A Gentle Rustic Beauty
In western Himachal, Pragpur is one of Kangra valley's most picturesque villages. Pipal and Banyan trees shade the highway and glistening veins of cobbled paths branch off this dark artery to the village. The area has several streams that gather their waters off the rolling hills and pour their waters into the Beas.
Narrow curving fields hug the slopes and at 565m vegetation is a fascinating mix of tropical and sub-Himalayan varieties - Pines flow effortlessly into recently planted Eucalyptus, acres of Mango Groves race along the roads, Katha forests take over entire hillsides, short date Palms make cameo appearances and high Bamboo crowd every hollow and clamber out to jostle them all. In the distance, like a sheer wall covered with breathtaking murals carved in snow, rise the Dhauladhar mountains. Even the breeze carries a heady cocktail one turn brings the warmth rising from the valley and another holds a cool draught from the snows.
The Traditional Indo-European Construction
For all its beauty, one can only gauge what a backwater Pragpur must have been a century ago. And thereby hangs a real success story. Bhandari Ram Kuthiala who probably owned shops and lands in the village, sent his son Jai Lal to study in England. The boy went on to be knighted, and became one of the leading figures in the judiciary of North India. In 1918, Bhandari Ram built a large manor for his son. But as things turned out, the house was rarely, if ever, used. Then, a decade or so ago, Sir Jai Lal's grandson, Vijay Lal decided to return to his roots
Vijay Lal and his wife Rani have painstakingly restored the house, which was once known as "Judge Sahib Ki Kothi". A select hotel, and a labour of love if there ever was one, the Haveli is now called the Judge's Court.
The Judge's Court is set in some eight acres of land and has a fairly eclectic character about it. The floor plan follows the layout of a colonial bungalow and the embellishments are part local and part Saracenic. A major exercise in restoration has been undertaken - looking for craftsmen and materials and then trying to replicate the methodology followed all those decades ago.
Essential facilities are absolutely modern and have been skillfully woven into the house. With accommodation for about two-dozen people, the ambience is relaxed and comfortable. Built beside an ancestral courtyard, the old residence of the family is a couple of hundred metres away. This structure is about three hundred and fifty years old and required even greater care for its restoration. With rammed-earth walls faced with Lakhori bricks, this has a more local flavour and holds additional accommodation that can function independently of the main hotel.
An Ancestral Mountain Spring
The large grounds of the Judge's Court provide for the charms of country life and also serve the table. Fresh fruit, vegetables, cloves and cardamoms are all homegrown. An interesting feature is the water supply that comes from a pure mountain spring, a few miles away. In the days before pipes, this was tapped and delivered to the house by a chain of hollow logs.
The village has its own story to tell. It is said to be named after a local princess, 'Pragrani', and is regarded to have been built in accordance with ancient Hindu principles. With strong and well-preserved evocation of rural Himachal, Pragpur has appropriately been designated a 'Heritage Village' by the Government of Himachal Pradesh. The village Panchayat has commissioned the Chandigarh College of Architecture and other consultants to document its existing architectural wealth and to establish benchmarks for all future construction.
Near And Around The Judge's Court
The village and the Judge's Court are ideal for exploring the area - its several temples, its delightful landscape and its remarkable architecture. A folder at the Court outlines all the walks and excursions. As for souvenirs, Pragpur's little bazaar has several silver smiths, while handwoven shawls are also available.
The River Beas with its unspoit beaches (6-km), offers the possibility of Swimming and angling during season. The landscape is beautiful with a rich variety of flora, fauna, bird life, innumerable small monuments and a special rural ambience for walks and picnics.
Kangra Valley Rail System
The small gauge 'Kangra Valley Rail System' with most of its control equipment dating to the 1st quarter of this century, traverses the lovely countryside. At dusk the signal for the train is still lit with an oil lamp.
For the spiritually inclined, The Judge's Court offers the ancient altars of worship of Brijeshwari (40-km); 'She of the Flaming Mouth', Jawalamukhi (20-km); Chintpurni, where wishes are fulfilled (20-km); and for those afflicted with the evil spirit, the shrine of Baba Bharwag Singh (12-km). The Tibetan shrines and the lovely Chapel of ' St. John in the Wilderness ' near Dharamsala deserve a visit.