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...And Garli: The Other Side

An old mansion in Garli Photo, Himachal Pradesh, India

I hadn’t even known of Garli’s existence until my sister—a historian—told me. She’d attended a lecture by a conservation architect on Pragpur and Garli, and had heard that Garli was actually richer in heritage buildings than Pragpur. So Tarun and I decided to add Garli to our itinerary. Day 1 we’d spend exploring Pragpur; day 2 would be devoted to Garli.

Garli is about 4 km from Pragpur. Both villages form part of the same designated Heritage Conservation Zone, which means that there are strict laws in place to protect old buildings and regulate all development in the area. I’d assumed (a stupid thing to do, in hindsight) that Garli would be a village in limbo—a hamlet stuck in the late 1800’s or the early 1900’s. Pretty to look at, but not much in the way of modern amenities and infrastructure.

Garli, therefore, came as a bit of a surprise. Like Pragpur, the village spreads mainly along both sides of the central street, a large part of which is taken up by the market. The small grocery shops sell bags of potato chips and packets of biscuits—those are fairly ubiquitous even in rural India—but what surprised me were the other items on sale: Whiskas cat food, Eight o’clock coffee... not too many shops even in Delhi stock those. There are at least three large schools in the village; the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan (a national university for the promotion of studies in Sanskrit) has a branch in Garli; there are banks; and the post office has a small sign proudly proclaiming the fact that it’s a `fully computerised’ branch.

Garli is by no means a backward little village.

And happily for people like us, who’re looking for signs of Garli’s architectural history, there’s plenty to see. The Garli Post Office itself is a quaint building, for all its computerisation. A verandah leads into the ground floor office, with arched windows looking out onto a grassy patch in front, complete with a mango tree and a tall pedestal-like flowerpot in which a sprig of holy basil, dutifully worshipped and watered by devout Hindus, grows. The doors of the post office and the first floor of the building are a good example of Kangra woodwork.

Outside the post office, a man got talking to us. "Where’re you from?"
Delhi, we said.
He nodded, then went on to tell us that he was getting some work done on his house—a thumb indicated a mud plastered, brick and wood building in the vicinity. "Getting it prepared to accommodate guests," he said. "Homestays, you know."

But until more of that happens, most of the buildings you’ll see in Garli will be from the outside, because (as in Pragpur) here too the heritage buildings are nearly all privately owned residences. Walk down the street, and you can admire the mansions along the way, with their carved wooden balconies, slate-tiled roofs, carved wooden gables and plaster ornamentation. Do look out for the windows: a lot of them are quite pretty, with painted and incised plaster decoration highlighting the window, and the panes made of stained glass: red, green and blue. Some of the buildings have typically colonial semi-circular arches and columns, or shutters and enclosed balconies that let in lots of welcome sunlight during the winters. And many of the larger, fancier houses have ornate metallic weathervanes (which appear to be favourite perches for the local parakeets: we saw a bright green, red-beaked bird atop almost each weathervane!).

Among Garli’s most representative heritage buildings is the UCO Bank Building, with lots of stained glass windows, sloping roofs and much carved wood all across the façade. The mansion behind the Minerva Senior Secondary Girls’ School is another beauty (the school itself is worth seeing, though in a very different style: it’s more mud plaster and traditional hill architecture, in contrast to the urbanised look of the mansion).

Another, altogether different, style of architecture is that of the Om Naurang Sarai at the far end of the village. This caravanserai is neither mud-plastered like the traditional hill houses nor painted like the fancy colonial mansions; instead, it’s of brick, with a sort of curved façade that reminded me of Latin churches—the type you even sometimes see in Old Goa. The Om Naurang Sarai was built by a local philanthropist called Mohan Lal, who was also responsible for the construction of the Waterworks at Garli. The Waterworks, inaugurated by the Governor of Punjab, Sir Malcolm Hailey, in 1928, are rather decrepit now: the plaque commemorating the event can still be seen but the brick construction seems to now be used as a fireplace. The low arched opening at the bottom (presumably to allow water to flow?) was full of ashes when we saw it.

On the whole, Garli is very different from Pragpur. The buildings here are more varied (Pragpur lacks such interesting structures as a sarai and a waterworks, although it does have the Taal); and the mansions are by far more opulent. Pragpur is more rural: it has its orchards and fields of mustard, its peach and orange trees and its cows. Garli too has orchards and the occasional buffalo grazing on a verge, but it reminded me more of a street in one of the old towns of North India—say, Dehradun—quaintly old-fashioned, but also progressive in an unobtrusive way.

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