Travel to Himachal Pradesh - 1


Temple Tower (Durga Temple) at Panguna



I traveled in Himachal Pradesh in northern India in September, 2001 after an interval of three years. As opposed to the general tourist season in India in dry season (November to Mach) it is possible to travel in the Himalayan region only in the rainy season (June to October). In winter, going there itself becomes difficult, because its mountain passes are closed owing to tremendous snowfall.
Intending to research as many sites as possible, which I had not been able to visit previously, I hired a jeep, whose drivers happened to be two brothers, who would drive alternately, for 12 days in the state capital, Shimla.

Thd location of Himachal Pradesh ( Click here for the detailed map.)

We drove around Himachal Pradesh at an altitude of 1,000m up to 4,500m and the total driving distance eventually reached 2,250km. This serial essay is the record of this journey. It cannot be said that the temple architecture of Himachal is particularly great, and yet this article is an introduction to an unknown Himalayan wooden architecture, quite different from the popular images of the tropical dry culture of India.

As it was my fourth time traveling in Himachal Pradesh since having started ten years before, I intended to visit preferably unknown (i.e. comparatively difficult to get to) temples, omitting most of the familiar places like Sarahan and Sungra. Driving by jeep along bad roads, and often having to walk up mountain trails to reach temples, it was a twelve-day journey of total exhaustion.

Dhankar Gompa on the mountain

There is only one route in the upper half of the state of Himachal by which to make a circuit, that is, entering the Lahul region by crossing over the Rohtang Pass at a height of 3,990m from Manali, then going up to Kaza in the Spiti region by crossing over the Kunzum Pass of 4,550m in height. Further, passing the Tabo Gompa, one continues in the Kinnaur district up to Recon Peo. From there the shortest route going back to the state-capital, Shimla, is the main road along the Sutlej River. This entire circuit route is called the National Highway.

In spite of being a national highway, not every part of the road is paved, so a car constantly encounters bad and rough parts, making the average speed no more than 25km an hour. In addition, in the rainy season, since landslides often occur due to torrential rains, the highway, which has only a single lane, collapses somewhere every day.
Though the Himachal PWD (Public Works Department) repairs collapsed roads, if there is serious damage, it demands many days. Since there is only one route, the cars and trucks have to wait there during that time.

The year before my visit, a bridge in the Kinnaur district was swept away and the route was said to have become impassable for some months. Therefore, in an unfortunate case, one must return along the same route in the opposite direction, taking up some days. Fortunately, there was not so much rainfall the year I visited, so I could travel around the state in the scheduled period.
However, I would come to experience severely the unstable condition of the Himalayan roads the very first day of my architectural ‘jeep safari.’


After departing Shimla and penetrating deep into the mountains from Ruhri, my itinerary for the rest of the first day was to cross the Jalori Pass at 3,223m in height and stay overnight at the rest house at Shoja. However, about 7 o’clock at night when passing through the village of Ani, I was suddenly overtaken by a severe thunderstorm. I encountered a roadblock caused by a landslide only about 10km short of the Jalori Pass.
Judging that it was impossible to go ahead, I turned around, intending to stay overnight at Narkanda, but again, after some kilometers, the road was blocked and a torrent of water was rushing from the mountain. Immediately after we had passed, a landslide must have occurred.
Thus, being impossible both to go forward and back, we were confined in a mountain road. I was obliged to stay overnight in the barn of a nearby farmstead, laying a sleeping bag on a wooden table.

Barn and Restoration work near Jalori Pass

The following morning the PWD started to restore the road. Informed that the restoration of the road to the Jalori Pass would take two or three days, I took the road in the opposite direction that had been opened at half past three in the afternoon. I returned the same way by which I had come, and made a great roundabout trip to the town of Mandi, via Karsog. (I was originally to stay at Kullu that night). I arrived at Mandi at half past ten at night, completely wasting one day. In order to recover this loss, I made the jeep run on and on from early in the morning till late at night for two or three days. The drivers and I quarreled with one another many times. I recall with compunction that I indeed compelled them to do harsh labor.

Like this, it is very inconvenient in transportation even nowadays in the Himachal region, it was far more difficult formerly to travel there and communicate between inside and outside areas. That is the reason this region has retained a unique characteristic culture and customs within India.
The reign of King Ashoka, who subjugated most of India including Kashmir in the north, might not have thoroughly permeated the Himachal region. After Ashoka, no powerful unified kingdom was established here, meaning many small states stood close together, each ruling a small area, also resulting in considerable differences between them architecturally.

Although most parts of the region religiously belong to the sphere of Hinduism, the Spiti district in the uplands belongs to Tibetan Buddhism, and the Lahur and Kinnaur districts in between have been practiced a mixture of both religions.
Therefore, in terms of architecture too, the buildings in the uplands are composed of sun-dried brick walls and flat roofs of tamped earth in the Tibetan style, those in the lowlands have walls with alternately piled stone and timber, and a slated or timber pitched roof. In the mixed religion area, the architectural styles are also mixed or coexist.


That evening as we kept driving to Mandi, I unexpectedly got a piece of luck as if to compensate for the loss of the day. When passing Chindi village, a small hill town suddenly emerged in the distance, with a temple tower on the top. As I could not recall any information from books about this temple, I hurried to visit this town of Panguna (Pangana) in the gathering dusk.

Ascending the town to the center, I found a square tower of seven floors standing on a park-like hill in the atmosphere of an ancient citadel. It was actually a castle-cum-temple of the small princely state that dominated this area.
Such small princely states have lost their governmental functions since the independence of India 56 years ago, and in most cases the citadels were completely converted into Hindu temples. The erstwhile lord of Panguna, the Sen Family, resides in another town nowadays.

Wall detail and Mohras of Durga temple, Panguna

Although the Durga Temple at Panguna has slightly changed its outer appearance by the additions of a slated lean-to and a porch, its fine square tower itself keeps its original state, including the curved gabled roof and balconies. According to the doctor who guided me to the temple and the Pujari (Hindu temple priest) who came to open the door of the temple, it was constructed about 300 years ago.

Its outer wall is, as usual, a structure of piled horizontal timber frames filled with limestone. For those looking at such a system for the first time, the wooden architecture without vertical columns must be unanticipated and quite strange. That is a unique device for the purpose of resisting the horizontal stresses brought about by comparatively frequent earthquakes in the Himachal region, combining heavy cut stone with long pieces of timber as a horizontal component.
This temple is an uncommon example, in which corner timber is not directory piled up, having horizontal timber supported by a large number of window jambs.

The temple enshrines the goddess Durga in the top floor as the principal deity, not in the form of a statue but of Mohras (face-images), characteristic in Himachal Pradesh.


© Takeo Kamiya