Chamba is an unsolved mystery for me. It takes hell lot of time to reach there irrespective of your mode of transportation. Everytime I go to Chamba, I get to know something surprising about Chamba, its people, and the folklore and that serves as a platform for the next trip. For instance it is forbidden to speak the name of Chowari Village in the morning because (supposedly) it brings bad luck. So they call it chota haridwar (छोटा हरिद्वार ) instead.
I recently updated my aim(s) in life and
spending living one full winter season in a snow desert was one of them. I picked Bharmour for the trial run to acclimatize myself so that next year I don’t die in the long winters when I pack my bags and rot in bone chilling cold of Pangi Valley. However, reaching Bharmour is not a cakewalk, at least during the rainy season. I met Mr Vijay Sharma, the 2012 Padam Shree awardee from Himachal Pradesh and believe me his library inspired me more than his paintings. He has got truckload of books, literally. With him, I got a chance to see the inside out of Maharaja Bhuri Singh Museum in Chamba and to my surprise our pahadi language also had script(s) once. Sharda (शारदा ) and Takri (टाकरी) are two of the oldest scripts of our region. You will find many written documents, foundation slabs (पनघट-शिला), and paintings that have inscriptions written in the above mentioned scripts.
Well foundation slabs (पनघट-शिला) were laid in the memory of soldiers, sati (सती), and people who had died untimely death because of natural or unnatural reasons. Inscriptions and pictorial stories were engraved on these slabs and they were placed on a water resource like wells and step-wells (बावड़ी).
It was the knowledge board (ज्ञान चौपड़) that caught my attention. All of us have played “snake & ladders” game in our childhood, even adults play it. So there it was made in the 12th Century or even before it. The script was Devnagiri and the style was cursive. The blocks mentioned events of life and the last three blocks were “Shiv Lok”, “Brahma Lok”, and the “Vishnu Lok”.
The longest snake bites you when you commit a murder (नर-हत्या ) and takes you to the hell (सर्वलोक नरक), quite interesting it was. It is believed that people from “that” age lived their life according to the instructions written on this board, whether they played it or not, is another question.
Marching ahead, I decided to take a leap of faith and move towards Bharmour in the rainy-cum-stormy weather. I was mentally prepared to walk a few miles because the road was blocked at several crucial points. I had moved just 10 Kilometers out of Chamba and that was an end to my initial snow desert dreams. The road was blocked, literally. One big rock had blocked the road and it was not possible to clear it in one day, I was told. It was cleared in four days however. There were guys clearing the road and none of them was wearing any security gear. I decided to sit with them and experience it in real-time. One needs guts of iron to sit there and operate that excavator (JCB). Hundreds feet below I could see heavy boulders breaking into pieces and I was wondering what would happen if the machine toppled. It never happened although.
I had to go somewhere because Bharmour was closed and my mission was incomplete. I saw a newspaper cutting on the road and it showed hundreds of trucks lined up before the Jawahar Tunnel in Jammu and Kashmir. So Jawahar Tunnel was my next destination. 36 kilometers in snow, on foot is something I wasn’t expecting to do, but I did.
P.S. The best “Chambyali Dham” is served at the “मामे दा ढाबा” located near the Sultanpur Chowk. That guy cooks amazing food and even Mohit Chauhan has visited his Dhaba. SDM, DC, SP etc. etc. frequently eat there.