The scenic Kangra Valley in Himachal Pradesh is no stranger to heritage and history. In fact, it even lends its name to a mid-18th century school of miniature painting. It is also home to Pragpur, a quaint little village that drew attention when the state government, in 1997, certified it as a Heritage Village, making it the first such village in India.
Founded in the late 16th century by the Kuthiala Soods in memory of Princess Prag Dei of the Jaswan royal family, Pragpur well deserves its heritage village tag. With its winding cobbled lane, mud-plastered walls and slate-roofed houses, this village offers what most destinations can only dream of promising — a return, if briefly, to the simple life of an erstwhile era.
According to local folklore, it was in the early 19th century that the prosperous Kuthiala Sood community arrived and settled here. These merchants travelled abroad and returned home to build mansions, schools and hospitals in architectural styles that matched what they observed during their visits.
This is why, for an obscure part of Himachal Pradesh, Pragpur has houses in extremely varied architectural styles — Kangra, Rajput, British, Portuguese and even Italian. The grandest of these structures is The Judge’s Court, the 300-year-old ancestral home of Vijai and Rani Lal, which has been converted into a posh resort. Vijai Lal is the grandson of Justice Sir Jai Lal, the second Indian to become a Judge of the Punjab High Court.
Lovingly restored over several years, The Judge’s Court is Pragpur’s chief attraction. Set amidst expansive acreage replete with mango and litchi orchards, this two-storey brick-red mansion has six spacious rooms furnished with colonial-era furniture and paintings.
A cobbled lane outside the mansion gates winds through Pragpur village to the ornamental water tank called Taal. Built before 1868, the Taal is said to form the core of the village and is surrounded by several old community structures like the Nehar Bhawan, Naun, and Dhunichand Bhardial Serai.
The village market also starts here. A short walk from the market is a remarkable house that belongs to Brij Bihari Lal Butel with beautifully carved wooden doors and intricate metalwork on railings.
As Lal Butel had six sons, the building was designed to accommodate six families with rooms constructed around a sunken central courtyard. This sunken courtyard was filled with water during the summer months to provide a natural cooling system to the entire haveli.
Another beautiful heritage building is Lala Rerumal’s haveli, which has a Mughal-style garden, a pleasure terrace and a large water reservoir. The Chaujjar mansion, ancient temples, courtyards of the Sood clan; and attiyalas or public platforms are other places of interest in Pragpur.
Though late to acquire the heritage status, but barely 3 km away from Pragpur, is Garli village. This hamlet too has plenty of heritage buildings. Of these, the most prominent is the house of the timber merchant and late lawyer Rai Bahadur Mohan Lal, who also built many other noteworthy buildings here. Another lovely house is that of Mela Ram Sood with its unique brick jali wall.
Most of these houses boast of fancy tile-work, carved wooden eaves, ornamental towers, stained glass windows, and antique collections that include rare books and etched glass objects. While some of these buildings are in a state of disrepair, a majority of them have remained unspoiled due to the efforts of the villagers of Pragpur and Garli.
The village committee of Pragpur, which has been recording its meeting since 1864, is responsible for the maintenance of the heritage buildings and ancient water systems. Any new construction taking place in these villages must be ratified by the committee. Several heritage structures are now being restored using original techniques but with modern facilities to boost tourism. This makes sure that the village’s architecture stays the same and does not lose its charm.
Pragpur can also be the base to explore the popular religious destinations of Jwalaji and Chintpurni. The lesser known Dada Siba shrine offers glorious views of the snow-capped Dhauladhar range. Dada Siba was a small state whose ruling dynasty was an offshoot of the royal house of Kangra.
Raja Ram Singh, who ruled over the state about two hundred years ago,was a man of artistic tastes. An ardent devotee of Krishna, he built a beautiful shrine dedicated to his favourite deity. The walls of the shrine are covered with breathtakingly elaborate and richly coloured Kangra-style miniature paintings.
You can also visit Chamba Pattan (6 km from Pragpur), Maharana Pratap Bird Sanctary on Pong Dam (30 km from Pragpur), Masroor rock cut temple (55 km from Pragpur) and Dharamshala (60 km from Pragpur).
Then there is the Lohri festival in January that adds to the cheer and the Nakki ka Mela (wrestling fair) that steers in the festive spirit.
By Air: Gaggal airport is 45 km away & Amritsar’s international airport is 170 km away.
By Rail: An overnight train, Himachal Express, connects Delhi with Amb/Una. Pragpur is 60 km by road from here. Various trains connect Delhi with Pathankot that is further connected by a narrow gauge Kangra railway line to Guler (30 km away).
By Road: Chandigarh and Amritsar are at a comfortable driving distance from Pragpur.