Churches and cemeteries of Himachal Pradesh
St. Mary’s Church
This small wooden church rests in the heart of Himachal’s apple growing country and dates back to the time when this temperate fruit was still a century and a couple of continents away. A School was established at here in 1843 and the church built in 1872. This was run by the Moravian missionaries and the Church Missionary Society.
The low-hills village of Subathu was among the first positions to be retained by the British during the course of the Gurkha Wars. This grew to become a fairly large military establishment. It was here that the ’Nasiri Battalions’, or ’battalions of friendlies’ from among the Gurkhas were first raised. This is still a recruiting and training centre for Gurkhas in the Indian Army.
Subathu faces the Kuthar valley and the stream of the same name – and the town was along the old road to Shimla. This was where Captain Kennedy – who is credited as the first European to have built a house in Shimla – was based as the ’Political Agent to the Hill States.’
A small Roman Catholic Church was first built in Subathu while Services for the Protestant community were held in a school house. Today, apart from the small bazaar, Subathu still has a major presence of the army.
Kasauli and Sanawar
On a side road off the main highway that connects Kalka to Shimla, the little town of Kasauli lies along the heights of the first major row of hills – and like many other places in these tracts, this also traces its origin to the close of the ’Gurkha Wars’ in 1815. It was by the treaty of Sagauli signed the following year that the victorious British decided to retain certain spots as military outposts and as sanitaria.
Subathu, which is close to Kasauli, but at a considerably lower level, was one such station. In 1840, Henry Lawrence was appointed as the ’political agent’ to the hill states. His base was Subathu which lies below Kasauli and lay in what was termed the ’malarial belt’. The disease claimed the life of his daughter, Letetia and impelled the Lawrences to shift to Kasauli and its healthier climate. They built ’Sunnyside’, the first European residence on the hill. In a row by this house, some three dozen houses were built by other settlers - and most these still stand. Steadily, the place expanded to become a little town and cantonment. At various points, British, Gurkha, Sikh and Dogra regiments have been based at Kasauli.
The town takes its name from the village of Kasul which has since merged with its fringes. Kasauli itself still lives in a time warp that belongs to a century now gone. The Upper and Lower Malls, and the cobbled bazaar are lined with the town’s old residences - the lower Mall also has the hotels and banks. And as the roads climb, the foliage also alters. The lower section holds trees of chir pine, Himalayan oak and robust horse-chestnuts and higher up the hill, comes the majesty of the cedars. The town’s colonial ambience is reinforced by gabled houses with charming facades and neat little gardens with beds of geraniums and hydrangea.
Churches in Kasauli
Held high by stone revetments and shaded by cedars and huge horse-chestnut trees, at Kasauli’s main crossroad stands Christ Church. This stately nineteenth century structure was church of the Anglican Communion and is now under the Church of North India. This has a cruciform floor plan and the stained glass windows over the altar depict the Crucifixion where the image of Christ is flanked by those of Joseph and Mary. This was opened for divine service on 24 July 1853 by the Chaplain Thomas John Edward Steel M.A., St. John’s College, Cambridge at Evensong. This was consecrated on 8 January 1857 by Authority of the Bishop of Calcutta.
At the start of the Sadar Bazaar, near the Post Office is the Baptist Church. This small unpretentious structure was built in the 1920s.
In 1847, in sight of Kasauli, a barren hill was transferred by the Maharaja of Patiala to the British for the purposes of creating a military station or cantonment. This had five small villages named Dabbi, Bughtiala, Dagshai, Chunawag and Jawug and the place began to be called ’Dagshai’ after one of the villages. It was believed that the name came as the result of the original village being where prisoners were branded with hot irons and thus the phrase, ’Dagh i Shahi’, or the ’mark of the ruler’.
Under British rule, Dagshai grew to hold a substantial army presence and also had a large prison. While it was at it, Dagshai played the role of a guard parked in Shimla’s periphery. Barring a limited presence of the army and a couple of schools, today’s Dagshai is quite a deserted place.
The Roman Catholic Church was built soon after Dagshai became a cantonment while a school house initially served as the Protestant Church.
Among the other graves at Dagshai, there is that of Mary Rebecca Weston who was buried along with her unborn child in December 1909.
Some renovations were done to the cemetery in 1968 when the IInd Battalion of the Bihar Regiment was posted at Dagshai.
Tucked in mountain folds, the town of Chamba was the capital of the erstwhile princely state of the same name and today, this is a district headquarters. In the eastern part of Himachal Pradesh, Chamba lies between the Dhaula Dhar and the Pangi ranges – which are sub-systems of the Himalaya. The town is built over two large irregular plateaux and their side arms – and is located on the right-bank of the river Ravi. This is an area of considerable natural beauty and is culturally rich and varied.
St. Andrew’s Church
An expression of India’s secular tradition, the church at Chamba was built by its Hindu rulers at state expenses and then gifted to the town’s Christian community. Much of this was in appreciation for the work done by Dr. John Hutchison, a medical doctor who also co-authored the standard work, History of the Punjab Hill States. Raja Sham Singh of Chamba had developed a great liking for Dr. Hutchinson and himself set the foundation stone on 17 February 1899. The church was completed on 7 May 1905 and then presented to the people of Chamba by his successor, Raja Bhuri Singh. Built of dressed stone which was quarried at Rajpura, about ten kilometres from Chamba, the structure has lancet windows and as a ’low church’ epitomises a bare minimum of decorative devices used in Scottish churches.
With just about eighty villages and no urban centre, the administrative district of Kinnaur is a sparsely populated tract and has barely a dozen persons per square kilometre. With turbulent torrents, two large rivers race through Kinnaur - the Satluj and the Spiti. Scores of fast-flowing streams feed these rivers and all their valleys are strikingly beautiful. The slopes are covered with thick woods, while the basins hold orchards, fields and picturesque hamlets. Kinnaur holds two of the world’s great mountain ranges - the Zanskar and the Greater Himalaya. A chain of snow traverses the peaks, whose height varies between 5,180 m and 6,770 m. There are gaps only for passes. The district headquarters are located at Recong Peo and 13 kms away, lies the older settlement of Kalpa - with a frontal view of the majestic Kinner Kailash peak.
The town of Dalhousie is built over five hills - Kathlog, Potreyn, Tehra, Bakrota and Balun. This is named after Lord Dalhousie, the controversial British Governor-General of India in the nineteenth century. By the 1860s Dalhousie was a flourishing hill-station that received a large influx of visitors from the Punjab - especially Lahore. Back in 1923, J. Hutchison in his guide to the area had categorically stated: “Dalhousie and Bakloh lay claim to being two of the healthiest places in the Punjab”.
Practically all of Dalhousie’s roads are held by tall stone revetments made venerable by a variety of mosses and lichens. Just above them are shrubs and ferns and wild flowers. Then come the trees - flowering rhododendrons, determined oaks, pines with turpentine scents and the cedars that have an almost indescribable majesty. The two main crossings are Subhash Chowk and next to the post office is Gandhi Chowk. Below, the wide valley tumbles down in fits and starts - with level patches for fields and houses. At the end of that long plunge, like a languid snake basking silver in the sunlight, flows the river Ravi.
Dalhousie has full-pockets of colonial architecture – little cottages and larger bungalows and the vanguard may well belong to its four churches.
St. John’s Church
This church is the oldest in Dalhousie. The stone structure of St. John’s stands near the General Post Office and its solid stone walls took the place of flimsy wooden planks after the Rev. Pratt visited the place in 1863 and exhorted the Christian community to something ’more suitable’.
St. Francis’ Church.
The Catholic church, St. Francis’ is on a rise above Subash Chowk and was built in 1894. This has an even tenor of dressed-stone on the facade and elaborate woodwork in rich, dark tones in the interior - and some remarkable stained-glass windows.
St. Andrew’s Church.
Located in the cantonment, this was built in 1903.
St. Patrick’s Church.
On the road to the Military Hospital in the Cantonment, this church was built in 1909 and is the largest in Dalhousie.
The district of Kangra is the largest administrative sub-division of Himachal. Dharamsala and Palampur are its two main towns.
Some half a dozen roads converge from different directions on Dharamsala, the district
headquarters of Kangra and its more famous cousin, McLeodganj. The two pockets are
connected through Forsythganj. While McLeodganj is named after a onetime Governor of
the Punjab, Forsythganj is named after one of its Commissioners. The end result is a
steady climb of human habitation up the hill – which is punctuated by stretches of
Church of St. John in the Wilderness, Dharamsala
This church is 8 kms from Dharamsala and 1 km short of McLeodganj and lies between the suburb of Forsythganj and McLeodganj. Of dark dressed-stone, the Church of St. John in the Wilderness lies in a sheltered grove of high cedars. Like a blessing over the valley, it has a commanding location on the hillside. Within its compound, is an obelisk erected in memory of the Viceroy, Lord Elgin (1862 - 1863) by his wife Mary.
The slopes around Palampur in the district of Kangra rise gently and agriculture has tamed some of the wilderness - but without eroding any of the beauty. And as the grand finale to a splendid performance, the curtain does not drop suddenly from the skies, but rises dramatically from the ground. In a single swoop, the wide spread of the Dhauladhar ranges bring the valley to an instant end. The town owes much of its early rise and prosperity to tea whose plantation was introduced to Kangra from a Chinese hybrid growing in Almora by Dr. Jameson, Superintendent Botannical Gardens, North-West Frontier Province in 1849. This attracted several European tea planters and their families. Then came the cataclysmic earthquake of 1905 that levelled most of the region. This quake was also responsible for many of the graves in the area.
Church of St. John in the Wilderness, Palampur
There is another church of St. John in the Wilderness in the town of Palampur – which is famous for its attractive countryside and tea gardens. And in a way, speaking worlds for the churches of Himachal, their stained glass windows, miles away from where they were made and the memorials of people that died in events long forgotten, this has an unusual setting created by a rare climate and is surrounded by a clutch of warm weather poinsettias and shaded by tall Himalayan cedars that belong to the snows. This small church was rebuilt in the 1920s after it collapsed in the earthquake of 1905. The Palampur cemetery is a part of the churchyard.
MEMORIAL IN ST. JAMES CHURCH, KANGRA.
MACNAGHTON. In loving memory of the Honourable Florence Mary Macnaghton who died at Bushmills Ireland on 26th January 1941. The greater part of her 39 years in India as a medical missionary was spent in the Kangra Valley where she was greatly beloved and affectionately known as the "Buddhimai". "In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these ye have done unto me."
Memorial to Penelope Chetwode at Khanag, near Ani, Outer Seraj
Married to Poet Laureate John Betjeman, Penelope was the daughter of Field Marshal Baron Chetwode who had served as Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army. All her life, she remained in love with the Himachal hills till her death in April, 1986 at the age of seventy-six on a trek between Shimla and Kullu over the Jalori Pass. Six years later, her granddaughter, Imogen Lycett Green returned to India to retrace that journey. At Khanag, with the help of Captain Padam ’Paddy’ Singh, she placed a memorial to her grandmother.
This reads – “In memory of Penelope Valentine Hester Betjeman, writer and traveller, born 14th February 1910, wife of John Betjeman Poet Laureate and daughter of Field Marshal Lord Chetwode, Commander-in-Chief of the Indain Army 1930-35 and of Lady Chetwode. On 11th October 1986 she died in these hills she had loved so long.”
The town of Nahan was the capital of the erstwhile princely state of Sirmaur. Today, this is the headquarters of the district of the same name. At one point of time, Nahan was considered to be among the best planned towns in the country. Like a series of interlocking circles, its roads trace the low hills over which it is built. Its palaces, temples, gateways and water tanks hark back to yesteryears.
The state of Sirmaur also bore the brunt of the Gurkha invasion in the nineteenth century. When the British declared war on the Gurkhas, a column led by Major-General Gabriel Martindell attacked their stronghold at Jaitak. Four British officers were killed during the course of this campaign. They were buried at Nahan by its main tank. An obelisk was raised to mark the spot.