The following is a translation from German of a travelogue by Gustav Oppert published 1897 in Vol. LXXI, Issue 1, of the Globus magazine.

Journey to Kulu in the Himalayas

by Prof. Gustav Oppert

(Illustrations after photographs by the author)

During my many years of residence in India, I had often harboured the wish to visit northern India, but obstacles of various kinds had always stood in the way. Finally, at the end of my career as a civil servant, I was able to carry out my plan and began my trip to Kulu from Simla in late May 1893.

From Simla I walked on the magnificent road leading through spruce and cedar forests to Fagu, which is about eleven English miles away. On the way, the high snow mountains, from which the Ganges and the Jumna flowed, offer magnificent distant views, while the Sutlej flows through the valley on the right, and the Pabar through the valley on the left, far below in the depths. In Fagu I heard again for the first time since my stay of more than twenty years in India the call of the cuckoo so celebrated in Indian poetry. A small Käli temple, many flag-draped trees, and the paint-smeared stones evidenced the various religious confessions of the villagers, while the groups of playing children, bustling housewives, and chibuk pipe-smoking men on the front porches of the houses provided opportunities for ethnological study (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Group of mountain people in Fagu.

From Fagu the road continues through dense forest to Theog, which is six English miles away and 8,000 feet above the sea, and whose old fort, belonging to the Thakur there, affords a deep view of the Giri valley. Eleven miles further through woodlands and over a rather steep hill lead to Mattiana. The last four miles of the way to Mattiana are famous because of the charming, wooded mountain landscape, but the view of the immense snow chain of the Himalayas is even more magnificent and imposing when Narkanda, situated about 8670 feet above sea level, is reached. The twelve miles from Mattiana to Narkanda are rightly considered the highlight of the tour from Simla to the Sutlej riverbed. From Narkanda the trail descends steeply, nearly 2500 feet, to Kotgarh1, ten and a half miles distant (Fig. 2). Huge spruces, deodars, and maples grow in some places, but tea plantations and orchards of European fruit trees are found at Kotgarh.

Fig. 2. View of Kotgarh.

Two roads branch off from Narkanda, one on the left going directly to Kumharsen, the seat of a Rajput Rana, and the other leading northward on the right via Bagi to Bahli and the Wangtu Bridge over the Sutlej. In Kotgarh there is a station of the English Missionary Society, which is run almost exclusively by Germans. When I visited the same, I was very kindly received by the head of the same, Mr. Beutel, and by his wife. Kotgarh became an English troop cantonnement after the expedition undertaken against the Gurkha in 1815, and after the garrison had been moved, the Missionary Society received the buildings that had become empty. Kotgarh is characterized by a particularly mild and healthy climate, similar to that of southern England. It lies in the middle of a beautiful environment and allows a distant view over the Whartu and Hattu mountains belonging to the southern Himalayas and on the snow peaks of the northern chain lying in the background. From Kotgarh again two paths go down. One leads to Kumharsen, already mentioned above, which is about four miles away on the left and from there steeply descends four miles to the bank of the Sutlej and the bridge over it. The other descends to the right to Nirt, meanders along the bank, and passes Rampur, the capital of the Raja of Bissahir. A jhula or rope bridge connects Rampur with the right bank at Zakutkhana, from where 9½ miles to the left is Nirmand, famous for its temples, nearly 23 miles from Dilash.

Northward from Zakatkhana a passable road goes via Arsu, Sarahn and Bathad to Manglaur and unites not far from this station at the Chota [Tirthan] river with the main road leading from Simla via Dilash to Sultanpur. It should also be mentioned that the road on the left bank of the Sutlej leads from Rampur via Gaura(?) to Sarahn, the summer residence of the Raja of Bissahir, and here unites with the road going from Narkanda via Bagi. Not far from Sarahn, Sir Alexander Lawrence had an accident on the way to Trenda at the precipitous gorges of Dralli. At Wangti a rope bridge crosses the Sutlej, and the road continues to Pangi, a place over 9000 feet high.

The Sutlej forms the southern boundary of Kulu, which lies between 31° 20′ and 32° 26′ north latitude and 76° 59′ and 77° 50′ east longitude of Greenwich; to the east and north the middle Himalayas separate it from Spiti and Lahaul. On the west it is separated by the Bara Bangahal and Dhaola Dhar mountain ranges, and the Bias and two smaller rivers respectively from Kangra and the independent states of Mandi and Suket. The whole district covers 1934 English square miles and is inhabited by a little over 100,000 people. Lahaul and Spiti are administered together with Kulu by an Assistant Commissioner. These are actually Tibetan districts, which also belonged to the Tibetan Empire until the tenth century. After that they became the southernmost provinces of the kingdom of Ladakh founded by Palgyi Gon. Lahaul later paid tribute to the Raja of Chamba, but around 1700 A.D. it became dependent on Kulu through Raja Bidhi Singh. Spiti lost its independence to Tibet and Ladakh from time to time, then came to the Sikh after they conquered Kulu. Together with Kulu, Lahaul and Spiti became British possessions in 1846 and were incorporated into the Kangra district, which was part of the Panjab, as Tahsil. During my stay at Kulu Mr. Rose was Assistant-Commissioner, and I fondly remember the hospitable reception and kind services accorded me by him and his wife.

The Sainj river, also called Larji,2 divides Kulu into two halves, the northern one comprises Kulu proper, through which the Bias flows, the southern one forms the Seoraj. At Larji, the Sainj joins the Bias, which then leaves Kulu and flows into the territory of the Mandi state. The Kulu proper is enclosed all around by high mountains. The highest villages reach 9000 feet above sea level. A relatively limited part of the land is cultivated, or rather cultivable. Enormous mountain masses rise everywhere, the dwellings of the population nestle against the rocky walls, which are possibly planted in terraces. The plateaus irrigated by the rivers and the banks, wherever they approach the river in a gentle slope, are everywhere transformed into garden and grain land and are very fertile. The Kulu proper is the upper valley land of the Bias, the Vipas of the Veda. It rises on the Rohtang Pass, on the northern border of Kulu, at an altitude of a little over 13000 feet. Koksar, the first place on the other side of the pass and beyond the border river Chandra, is already in Lahaul. The source of the river is on this side about 100 feet below the pass. A small stream about three feet wide and a few inches deep, the Bias flows from a mica schist in a southwesterly direction. Near the spring, around which runs a loosely piled stone wall built on three sides, is a small statue erected allegedly to Vyasa Rishi as patron of the river. Devout Hindu pilgrims strew the ground inside the fence with flowers, and lay stones to commemorate their visit. In August, the pass is usually clear of snow. A steep, arduous trail about five miles long zigzags up steps to Rala, where the first rest house in Kulu territory stands. Before reaching this, the river plunges foaming in a waterfall over 40 feet.

At Palchan the Bias, hitherto called Bias-Rikhi, joins the Solang or Bias-Khand on the right. Dense forests of magnificent cedars, spruces, chestnuts, maples, walnut trees and other wooden giants rise on both sides, while the river flows between steep rock faces in the depths below, and sometimes disappears from sight for a long time. The diverse, ever-changing mountain formations with their lush tree growth offer the most magnificent views, so that Kulu may rightly be considered the most beautiful part of the British Himalayas.

Between Bashist and Manali, where the Manali stream flows into the Bias from the right side, the water that was probably dammed up here in the past has made a passage through the rock walls. Leaving the villages of Katrain and Dewara on the right, Jagatsukh and Nagar on the left, the river then wind its way to the present capital Sultanpur, below which the Sarvari flows to it. Now the Bias widens, moderates its rapidity, takes in about four miles above Bajaura the Parbati coming from Manikarn and flowing from a 20,000 feet high snow mountain, and, narrowing again below Bajaura, unites at Larji with the Sainj, whereupon it leaves Kulu. Shortly before Larji the Sainj had taken in the Tirthan, and at Manglaur this had received the inflow of the Bah. These last two rivers, together with Bisna, which flows into the Sutlej, form the western border of the Seoraj, or southern Kulu. — After crossing the bridge over the Sutlej mentioned earlier, one enters the southern Kulu at Kepu.

At Dilash, about 7000 feet above the sea, lies the first rest house at 4000 feet above the riverbed. The road there is steep but wide and about six English miles long. It zigzags up the mountain walls. At the top, a forest provides shade and cooling, for the exit is treeless and exposed to the sun’s rays. The yellow raspberries, which are found in rare abundance on the slopes in June, are all the more refreshing. The picturesquely situated Dilash has an old rectangular temple made of wood. A two-roofed, umbrella-shaped tower rises from the center of the gable roof, while a porch decorated with rich wood carvings surrounds the temple resting on stones.

From Dilash the trail continues, initially steep, then sloping through deodar woodlands and flattening out before reaching the rest house of Chawai, seven miles away at 6162 feet, which affords a view of Dr. Carleton’s mission station lying in Arni valley. Passing the Baoseo(?) stream, one walks through magnificent forests of deodar, pine (kail and chil), spruce (rai) and oak for nine miles to the rest house at Kot (Fig. 3), situated in the middle of the forest, 7,750 feet above the sea. Below it is the temple of Jajeri, but above it is the terraced house of Zamindar.

Fig. 3. House of the Zamindar in Kot.

From Kot the road leads over the 10,650 feet high Jalori pass, which is still partly covered with snow in June (Fig. 4). It belongs to the foothills of the middle Seoraj that cut through the Seoraj. The view from the Jalori Pass is quite extensive and very rewarding, encompassing the snow chain of the outer Himalayas and looking back to the mountain ranges at Narkanda and the Jakko at Simla. The vegetation of the Himalaya unfolds again in luxuriant beauty. If it were not for the giant deodars and other plants peculiar to the Himalayas, one could feel temporarily transported to Europe, when in June the wild chestnuts are in full bloom, mighty maples unfold their large leaves, and the mountain sides are covered with yellow buttercups and white strawberry blossoms.

Fig. 4. From the Jalori pass.

A little over ten miles away lies the rest house of Jibi, in the midst of a cedar grove, 5,860 feet above the sea. Not far from the rest house the Jibi devata has a temple to which foreigners are not admitted (Fig. 5). Not far from Plach, the main place of Seoraj, which is administered by a Naib tahsildar, are deodar groves; not far away flows the Tirthan. Four miles from Manglaur the roads coming from Dilash and Rampur join; also not far from Manglaur the Bah flows together with the Tirthan. From the rest house one enjoys a wide view of the surrounding mountains. On the slopes rise the dwellings, high up in the best places are the larger fields of the zamindars, somewhat lower the smaller farms of the less wealthy landowners, while the huts of the field workers are located near the valley bottom. Not far from the rest house is a small temple (Fig. 6), and a mile from Manglaur on the way to Larji a graceful waterfall splashes.

Fig. 5. The temple in Jibi.
Fig. 6. Temple and landscape at Manglaur.

The distance from Manglaur to Larji is seven and a half miles. The road initially winds through beautiful forest near the river and later passes bare but imposing rock formations. Not far from Larji, near the rest house, the Tirthan joins the Sainj and immediately thereafter unites with the Bias. The Sainj forms the border between the northern Kulu and Seoraj. At Larji, as already mentioned, the Bias leaves Kulu, and flows eastward to Mandi.

At Larji, at the invitation of the Lumberdar, a number of Kulu Brahmins and so-called Kshatriya had gathered to meet me. Unfortunately, they were all quite illiterate and uninstructed, the handwritings they produced being copies of the common Sanskrit Kavyas. To the right of the Bangalow, a rather long wooden bridge crosses the Sainj. The trail goes up steeply here and runs for several miles on the left bank 1000 feet above the foaming Bias. The footpath is quite narrow in many places and not comfortable for dizzy persons. However, it gradually descends to the riverbed, which is reached at Dilasni, where a bridge crosses the stream to Mandi. Unfortunately, however, the same was unsafe at that time and therefore closed. I therefore had to walk two miles upstream along the bank, and then, sitting on an inflated buffalo-skin similar to a walrus, I crossed the raging Bias. Across the back end of the buffalo skin, the skipper lies on the belly. In one hand he has a small wooden oar and with his other hand and feet thrusting into the water he moves and steers the skin raft to the other shore. To do this requires quite a bit of strength and skill, but the people are so familiar with the currents and so skilled that accidents rarely happen. In Kashmir I saw similarly inflated buffalo skins on the Jilum (the old Vitasta), and I navigated the Kaveri and the Tungabhadra in southern India on round leather rafts. 

After my servants had first crossed over with the luggage, I wandered on to Bajaura. This is a place of considerable importance, from it the Dulchi Pass leads to Mandi and conveys the traffic with the Panjab, especially to Amballa. The road leading from Sultanpur over the Bubu Pass, especially since it has been repaired, has done much to interrupt the trade route over the Dulchi. Judging from the ruins, as well as from the old temple now dedicated to Siva, Bajaura was once a city of great importance. The Sivalaya is undoubtedly the most beautiful stone temple in Kulu (Fig. 8). An earthquake or other shock has taken it badly, so that the masonry has shifted many times. Its top is formed by a large fluted round stone. The central face is fully en-face, and to its side are two half-images en-profile. The expression of the faces is Greek, and forms a striking contrast to the disfigured facial features of the trimurti in other temples. In Kashmir I have never seen such trimurti flows on the four tower walls, but I have seen the individual images of Brahma, Vishnu, Siva and Sakti on the same. Depending on whether the temple was dedicated to Vishnu or Siva, the image of the respective Sakti, i.e. Lakshmi, or Parvati (Kali) faced that of Vishnu or Siva. On the east side of the Bajaura temple, a six-foot-high portico leads into a 13 feet square chamber, containing a lingam. Niches richly decorated with figures and other sculptures are on either side of the entrance, and in the three recesses on the south, west, and north sides are mutilated but once very accomplished statues of Ganesa, Siva, and Kali. These three sculptures in the niches were probably inserted later and do not originally belong to them, which may also have been the case with the lingam after the introduction of the Siva cult. The temple of Baijnath (Vaidyanatha) seems to be modeled after that of Bajaura, and it contains the same sculptures as those in the western niche. Not far from the Sivalaya, on the side of the stream, there is an old large lingam, and close to it a small, dilapidated Buddhist temple (Fig. 7), where in a narrow lower chamber, to which a staircase leads, there is an old yoni-lingam. The temple of the gramadevata is dedicated to Jayasri (or Hastimukha). In earlier times Bajaura was strongly fortified, and some remains of the old fort still exist today. English settlers have recently established tea plantations there, but they do not seem to be making much progress.

Fig. 7. Small dilapidated former Buddhist temple in Bajaura.
Fig. 8. Temple in Bajaura.

From Bajaura a pretty path planted with apricot trees leads along the right bank of the Bias via Shamsi to Sultanpur. At Shamsi there are several stones on the left side of the road and in front of the door of a hut there is a Buddhist wheel carved on one of them. The stones are similar to those found in Nagar, but no one can say anything about them.

Nearby, the road to Manikarn branches off. One crosses the Bias on a suspension bridge attached to steel bands and then comes to the place where the Parbati, which rises in Waziri-Rupi in the Middle Himalaya, pours into the Bias. First you reach Channi, about thirteen miles away, through a narrow valley enclosed by high mountains, and from there through magnificent forests to Jari. Another seven miles, also through magnificent scenery on both banks of the Parbati, lead to Manikarn on its right bank. This place owes its fame to the hot sulfur springs. The formerly most important spring has now almost dried up, two other springs are still active, but only one is really used. The pilgrims cook in it, since the water is above boiling point, rice or flour, which they simply put in and take out ready to eat. It does not taste bad, as I can testify from my own experience. Some covered rooms are used as baths, and the water is applied against rheumatism and skin diseases. For this reason, many Brahmins have settled here and derive great profit from the visit of strangers.

The local chronicle (Manikarnamahatmya) tells that Parvati, the consort of Siva, was once robbed of her ear jewel by the serpent god Sesha. Sesha had to return it to the spring, hence the place name Manikarna (ear jewel). There are many impressive temples here, the most important of which are dedicated to Raghunatha and Mahadeva. Of the four Devi temples, the largest is dedicated to the Naina Devi. The temple of Raghunatha has sunk into the earth (Fig. 9). The inhabitants claim that a flood of the Parbati is to blame, probably an earthquake caused it.

Fig. 9. Raghunath temple in Manikarn.

Not far from Manikarn, on the Malana River, which flows into the Parbati, lies the famous village of Malana. In their hitherto difficult to reach place, but now accessible by a good road, the inhabitants of Malana lived quite separately. They speak among themselves a language different from the Kuluki, they are very illiterate, they can neither read nor write, they know nothing of their origins and equally little of the origin and history of their village. They are very timid in their behavior, dress altogether like the Kulu, and seem in all probability to have fled long ago from the plains to their present mountain home. They worship Jamlu or Jamdaggan as their god, but they have no image of him, which is why the god has no chariot. In the temple, however, they worship a gift given to them by the emperor Akbar during his visit to Kulu, which represents a golden figure riding on a silver elephant. The Malana people consider a rocky platform in the middle of the snow as the real house of the god. The so-called god Jamlu or Jamdaggan, who is also worshipped in many other places of Kulu, is probably none other than Jamadagni, the father of Parsurama.

From the previously mentioned Shamsi, Sultanpur is about four miles away. The Sarvari, flowing from the Bubu Pass, pours into the Bias below the town. Sultanpur has been the capital of the country since the middle of the seventeenth century, when Raja Jagat Singh transferred his residence from Nagar to here. He introduced the cult of Vishnu into Kulu by having an image of Raghunatha (Thakur Raghunathji), stolen from Oudh, brought to Kulu by a Brahmin to remove a curse on him. Thereupon he placed the idol on the throne, proclaimed it king, himself the first temple servant of the god, and thus freed himself from the curse. Since then, the influence of the priests, in the midst of whom the Raja appeared at the temple festivals, steadily increased, and with it the property of the temple and the priestly families. The representative of the former Kulu kings, a young boy in my time, instantly inhabits the former residence castle. Due to the increase in trade that passes between the Panjab, Lahaul and Tibet through the Rotang Pass, Sultanpur has been greatly uplifted. It has indeed a great future ahead of it, for it is very suitable as a staple place and a considerable number of merchants from Kangra, Lahaul and Ladakh have settled there. The Kulu proper seem to be running out of understanding of the advantages which industrial and commercial ventures confer, as they do not engage in business, so that trade has fallen into the hands of strangers. Sultanpur is also a gathering place for religious beggars, who are joined by musicians and dancers in large numbers. A tahsildar presides as the chief magistrate in the town, which also has a post office, hospital and a good dak bungalow. The Bias River is quite wide here, on its right bank the road leads via Dewara to Katrain, where a wide and solid wooden bridge leads to the other bank to Nagar. Katrain is 11½ miles from Sultanpur and 1½ miles from Nagar. Close to Katrain are the famous plantations and fruit orchards of local growers who ship their excellent fruit to market as far away as Simla.

The old, spacious, high castle of the Raja of Kulu, formerly residing in Nagar, catches the eye from afar and makes an imposing impression. It is said to have been built by Raja Rajendra Pal. The upper rooms serve as the home of the Assistant Commissioner of Kulu, while the lower rooms are used as offices. The twelfth ruler of Kulu, Utum Pal, transferred his residence from Jagatsukh to Nagar, where a city is said to have stood earlier, the foundation of which is attributed to Makhar, a son of Bidher, the comrade of Pandava Bhima, and a daughter of the fiend Tandi. It was named after him Makarsa or Makraha and Moorcraft mentions it in his travels as Makarsa. Below the castle, on the hillside, in four rows one above the other, lie 141 stones with the effigies of deceased Rajas and Ranis. The queens had themselves burned as Sati with the corpse of their spouse, and sometimes a great many must have been burned, for there are occasionally forty such Sati stones surrounding the monument of a Raja, who is usually represented in armor sitting on a horse. The stones at Nagar reminded me of a similar group of stones which I saw between Trimurti and Dali in Coimbatore, and on which were the effigies of former poligars and their wives. Not far from the palace is a Vishnu temple of Chaturbhuja; the images of Trimurti on the four sides of the tower are even more grotesquely shaped than those at Manikarn, with their drooping ear lobes. The Gramadevata of Nagar is called Tripurasundari or Bhutantaki. On the castle hill there is still an old temple in ruins.

The road from Nagar to Jagatsukh is very rewarding in terms of scenery. The vegetation appears in lush splendor, and many buildings worth seeing adorn the area. A large number of ancient temples lie in ruins or are close to decay, such as the Salagrama-manda at Tsaki and the Gopalji Thakur-temple at Sersei.

Near Jagatsukh, the raging Doangnu flows into the Bias. Jagatsukh is the oldest capital of Kulu. Behangamuni, supposedly a brother of Parasurama, is said to have founded it. The former is named as the ancestor of the Kulu kings, they held the title Pal and were 73 in number. According to another legend, Behangamuni Pal was a Suraj Bansi Rajput who came to Jagatsukh from Mayapuri, defeated the local chief and after subjugating the other Thakurs, founded the dynasty of the Pal rulers of Kulu. Jagatsukh possesses an ancient temple of Devi Sandhya(?), well decorated with excellent ornaments. The place around the temple is covered with the ruins of older buildings and other interesting relics, which were brought here.

From Jagatsukh a path goes directly to Basisht, but before that the Raini must be crossed, and from there one reaches Rala via Barwa. Another path over fields and mountains passes the Bias and leads to the already mentioned Manali. The stretch between Katrain and Manali is considered the highlight of the Kulut Valley because of its outstanding scenic beauty and lush vegetation. In Manali, magnificent distant views of the nearby snow mountains open up. (Fig. 10.)

Fig. 10. View of the mountains in Manali.

About half a mile west of Manali, in the midst of a dense, somber pine forest, stands the famous Dungri Temple, over 80 feet high, 46 feet long, 28 feet wide, enclosed on three sides by a porch, and richly decorated on the eastern front with wood carvings of tigers, elephants, birds, Buddhist symbols, and other depictions, the most sacred temple in the area. The lonely location in deep forest solitude increases the impression of the venerable building. Although the present temple, built of wood in a somewhat crude style, cannot be very old, for the woodwork, exposed to all storms and weather changes, can withstand them only for a short time, it is probably a faithful copy of the original sanctuary on whose ancient consecrated ground it stands. Above the 12-foot-high porch, three wooden roofs rise one above the other around the pyramid, and on the third, above a conical top, is fixed a brass sphere with a trident or trisula (Fig. 11). No stranger is allowed to enter the interior, but the Negi of Manali, who is also the Pujari or priest of the temple, showed it to me by opening the door leading inside. The whole building from the ground to the roof is empty, from the latter hangs a rope to the center of the temple, to which in the past the people sacrificed to the goddess were tied. Hidimba, the sister of the ogre Tandi, whom the Pandava killed and who, according to the tradition, was abducted by the Bhima, is considered to be the Gramadevat of the place and the deity of the temple. A bronze statue about three inches high represents her. Unfortunately, nothing is done at present for the preservation of the temple, whose woodwork is in poor condition, for the conical top is partially rotten, and the two hostels [sarais] built next to the temple for pilgrims lie in ruins. The annual temple festivals and fairs, called mela, are attended by large crowds from far and near.

Fig. 11. Hidimba temple in Dungri.

Two and half miles away from Manali, in the middle of a respectable village on a hill, lies an old temple in which human sacrifices used to be offered daily to the village deity worshipped as Kali. The bones were thrown into a neighboring cave until, so the legend goes, the wise Manu removed the human sacrifices and covered the opening of the cave, which is said to extend very deep and far underground. Since then, the outer entrance to the cave has been covered with several layers of large beams piled on top of each other, and in order to keep it inaccessible, three rotten beams are replaced with new ones every three years.

Opposite Manali, on the other bank of the Bias, high on a ridge, is the village of Basisht, mentioned earlier and famous for its hot sulfur springs. In front of it stands an old, square temple built of stone and wood and dedicated to the wise Vasishtha, as well as to Ramachandra. A statue of the Rishi stands inside the temple, which I could not photograph because of the darkness. To the left of the temple, separated from it by a wall, are the springs. Of the three springs, the lowest is the most famous and the most active. The water flows boiling from the earth and supplies two basins of about 20 square feet with water. A narrow walkway runs around the upper pool, and steps lead down into the pool. The wall above the spring is decorated with stone carvings, on which are the effigies of Brahma, Siva and Vishnu at the top, those of Trimurti in the middle, and that of Vasishtha at the bottom; also noticeable in two places are two small, somewhat illegible inscriptions, probably scratched in by South Indian visitors. The upper bath is used by the higher castes for ablutions and bathing, while the lower, which is supplied with water from the upper, is used by the lower castes. Above the hot springs is a pyramid-shaped shrine to Raghunatha built around 1650 by Raja Jagat Singh on the model of the Bajaura temple. (Fig. 12.)

Fig. 12. The Raghunath temple in Basisht.

Basisht owes its name to the famous priest Vasishtha, who, in order to kill himself, threw himself bound into the roaring Bias, but was brought back to the shore unleashed by the stream. Therefore, the river received the name Vipas, unleashed, from which the present name Bias has arisen. The Mahabharata tells this story in Adiparvam, 179, 2 to 5. The further course of the Bias is described above.

The vast majority of the population of Kulu, which amounts to a little over 100,000 souls, consists of the native Kanets and Dagis. Many Brahmins have also settled in the country, especially since the reign of Raja Jagat Singh. The same Raja introduced the worship of Vishnu as Raghunatha of Oudh, built many temples, and donated to the priests and individual Brahmins interest-free extensive stretches of land, which were worked by the rural population, since the Brahmins do not cultivate their properties themselves. Although Brahmins had settled in Kulu before Jagat Singh’s time, the predominant influence of this priestly caste dates from his reign. Meanwhile, the Kulu Brahmins as well as the distinguished Rajputs have married Kanet women, and the children born of these marriages are considered full-blooded Brahmins and Rajputs. The Kanet women who marry men of other castes are called Srit, as distinguished from those who marry Kanet men and are called Lari. Because of their impure origin, the Kulu Brahmins are not considered equal by the other Brahmins in India, so that, for example, the foreign Brahmins residing in Sultanpur do not enter into marriage alliances with them. Many Bairagi also migrated from Hindostan during Jagat Singh’s reign, but their descendants living now are descended from marriages contracted with Kulu women and have abandoned their religious status altogether.

In dress, as elsewhere in appearance, the Kulu Brahmins and Rajputs, which include the Thakur and feudal Zamindars, differ little from the Kanets.

The Kanets and Dagis form the higher and lower castes of the native population. The former own by far the largest part of the land and represent the rural population in terms of numbers. There are also some Dagi landowners, but these usually have only small holdings. Both classes of people, the Kanets and the Dagi, originally belonged to one and the same race. According to the legend, they are the descendants of a pair of brothers, the Bhot and the Makar already mentioned. Sudangi, the wife of Bhot, a Tibetan (Bhotanti) by origin, served her husband cow (yak) meat, which he also ate. The Rishi Vyasa told this disgraceful deed to the returning Makar, who fled in horror and founded not far from Sultanpur the place named after him Makarsa or Makraha, which later became the capital of the Raja of Kulu. The Kanets are said to be descended from Makar, and the Dagis from Bhot, which name betrays its Tibetan origin. Bhot in fact means Tibetan, his mother was a daughter of the Asura Tandi, whose name reminds of the Tandi situated in Lahaul on the Chandrabhaga.

Like the Rathi of Kangra, the Kanets claim to have originated from Rajputs who had married Kanets; similar claims are often found among the lower Indian castes. For their part, the Kanets break down into Khasia and Rao. The former wear the sacred cord (Yajnopavita, Janeo), follow Brahmanical statutes and mostly live in the Kulu proper; the latter do not put on the cord, prefer the old folk customs and live preferably in Seoraj. Both classes, by the way, eat together, intermarry, and the division between them seems to be gradually disappearing. The Dagis, however, occupy a subordinate position; nevertheless, no great difference is noticeable between them and the Kanets in dress and manner of life, especially as both tribes look alike externally. The Dagis are in service to the larger Kanet landowners on the homesteads as Koridar, and when such a landed nobleman dies, the Dagis prepare themselves for the demand of the heirs to supply the wood required for the funeral pyre and for the torches, and to accompany the funeral procession as pipers and drummers, in return for the fees due to them (kiria). In Kulu, the Dagis are also called Koli and Chanal. These different names are almost synonymous, for the same person is called Dagi in Kulu, Koli in Seoraj, and Chanal in Kangra. In Seoraj, the Dagis are also said to be called Bhrata. Most of the trades are carried on by Dagis, they are basket makers (Barara), wool cleaners (Pumba), iron smelters (Dhogri), carpenters (Barhai) and go about the country as musicians. Among them are also the religious beggars (Nath), who wear large wooden rings in their ears. As in India, the craftsmen and professionals of Kulu group themselves into special castes. Even the despised leather workers and shoemakers (Chamar) and the blacksmiths (Lohar) are Dagis, although their better-off tribesmen do not want to eat with them, yet all Dagis are not particularly choosy in their choice of food and do not disdain the flesh of fallen animals.

The relations between the two sexes are quite unbound in Kulu. There is no actual formal marriage, although three different types of marriages are observed. The bedi biah resembles the ordinary Hindu ceremony. For the rutimanai, four or five friends of the groom present themselves at the bride’s home, groom the bride, put a cap on her head and lead her to the groom’s home. The Ganesa puja is observed at the weddings of Brahmins, Khatris and Suniyars with Kanet women; first Ganesa is worshipped by the priest and the friends of the bridegroom in the bridal house, and to this the bride is then brought; the Suniyars send a knife as a representative. The children of all concubines treated as women are considered legitimate by the Kanets as well as by the other lower castes. As long as a widow, even if she leads an immoral life, has not left the house of her deceased husband, she has a right to his property; on the other hand, the son of a remarried widow born in the house of the second husband belongs to the second husband.

The Kulu women enjoy greater freedom in their country than other women throughout India. Their intercourse with men is unconstrained, they sing and dance and get intoxicated by excessive consumption of their country beer (lugri), so that they often return home drunk from the fairs. On the other hand, the Kanet and Dagi women do all the work in the fields, except for the plowing, which is reserved for men. Therefore, even a farmer, usually with the consent of his wife, takes a second one, if he and his family are not sufficient for the cultivation of the land. Sometimes such a woman stays with her parents, but she does her field work, for which she participates in the yield. In order to be of service in agriculture, the women do not marry, too young, but eventually they choose their husbands and then live where they want, because a Kulu woman loves to rule, she rules in the house, and the men obey her. This partly explains the prevalence of polyandry in Kulu. According to the latest census report, polyandry is limited to the Kulu district, i.e., to all areas belonging to Kulu, to Kulu proper, Waziri Rupi and Seoraj. Also, as is often said, this custom is neither disappearing nor is it ashamed, as, for example, the people of Malana make no secret of it. In the districts of Kulu, where not enough grain can be produced for the population, polyandry usually prevails. In general, the wife belongs to the eldest brother, and in some areas all the sons belong to him. However, different rules apply with regard to the husband’s right to the wife’s sons; thus in some circles the eldest son belongs to the eldest brother, the second to the second, and so on, and this distribution is observed even in cases where such paternity has apparently been impossible. Sometimes the woman also designates a certain man as the father, and her statement is then believed. In Seoraj polyandry is common, an exception being made by the Brahmins of Nirmand. When a brother visits his wife, he places his shoes outside the door, as is customary in Malabar, and no one else enters the chamber. Besides polyandry, there is also polygyny, and it is not uncommon that in two neighboring houses three brothers live with one wife in one apartment, and one man with three wives in the other.

The Kanets and Dagis are not tall in stature, but they are strongly built; the people of Seoraj are especially distinguished by beauty. The people are cheerful and amiable toward each other, as well as very musical, but toward strangers rude and inhospitable. The lower classes do not want to render services to the government, landowners and travelers even in return for payment, and this disobliging nature prevents the abolition of begar or forced service. In general, the Kulu man is lazy, but he does not lie or steal much, he is very submissive in his nature, superstitious and intemperate.3

Through intercourse with the Aryan Indians, the Brahmanical cult and the worship of various Hindu deities, as well as Buddhism, found their way into Kulu. The numerous temples of Siva and the many linga in the country testify to the great popularity formerly enjoyed by Siva, many Buddhist figures and signs also attest to the former predominance of Buddhism; since the reign of Raja Jagat Singh, however, the worship of Vishnu as Raghunathji has predominated. The old and newer Brahmanic stone temples contain representations of the Brahmanic Trimurti on the four outer sides. Although the modern temples with their images bearing the folk type are only imitations of earlier buildings, and perhaps also the oldest and most beautiful monument of this kind, the famous temple in Bajaura, with its classical likeness of the Trimurti may originate from a not too remote time, these images of the Indian Trinity attached to the four temple walls are nevertheless quite peculiar.

Two architectural styles are immediately apparent in the temples. The square, pyramid-shaped Brahmanic temple, artfully built of stone, shows foreign influence, while the wooden, oblong-shaped building, mostly resting on a stone base, with pyramid-like roofs on top of each other, expresses the taste of the country. Later, both styles were combined, as in the Raghunatha temple in Manikarn. The temples dedicated to Gramadevata or Davi are everywhere built in the native wooden style.

In spite of the Brahmanic influence, the people have not given up their peculiar religious conception, which unites with the veneration of the female principle the fear of overpowering cruel demons and the mysterious powers of nature in the animal, plant and stone world. This also explains the snake and tree cult. In wildernesses old cedars take the place of temples; sacrifices are offered under mighty deodars, pieces of iron, especially iron nails, are hammered into their barks, rings and other gifts are hung on branches, and until recently a village girl was sacrificed annually under an ancient, now felled cedar.

The Shakti cult in Kulu goes back to the grey antiquity. It is connected with Parasurama, the son of Jamadagni and Renuka. According to the legends, Jamadagni and Parasurama lived in different places, and many places, such as Malana, are considered hermitages of Jamadagni. Although Renuka, whom Parasurama had killed at the behest of his father, was called back to life at the request of her son, Parasurama was still cursed as a matricide, and was regarded with disgust. In order to free himself from the curse, he gave rich lands to the Brahmins, among others the five villages of Kao, Mael, Nagar, Nirt and Nirmand on the Sutlej. He also gave the Brahmins of Nirmand the image of the deity Ambika, whom he worshipped in particular, and ordered that every three years a great festival be held in her honor, and every twelve years an extraordinary celebration. At this celebration, a human being was sacrificed to the goddess, in that a Bedar, attached to a rope, let himself be sunk into the abyss and consecrated to death. Since 1856 a goat is sacrificed instead of a human being. The relation of the Parasurama to the Ambika is remarkable. Parasurama is an embodiment or avatara of the god Vishnu. The sacred Trimurti, i.e. Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, is (according to the Bhavanopanishad) a creation of the Devi. In the Tulu dialect Kali is called Ellamma. According to a Telugu legend, Adisakti, the mother of all, Ellamma or Sarvamba, came out of the earth as a virgin by her own creation, and from one of the three eggs, which she laid as a hen, came Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. The south Indian legend, common in the Tamil country, asserts that the head of Renuka, at her revival, was placed either on the trunk of a Pariah woman killed by Parasurama, or, since the head of Renuka—according to another report—had been lost, the head of a Pariah woman was placed on Renuka’s body. The head alone is worshipped as Ammachar, but the whole body as Ellamma. In the temple of Ellamma the head alone stands on the ground in memory of this fact and with the indication that only the head of Renuka, but not the body of the Pariah woman, which is in the earth under it, may be worshipped. Probably Renuka as mother of the deified, Vishnu representing Parasurama was raised to Devi or Adisakti, the all-mother Sarvamba or Ellamma. Incidentally, in most of the South Indian old temples there is a special shrine of Parasurama. He also figures, as known, in South India as the creator of the coastal country Malabar, which he won from the sea god by his arrows, whereupon he settled down as a hermit not far from the cape Komorin.

In the travelogue of the Chinese pilgrim Hiouen-Tsang, a country Kiu-lu-to, corresponding to the present Kulu, is described as follows: “The country Kiu-lu-to is about 3000 li (about 500 English miles) in circumference and surrounded on all sides by mountains. The capital is about 14 to 15 li in circumference. The land is rich and fertile, and the grain is sown and harvested punctually. Flowers and fruits are abundant, and the plants and trees profess a luxuriant vegetation. Since it borders on the snow mountains, there are many valuable medicinal plants. Gold, silver and copper are found here, as well as crystals and copper ore. The climate is unusually cold, hail and snow fall constantly. The population is crude and of mean appearance, and suffers greatly from goiter and tumors. They are hard and fierce in character, but value justice and bravery highly. There are about 20 Sanghramas and about 1000 priests. They mostly study the great wheel, but some follow other schools. There are 15 deva temples, different sects use them without distinction.”4

Sir Alexander Cunningham, in his Ancient Geography of India (p. 142), as far as I know, first pointed out the identity of Kiu-lu-to with Kulu. In the Brihatsamhita the Kuluta are mentioned twice5, curiously belonging in one verse to the northwestern and in the other to the northeastern division. They also appear as Utula (Uluta and Kuluta) in the Mahabharata6, and as Koluka (Kailuta and Koluta) in the Ramayana7. In the Mudrarakshasa the Kauluta Chitravarma, and in the Kadambari a king’s daughter Pattralekha of Kuluta is mentioned. The name also occurs in inscriptions.

Most of the population of Kulu, as already reported, consists of Kanets, whom Sir Alexander Cunningham8 identifies with Kuninda and Kulinda, who occur frequently in Indian history. They are also mentioned several times in the Mahabharata.9 Varahamihira speaks of the land of the Kulinda and their king.10

Ptolemy (VII, 1, 42) fixes Kylindrine as the source country of the Bias, the Sutlej and the Ganges. It covers therefore a much larger surface area than the today’s Kulu. In fact the Kanets or Kunets inhabited the upper area of the Bias and the Ganges and form the majority of the population of the mountain country on this side and on the other side of the Sutlej, which is not, however, as the designation of the Ptolemy (Kylindrine) would suggest, now named after them.

By the way, I derive the name of the Kulinda or Kuninda, as well as that of the Kulu, Kulut and Kuru and other similar ones from the primeval Indian root ku (ko), mountain, and take the name in the meaning of mountain dwellers. Their language is the mountain dialect Pahari peculiar to the individual localities, also they speak Hindi.

Kulu owes the privileged position it has always occupied to its sheltered location. It is quite inaccessible, and although in ancient times, as well as in more recent times, it mediated the passage from India to Central Asia and vice versa, it was considered the end of the inhabited world because of the high snow mountains located to the north and east, and still today, as Kulu Brahmins have told me, it bears the names Uttarakhanda and Kulantapitha. The latter name is repeatedly found in the Manikarnamahatmya, which I bought in Manikarn, but unfortunately it is written very incorrectly.

Kulu has preserved some of its institutions and is still full of reminiscences from the Vedic and later heroic times, as the frequent allusions to Vasishtha, Jamadagni, Parasurama and the Pandava prove. On the alleged stay of the latter in Kulu no further weight could be put, because innumerable places in all parts of India are brought in connection with their wanderings, however, the custom of polyandry generally prevailing among the present inhabitants of Kulu beside polygamy is a very significant phenomenon and reminds of the marriage relations of the Pandava: because Pandu had two wives, his five sons, however, had together only one wife. As mentioned before, in Kulu there is polygamy as well as polyandry, so that sometimes in one house a man lives with three or more wives, while in the neighboring dwelling four or five brothers keep one wife. It is therefore not impossible, considering all the circumstances, that Kulu was the actual home of the ancient Kuru before they moved to the southeast. It may also be mentioned as not quite insignificant that the Kulu of today distinguish the l from the r little or not at all, and that in their language the words Kulu and Kuru are the same.

After the Aryan immigrants with their allies had firmly settled in the Indian plain and lost all closer relations with the northwestern highlands, the memory of a former home near the snow mountains in the north had not yet completely disappeared from their memory, but lived on only in legend. They now moved their home to the Himalaya range to the northeast, spreading out before their eyes with the Kailasa mountain as its center, which their ancestors had never seen and which they had also hardly known. Thus, the myth transferred the residences of the original Kuru to the far northeast, where also the gods and blessed ones stayed. In this sense the statement of the Aitareyabrahmana VIII, 14, 23, according to which the Uttarakuru and Uttaramadra live in the north beyond the Himalaya, that their area is the country of the gods and that no mortal can conquer it, must also be understood. The same interpretation fits also the multiple descriptions of the Uttarakuru, as they are found in the Mahabharata and Ramayana, and especially the expedition undertaken by Arjuna against them. The fact that the land of the Uttarakuru is transferred to a certain region and the way to there is described in detail, does not prove that they lived there, it is just an unproven statement. Now, as for the remarks contained in the geography of Ptolemy about the mountain (VI, 6, 2, 3), the city (VI, 16,8 and VIII, 24, 7) and the people (VI, 16, 5) of the Ottorokorrhai, they probably agree exactly with the news collected by him, but since he himself was not on the spot, they lose credibility. It is also very possible that eastern Tibet was later thought to be the land of the Uttarakuru, that Lalitaditya, the king of Kashmir, made a campaign there, and that the inhabitants took refuge in the mountains (Rajatarangini IV, 174); but therefore these need not have been the Uttarakuru. In fact, no traveler has ever met the real Uttarakuru or their neighbors, the Uttara-Madra, and all accounts of them are legendary. That the ancestors of the Kuru-Panchala lived in the north is quite certain, and the description probably of the free and independent position which the women of the Uttarakuru occupied, and which Pandu described to his wife Kunti11, is based on real conditions which were still remembered at that time. It corresponds also to the polyandry prevailing with the today’s Kulu, which is to be found however likewise in Tibet. Historical and geographical reasons forbid to move the original home of the Kuru, i.e. the Uttarakuru, so far to the east, close to the Chinese border, although one of the most important experts of Indian antiquity, Christian Lassen,12 has decided for this. The homeland of the Kuru has probably been in the northwest of India, and then, if this is admitted, nothing stands in the way of considering the source country of the Bias (Fig. 13), the actual Kulu, as the cradle of the Kuru. When later the Brahman Indians had settled in the eastern Hindustan, this fact belonging to their prehistory had disappeared from their memory, and the imposing holy snow mountain Kailasa appeared more suitable as a residence of the gods and their blessed ancestors than the Kulu now inhabited by brute peoples.

Fig. 13. View of the Bias valley above Ralla.


  1. At all these stations I have mentioned, there are comfortable rest houses for travellers (Dakbungalow and Mozaffarkhana) under the supervision of the government, where travellers can find good accommodation and food for a moderate fee. The transport of luggage is usually taken care of by porters (kuli), who are usually changed at each stop and paid according to the length and nature of the route; for example, one pays by kuli from Simla to Fagu 4 anna, from there to Theog 2½, from here to Mattiana 4, then to Narkanda 4, to Kotgarh 4 and to Kumharsen 2½ anna. On these good routes, porters are preferable to mules, as the former march better and do not take so much time to load and unload. ↩︎
  2. So called because the Sainj joins the Bias at the village of Larji. ↩︎
  3. On the conditions in Kulu, compare especially “The Himalayan districts of Kooloo, Lahoul and Spiti, by Capt. A. F. P. Harcourt”, London 1871 and Lahore 1874; and the “Gazetteer of the Kangra District”, Vol. II, Kulu, Lahaul and Spiti, Calcutta, 1883/84. ↩︎
  4. Please refer Buddhistic Records of the Western World, translated from the Chinese of Hiuen Tsiang by Samuel Beal, Vol. I, p. 77. ↩︎
  5. Brihatsamhita, XIV, 22, 29. ↩︎
  6. Brihatsamhita, IX, 59. ↩︎
  7. Kishkindhakanda, 43, 3. ↩︎
  8. Archaeological Survey of India, XIV, 129. ↩︎
  9. Sabhaparva XXVI, 3, 4, Bishmaparva IX, 56, 63, etc. ↩︎
  10. Brihatsamhita XIV, 30, 88. ↩︎
  11. Mahabharata, Adiparva 122. ↩︎
  12. Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, Vol. II, p. 62 and 70, and Indische Altertumskunde, vol. I, p. 511, 846 ff. ↩︎


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