The scenic Kangra Valley in Himachal Pradesh (North India) is no stranger to heritage and history. In fact, it even lends its name to a mid-18th century school of miniature painting. It is also home to Pragpur, a quaint little village, which the state government in 1997, certified as a Heritage Village, making it the first such village in India.
Founded in the late 16th century by the Kuthiala Soods in memory of Princess Prag Dei of the Jaswan royal family, Pragpur well deserves its heritage village tag. With its winding cobbled lane, mud-plastered walls and slate-roofed houses, this village offers what most destinations can only dream.
According to local folklore, it was in the early 19th century that the prosperous Kuthiala Sood community arrived and settled here. These merchants travelled abroad and returned home to build mansions, schools and hospitals in architectural styles that they observed during their visits.
That is why Pragpur has houses in extremely varied architectural styles – Kangra, Rajput, British, Portuguese and even Italian. The grandest of these structures is The Judge’s Court, the 300-year-old ancestral home of Vijai and Rani Lal, which has been converted into a posh resort. Vijai Lal is the grandson of Justice Sir Jai Lal, the second Indian to become a Judge of the Punjab High Court.
The Judge’s Court is Pragpur’s chief attraction. Set amidst expansive acreage replete with mango and litchi orchards, this two-storey brick-red mansion has six spacious rooms furnished with colonial-era furniture and paintings.
A cobbled lane outside the mansion gates winds through Pragpur village to the ornamental water tank called Taal. Built before 1868, the Taal is said to form the core of the village and is surrounded by several old community structures like the Nehar Bhawan, Naun, and Dhunichand Bhardial Serai.
The village market also starts here. A short walk from the market is a remarkable house that belongs to Brij Bihari Lal Butel with beautifully carved wooden doors and intricate metalwork on railings.
Another beautiful heritage building is Lala Rerumal’s haveli, which has a Mughal-style garden, a pleasure terrace and a large water reservoir. The Chaujjar mansion, ancient temples, courtyards of the Sood clan and attiyalas or public platforms are other places of interest in Pragpur.
Though late to acquire the heritage status, but barely 3 km away from Pragpur, is Garli village, with many heritage buildings. Of these, the most prominent is the house of the timber merchant and late lawyer Rai Bahadur Mohan Lal, who also built many other noteworthy buildings here. Another lovely house is that of Mela Ram Sood with its unique brick jali wall.
Most of these houses boast of fancy tile-work, carved wooden eaves, ornamental towers, stained glass windows, and antique collections that include rare books and etched glass objects. While some of these buildings are in a state of disrepair, a majority of them have remained unspoiled due to the efforts of the villagers of Pragpur and Garli.
The village committee of Pragpur, which has been recording its meeting since 1864, is responsible for the maintenance of the heritage buildings and ancient water systems. Any new construction taking place in these villages must be ratified by the committee. Several heritage structures are now being restored using original techniques but with modern facilities to boost tourism. This makes sure that the village’s architecture stays the same and does not lose its charm.