It was serendipity that led me to the exhibition on ‘Chamba Rumal: Life to a Dying Art’ at the Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum (BDL Museum) one Saturday evening earlier this month! I call it serendipity for till that afternoon, I had neither aware of the existence of something like the Chamba Rumal nor of the exhibition.
It all started in my Indian Aesthetics class on Krishna Shringara by Prof. Harsha Dehejia. While giving examples of the depiction of Krishna Shringara in art, the embroidered Chamba Rumal was one of the things he mentioned and showed in his presentation. Ruta, one of my coursemates (and who was probably aware of my love for museums), told me about the exhibition on Chamba Rumal during the break. And of course, this meant that I had to go see the exhibition that very evening after class. 🙂
When I walked into the Special Projects Area of the BDL Museum and where the exhibition on Chamba Rumal was being held, the first thing I noticed was the display — large framed pieces hung on bamboo stands. The cool whitewashed walls, and the gleaming kota flooring was just perfect for the vibrant exhibits, which looked like paintings from a distance, but were actually exquisitely embroidered pieces, the Chamba Rumals.
The way it looks at the food and then examines it before eating — be it leftover food thrown away in a dustbin or rotting meat or even fresh rice that many Hindus serve as offerings to ancestors.
Their behaviour is more or less the same… A sudden flapping of wings as they land near the food, then an examination of what the food is, then a quick look around, a tiny sampling, and then gobbling it all up. And sometimes, just sometimes, a caw and then some more of appreciation. 🙂
Last year, during a visit to the Hatu Mata Temple at Himachal Pradesh, I came across a crow and its intense deliberation of a dried up pile of dung. I was photographing flowers when I heard a caw and looked up to see and then photograph an entire sequence with the crow.
I had kind of forgotten about these set of photographs and found them while I backing up the photographs. And voilà, an entire narrative emerged. In the crow’s words of course. 😉
Chail (pronounced as Chaa-il) was the last destination of my Himachal trip. Our group stayed at the Chail Palace, the former residence of Bhupinder Singh, the former Maharaja of Patiala, and now part of the HPTDC group of hotels. The Chail Palace has an interesting history. It was built in 1891 after Maharaja Bhupinder Singh got expelled from Shimla. The brief story goes something like this:
Apparently the Maharaja was having a good thing going with a top ranking British official’s daughter/wife. (the accounts differ whether it was the daughter or the wife). As a result of this indiscretion, the Maharaja was expelled from Shimla. Furious, the Maharaja decided to ‘cock a snook’ at the British and build a grand palace at a location that would be visible from and higher in altitude than Shimla.
That location was Chail, a tiny village in the Shivalik Hills and across the valley from Shimla. How this particular location was picked is another interesting story and that was narrated to us by Jagat, a waiter at the hotel.
I first came across the term “Devbhoomi” on the day I flew to Chandigarh to begin my Himachal Trip. The airline’s in-flight magazine had an article titled “10 things to do in Devbhoomi”. Now, I detest anything that talks about top 10 or 5 or 21 or any number for that matter, for they never make sense to me. I almost always skip such articles in question.
But the name Devbhoomi, which means land of the gods, intrigued me and I read on. The article wasn’t particularly good or the “10 things to do” even half-way interesting for me. But the article did reveal one interesting fact: Devbhoomi is how the local Himachalis referred to their state, their land. Though this established that ‘Devbhoomi” was not a marketing gimmick like another Indian state’s claim of being “God’s own country”, I remained a little sceptical.
Over the 10 days that I spent travelling in Himachal Pradesh, I tried to understand why the locals referred to their land as Devbhoomi. Each day there brought in new insights through visits to sacred sites, listening to narrations of folk tales and legends of sacred spaces from the locals, and experiencing nature in its elemental form. Every glimpse, every experience of a sacred space was an appreciation of the tangible and intangible meaning of Devbhoomi.
This post is an attempt to put together all those experiences and I invite you to join me in this journey. Let us begin this journey in Devbhoomi with roadside shrines.
On the morning of September 21, 2013, I woke up to the sound the falling rain. When I stepped out of my room, this was the sight that greeted me. It is here that I will request you to backtrack a bit and read my previous post, if you haven’t read it already.
I was at Sangla’sKinner Camps in the Kinnaur region of Himachal Pradesh. Our tour group had arrived here the previous afternoon and we had had a great time exploring the neighbouring Batseri village and walking along the River Baspa till rain forced us to return. Though we were a little concerned about the sudden change in weather, we were also quite sure that the next day would dawn bright and sunny.
Bright? Sunny? It was dark, grey and cold and I could actually see fresh snowfall on the distant peaks. As I stood there wondering about the weather, Doreen, our tour organiser and manager, came around to ask us to be packed and ready to leave. Since the weather forecast was not encouraging, Pawan, our driver, had suggested that we leave Sangla at the earliest. The next hour was a rush as we packed and got ready to leave. While we had a hurried breakfast, our bags got loaded into our 3 vehicles.
As I got into my vehicle, I noticed that Pawan’s normally relaxed and mischievous face wore a worried look and I soon realised why. The road leading from Kinner Camps to the main road was not tarred or metalled and what was a passable dirt track had turned slushy with the rain. And combined with a very steep ascent, the ride to the top could be a tricky one.
It was a silent group that got into the vehicles and the only sounds were that of the falling rain. With a prayer on everybody’s lips, the vehicles took off. The first two vehicles made it to the top without any incident.
“Ready?” Pawan, our driver asks, smiling mischievously at me.
I am sitting in the front seat with Pawan and have a view of the road from the front windshield and the side window. I visibly gulp at the steep descent in front of us. We are in the Sangla Valley, just past the town of Sangla in the Kinnaur region of Himachal Pradesh, and have to negotiate that steep descent to reach Kinner Camps, where our group will be staying the next two days.
I look back to see the reaction of my travel companions, but there’s none — they’re all snoozing. I don’t blame them for it has been a tiring journey from Kalpa. A distance of 40 km has taken us almost 4 hours over impossibly bad roads, and past huge thermal power plant projects with the River Baspa as an almost constant companion.
I nod nervously at Pawan and he takes off and within minutes we are at the entrance to Kinner Camps, which is at the end that descent. After thanking Pawan, I get out of the vehicle to find that my legs feel a little shaky. That’s when I realise just how nervous I was during the ride. Though I consider myself to be a good and hardy traveller, 5 days on the Himalayan roads have made me look at road travel in a new light. Respect.
We are welcomed by the staff of Kinner Camps and led straight for a sumptuous lunch. By the time we finish our meal, our bags have been unloaded and waiting outside our rooms.