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Dharamsala

Dharamsala is a city that also serves as the district headquarters of the Himachal Pradesh district of Kangra. It has a total covered area of 29 square kilometers and, as of the 2001 Indian census, has a population of 19,034 people. It has a high literacy rate at 77%, which is significantly higher than the national average of 59.5%. Dharamsala is perched on a spur of the Dhauladhar mountain range in the Kangra Valley, at an altitude of about 1,457 meters above mean sea level. It is counted as one of the most famous tourist destinations of India, mainly due to its rich historical past as well as its spiritual significance.

There isn’t much known about the ancient history of Dharamsala but it is widely acknowledged that the earliest tribes to have settled in the area were the Dasas, a warrior tribe that were later assimilated by the Aryans. The name was taken from the Hindu word Dharamshala, which means “sanctuary”.

The city’s modern history started in 1848, when the British empire annexed the place and, a year later, established a military garrison in the town. In 1852, Dharamsala became the administrative capital of Kangra District. There were two main areas at this time: the McLeod Ganj and Forsyth Ganj. In 1860, the Gurkha Light Infantry was transferred to Dharamsala from Kangra.

In 1905, The Kangra Valley suffered a major earthquake and destroyed the cantonment in Dharamsala, which was never re-settled. The residents were then relocated to the safety of Lower Dharamsala; at that time, the place consisted of nothing more than a jail, a cobbler’s shop and a police station. In time, Dharamsala became a popular spot for British workers assigned in or near Delhi to escape the summer heat. This ended in 1947, when India finally gained its independence.

1959 was the start of the establishment of the Tibetan settlement in Dharamsala, when the Dalai Lama had to flee Tibet after a failed uprising against the Chinese. The Prime Minister of India allowed the religious leader and his followers to settle in McLeod Ganj (Upper Dharamsala), where they established a government-in-exile in 1960. Now, several thousand Tibetans in exile have also settled in the town, where they have built monasteries, schools and temples. All this sometimes causes the town to be called as “Little Lhasa” after the Tibetan capital city, and has become an important tourist destination, boosting the town’s tourism and commerce.

The town is divided into two different parts: Upper Dharamsala or McLeod Ganj, which has a height of nearly 1,800 meters, and Lower Dharamsala, which has a height of about 1,250 meters. The former is primarily a Tibetan area and houses the residence of the Dalai Lama while the latter is inhabited mostly by Indians. The town can be reached by railway via the Pathankot line and from there, requires a three-hour journey to the town. By road, there are bus services from Delhi via Kiratpur, Chandigarh and Bilaspur. The journey takes about eight hours. The nearest airport is located at Gaggal in Kangra which is just 15 kilometers away.

Nurpur

Nurpur is a city located in the northwestern part of Kangra district in Himachal Pradesh. The city only has a population of 9,045 people, according to the 2001 India census. Of these, men constitute 52% of the population while the women make up the remaining 48%. The literacy rate is higher than that of the 59.5% national average, with the males having a literacy of 81% and the females, 75% averaging to an overall 78%. The city has an elevation of 643 meters above sea level.

Nurpur was founded in the 11th century by Raja Jhet Pal, who was the younger brother of the ruler of Delhi. It reached its peak during the reign of Raja Basu, from 1580 to 1613, who built an impressive fort that can still be seen today. When the Mughal empire conquered northern India, Raja Basu’s son staged a rebellion which was quelled.

Originally, the city was known as Dhameri. This was changed when it was visited by Queen Nur Jehan, the wife of the Mughal emperor Nuruddin Salim Jahangir, who ruled between 1569 to 1627. The legend goes that upon visiting the town, the queen was so awestruck by its natural beauty and richness that she decided to stay there for the rest of her life. This decision made the local administration worry since the Mughal empire at that time were expanding across India and the local leaders of Dhameri did not want their peaceful town to be a central point for Mughal domination and influenced by external politics. So, to deal with this without offending the queen and suffering the wrath of the Mughal empire, they devised a simple but effective plan. They advised the queen that staying in their town for a long period of time could spoil her great beauty, and that there is also a fictitious local disease in town that might afflict her. This terrified the queen so much that she hurriedly left. The little experience wasn’t in vain, however, as in 1622, the name of the town was changed to Nurpur in honor of the Mughal queen who fell in love with the beauty of the place.

Before India gained independence in 1947, Nurpur was a princely state that was under the rule of the Pathania clan of Rajputs. Until India consolidated the princely states into new states, the Pathania clan had ruled Nurpur for more than eight centuries.

The main attraction of Nurpur is the massive and sprawling Nurpur Fort, built by Raja Basu in the late 16th century. It spreads across a long, flat plateau and forms the western end of the ridge, overlooking the Jhabar Khud, a tributary of the Chakki rivulet. The architectural designs are masterfully done and while it is in ruins now, there are still some finely carved reliefs found in the walls. The fort also has a 16th century idol of Lord Krishna, which still attracts tourists from around the country.