Manali Beyond Manu-Alaya

From an art gallery to ancient handicrafts and the Kath Kuni style of architecture, there's lots to experience here
Naggar Castle  Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons
Naggar Castle Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons

Manali, a hill destination of enchanting wonders, has always attracted me, mainly because of its natural bounty and salubrious climate. But, I had a different reason to travel there to explore the uniqueness of some quaint places and landmarks of great historic value in Kullu Valley of Himachal Pradesh.

While preparing the itinerary for the trip, my daughter&ndasha young designer from NIFT Delhi currently working on a project on "Dying Traditional Handicrafts of Kullu"&mdashexpressed her interest in joining me. She was keen to visit places like Naggar&mdashan ancient town that was the kingdom of Kullu, until around 1,400 years ago.

On The Agenda

At Naggar, legendary Russian painter and traveller Nicholas Roerich had arrived to explore the Himalayas and eventually settled down in the region, spending almost two decades here with his wife Helena, a Russian theosophist and writer, between 1924 and 1947. It was after his death at Nagger&mdashwhere his memorials, besides that of Helena, stand witness to their love for the place&mdashthat his son Svetoslav Roerich, who got married to Devika Rani, a distinguished actress, and head of Bombay Talkies Studio, converted the house into a museum and decided to gift all paintings of Roerich to an art gallery after his name.

The Roerich Memorial House&mdashwhere the Roerich family lived&mdash stands witness to a legacy, that belongs as much to India as it did to Russia, and now hosts a gallery of his rare paintings, sketches, artifacts, photographs, and writings on the Himalayas. There are 48&ndash49 paintings apart from well-protected almirahs stashed with volumes of letters that Roerich had written to world leaders during World War II.

Naggar town also happens to be a hub of ancient Kullu handicrafts and the Kath Kuni style of wooden houses. Basically, Kath-Kuni is an indigenous construction technique. It involves alternating the layers of wood and stone masonry without using mortar. Kath is derived from the Sanskrit words &lsquokashth&rsquo which means wood, and &lsquokuni&rsquo which means a corner. Besides houses, most of the ancient temples in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are built in Kath-Kuni style, suiting geo-climatic conditions. So I found myself happily agreeing to let my daughter be part of the trip.

I also had in mind to visit Baragarh, a luxurious property owned by my friend Nakul Khullar, a young entrepreneur, engaged in the high-end tourism business.

Stories and Myths

Some call Kullu-Manali "The Valley of the Gods", while others call it "A Lover's Paradise". For some people, it is a hub for adventure. I look at Manali as a hotspot of legends and deity culture. Every village has its own deity. Some villages have more than one deity.

As per Hindu mythology, the valley is regarded as the cradle of all humankind. After the great deluge, Manu, the progenitor of humanity, is said to have rested his ark on a hillside and established his abode at present-day Manali. It is also known as &lsquoManu-alaya&rsquo (the home of Manu).

Our Days in Manali

The weather in Manali was quite pleasant when I checked in, though surprisingly, it changed by the turn of the day. 

After a quick stroll in the Mall&mdashManali&rsquos busy marketplace and a shoppers&rsquo paradise&mdashI returned to the hotel located on old Manali Road. I ordered simple vegetarian meals for dinner and slept off early for an exciting day the next morning. I woke up to the sound of the doorbell. A waiter greeted me with a hot cup of green tea.
There was a fresh snowfall at Rohtang Tunnel and the road was closed to tourist vehicles. I followed the police advisory not to venture toward the Rohtang Tunnel.

Later, I called Nakul Khullar and told him about my plan to visit Baragarh Resort on my way to Naggar, where my daughter was also going to join me. A drive to Baragarh resort along the Beas River (left bank) through bountiful apple orchards and dense forests was breathtaking. It took me barely 35 minutes to reach the resort. The sprawling 70-acre property is overlooked by snow-filled mountains. The 360-degree view of the stunning landscape was a highly refreshing experience. There were lush apple and pomegranate orchards around. As the sun was going down, we moved on with a promise to spend more time on our next visit. The lunch was superb, with local cuisine and hill people&rsquos delicacies.

Our next destination was Naggar Castle, a 1460 AD fort built by Raja Sidh Singh, the erstwhile king of Kullu, when Naggar served as the seat of power for years. Located on the banks of the Beas River with stunning panoramas of the Kullu Valley, the castle is an amazing place. Currently run as a hotel by Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC), its traditional architecture, that is the use of long wood planks and stone layers with a roof made of grey slate, could charm anyone.

My daughter interacted with local artisans and women craftspeople who run retail ventures to sell their handicraft products in order to understand the intricacies of traditional designs and innovations.

Finally, we were at the Roerich Art Gallery, located less than a kilometre walk from the castle. Luckily, Russian curator Larisa Surgina was at the entrance gate, and she joyfully escorted us around the complex. It was interesting to see how Russian painter Nicholas Roerich, his wife Helena, and their two sons George and Svetoslav Roerich chose to settle in Naggar in the Himalayas and put remote Kullu on the world map. The Himalayas became his muse, and he ended up spending
more than two decades of his life at Naggar. "Roerich would take some of the toughest routes for his expeditions in&nbspSikkim, Bhutan, Mongolia, Tibet, Kashmir, and Ladakh, with his wife and sons. He created more than 7,000 paintings during his life. There is no international museum where his works are not on display," Surgina explained. She took us to his private rooms to show how painstakingly his belongings and assets have been preserved.

Overall, it was an interesting journey. My advise to visitors to Kullu-Manali is to include Naggar in their itinerary and bring fascinating memories of the place back home.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Outlook Traveller