Chamba, Himachal Pradesh

Chamba town is located on the right bank of the river Ravi. As a former princely State, this is one of the oldest in the country and dates back to the sixth century. It is well known for its splendid architecture and as the base for numerous excursions. It is also the district headquarter. Banked by the majesty of the high snow-covered peaks, Chamba lies between the Dhauladhar and the Pangi ranges – which are sub-systems of the Himalayas. The town is built over and along the sides of two large terraces. Towering over the magnificent wide, grass-covered flat, the chaugan is the Akhand Chandi Palace, the former residence of the state’s rulers. Chamba’s intricate lanes are replete with architecture, history and lore. The folk songs of Chamba unfold timeless stories of love and longing; its fine crafts include the exquisite rumal, scarf where the embroidery done with a double satin-stitch that emerges as a positive of both sides. The cuisine is distinctive and includes the sharp Chamba-chukh made of fiery peppers or the succulent chah-meat, sour mutton.

Fast Facts

Height: 1000 m

Climate: Summers are pleasant and cotton clothing is recommended. Winters are cold and temperature drops below the freezing point.

Getting There & Away: How to reach Chamba

Road: Chamba is 126 kms from Pathankot, 378 kms from Shimla, 169 kms from Dharamshala via Lahru and 185 kms via Chakki, 65 kms from Bharmour and 41 kms from Dalhousie via Khajjiar.

Rail: Pathankot, at a distance of 196 kms is the closest railway station.

Air: Gaggal in Kangra is 140 kms away.

Tourist Attractions in Chamba

The Chaugan: This wide terrace is the heart of much of Chamba’s social and cultural life. It is here that people gather in the evenings to talk and stroll. At this place the Minjar Fair is held in July-August every year which showcases the history and culture of this area.

Bhuri Singh Museum: Named after Raja Bhuri Singh who ruled Chamba between 1904 and 1919, this was opened in 1908. The displays include embroideries like rare examples of the Chamba rumals, miniature paintings, copper-plate inscriptions, murals, carved and painted doors, stone carvings and several items of princely paraphernalia. Unique exhibits are the barselas, water or fountain stones.

Hari Rai Temple: This stands by the Chaugan gate and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple is dated to the 11th century and was built by Raja Lakhsman Varman. The light bronze image with gold and silver inlays depicts Vishnu as ‘Chaturmurti’ and has four facets to the head.

The Laxmi Narayan Group of Temples: With six main shikara style temples and several smaller shrines, this group is renowned for its finely executed classical forms. From north to south the main shrines are – Lakshmi Narayan, Radha-Krishna, Chandragupta Mahadeva, Gauri Shankar, Tri-Mukeshwara and Laxmi Damodar. The complex also holds some minor shrines. Three of the main temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva and three to Lord Vishnu. All the main temples have a square sanctum and an antrala. Ina corner is a small water body called the ‘Ardh Gandha’ and bathing in its water is ritually significant.

Chambavati Temple: Located behind the Police Station, this temple was built by Raja Sahil Varman. It is believed that this was named after his daughter who is now worshipped as a goddess. At the time of the Minjar Mela, it was customary for the rulers of Chamba to visit all the important temples – and their round of obeisance began and ended with a visit to this one. The goddess is enshrined as a black stone image sitting atop a tiger.

Vajreshwari Temple: Placed at the northern end of the Jansali Bazaar, this old shrine is dedicated to Vajrajeshwari Devi, the goddess of lightening.

Sui Mata Temple: The temple of Sui Mata lies on Chamba’s Shah Madar hill. It is said that when an aqueduct was built to carry water to the town of Chamba from the Sarota stream, the water refused to flow. This was put down to supernatural causes. The local priests said that either Raja Sahil Varman’s son must be sacrificed, or it must be the Rani. Dressed as a sati, the Rani was buried alive at this spot and the water began to flow. Even today, this sacrifice is honoured by a fair held every March-April and is known as the Sui Mata ka Mela. This is largely attended by women and young girls who sing praises of the Rani.

Chamunda Devi Temple: Built high on the hill above town at a position where a superb view is available, this temple was rebuilt in the 17th century. This has excellent carving on stone and wood.

Bansi Gopal Temple: Built in the shikara style, this temple lies on the banks of the River Ravi. Built in the sixteenth century, when the worship Krishna Ji became popular in the hills, the sanctum has images of Radha and Krishna while the doorway has a fine carving of Lord Ganesha.

The Sita Ram Temple: Placed in Chamba’s ‘Mohalla Bangota’, near the old palace, this was built by Batu, the nursemaid of Raja Prithvi Singh.

Rang Mahal: Construction on this palace began in the middle of the 18th century and additions were made later. An interesting mix of British colonial and other styles, this held superb wall paintings – some of which are now displayed in the Bhuri Singh Museum.

Akhand Chandi Palace: Opposite the Lakshmi Narayan temples, this imposing building once housed Chamba’s ruling family. The palace was exhaustively renovated and rebuilt during the reign of Raja Sham Singh. Much of the original craftsmanship can still be seen.

St. Andrew’s Church: Over a century old, this is a dressed-stone structure with lancet windows and epitomises the bare minimum of decorative devices used in Scottish churches. The Church was built by the efforts of John Hutchinson, a doctor who also co-authored the standard work, History of the Punjab Hill States. The land for the church as well as the construction expenses were given by the rulers of Chamba.

Vajreshwari Dive Temple, Sarota: Built at the start of the Sarota valley, this 11th century temple is dedicated to Devi Bhagwati. With a high quality of workmanship, this has elaborate carvings – including the gateway adorned with an image of ‘Chaturbhuji Durga’. The free-standing stone carvings near the temple are also exemplary and were created in the 16th century.

Bhalai Mata Temple: The village of Bhalai is 40 kms from Chamba and the temple of Bhadra Kali, also known as Bhalai Mata, is held in considerable veneration. There is an excellent view of the Chamera Lake from this temple.

Jalpa Devi Temple: 4 kms from Chamba and surrounded by cedar woods, this is located in the village of Batalwan.

Chatari: Halfway between Chamba and Bharmaur, about 40 kms from Chamba, the village of Chatrari is largely inhabited by musicians and Brahmins who have been associated with the temple for generations. Here, dedicated to the Devi in her form of ‘Shakti’, is the Shakti Devi Temple. The temple dates back to the 8th century and the reign of Raja Meru Varman; the Raja’s master craftsman, Gugga is regarded to have built this. The other temples at Chatrari include the temple of Gauri Shankar and a short walk away, is the one dedicated to Bhatod Nag.

Bharmaur: This is 65 kms from Chamba. At an altitude of 2195 m, this is surrounded by alpine pastures and is the summer home of the nomadic Gaddis. This was once known as Brahmpur and between the sixth and tenth centuries, was the capital of the princely state of Chamba. It is renowned for its cluster of eighty four temples – collectively known as the ‘Chaurasi’. With varying architectural designs, these were built between the 7th and 10th centuries. Legend has it that in the 10th century, eighty four holy men visited the place and blessed the ruler, Sahil Varman with ten sons and a daughter, Champavati – after whom the town of Chamba is said to be named. And while some shrines are already in existence, the remainder were built by Raja Sahil Varman to commemorate their sojourn. Some of the prominent shrines are the Ganesh Temple, the Lakshana Devi Temple, the Mani Mahesh Temple and the Narasingha Temple. From Bharmaur, there are trek routes over the Chobia and Kugti passes. Other interesting places at hand are the temple of Bani Mata and picturesque Khundel.

Manimahesh: This is 93 kms from Chamba and 28 kms from Bharmaur. At 4183 m, this lake is sacred to Lord Shiva and his divine consort, Parvati. The route is past villages inhabited by the Gaddi people and wide meadows – which steadily give way to bare rock and large snow fields. The lake’s deep blue waters rest at the feet of the Manimahesh Kailash peak – regarded as one of the mythological abodes of Lord Shiva. Every year, after the festival of Janmasthami in August-September, a pilgrimage is conducted to the lake. This begins from the Laxmi Narayan Temple in Chamba.

Pangi Valley: This remote corner of the Himachal is 137 kms from Chamba. With its lowest height at a lofty 2438 m, this secluded valley is held between the Pir Panjal ranges and the Greater Himalayas. Its sub-divisional headquarters are at Kilar. Trapped in a deep and narrow gorge, the river Chenab (local name Chandrabhaga) races through the valley. Pangi’s high crags and untamed grandeur, act as a beacon for intrepid trekkers. The Sach Pass (4428 m), opens the way to several trek routes. Thick forests with a variety of wildlife fill the Pangi valley. Its side-valleys – Saichu, Hunan and Sural Nallah are also endowed with remarkable natural beauty. The temple of Mindhal Devi in Pangi is held in high reverence.

Chamera Lake: Created by the Chamera Dam over the river Ravi, this large reservoir offers water sports and boating. Basic facilities are available by the lake side

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