Unanimously Unique …… a travelogue
“Jibono Moroner Simana Chharaye …”(“Beyond the bounds of life and death, There thou stand, Oh! my friend …”) — the Tagore song, busy in painting on the silence of my soul ….. ; an abrupt jerk – a Gau-mata in the front makes the bus stand for a while. Then again as usual motion prevails. We just cross the BSF training centre and minister rest house. Hilly road amidst jungle area, huge trench on the other side, clouds forming dazzling new contours in the freshly doodled winter sky, that is the situation, suddenly K. C. Group College of Engg. and Technology, the very chronic example of academic industry boom in Indian Suburbs. Little later a sign board shows “Barkhambi check post”. “Twenty kilometres of the same road and very soon to be followed by another by a river,” says Gurbachan Singh, our bus driver, from whom we are constantly securing information on our way from Hoshiarpur to a border town of Himachal. We are heading towards Una, a town situated by the side of Swan river, which has a strong mythological presence in Ramayana and Rigveda as “Som-bhadra” and “Swastu” respectively. It is Vaikunth Ekadashi as well as Muhharram, the day of communal harmony by-chance, the day when Hindus and Muslims atone for their sins, and we ask each other about the expiry dates that astrologers have declared on our horoscopes. I think of all the boys in school whose love letters I’ve made fun of and the number of mosquitoes I’ve slapped to death in this lifetime. This is penance – giving up control of one’s life and limbs to the Great Driver.
The travel through the riverside road, namely Purana Hoshiarpur Road makes us forget the jam, and din-and-bustle of typical Bangalore roads, and absolve each other for our indecisive denunciations of you-should-have known and I-should-have-known. In between the road and the river harvest fields of cucumber, bitter-melon, watermelon, pumpkin are also the ones who do not follow us, there’s hardly a moment. The main cultivation here is done by Muslim community residing in nearby hamlets. On the roadside we notice the mandir of Baba Botla Shah and come to know about its august fame for langar, jhanda ritual, kheer and dangal (an yearly kushti competition accommodating competitors almost from all neighbouring states).
Our four wheeled animal leaves us at Una bus station and we eat our breakfast at Suvidha Palace followed by a trip by motorcycle arranged by the in-charge Mr. Sachin. Una had been mentioned as a state of Jalandhar Doab in “Aainey Akbari”, a historical treatise of Mughal period having in its fold eight revenue mohals out of the 60 recorded in the said book. We start for Nangal Dam. Just near the Sherawali mata ka mandir in Purana Bus stand chowk we assume that our breakfast is not enough. The famous aloo-tikki of Ganty wala chat centre followed by Besan, a signature sweet of Una at saini sweet shop make our day. We are to fuel our bike and there comes Captain Anmol Kaliya Petrol Pump. We may term this as a war memorial in the honor of Captain Anmol Kaliya whose martyrdom in the Kargil war has been canonized into godliness here. Leaving behind the remembrance of a true hero from Shivalik Colony, Nangal we proceed towards our destination believing in the fact that we may not change our destination overnight, but we do possess the ability to change our direction overnight.
We have our lunch program done in Karishma Hotel in Badala area equipped with typical himachali khana i.e Sidu, Aktori and Dham. Disproving the common belief that Bengalies can only cherish non-veg items we really take delight in that vegetarian mid-day meal cooked by Boti Brahmins. We arrive at Mehtapur Chowk, the last station of Una, where there is a small wine yard. And now its all about the highest dam in India, Bhakra-Nangal, the ‘New Temple of Resurgent India’ as once said by Jawaharlal Nehru while dedicating it to the nation. For the natural beauty of surroundings of Nangal, my friend Rohit discovers to a photographer’s delight, the beauty of reflecting surfaces — of water, always in installments, of a sky that becomes a mood-mirror, or of petals of just bloomed flowers. This dam is having total sixteen gates and a tourist spot for the tourists during later years because of its huge size and uniqueness. There are two museums one inside, one outside that show how this dam has been built with the unrelenting toil of man for the benefit of mankind and therefore it is worthy of worship. May you call it a Temple or a Gurdwara or a Mosque, it inspires our admiration and reverence. Just near the statue of Nehru there is a garden resembling a bed covered with a multicolored floral shroud. We enshrine the eye-feasting glimpse of Govind Sagar Lake, basically a reservoir on the river Sutlej, formed after the hydel dam at Bhakra was constructed and has been named in honour of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh guru. Plenty of birds we see maintaining their cut-and-dried routine. It hosts water sports like ferry-rides and speed boat races making it paradise for extreme sports lovers though a diminished version. Fishing is commonly practiced here. It has about fifty one species and sub species. Labeo dero, Tor pitutrata, Mystus seenghala and Mirror carp are some of the common species found here. We miss our friends from IISc, Ecological Sciences who can explore the extra lives from that mise en scène staged by the characters from the nature.
We climb up to Jalpha Mata mandir which being in such a height empowers you to have a bird’s eye view of the entire Himachal. Driven by the now-or-never energy of a traveler we come to know that this place is fifteen km from naya nangal and twenty km from Naina Devi.
On our return we happen to meet Mr. Mukesh Agnihotri, the local MLA, and he makes us aware of the unfortunate fact of missing the December Una Mahotsov what’s not happening this time due to the forthcoming elections in Himachal. But soon that grief gets partly compensated by the two free passes for the himachali dance ensemble at Model Town Auditorium, the cultural hub of the town. Three back-to-back sumptuous dance performances win our hearts. I would not talk about Bhangra that has already been made popular to all Indians by Bollywood. In Keekali indefatigable performance by young pretty girls holding each others hand crosswise and rotating swiftly on their toes, drives away all our exhaustion for that moment. Then it is the time for the tribal dancers to perform Shan, generally danced at the Buddhist Gompas after the completion of harvesting of crops.
After the period of Gujjar agitation this is the second time I encounter the Surname, but this time it is a sweet cognizance. The absolutely delicious Gajrela of Sunil Gujjar Kulfiwala we get the chance to taste after waiting in a long line but we are told the wait is worth it, and it is so. That night after the X-Y-Z stuffs are done, we do the next best thing to do to realize further that fatigue is the best pillow.
Una is a small place, with much to be discovered beyond the barefaced points. So next morning we are on our way to explore the town of temples and Gurdwaras. We are confused and stuck into an optimization problem. Where to start and where to end!! Our state is nothing better than the “Travelling Salesman” who makes his life more troublesome by engaging into deductions of protein folding algorithms while searching for the potential shortest path covering all the sights. It is a little cold and a grey coloured Canis lupus familiaris seaching for warmth from the sun triggers into our gray matters the direction that we should take. The Big Boss makes us perceive the sacred and the profane — religion and commerce — commingling in the reverence of shopkeepers for their livelihood and in the ubiquitous juxtaposition of shops and shrines. The clamorous, cobbled Takka road has a thread of old and relatively new generation Gurudwaras. To name but a few Baba Bedi Killa, Saheed Dada near Sheetla Mata Mandir, Baradari – the undergrounded one are the illustrious ones. Heavily decorated by pigeon droppings Baba Bedi Killa is an ancestral home to the descendants of the first guru of Sikhs, Guru Nanak. From here we make our way in the direction of the old Una fort. In village Kutlehrdi we witness the gigantic fort situated on Solha Singi hill at a height 2000-2200 ft, one-fourth of the height of Machu-Pichhu. The sun is at the zenith and there are no shadows of the architectures as if the past has became the present now. Though the fort has been converted into a wreckage now, but still we envision how stone speaks the truth, how it dictates the glories of the past. We reach our last destination i.e temple of Mata Chintpurni. The temple is a single storeyed building made of stones. Its base is square and a dome provides the center of its roof. The main entrance to the temple faces north. An old banyan tree, with a raised platform at its feet, stands in front of the entrance as the perennial guardian. The temple-tour of Una along with the amazements out of the associated folklores, we keep incomplete, as we do not visit the other legendary shrines like Dharamshala Mahnta, Shiv Bari, Dera Baba Rudru, Dhyunsar Mahadev, the fantastic-five shiv-lings having mythological connections with Pandavas, to let them be crystallized in memory in the next sojourn.
At the end of the day however, it is the hole-in-the-dome Pir Nigaha near Raipur Maidan that holds us in thrall. As we stand surrounded by crumbling masonry and collapsing stairwells, we find it an appropriate symbol for the town of Una: decaying in historical values yet defiant, gaining industrial inertia yet lively in perpetual myths, bowed but not without pride. All around us, the air seems heavy with the sighs of its once and future makers.
We are back to the main bus station. HP20 – A5543 hits the road echoing the fare-well tune. Our bus for Chandigarh is about to leave. Its time to bid adieu to Una, a place nestled in the lap of nature, a place that makes us lost in its pristine forests, rugged terrain and picturesque views, a place depicting the resplendent past through its forts, a place that inspires us by its communal harmony and cultural vibrance, a place whose Gurdwaras, temples and shrines indoctrinate us on the verge of new year into the philosophy of “Unnati” (Progress), the term which the name of this UNAnimously unique place is derived from.
Happy new Year 2010 🙂
Prasenjit Biswas (SERC/CEDT)