Chamba - Peaceful valley of the Shepherds.

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June 25th 2009
Published: July 1st 2009
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Local street scene, ChambaLocal street scene, ChambaLocal street scene, Chamba

There are cows everywhere on the streets here
Chamba is a fascinating town set in a valley on the edge of a rushing river. It took one hour on the bus to get here from Khajjiar and it was a scary trip! The bus arrived from Dalhousie absolutely packed and had about a dozen young men sitting on the roof - all singing and whistling - in very high spirits and looking forward to day out on the field in Khajjiar. Just as we were leaving Khajjiar, as were walking through the forest to the bus stop (our hotel was set amongst the trees) we disturbed two baby snow leopards playing. What a thrill that was! The area is a forestry and wildlife reserve. The bus trip to Chamba was all down hill and the bus conductor stood at the back of the bus watching the road edges - if the back wheels are getting a bit close to the edge he warns the driver by blowing a whistle. The trips are made even scarier now as there have been two major bus accidents in this area in the last couple of days. 26 people were killed when a bus misjudged and went over the edge, another 13 were killed at a temple when they all boarded a bus and sat on one sat - it toppled over - and yesterday bus passengers were injured by a landslide on the route we are catching tomorrow!
Chamba is not a tourist town as it is a bit out of the way. The old town is set on the hillside overlooking an open field which was once a kilometer long. Now it has been divided into two large areas as the shopping bazaar has expanded through the center of it. original houses are made of stone with slate roofs. Within the town are many temples unlike any we have seen before. They are all stone towers, very intricately carved with slate umbrella style roofs and date from the 9th century. The main complex has six temples within it but throughout the town are at least a dozen others. The main bazaar area is very narrow and full of tiny shops. The area is also renowned for its local artisans and we have been made welcome at many of their shops. We spent time watching men beat brass plaques for the temples, make big copper horns which are also used in the temples and people hand weaving the beautiful woolen shawls and blankets. Murals (double sided embroidery) is also available in the shops. I bought a beautiful shawl made from Australian merino wool which has been hand embroidered. The local handwoven products are much too heavy (both in weight and texture) for me to buy. It snows heavily here in winter - six foot of snow is not uncommon - though as they experiencing a heat wave here (high thirties) it does seem hard to imagine.
The hotel we stayed in was the best in town, though we stayed in their budget room without air con which made the nights pretty uncomfortable. The staff were lovely people - it's the first small town hotel we've stayed in where the owner kept his staff of young boys working most of the day. Everyday the boys would take all the furniture out of the common rooms and wash the floor on their hands and knees - it would be immaculate. There were verandas all around the building with glass topped dining room tables scattered around. The floors were really clean but the table tops were never wiped over - they were thick with dust and spilt food. We pointed it out to the boys one day when they were cleaning the floors (the furniture spent the day piled up in our corridor - we had to climb over it to get to our room) but when the furniture went back in it's place it was all still gaily decorated with dried spilt sauces etc. We ate breakfast every day in the dining room (the tables were clean there) and we ordered the same meal 4 days in a row but every day it was totally different! Tea when coffee had been ordered etc..... We aren't really enjoying the food - very spicy even though I request without spice. They eat a lot of deep fried food and bread products, all accompanied with tingling dip sauces. The same menu item seems to be very different from one place to the next. We're managing though and haven't had any major tummy upsets thankfully. The malaria tablets we are taking are an anti biotic so are helping in keeping some of the bugs away. The main bites we are getting though are flea bites despite the fact we cover ourselves in insect repellent.
The hills around Chamba were very dry and most nights there were small bushfires burning. The arrival of the monsoon is celebrated in India and this year it is nearly a month late in some places. Most towns in the northern area are trucking in water at the moment so the situation is quite serious. The monsoon has arrived in Mumbai now but is a few days off arriving in New Delhi - they had a photo of all the sari ed ladies dancing in a park in New Delhi during a rain shower the other day. There is a book out in Australia which is about chasing the monsoon season in India which I'm looking forward to reading when I get home. It should be available in India - the bookshops her are full of novels by Indian authors which look really interesting. I intend to buy some to ship home - they are very cheap by Australian standards. 'Holy Cow' by Australian author Sarah McDonald about the Indian religions (which I shall reread upon my return) is featured widely here. The part religion pays in the daily lifes of people here is fascinating - the Hindu religion has many different schools of
The view of centre open area and hills opposite from our balconyThe view of centre open area and hills opposite from our balconyThe view of centre open area and hills opposite from our balcony

There is a river between the field and hills
philosophy, all with their own symbols and gods. Though they all are under the same umbrella of Hinduism to our untrained eyes they appear to be very different. 80% of Indians are Hindus, but there are still 125 million Muslims, 20 million Sikhs, 25 million Christians and 6 million Buddhists. India has a very large population! The Hindu caste system is still very noticeable though I'm sure it's less obvious in todays world then it once was. We've seen many orange robed pilgrims wandering the streets begging to support themselves but have yet to see a wild looking ash covered naked sadhu! We have seen some fascinating people though. Some of the photos were taken in a tiny dark cafe full of shepherds and their families. They are very dark skinned people, quite sharply featured and the women usually have a lot of gold jewelery in form of nose rings, neck lets and earrings. I love our many Indian women of all ages wear toe rings and often have orange feet or fingertips from henna. I will never tire of watching the flow of saris as the women walk down the streets. The local men of Chamba wear a little woolen round flat topped cap, the front panel of which is made brightly
We visited the museum and enjoyed the displays of double sided embroidery and silk paintings. There were also a couple of old palaces set on the hill behind the hotel - one was now a college, but was very rundown though you could still see the lovely windows and wall decorations. The other palace was called the Pink Palace - it was more Red Fort pink - and this was now a weaving workshop area. It was fascinating to watch the shawls being woven on big looms - such a very time consuming task and a real jumble - to my eyes at least - of multi The metal workers were also great to watch and all had real fun personalities. Some were making long curved copper horns which are played in the temples and others enormous brass bells, again for the temples, which were taller then me and much heavier I'm sure. When Jerry took his whistle out to play a tune they all responded with a lot of bantering and blowing of their own horns. They were certainly louder though Jerry much more melodious!
Every evening once it cooled down it seemed as if most of the town came out and relaxed on the fields in front of the river and every morning it was also a hive of activity with young men playing cricket and ladies walking up and down doing their daily exercise. We've had television reception in a lot of our hotel rooms - usually cable with around 100 channels. Some English movie channels, usually with very dated movies showing and a BBC news channel. There are a lot of channels with 24 hour religious It has a camera on it the whole time - not a lot happens but the background chanting is lovely to listen to I guess. There is also a cricket channel - 24 hours of cricket!
We decided to leave Chamba for Dharamshala, the home in India of the Dalai Lama, by local bus and know now that we can book seats on these buses 24 hours ahead. When we arrived at the bus station next morning at 7am there were a group of trekkers who had spent the night in Chamba going to Dharamshala as well. Two of the young French guys had met the day before - their paths crossed somewhere on the mountains - but they had been in the same class at school 10 years before and had lost touch since leaving school. We also met a couple from Germany on the trek we did in Bako National park in Borneo who met the young sister of their bridesmaid (wedding 20 years before) whilst walking in the park. The girl had been 10 when they got married but they recognised the family resemblance. They had lost touch with their bridesmaid 15 years earlier. The world is indeed a small place!
The five hour trip through the Chamba Valley was very pretty. All available land was terraced, mainly with rice fields, and through the centre was a empty stony riverbed which when flowing would have been very impressive. The houses were all stone with slate roofs and perched somehow on the edge of the slopes. Further along the trip the houses were made from mud bricks though they still had slate roofs. We were very high above the valley for a large part of the drive and it was quite frightening, particularly when the bus had to reverse to let other trucks pass! Unfortunately the bus driver had two friends sitting beside him and he spent a lot of the trip with his attention on his friends and not the road. We were sitting right behind the driver, squashed into tiny seats, hanging onto each other as every time the bus cornered we slid forward off the seat. The trip wasn't made any less stressful by the thought of the previously mentioned bus accidents. We did arrive safely in Dharamshala - right in the middle of the last weekend of the school holidays and found the whole population of India in the centre of the town! Another 'I Hate India' moment.

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 29


A pile of sari suitingA pile of sari suiting
A pile of sari suiting

The sari shops are a mass of vibrant colour - the fabrics are cheap and many are covered in hundreds of sequins.
Weaving the local shawlsWeaving the local shawls
Weaving the local shawls

Note henna in hair - turns it orange and is very common in India. Many men have glowing hair!
Statue in the middle of a busy roadway.Statue in the middle of a busy roadway.
Statue in the middle of a busy roadway.

This statue matches the temples but is now in the way of the traffic

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