Rajkumari Sharma Tankha
It was while sipping a hot cup of tea at a roadside stall near Matour village that I first heard about the village named Garli. This was a couple of years back when I, along with my family, was on way to Palampur (in Himachal Pradesh), the famous hill station and the tea capital of northwest India, from Pathankot to enjoy our summer holidays. A group of villagers was waiting for the state transport bus here to take them to Garli. I overheard their conversation as to how the hamlet had changed for good and the progress it had witnessed since it, along with Pragpur, was declared a heritage village by the tourism ministry of Himachal Pradesh.
“Kitni door hai yahan se?” I remember asking the group and whether there was any place to stay in Garli. “Hoga lagbhag 55-60 km,” one of them replied. He also told me that there were a couple of places to stay in Garli — a state guest house and a chateau (he pronounced it as chato) Garli, appreciating the place. The name stuck in my mind. Sometime later, I shall surely visit, I thought to myself.
The tag “heritage” has always drawn not only me but also my family towards it. We are always on a hunt for destinations which preferably have some heritage value to them. And here was one which came our way by chance. An hour after reaching Palampur and searching for Garli on various search engines, the family decision was to return the year after as we had decided to spend the next vacations in Kerala.
And here we were, now in Garli…
Often called the sister of Pragpur villag, Garli is home to elegant mansions and havelis interspersed among slate-roofed, mud-plastered houses. It was in 2002 that the government of Himachal Pradesh declared Garli-Pragpur area as heritage zone to protect the heritage of Garli.
The village is replete with old building, mostly of these residential, and sadly, many are abandoned too. But even in their state of disrepair, these buildings have a certain aura around them that attracts, enthralls and fills you with wonder.
Notice the village-style wall paintings
Staying was not a problem, thanks to Chateau Garli, an impressive village mansion, nearly 100-year-old, run by owner Yatish Sud who has ensured that no element of his the then village home is missing. Amazingly, he has used all his old artifacts, utensils, kitchen appliances, sanitaryware to adorn the chateau complex beautifully.
The oldest telephone the Sud household (left) the one that came next
When I had first looked at the photographs of this heritage hotel on its website, I thought the owner must be trying to offer a French experience to its visitors in this quaint village. But I must confess, having the old village experience was much better than any French experience I would have had.
The open kitchen still uses old brass pots (left) while the paraats and kalashas add to
the beauty of the interiors
We reached Chateau Garli on a Monday, and after freshening up, went around the village. “People of this were very house proud,” said Sud, which explains why each house is increasingly beautiful than the other. Some have Portuguese architecture, some Islamic, some Rajasthani and still others a mix of all these. But one thing that is common to all is gabled roofs with slate shingles. Sadly, most houses are neglected and abandoned by their owners, though. Only a few have tenants in them, rest vacant and dying a slow death.
Most houses in the village look like this, look at the gabled roofs and slate shingles
Sud himself is very passionate about keeping all old things intact, be it tangible items or experiences — as a welcome greeting he treated us to malai barfi, kulfi made of pure milk and sugar served in banyan tree leaf for which he called the kulfiwala at the Chateau. That’s the reason why each of the 19 rooms in his mansion has an antique ambiance, be it the furniture or almirahs. Since in 1921, when the house was constructed, there were no ceiling fans, there are none today either, though each room has a pedestal fan and an AC to give you a comfortable stay. That reminds me, Chateau Garli also offers spa services! Spa services in a village…what more can you ask for?
Sud with his ancestral gramophone that he tried his best to run (left), the oldest telephone
(centre) and the old one (right), all vie for attention at the Chateau
Sud has kept the old ancestral crib in one of the rooms. The old coins have been turned into art installations and so have the old keys and locks. The keys have an interesting story. “These keys came out of my grandmother’s locker that we broke open years after her demise with great curiosity. We were hoping for some antique precious jewellery, all we got were these iron keys,” laughs Sud. Also occupy the pride of place are an old gramophone, typewriter, telephone, piano and food warmer, in their original glory.
The old keys that have turned into a wall hanging
Gabled roofs, long windows, and pillared verandas of the main building flow seamlessly into the annexe which during earlier times was a cattle shed.
The old coins turned wall decor item and the ancestral crib!
Garli in itself has nothing much for a tourist. But it has many places within in an hour-and-a-half distance by road which you can visit. Like Masrur Rock Temple, Kangra Fort, Norbolingka Art School and Mahakali Mahakaleshwar Temple. You can even enjoy a quiet evening on the bank of river Beas, from where you can collect scores of well-rounded pebbles of different colours, if you are a collector like me! A word of advice though: Please don’t try feeding dogs, there are scores of them, on the river banks, and please, please do not throw any garbage to spoil its pristine beauty. Or if you are jungle buff, go for the night safari, though it is difficult to say if you will see a big animal!
Have a cup of tea on the banks of river Beas