The town of Chamba, the district headquarter of Chamba district, is situated in northwestern part of the state of Himachal Pradesh in the northern region of India between north latitudes 32°10' and 33°13' and east longitudes 75°45' and 77°33'. The town stands on a plateau on the right bank of the Ravi river valley between Dhauladhar and Zanskar ranges south of the inner Himalayas. Often described as "a jewel of the Himalayas", Chamba, 920 metres above sea level is one of the oldest princely state and dates back to the sixth century. It is well known for its splendid and beautiful architecture and also has a district headquarters. The town is a busy trading centre for villagers from the surrounding hills. Chamba is known for its festivals. The Sui Mata festival is held for four days in March/April every year in memory of princess Sui, who gave her life to protect the people of Chamba. Women in Chamba revere her and her image is carried from the Old Palace (Rangmahal) to her small shrine accompanied by singing and dancing. The Minjar festival is celebrated in late July/early August every year. The origin of this festival goes back to the 10th century AD. This festival marks the harvesting of the annual maize crop. It culminates with a procession to River Ravi and throwing of the silk tassels or Minjars (representing sheaves of maize), worn by men and women into the river. The stone and wood slate roofed houses of Chamba works of art in themselves reflect the rich artistic heritage of the area. Balconies, doors, windows, brackets are often beautifully carved in a range of designs and figures flowers, birds, Gods and Goddesses. Within the works of art that are their homes, Chamba women excel in creating Chamba rumals (large handkerchiefs). Exquisite examples of needle painting, the rumals of Chamba have long been famous-for their unusual beauty, and as symbols and omens of goodwill. Weddings in the hills and valleys around Chamba are still not complete without an exchange of Chamba rumals. The highly distinctive Chamba rumals have gone through an interesting period of evolution. In addition to its rumals, Chamba is also known for the design and quality of its leather chappals (flat, open shoes) and belts. Like the rumals, Chamba chappals with their open toes and partially woven 'vamps' catch even the most unobservant eye and are very light and comfortable.
The weather in Chamba is alpine. Summers are mild and winters are cold. It experiences southwestern monsoon rains in July-September.
However, there may be variations because of micro-climatic systems depending upon altitude and mountain aspect. The winters last from December to February. March and April generally remain cool and dry but snowfall does occur at higher elevations during these months. The temperature begins to rise rapidly from the middle of April till last week of June or first week of July when monsoon breaks-in. Monsoon continues till the end of August or mid September. During the monsoon, the weather remains misty, humid and cloudy. October and November are comparatively dry but cold. The maximum temperature in Chamba town in summers is 38°C and the minimum in winter is 0°C. The best season to visit Chamba is between March to June and between September to October.
There is neither an airport nor a railway station in Chamba. The bus station in Chamba is located near the Chowgan. The bus service from Chamba to Bharmaur (31/2 hours), Dharamshala (10 hours), Khajjiar (11/2 hours), Dalhousie (3 hours), and to Pathankot (6 hours) is very good. Chamba is approximately 52 kms from Dalhousie. The distance is reduced by 6 kms. via Upper Barkota and Khajjiar road. Bus and taxi service is available from Chamba to Pathankot, Delhi, Dharamsala, Shimla, Chandigarh, Jammu and most of the Punjab cities along the national highway.
Laxmi Narayan Temple, Champavati Temple, Vajeshwari Temple, Sui Mata Temple, Chamunda Devi Temple, Hari rai Temple, Chaugan, Akhand Chandi Palace, Rang Mahal, Saho, Minjar Mela, Bhuri Singh Museum
Laxmi Narayana Temple, which is the main temple of Chamba town was built by Sahil Varman in the 10th century AD. The architecture of the six temples in this complex is an example of the Hindu shikhara style of architecture. The temple consists of Bimana i.e. Shikhara and GarbhGriha with a small antralya. Laxmi Narayana Temple has a mandapa like structure also. The wooden Chhattries, the shell roof, atop the temple were in response to the local climatic conditions as a protection against snowfall. Three temples are dedicated to Lord Vishnu, and another three to Lord Shiva. This Laxmi Narayan Temple complex also some fine sculptures of residing deities, which include figures of Lord Vishnu (of the Hindu trilogy), Goddess Laxmi (Goddess of wealth), Narasimha (Lion form of Lord Vishnu) and Lord Krishna.
This temple is located behind the City Police Post and Treasury building. The temple was built by Raja Sahil Varman in memory of his daughter Champavati who is believed to have influenced her father to set-up Chamba at its present location. The temple is in the Shikhara style with elaborate stone carving and the wheel roof. The size of this temple is equivalent to the largest of the Laxmi Narayana Temple. Other temples to visit in Chamba are the Radha Krishna Temple and the Sitaram Temple.
This ancient temple is believed to be 1000 years old and is dedicated to Devi Vajreshwari-Goddess of lightning. The temple is situated on the northern most corner of the town at the end of Jansali Bazar. The temple is built in the Shikhara style with wooden Chhattries and stands on the platform. The Shikhara of the temple is elaborately carved. There are two other minor temples on either side of the main shrine.
The Sui Mata Temple is located between the Chamunda Devi temple and Brajreshwari Devi temple, and is dedicated to Sui Mata (a local princess, who gave her life for the people in Chamba). Colorful paintings within the temple depict the life of Sui. In memory of her devotion a small shrine was erected at that spot and mela called Sui Mata Ka Mela was also appointed to be held annually from 15th of Chait to the first of Baisakh. This fair is attended by women and children who in their best attire sing praises of the Rani and offer homage to the Rani for her singular sacrifice.
The Chamunda Devi Temple is located on a hill overlooking the town of Chamba and one has to climb for about 30 minutes to reach it. This temple is dedicated to Chamunda, the wrathful form of Goddess Durga. The entire wooden ceiling of this temple is embellished with intricate carvings depicting floral motifs and different deities. This temple has a number of brass bells, offered by the devotees, and footprints of the Goddess on a small pillar. Behind the main temple is a small shrine of Lord Shiva in the Shikhara style. There is another platform in front of this temple where two very old peepul trees provide shelter to the visitors. From this platform a bird's eye view of most of the land marks in the town including Chaugan, Circuit House, most of the temples and river Ravi can be had. The temple is being looked after by Archaeological Survey of India.
The 11th-century Harirai Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu is also made in the Shikhara style and has a triple-headed statue of Lord Vishnu made from eight different materials.
The Chaugan is the heart and hub centre of all activities in Chamba. Tradition is silent as to its use as a polo ground and the name is etymologically distinct from Chaugan, the Persian name of Polo, being of Sanskrit origin and meaning 'four-sided'. Initially the five Chaugan were a single patch of meadow. In 1890s the leveling of the Chaugan was done. It became a public promenade and Cricket ground for the British. Annual Minjar Mela is held in the Chaugan. Local people can be seen promenading in the Chaugan till late night. Gaddies with their deras can also be seen camping on the outskirts of this beautiful public promenade. Because of great pressure on Chaugan the quality of its turf is fast deteriorating. Chaugan is closed for public after Dusshera till April for maintenance. Chowgan, the grassy promenade at the heart of the town, is the focus for local festivals.
The beautiful structure of the palace with its painted walls and glass work, ceiling, intricate woodwork are fast deteriorating, since sufficient funds are not available for the maintenance of this monument. The palace has a commanding view of the Chaugan, Laxmi Narayana Temple, Sui Mata, Chamunda Devi Temple, Rang Mehal, Hari Rai Temple and Bansi Gopal Temple.
One of the largest monuments, Rang Mahal is located in Surara Mohalla. The architecture of Rang Mahal is an amalgam of Mughal and British styles. The Rangmahal houses the Himachal Emporium, from where one can buy handicraft items. Most of the rooms of this palace are being used as work-shops for making shoes, chapples and rumals. A number of decorative and colorful wall painting have been removed and taken to National Museum of Delhi. Some of the wall paintings and richly painted doors of the palace can be seen preserved in the Bhuri Singh Museum of Chamba.
Bhuri Singh Museum at Chamba opened formally on 14-09-1908, it is named after Raja Bhuri Singh who ruled Chamba from 1904 to 1919. Bhuri Singh donated his family collection of paintings to the museum. Paintings of Bhagwat Purana and Ramayana in peculiar style are inspired by Basohli idiom of painting whereas Krishna, Sudama, Rukmini vivah and Usha-Anirudh and portraits in prime Guler-Kangra style were executed by the artists who were patronized by the Chamba rulers. The embroidered Chamba-Rumals are related in style since their drawings were made by pahari painters though the embroidery was done by the household ladies. Besides these major items of collections, there are coins, hill jewellery and costumes- both traditional and royal, arms and armour, musical instruments and various decorative objects. The museum remains open from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM throughout the year except on Monday and other gazetted holidays.
Minjar is the most popular fair of Chamba which is attended by a large number of people from every nook and corner of the district. This mela is held on the second Sunday of the Shravana month. The fair is announced by distribution of Minjar which is a silk tassel worn on some parts of the dress by men and women alike. This tassel symbolises the shoots of paddy and maize which make their appearance around this time of the year. The week long fair begins when the Minjar flag is hoisted in historical Chowgan. The town of Chamba wears a colourful look with every person turning out in best attire. Most part of the Chowgan is converted into markets and people do brisk business during this week. Sports and cultural programmes are organised. On the third Sunday the gaiety, colourfulness and enthusiasm reaches its crescendo when the colourful Minjar procession of the deities accompanied by dancing troupes, traditionally attired locals, traditional drum beaters along with Police and Home Guards band, begins its march from Akhand Chandi Palace for the venue near the Police Lines Nalhora. A great concourse of people is already assembled there. Earlier the Raja and now the chief guest throws a coconut, a rupee, a seasonal fruit and a Minjar tied in a red piece of cloth - Lohan - as offering to the river. This is followed by all the people throwing their Minjars into the river. Traditional Kumjari-Malhar is sung by the local artists. Betal leaves and ittra are offered to everyone among the invitees as a gesture of respect and festivity. Minjar fair has been declared as one of the state fairs of Himachal Pradesh. Wide coverage is given on TV and print media. Undoubtedly Chamba is at its very best during this fair that generally falls in the month of July/ August.
Twenty kms from Chamba is the village of Saho on the right bank of Sal river. The village is situated on a high plateau of great beauty. Saho is famous for its temple dedicated to Lord Chandra Shekhra i.e. the moon-crowned God, Shiva. The temple is hidden behind the locality in a tree grove. Two magnificent images of Shiva can be seen at the entrance and a huge Shivaling is enshrined in the sanctum. Facing the temple is a life size Nandi bull carved with fine details.
In the month of August/ September a mela is held in the compound of the temple. This mela coincides with Manimahesh Yatra.During summer Saho wears a golden mantle of wheat crop and in August/September the fields are lush green with paddy crop. The spring water of Saho is supposed to have medicinal value. There is a Forest Rest House at Saho.