Rampur Bushahr is the last capital of the Bushahr or Bashahr dynasty that ruled the Shimla & Kinnaur regions for a long time. If you go by legends, they trace their ancestry to Pradyumna – the Son of Lord Krishna. You do see a lot of Vishnu temples in the Bushahr region. So the belief may have some basis. However, in recorded history, the Bushahr dynasty ruled from the Kamru Fort near Sangla. Then moved to Sarahan and finally about 100 years back to Rampur on the banks of the Sutlej River.
My journey would be taking me back in time as I moved from Rampur to Sarahan and then Kamru. But first, let me introduce you to Rampur and its Padam Palace.
Rampur Bushahr Town, Himachal
As soon as you enter Rampur from the Shimla side, you are welcomed by two striking visuals. One of the roaring Sutlej and the other of a huge Hanuman idol. The next thing I noticed was the small bridges on the river. They looked just too fragile for the force of Sutlej but still did their job well of taking people across. The city seems to be equally divided across both banks of Sutlej.
The road running parallel to the river was bustling with activity, as people moved in and out of office buildings. Vegetable vendors had their shops arranged in an inviting manner. And the activity at the bus stops is an indication of the regional importance of the town. Located on the Old Hindustan Tibet Road Rampur has always been a trading center between India and Tibet. It also is a venue for two traditional trade fairs. Lavi in November and Fag in March where vendors come to sell their goods.
At Rampur, the ubiquitous green Kinnauri cap also becomes an integral part of the landscape. I would discover the stories behind this cap a little later. But at Rampur, I could see most heads covered on the green cap that you may remember on the head of Virbhadra Singh.
We walked along the river, absorbing the simple life of Rampur. We sat at a Chai shop and had a crunchy fresh out of the pan Samosa. And chatted with the simple people of Himachal. An elderly couple, at the Chai shop fondly, spoke to us. When they found out that we are out to discover Himachal Pradesh, they insisted that we stay with them for some days. Their affection touched our hearts.
They lived in a village about 20 km away (which is a long distance in the hills) from Rampur. They were inviting us to be their guests so that they can show us their part of the state. When was the last time you experienced such a pure heart around you? It was difficult to say no to them and they would probably never know the kind of positivity they are spreading in this world.
On one side of the main road in Rampur stands the glory of Rampur – its handsome and well-maintained Padam Palace. Now you expect the palaces to be beautiful and charming, for the most elite of the times lived there. What makes the palaces interesting is that they are a documentation of their times. What was in fashion then, what was the personality of its residents and how did it relate to the world outside?
We entered the compound of Padam Palace after taking a flight of steps leading to the smaller compound. With two wooden buildings in dark brown and turquoise blue, are quite an unusual but striking combination. The wooden carved structure captivated me but at the same time, the tall carved structure from the other side of the wall tempted me.
I stepped into the main compound to see this long structure with a sprawling lawn all around, a colorful fountain in front, and hills at the back. I was awestruck, to say the least. This long building with ash grey stone pillars, chocolate brown carved wood first floor, and a red-colored slanted roof stood like a piece of frozen history. The tall stone columns provided elegance.
The profusely carved wooden screen sits atop them like a crown. Bringing the exoticness of the local craft and the red color on top added vibrancy to the whole building.
Blue doors with multi-colored stained glasses provided richness at the base level. If you peep inside through these glasses, you see huge halls with little furniture but similar doors on the other side. The colorful glasses bring in the sunlight split into multiple colors. The ceiling of the corridor has geometrical patterns in white, red, and green with mirrors still intact on the design.
History of the Palace
Padam Palace is a private property of the Royal family of Bushahr. Whose current king would have been the current chief minister of Himachal Pradesh – Virbhadra Singh. In fact, he is still referred to as Raja Sahib in this area. Padam Singh who built this palace was his father and was the 122nd king in the lineage of this dynasty. When I spoke to the people on its lawns they all said this palace is 300-400 years old. Some even placed it older than that.
But to me, the architecture was so damn colonial that it has to be a 19-20th CE building. The puzzle was solved when an inscription on the wall said Raja Padam Singh laid the foundation stone of this palace in 1919 CE. Which means this palace is fairly new. At the entrance of the palace, a brilliant wooden carved idol of Balaji was kept. Something that represented the southern Indian tradition along with a Ganesh idol in pretty much the north Indian tradition.
Exquisitely carved Wooden Structures
In one corner of the lawn stood a lovely wooden structure in blue. It was exquisitely carved with multiple colors. My camera and I just adored this lovely combination of color and carving. This round structure stood on delicate pillars with a double-tier slate roof. I later learned that this is the place where the King interacted with the public and it is called Machhkandi.
I stepped inside to feel like a king and standing on its wooden platform when I looked up – the ceiling was like a temple ceiling. With names of Ram and auspicious signs carved. A sign also mentions HH Maharaja of Bushahr Padam Singh. Sure, kings were treated as an incarnation of Gods on Earth. For the few minutes that I spent there, I felt like a queen capable of solving problems that people bring to me. Being in a position to ‘Give’.
I wonder if these places had an impact on the psyche of the one who sat here and took decisions.
A small building in blue called Sheesh Mahal or the glass palace that is probably older than the Padam Palace is situated in a corner. A part of the palace is now a hotel, so you can stay here and feels like a king.
Temples at Rampur Bushahr
Walking along the main road on Rampur, we stopped at a stone structure that looked like an ancient temple. We stepped in from a white wooden door with lion-faced metal doorknobs. It was a small stone temple with a wooden enclosure around it. The stone looked very old due to its worn-out carvings. We went around the temple and learned that it is an ancient temple dedicated to Narasimha Avatar of Vishnu. I was intrigued as the only other place I have seen Narasimha temples are in Telangana and Andhra.
The priest in the temple told me that Narasimha is a revered avatar here. And we will find many temples dedicated to him.
The wooden ceiling was nicely carved, though with the impact of snow that covers these temples for good 6 months. The finesse is not there and they wear a very torn-town look. The wooden part, of course, needs maintenance and has to be replaced every few years. But the stone temple is antiquity. The base of the temple stands on the Lotus flower – carved in stone. Making it appear as if the temple is emerging out of a lotus flower.
At eye level, many small temples are carved in the form of niches and hold idols of various deities. A brass bell hung from the wooden ceiling that was carved like the ceilings of the temples of Khajuraho. All elements of the temple reflected a Nagar Style of temple architecture.
It is a very small temple but sitting right next to Satlej it has a lot of spiritual energy. You can feel a million prayers that have been said here over the ages.
On the opposite side of the road was a little better known as Raghunath Mandir with a similar stone structure that was now surrounded by a Dharamshala. A stone-engraved idol of Hanuman proudly sits outside the main temple and on its outer walls. The temple is dedicated to Ram Avatar of Vishnu.
A Buddhist temple called Dungyur temple can be seen as a colorful tall building near the bus stand. This was inaugurated by Dalai Lama in 2006 and has a lovely main door that is worth seeing.
What I admired most about all the public places in Rampur was that people were using them. And they were not dead museums inaccessible to current generations. People sat on the lawns of Padam Palace, in the Canopy outside it. On the Chabutras outside the temples and even on the temple platforms. Were these places not created for people to meet and exchange ideas and thoughts, to share their joys and sorrows? I am happy that Rampur is using its heritage in the way it was meant to be used.
Read the following Places to visit in Himachal Pradesh on my travel blog.