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Far from the madding crowd

travel Updated: Jun 14, 2010 09:48 IST
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For most people, a visit to
Kullu-Manali means an
adrenaline rush. Adventure
seekers can go skiing on the
Snow Point en route to the Rohtang
Pass; river rafting in the Beas;
paragliding, river crossing or
trekking through the treacherous
mountains. But I was craving for
some solace and solitude in the
mountains. I didn't find any until we
went to Naggar, a picturesque town
full of ancient riches.

The best way to explore this abode made famous by the Russian painter Nikolai Roerich, is on foot or by hiring a bicycle. It is a good getaway from the milling crowds in nearby Kullu and Manali, and a perfect retreat for those searching for tranquillity.

Our first stop is the Naggar castle made of rough-hewn stones and wooden beams, which is a throwback to gentler times.

The castle is a far cry from all the imposing, fortified structures that one has seen elsewhere. Instead, it is a cosy retreat overlooking the enchanting Beas valley. The 16th century castle built by Raja Sidh Singh is richly embellished with wood carvings. Although it looks fragile, the structure withstood the 1905 earthquake without even a crack or dent on it. The Jagtipath temple on the premises has a story behind it. Legend has it that this rock venerated as a deity, was carried from its home high in the mountains to this location by gods in the form of bees.

The castle, now converted into a hotel by Himachal Tourism, was swarming with foreigners. It was lunch time and tables had been laid out in the sunny courtyard. The delicious aroma of fresh trout, a local delicacy, hung in the air. We were told that not far away from the hotel was a hatchery in Patlikuhl, where we could sample fresh trout caught from the Beas.

A short distance from the castle was a wine shop selling an array of fruit wines. Sipping apple juice, the signature drink of Himachal Pradesh, we walked towards the Roerich museum. The cottage home to Russian artist Nikolai Roerich, his wife Devika Rani, a superstar of Hindi cinema in her day, and his equally famous son Svetoslav Roerich is an art lover's shrine. The rooms are locked so you can only peep through the glass panes. The art gallery downstairs has an exhibit of paintings by the father-son duo. These are mostly oil on canvas, capturing the beauty of the mountains and its people. The portraits of Devika Rani and Pandit Nehru are particularly captivating.

What an inspiring place this must have been for an artist, someone remarked. The next time you're in Himachal Pradesh, do pay this charming town a visit.