This is not a tourist town but the museum was wonderful. It had lots of English explanations, as well as Hindi. It has an internationally recognized treasure of Chamba miniature paintings, plus lots of stone sculpture going back to the 2nd C. One painting showed a lady on the swing with the mouthpiece of her hookah in her hand while her maid stands by holding the hookah, itself. A stone sculpture of a Bodhistattava was from the 2nd or 3rd C. The Museum was named after the Raja of Singh (Bhuri Singh) who ruled at the time, but another, earlier Raja (Raja Sham Singh, ruled 1873-1904) was much better looking.
Wednesday I started by visiting the Akhand Chandi Palace, built in 1764, and now the University of Chamba. While one can’t help visualizing a crew of 10 working non-stop on repairs and paint, still the atmosphere made up for some of the scruffy state of repair. I stepped into the Darbar Hall (where the Raja used to receive large delegations) and realized that a group of students were taking an exam. As I left the compound, a young woman walked out with me and asked where I wanted to go. She pointed the way to my next destination, the Lakshmi Narayan Temple Complex. When she asked if I were alone, and I said I was, her response was, “Seriously??”
Parts of the Temple Complex went back to the 10th C! There were six similar mandirs honoring various Hindu deities, all with lovely stone carving. There was also a small museum, but it suffered from common problems—lack of adequate lighting, and not much English. I suppose that’s only a problem for me, and not for the locals! Still it’s wonderful that people work to preserve the rich cultural heritage in India. The number of languages, kingdoms, artistic styles, and historical figures is overwhelming.
Wednesday night the MONSOONS ARRIVED! Since my bathroom and terrace have a corrugated metal roof, I know when it’s raining! The next morning I dashed across the street for my parantha and chai for breakfast, then walked in the light rain to the booths/kiosks along the main drag to look for an umbrella. Everyone was carrying one and soon, so was I. (I bargained for a small one for $2!) I asked three different people if this rain really was the monsoon, and all three said it was and that it would rain every day from now on.
I walked a few blocks to the bus station to inquire about buses to Jammu City, my next destination. It was mobbed, watery and muddy and, as near as I could find out, there were no direct buses to Jammu City. I tried to inquire about the private buses—I could see several, but was unable to find out any information. Normally I would inquire at a travel agency but since this is not a tourist city, there aren’t any that I could see anyway.
Not such a good sight-seeing day so I ducked into the courthouse to see the goings on. I haven’t seen a single Westerner in this city so naturally many people wanted to practice their English and interact with me. There were quite a few military (?) police(?) at the entrance, but they were most friendly to me. This is a very busy place every day (it was just down the street from my hotel) but usually there is lots of business being conducted outside around tables with notaries, lawyers, and clients shuffling papers and conferring.
I entered a courtroom (looking like ours on TV) with a dignified judge sitting at the bench. I quickly took his photo, without flash, of course, but he instructed a man to tell me not to take pictures, who did so in a very cordial way. I smiled and indicated that I wouldn’t, but of course, I already had my picture. Sometimes I ask first, but if I’m pretty certain of getting a ‘no’ answer, I click first and then ask, looking apologetic if they say ‘no.’ The man in the plaid shirt is who told me ‘no’ at the judge’s direction.
I’ve been having my dinner (at 2:30 PM) at the Jagan Restaurant every day. They serve a Kingfisher beer (many do not) and good food. Also, the place is fairly cool and comfortable. One day a sparrow joined us, perching on a fan right over a young man’s food. The bird chirped and chirped but I was the only person who paid it any mind. The young man seemed oblivious to possible additives to his food! Actually I didn’t see anything happen, but I would not have let that bird perch over my dinner!
Well, there’s always at least one wild goose chase during every trip. There were two (actually the most important) temples that I had not seen but they were high up on the mountain side, and I figured I had done my climbing. So after my breakfast parantha, I hired a taxi to take me to these two temples.
We first visited the Chamundi Devi Temple. The best thing about it was the view of Chamba—the temple, itself, was rather underwhelming. (I’ve noticed that this Lonely Planet writer kind of oversells things.) Pushing on to the Bajreshwari Devi Temple, we drove higher and higher, first on an asphalt road, then gravel, and then more of a cowpath, which was pretty scary. We finally arrived and I asked two young men if this were the Bajreshwari Devi Temple and they nodded that it was. BUT, I had to walk up about 100 steps to reach it, which I did. Once there, I could see this bore no resemblance to the description in the guide, climbed down, and explained this to the taxi driver. I suppose my pronunciation of the name sounded close enough to whatever this temple was called so they nodded, ‘yes.’
The taxi driver hunted and asked some more, and finally stopped by what I had seen pictures of in the museum—some very old rock sculptures, which I had learned from the museum people were near the Bajreshwari Devi Temple. The driver got out to ask someone and came back claiming that I would need to climb from here up to the temple. That didn’t sound right to me so I gave up and told him to drive back. How much does it really matter in the scheme of things if I saw this temple or not? Anyway, the views from the mountain were lovely after the rain the day before had thoroughly cleaned the air.
On Saturday I prepared myself for a tough day. I got to the bus station at 7:30, bought my ticket, and then had time for breakfast. First I had a five-hour bus ride over the mountains that was pretty scary. I had to look away when we got too close to the abyss and also when we got too close to oncoming traffic. Then a very tired lady who sat next to me kept falling asleep on my shoulder. That gets annoying after a while. We finally got to Pathancot where I changed buses for Jammu. Luckily one was going right away, and I got a good seat and a better seatmate! Most of this three-hour stretch was on a four lane highway, something that I had never seen before in India. We had a food break, and I bought something from a vendor that looked/tasted sort of like corn dumplings. He put four of these things in a container made out of leaves, added grated cabbage, sprinkled on some orange hot sauce and voila! I had a nice snack.
I got a good hotel, here, but unfortunately the desk clerk told me that they didn’t have wifi. Well, lucky me. When I tried it anyway, I got somebody else’s wifi, and it didn’t require a password, either!
The next morning after my breakfast parantha, curd and chai, I hired a tuk-tuk driver to take me sightseeing. Jammu is India out of the past. It’s crowded, dirty, smelly and very interesting! All of the temples that I visited were kind of kitchy or even Disneyesque, but there were many ‘holy men,’ dogs, goats, cows, and Indians on the scene. I was the only Westerner that I saw. Interestingly, Jammu is unlike the rest of India in that they don’t permit photos in the temples. All others (in my experience) encourage you to take photos. Consequently I didn’t actually go inside some of the temples. Really, the Jammu temples were kind of garish compared to all others that I have seen in India. Well, to each, his own!
The Amar Mahal Palace was over the top. It was constructed in the late 19th C., and was the last place the Singh Rajas lived. Frankly, I think they had labeled the Rajas wrong! The handsome Raja Sham Singh (shown earlier here) had a different name in this museum, which I pointed out to a young man, who thought this was very amusing. Clearly, either this museum or the one at Chamba was WRONG!
I visited the Bahu Fort, the Har-Ki- Paori Mandir (a cross between Disney and India); then the Gupawala Mandir, which was a glittering tunnel and cave deal with fancy, dancy things to worship; followed by the Mubarak Mandi, a good- old Indian extravaganza building which now was falling down around its ears. A piece of it had been restored to make a museum, which I visited. India as it was.
What to think about the exploited children at the temples. One little toddler, in heavy make-up, was being touched for a blessing by many people visiting the temple who left money in the box at her feet. No question, India is HEAVY!
Back to the hotel to have a Kingfisher beer and then a thali at the place across the street where I had breakfast. I engaged my tuk-tuk driver to come tomorrow at 7:30 AM to take me to the airport. I shall try to send this in the meantime.