The mansions of Garli

Manjulika Pramod
Saturday, 6 October 2018

Step into this small quiet village in Himachal Pradesh and you will discover an ancient world of beautiful homes belonging to the Sud community who once inhabited the village

Where will one find Rayeeson Wali Kothi, Hidden House, Mystery House, Santri Wali Kothi, Banta Residence, Sarai, Bhagwan Niwas, Mela Ram’s residence (Chateau Garli), Naurang Yatri Niwas and many more interestingly built and creatively named houses? They are all located in one sleepy village called Garli. Once known for its rustic beauty and lush greenery, Garli in the state of Himachal Pradesh was called the Switzerland of India until the 1930s. In today’s time, tourists visit the place for its heritage and tranquility. 

A part of the Heritage Zone
It takes only 45 minutes to reach the soulful and sober hamlet of Garli if you get down at Amb Andaura, a small railway station in Una district of Himachal Pradesh. Lying under the shadows of the grand Dhauladhar mountain range, graced by the proximity of the Beas river and situated in the Kangra Valley, this one, along with Pragpur region, was notified as the first ‘Heritage Village’ of the country in the ’90s. On clear sky days, one can see the Dhauladhar range from some parts of the village. 

On the first day, you may find yourself caught in a time warp but soon the beauty of the desolate havelis, mansions, brick houses and Italianate buildings fills your eyes and soul. Even before you complete a 500m walk in the village, you find yourself falling in love with the various styles of wooden balconies, carved doors, artistic motifs, wall murals, slate roofs, huge arches, jharokhas, jaalis and balustrades.
 
You might take a pause to appreciate and marvel at the beauty of one of the havelis, and then move on to the next only to realise that the other one is equally pretty. 

The Rich Sud community
In the early 19th century, some 50 odd families of Sud community came from Rajasthan to Garli for trading.  They worked for the Kangra royals and with time, the wheels of fortune bestowed them with power and luxury. Even today, one can see a glimpse of the opulence. Rayeeson Wali Kothi (house of the rich), which happens to be the first mansion of Garli, embraces and endorses Rajasthani motifs and comes as a treat for tourists to see Kangri, Rajasthani, Islamic, Colonial and Portuguese architectural styles at one place. 

However, back in the day the flourishing Sud community were forced to abandon their homes when a bride cursed the village and the prosperous and entrepreneurial clan began to incur losses. Soon they moved to other cities for better prospects. The village was abandoned by almost all until the last few years when a few of the owners have returned to take care of their ancestral homes.  

Ahead of its time
This well-planned hamlet boasts of a proper water and drainage system, a veterinary hospital, an old boys’ school, a girls’ school which came later but still is 50 years old, a special women’s hospital functional from 1921, Garli Water Works and more. 

Garli can easily be a model town and a treasure trove for those who want to study architecture, town planning, anthropology, culture and art. The Suds travelled to various parts of the world due to their work and this made them appreciative of different cultures. Their liking for different forms of art and their progressive nature can be seen in the unique features of their homes.  Each one tells its own unique tale. It hurts to see some of them in absolute ruins.

Things to do
It goes without saying that a visit to Garli is incomplete without a heritage walk. One needs to invest a complete day to unearth the hidden gems of the village and meet the friendly locals. A visit to the oldest bakery shop to indulge in its fresh biscuits and authentic Sidu bread is a great idea to end the morning walk. 
In the evening, one may visit the only café of the village which became functional last year. 

Last but not the least, do meet the women of the village who are involved in various craftsmanship like tailoring, stitching, knitting and more. 
A visit to Kangra fort, Pong Dam and Masroor Rock Cut temple is a must.
(Manjulika Pramod is a travel writer who blogs at www.manjulikapramod.com)

ST READER SERVICE
How to reach?
Those who are not familiar with Amb station can also reach Garli by taking the Delhi to Chandigarh Shatabdi followed by a three-hour road trip to Garli. 
On the way don’t miss to stop and marvel at one of the biggest dams of India, the Bhakra Nangal Dam. 

Where to stay?
MelaRam’s residence (Chateau Garli) and Naurang Yatri Niwas provide stay and food facilities, and are their owners are making great efforts to revive the vibrancy of the place.

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