Col Satish Singh Lalotra
‘It feels good to be lost in the right direction’—Himachal tourism.
The northern borders of our sub-continent are beset with myriad hues of people, places, and events so as to perplex a foreign tourist to no end. No other country in the world exhibits such diversity in its very being as does India. It remains to the ingenuity and resolve of an individual as to how much he/she can stretch his/her physical and mental faculties to absorb all which these places of our country can offer. One such jewel nestling in the pristine Himalayas is the erstwhile royal estate of ‘Rampur Bushahr’ in the present day Himachal Pradesh. My service years in the army took me many times to this exquisite place while I was posted at a place called as ‘Rupa valley’ in district Kinnaur of Himachal Pradesh. Though Himalayas are choc-a-bloc with such fantastic and mesmerizing places to explore but nothing comes close by even a whisker to beat ‘Rampur Bushahr ‘ when seen under the prism of its contemporary history, closely intertwined with its people ,places and events as thrown in from time to time.
The present write up of mine primarily a travelogue, based on my frequent visits to places like ‘Rampur Bushahr’ abutting ‘Hindustan-Tibet road ‘has always unveiled a plethora of hidden facts of this erstwhile royal state which surprises me to no end even today. Before independence the ‘Punjab hill states’ numbering about 31 merged into the present day Himachal Pradesh after reorganization of states on linguistic basis. Till 1948, this area of HP was known as ‘Shimla hill states’ with much smaller principalities like Bushahr ,Khaneti, Delat, Kyonthal, Theog, Ratesh, Jubbal and kumarse in to name a few. Out of these, lot of estates were small and were an adjunct to the larger ones often drawing sustenance from the later. As per ‘Bushahr state gazetteer’ (1910) the state of Bushahar was spread from Latitude N 31.6 Deg to 32.4 Degand E 77.33 Deg to 79.2 Deg . It shared boundaries with Spiti in the north, Tibet in the east, Garhwal in the south and Jubbal in the west. The principality of Bushahr had its geographical spread in 84 miles in easterly direction with maximum breadth at 62 miles, tapering off to 12 miles in the west thus occupying a handsome chunk of land totaling 3820 square miles.
Set up by Raja Ram singh on the banks of R Satluj, Rampur Bushahr is about 1005 meters above the mean sea level inhabited mostly by people who are rural in their habitat. Legend says that in earlier times the areas was known by the name of ‘Darun ‘with Raja Ram singh who established the state on his name in 1829 having ascended the throne in the same year. It is said as per Hindu mythology that when ‘Samundramanthan’ was done ,the churning of oceans resulted into poison (vish) which was drunk by Lord Shiva (vishhar) who having had the poison took a brief halt at a place known as ‘Bashara’ ,before resuming his onward journey to Mount Kailash . The word ‘Bashara’ overtime got distorted due to usage with its present name ‘Bushahr’ coming into being. Rampur Bushahr can be divided into mainly 5 distinct Geographical zones /areas viz. ‘Saharan’, Rampur, Bahli, Nankheri and Aarsu . The last two being spread out in district Shimla and Kullu respectively. The flora and fauna of Rampur estate is an interesting mix of forests neatly sub-divided and populated by broad leafed and pine needle shaped trees.
The former contains trees of the variety like oak, walnut, Maple, shesham, Mulberry, poplars while the later variety has trees from Deodar/cedars, Taxusvacata etc. In addition to the above Rampur Bushahrcontains a bird sanctuary too which is situated in the periphery of the erstwhile estate at ‘Darang ‘valley to be precise. The bird sanctuary comes under the jurisdiction of ‘Sarahan’ block which boasts of a breeding center of ‘Monal’ birds, the state bird of Himachal Pradesh. Fauna collection in the area includes species of Ghoral, Emu, Kakad, Black bear, and Monal birds off course . Since by virtue of frequent interactions of mine with the locals of Rampur I had a fair amount of insight into their culture and societal hierarchy which is no different from any other hilly areas of India. It would be quite a shock to most of the readers of this article to know that there are still many castes/sub -castes in the princely state of Rampur which are progeny of utter discrimination perpetrated due to banning of marriage between a boy of lower caste with that of a girl of a higher caste. Such progeny are even to this day forced to lead a life of ignominy and seclusion.
The local populace of the area depicts a wide variety of change in their dressing culture too. The women folk in general wear a specially woven woolen ‘Chadar’ known as ‘Dohadu’ wrapped up like a sari. The difference in sari and Dohadu being that the later display pleats on the back and wearing of ‘Gachi’ instead of a petticoat. The women folk in addition display a bandana sort of head dress known by the common name of ‘Dathu’ which is a square in size and worn on the forehead generally pink in colour. The braid tassel (paranda) of women display a silver chandelier weighing about 300 gms to 400 gms. The nose pin displays various designs made of silver, Gold and bronze/brass . The ladies of the area sport a mix of bangles with plastic ones in predominance and less of metallic nature. The men folk on the other hand display their traditional woolen coats and pajamas (pahariachkan), Busheri cap and a jacket known by the name ‘Sadri’. The general population prefers agro based profession to include agriculture, horticulture, bee keeping, poultry etc. The area is quite prone to growing of crops to include pulses like ‘Rongi, Rajmah (kidney beans), and beans of assorted variety. In addition the area also has a propensity to give a boost to cereal crops like barley, millets ,wheat and the ubiquitous potatoes which has really turned the fate of the locals of this erstwhile royal state by proving to be real and worthy cash crop owing to its fast turnover in the market and a game changer in alleviating the poverty levels of the locals forever.
I was taken aback when in one of my interactions with the Bushari people I was told that till as late as 1940s all the potatoes used to come from Burma (Myanmar) whose supply got interrupted due to the Japanese occupation of Burma during the 2WW. Due to the varied terrain in the area as found obtained from 900m to 2700m above the mean sea level , locals have adopted their working culture and living style in tandem with the height variations . Accordingly the rural people have taken to growing Walnuts, Almonds, apple and Cherry trees as per their wont. As if this is not enough, the locals have taken to the profession of wool shearing from their livestock and going in for weaving of woolen caps, mufflers caps, shawls, to augment their meager income. The people from ‘Nagadu’ caste are into weaving wicker baskets with a similar effort by many including famous Daulat Ram of Devthi village indulging into silver ,Gold and brass carvings giving an entirely a different meaning to their lives. I happen to meet Daulat Ram once in the busy thoroughfare of Rampur Bushahr town during the world famous ‘Lavimela’ in November 1996. Incidentally this Lavimela had been categorized as an ‘international trade fair’ by the late CM of Himachal Pradesh, Shri Veer Bhadrsingh in 1994.Daulat Ram has been an icon in the whole of Himachal Pradesh in the art of metallic craft and conferred with numerous awards thus propelling him center stage to show case his wares at India international trade fair at Delhi. Bushahr state as is the wont of many hilly states of this country is steeped with myriad cultures, traditions, not all of which are conducive to human development. From historical point of view Rampur has always been living under the shadows of its northern neighbouri.e Nepal. Ruledfrom 1810 to 1815 as a seat of power and governance by the Gurkhas, Rampur had notable Maharajas like Kesri Singh, Ram Singh, etc . It had other notable rulers too like Shamsher Singh, Udai Singh, Bhoop Singh etc who were instrumental in the upward swing of the fortunes of the erstwhile estate ,leaving their unmistakable marks of progression.
As is given in many hilly states of India, Rampur too is populated by a colourful history of fairs /melas where the locals give vent to their artistic and religious feelings in full view. Fairs like the Lavimela and Faagmela off course take the cake for their sheer size and volume in mass participation often from abroad too. It is quite difficult to encapsulate such a wide array of topic with myriad nuances to its being, more so when so much has to be written and put into black and white that refuses to be seen and documented in many of the books devoted to Himachal Pradesh. In fact Rampur Bushahr’s history is closely intertwined with its local cultural history which is as old as the hills. If we leave aside the vedic and ‘Pauranic” period even then we will come to know that this area was in constant state of conflict with its neighbours like Ladakh, Tibet etc. In fact Raja Kesrisingh of Bushahr had an unusual treaty signed with the monarch of western Tibet which said in so many words that both sovereigns will not attack each other till the time the snow remains on the Himalayas, the crows do not turn white, and water in river satluj doesn’t dry up. What a treaty to be undertaken by two sovereigns. Not recorded anywhere but all available by word of mouth if one visits such pristine places tucked away in the Himalayas. Simplest thing is to pack one’s travelling bag with lots of good memories, loads of experiences not available on the social media platforms ,but on solid terra firma and unpack the same to ruminate at leisure.