Travel into the heart of Kinnaur and it is inevitable that you find yourself at Sangla, an edgy little town ranged along the Baspa. The settlement has little to recommend for itself, except a sort of ubiquitous Kinnauri prettiness and a huge mountain which, my local companion explains is "the back-side of the Kinner Kailash", that last being one of the tallest peaks in these parts.
The climb up from the village is a steep one,. If you find it difficult to breathe, blame it not just on the steep incline, or the low levels of oxygen in the mountain air, but on the views all around which take your breath away! Just look at this magnificent fortification. It is designed to inspire awe in the manner in which it forces the viewer to crane her neck and make her eye travel upwards!
Tall visitors are warned: the door in the picture above is designed to make you lower your head as you enter! Also, the fort doors are open only for a fxed while in the morning. So, should you be interested in exploring the fort, make sure you present yourself at its portals no later than ten o'clock in the morning.
The deity of Kamru, Kali, is much feared locally. Several bloodthirsty fables are attributed to her. Most important of all is the local concept of "darohi" or treachery. Legend has it that the Raja who ruled from Kamru demanded vassalage from all the thakurs (headmen) of surrounding villages. One day, finding himself encircled by Tibetan, he sent out frantic messages requesting support from his vassals. However, he was betrayed by a thakur and a local tailor from the village of Chini who told the Tibetans a way by which the ramparts of the Kamru fort could be brought down.
The Tibetans, and indeed the traitors, had not reckoned with the powers of the deity which were ranged alongside Kamru's ruler. Those supernatural powers and the mundane reality of approaching winters, made the Tibetans abandon their plans and at length, the Raja was able to chase them out of the valley.
This episode, however, left a bad taste in the royal mouth. And so was born the concept of "darohi", or treachery. The recalcitrant thakur was reduced to vassalage and the tailor, poor man, lost his head!
The Raja then ordered that a representative of Chini village be present every year at the eight-day festival held in honour of his deity. The poor man is then plied freely with liquour until he's fairly senseless. He is then dressed up in a mock armour and made to perform a sort of burlesque before the assembly of Kamru's residents. The idea is to make the village of Chini a laughing stock and to parody the treacherous actions of the thakur and the tailor. Water is then sprinkled over the head of this representative in a symbolic representation of his "beheading".
To be sure, people from Chini told me that no one wants to participate in this mock ritual which keeps the memory of their traitorous ancestor alive. On their part, the Rajas who ruled Kamru (of the Rampur-Bushahr line) have eased things by allowing waterto be poured over the representative's hands, instead of his head!
The concept of "darohi", however, is alive and kicking. Acting like an oath of loyalty, today it ensures obedience of the rule of law.