja -the suite of percussion instruments. The baja belongs to the local Gods (Devta) and accompanies them for the jatar's and festivals. It is hired for social functions and marriages by the locals and is accorded the highest respect and honor.

Excerpt from an article by Vijay K. Stokes in Tribune dated Saturday, November 29, 2008.

"It (baja) consists of two large base drums called dhols, each of which is struck on one side with a curved stick held in the right hand, with the other side is struck and muted by the left hand, resulting in a loud, lower-frequency sound than cannot be produced by dholaks or tables. Other instruments include a higher frequency half drum, called a nagara, played with two straight sticks; and a metal plate, called a bhana, that on being struck with a stick, produces a high-frequency metallic sound. Besides these percussion instruments, the baja also has three pairs of horns: the karnal, a flared lower-frequency horn; the kaori, a bulbous, higher frequency horn; and the harnshinga, an S-shaped high-frequency horn. When played in the hills, these horns produce haunting, echoing sounds. The baja can be accompanied by a sarnai (a shehnai) that plays the notes of the song’s melody."

A sample video of welcoming and paying respect to the Devta ji's baja before the start of the function.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Samuel Stokes: India’s Johnny Appleseed

- by Raaja Bhasin

In the late 1920s, my father as a small boy took the train from Lahore to Shimla with his uncle, Bihari Lal who had become an admirer and something of a friend to an American who had settled in Kotgarh, one of the poorest pockets in the Shimla tract. Beyond Shimla, the Hindustan Tibet Road as it existed then was adapted only for horses, pack animals and plain old foot-slogging.

It took them three days to get to Kotgarh from Shimla where Bihari Lal was helping the Quaker from Philadelphia, Samuel Evans Stokes set up a school. The journey now takes a couple of hours along a road along which huge lorries cart equipment to Nathpa- Jakhri, one of the largest hydro-electricity projects in the world that is located in the valley of the Satluj river that flows in the valley below.

The journey of Samuel Evans Stokes was a far longer one. It was in the years that my father moved up the dusty path to Kotgarh that the apple plants which Stokes had imported from the United States were taking root. While the school which had taken uncle and nephew there in the first place died quietly without a fuss, the ‘Delicious’ varieties of apple which had been developed by the Stark Brothers of Louisiana went on the transform the economy and much of the landscape.

Today, the apple-based economy of the contiguous villages of Thanedar and Kotgarh have given it one of the highest per-capita incomes in Asia. Around these villages, signs of the time may be there – hoardings that announce the latest cell-phone plan or advertise call-centres and air-hostess training institutes. But while they may be there, they do not dominate the landscape nor do they hustle people off to explain why a CD drive cannot function as a coffee-cup holder to a caller from the American mid-west. If modernity is there, these places still speak of tradition – and as an example, the odds are that you will see most of the women still wearing rejtas, long flowing –almost Victorian – gowns and dhatus, headdresses.

Born on 16th August 1882, the son of a Quaker millionaire from Philadelphia, Stokes arrived in India on 26th February 1904. He was coming to help in a leprosy home that had been established at Subathu in the foothills below Shimla, the ‘summer capital’ of British India. He had barely settled in when in April, 1905 a devastating earthquake rocked the area and nearby Kangra was severely hit.

Entire towns were levelled and things were much worse in the isolated villages. Samuel Stokes moved there to help in whatever way he could. The administration assigned him the work of going from village to village to assess the losses and indemnify the affected persons. Though assured of payment of personal expenses, his conscience could not accept this and he did not take a paisa for this arduous work.

Sapped of strength, from Kangra, Stokes moved to Kotgarh beyond Shimla and to the end of his days, this was to be his home. Long before he built that remarkable house ‘Harmony Hall’ at Thanedar, above Kotgarh – and named after the family home in New Jersey – Stokes, howsoever briefly, even lived in a cave.

Here, he married a local Christian girl, Agnes and worked ceaselessly to uplift the local people from the host of problems that beset them – including the custom of ‘begar’ where labour would be pressed in service for little or no remuneration and often worked under inhuman conditions. He took recourse to ‘passive resistance’ which had been used by his Quaker ancestors in the past for the sake of their ideals.

Backed by the whole of Kotgarh which bravely responded to his call, the government ultimately gave in and the system of ‘begar’ was abolished. Stokes’ action on behalf of the hill people commended him to Mahatma Gandhi who wrote in Young India: “No Indian is giving such battle to the Government as Mr. Stokes. He has veritably become the guide, philosopher and friend of the hill men.”

Soon after the repressive Rowlatt Acts were passed in 1919, Stokes became an active associate of Mahatma Gandhi and was even jailed for his role in India’s struggle for freedom. This gave him the distinction of being the only American to be imprisoned in the cause of India’s freedom.

In 1921, in his booklet National Self-Realisation, Stokes wrote: “Our immediate object is to make the Government of this land representative of the will of the people.” In the same booklet he wrote: “…ultimately Complete Swaraj, independent of the British Empire is the only goal for India.” For another one of Stokes’ booklets, Awakening India, Gandhi Ji wrote the foreword. Characteristically, he sought his own guidance and way with religion and it was in these years that Stokes converted to Hinduism and changed his name to Satyanand.

Harmony Hall, Stokes’ old home, still stands on top of the hill, surrounded by the apple orchards that he first planted. This unusual piece of architecture speaks worlds for the man that built it. This draws from the local style of interlocking horizontal wooden beams packed with dressed stone, and is combined with elements of the ‘western’ architectural experience - high chimney-stacks and large windows; in more ways than one, two entirely different backgrounds that were merged into a single entity.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Tani - Jubbar Lake - Jarol: 5 Kms From Kotgarh. Famous for 'Nag Devta' temple. 'Nag Devta' is the guru of Chatur Mukh.

Mailan Devta Temple (Chatur Mukh) - M
ailan: 2 Kms from Kotgarh. The Deo or Deota is the most powerful of the Gods in the Hills. He is the family God of the Kotkhai and the Khaneti chiefs and the Thakurs of Karangla. The devta’s temple is constructed in Shikhar style and is a marvel in architecture. The devta premises has a Bhagwati temple known as Mata Kedar who was brought 150 years ago from Kedarnath.

Hattu Temple & Peak: 15 Kms from Kotgarh. At 11,000 ft, this peak offers a panoramic view of the snowline. Hatu hillock provides beautiful and majestic views of the Himalayas and the surrounding pahari hamlets. It also has a small Kali temple. For almost six months in a year (winter and spring), Hatu is covered with a thick blanket of snow.

St.Mary's Church - Kotgarh: Built in 1843; this church at Kotgarh is one of the oldest churches in India housed in the premises of the Gorton Mission School surrounded by orchards and a small graveyard at the back.

Parmjyotir Temple- Thanedhar:
4 Kms from Kotgarh. Built by Stokes in the Pahari style after his conversion (SUDHI) to Hinduism.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Beautiful Kotgarh

Kinnar Kailash (a view from Kotgarh)

Kinnar Kailash (a view from Bherari)

Gorton Mission School (the old building)

Kotgarh Village

A view from Bherari

Trail through the apple orchard

A view of Shelajan (the highest peak)

Cluster of houses around the Mailan temple

The DFO Residence

St. Mary Church (renovation time)

Temple Kotgarh (Than)