The train stops at the station in Una, one of the many hill stations in Himachal Pradesh, in the early hours of the morning. The environment seems dull and I doze off for the next hour and a half during the taxi ride until we arrive Pragpur.
I woke up to the sights of a quaint, pretty village dotted with greenery, women working in the mud and wooden houses. The madness of the world has yet to invade this sleepy hamlet. Past the pretty village scenes, we arrive at the grand red and white colonial building The Judge’s Court, a WelcomHeritage hotel, my home for the next few days. The Judge’s Court is a beautiful nineteenth century country house surrounded by 30 acres of orchards of Mango, Lychee, Plum and Citrus trees.
When I arrived the trees were laden with mangoes and lychees, the flowers were blooming and sparrows were chirping on branches. What a welcome! I was shown to my room, which was dotted with large windows that brought in ample morning light and fresh air from the mountains. The architecture of the room and house leans heavily towards the Indo-European style with some local features thrown in.
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One of my favorite parts of the house was the reception area complete with wooden stairs and walls littered with old, sepia family photos and memorabilia. I spent some time exploring the place and met Vijay Lal, the owner of the house and the man behind the restoration of the property, which began in 1994. Originally built in 1918 for Justice Sir Jai Lal, a judge at the Punjab High Court, the house fell into disrepair when the family finally transferred to Shimla, the queen of the hill stations. Now painstakingly restored with the help of local artists and specialists from the ASI, the manor has a charm that is hard to come by.
Pragpur was declared the country’s first ‘Heritage Village’ in 1997. Villagers have made great efforts to preserve their heritage, which is reflected in the architecture and lifestyle that surrounds it. Cobbled streets, pretty mud and stone houses with wooden beams, ornate windows and doors can take you back to the past. There were so many houses here with exquisite details that it took almost an hour to reach the other part of The Judge’s Court, located in the heart of the village, known as Kuthiala’s Courtyard. It is an ancestral cottage over 300 years old and part of it is open to guests. Further down the stone path, I arrived at the bazaar when he awoke from an afternoon siesta. Pragpur is famous for silversmiths and weavers, and I stopped at Baburam Krishna Kumar Jewelers where I was shown some traditional silver jewelry with very intricate work. The food at the hotel was excellent and the service impeccable. I was treated to Pahari dishes and some of the delicious dishes including mandara, mhani and maa ki dal.
The next morning, after spending some time reading under the shade of one of their many giant trees and enjoying the cool breeze, I set out to explore the next village in the heritage cluster. A trip to Garli is a must! The sheer amount of architectural marvels wandering around is unbelievable. The village has many more mansions than Pragpur and every corner opens new wonders. The best of the lot was Melaram’s house, formerly a UCO bank building, and the post office complex or Bhagwan Niwas. A stroll through the quaint bazaar is a must. On the way back to Pragpur, I stopped countless times to glance at the looming Dhauladhar Range. Back at the hotel, I spent another afternoon in lazy walks and reading in one of the quiet corners of the gardens, and an evening of culinary delight. The journey was drawing to a close, but it was hard to think of the town and its chaos, as I was already hooked on the slow pace of life in this quaint hamlet.
How to get there:
By Air: Gaggal Airport in Kangra is 45 km away. You can hire a taxi here for Pragpur.
By Train: The nearest stations are Una (60 km), Hoshiarpur (60 km) and Pathankot. From Pathankot you can take a narrow gauge train to Guler station which is 30 km from The Judge’s Court.
By Road: Pragpur is easily accessible from Delhi, Chandigarh and Amritsar.