The art of fresh trout and a painter

Monday, 13 May 2013 05:17

The quaint village of Naggar, situated off the Kullu-Manali highway (NH 21) overlooking the tranquil Beas valley and the Dhauladhar mountains, is a place enamoured with an artist’s legacy. Blessed with the bounties of nature, it also hosts the strikingly beautiful Naggar Castle. Naggar is just the getaway one is looking to unwind in solitude after all the travelling through Kullu and Manali milling with tourists.

The camellia blooms in the gardens in spring. The white wooden cottage of the renowned Russian painter Nicholas Roerich stands prettily amid lush greenery. The gurgling Beas below, the Dhauladhar in the background and the azure sky above were perhaps the reason for the Roerich family to make Naggar their muse. Inspired by the mountains and the local tribes, Nicholas and his son Svetoslav produced some 7,000 paintings, mostly oil on canvas.

At the art gallery on the ground floor of the cottage, one can see 37 original paintings of Nicholas and 11 of Svetoslav. One cannot miss the red dots on a white banner that is known as the ‘Banner of Peace’ which today flies above many cultural and educational institutions in the world. Nicholas was admired the world over not only as a painter but also a philosopher, scientist and explorer. For global cultural and spiritual cooperation, he had conceived the ‘Roerich Pact’ that had become the basis for the Hague International Convention for the protection of cultural values in case of armed conflict.

The Roerich family stayed in Naggar from 1929 to 1948 but their legacy lives on through the International Roerich Memorial Trust that was formed by Devika Rani, the popular Indian actor and wife of Svetoslav. The art gallery, Roerich memorial house, Urusvati Folk art museum, Helena Roerich (Nicholas wife) art college, a modern art gallery and open house theatre are the places to visit for anyone interested in art and culture.

I was particularly interested in Roerich memorial house. The garden is thick with foliage and blooming with flowers, the rickety staircase leading to Roerich’s personal dwelling place has a warning signboard. One is expected to walk slow and not crowd the place. I tiptoed to the balcony that surrounds the house and one could see through the windows the inner arrangement of the rooms as it was during Roerich times. The rooms are tastefully decorated with carved furniture, carpets, bookshelves, paintings, wall hangings and huge crystals; they all indicate the great taste, aesthetics and quest for knowledge by Roerich.  Downstairs is an art gallery and adjacent to it, a garage displaying the vintage Dodge Roerich loved to drive. The Guga Chohan sculptures of local deity adorn the cottage’s exterior.

I had a particular interest in the Urusvati Folk Art Museum that holds original ancient sculptures collected by Nicholas and George, the eldest son who was an archaeologist, Orientalist and linguist. He helped collate the ethnographical and archaeological material collected during the central Asia expedition. It also exhibits ethnic items from the Kullu Valley and even has a ‘Russian Room’. We walked to the modern art gallery where an artist was displaying his paintings.

From the art to the architecture, in Naggar castle one discovers beauty at every corner. The apple and plum orchards in the Raison and Katrain villages nearby fills one with so much joy. The trout hatchery at the mountain base at Patlikuhl after crossing the Beas is every fish lover’s delight, for one could buy as much as fresh trout one likes.

It was the aroma of delicious trout that remains as the parting memory of Naggar castle rather than its architecture. Tables were laid in the central courtyard and a group of foreigners were having a hearty meal of fresh fish. The 16th century castle built by Raja Sidh Singh is now a Himachal Tourism hotel and packed with foreign tourists. The castle is built with roughly hewn stones and wooden beams that have richly embellished carvings. The structure is very strong and had withstood a strong earthquake in 1905 that could not make a dent on it. The Jagtipath temple is on the premises. Naggar is a castle with expansive views and one can spend hours with or without having trout if you are not keen for things Piscean. But the fruit wines and the apple juice—the signature drink of Himachal Pradesh—available in the nearby shops are simply delicious.

How to get to Naggar: By Air: Nearest airport is Bhuntar near Kullu. By Rail: Nearest broad gauge railhead is Chandigarh, Kalka. By Road: Naggar is 5 km off the NH21 (near Patlikuhl) that connects Chandigarh to Manali. There are overnight buses from Delhi to Manali. One could hire a taxi from Shimla. Nearby towns: Kullu and Manali.

By Kavita Kanan Chandra/ The New Indian Express

12th May 2013

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