Why this blog is called "Gallimaufry".

gal-uh-MAW-free\, noun.

Originally meaning "a hash of various kinds of meats," "gallimaufry" comes from French galimafrée; in Old French, from the word galer, "to rejoice, to make merry"; in old English: gala + mafrer: "to eat much," and from Medieval Dutch maffelen: "to open one's mouth wide."

It's also a dish made by hashing up odds and ends of food; a heterogeneous mixture; a hodge-podge; a ragout; a confused jumble; a ridiculous medley; a promiscuous (!) assemblage of persons.

Those of you who know me, will, I’m sure, understand how well some of these phrases (barring the "promiscuous" bit!) fit me.

More importantly, this blog is an ode to my love for Shimla. I hope to show you this little town through my eyes. If you don't see too many people in it, forgive me, because I'm a little chary of turning this into a human zoo.

Stop by for a spell, look at my pictures, ask me questions about Shimla, if you wish. I shall try and answer them as best as I can. Let's be friends for a while....

14 August 2010

That foolish fort, a heart...

Some of the best things in life happen unexpectedly. SdS and I had wandered up into the polychromatic gompa at Ghemur. It was one of those days you just know will be magical. You just don't know how... The sun had been playing hide and seek and shadows of the clouds overhead dappled the mountainsides. The monastery was closed and all the Lamas had left for Khardang where they were celebrating special prayers.
But an unpredicted bonus awaited us in the form of a little old man. We met Nyema Dhondup. By having wandered around the gompa open-mouthed and ooh-ed and aah-ed over an amazing collection of carvings on stone which represented various incarnations of Buddha, somehow, SdS and I had managed to unbend the old gentleman. "Would you like to see a fort?", he asked. Being old hands at fort-spotting, yes, yes, we almost babbled in excitement. Follow me, he said.
So up, up, up we went. This was a narrow overgrown path, leading up from Ghemur. Thick bushes of primroses, harebells and buttercups leaned onto it. We were out of breath in no time at all. But could not decide: was it the steep climb? The sheer variety, colour and fragrance of the wild flowers? Or the stunning vistas all around? It was hard not to fall to one's knees and thank the Almighty for letting us be here.
We followed a village trail. Women were bent over, harvesting peas. A man lazily chewed a stick of grass. A big brown cow looked up inquiringly from its grazing. The narrow mountain path had abruptly widened into a valley, sometimes skirting the river Chandra, other times going farther afield from it.

There, rising towards the mountains, with lines as straight and precise as to gladden an engineer's heart, lay the stupendous fort of Khangsar. The shape of fort makes an enchanting vision: its glacis into the river below counterpoised by its linearity. The solitude of the scenery was unbroken, except for a tier of house here and a chain of chortens there.

Made of mud and wood, its walls smoothened by age, it sat in the midst of the little village like an old soldier, tired and resting after a long war. The thing I love most about old structures, particularly those made natural materials is their colours: chestnut, terracotta, auburn, sorrel, ochre, puce, ginger, burnt sienna... they are a delight of browns!

The inside of the fort is every bit as awe-inspiring as the ramparts viewed externally. It is hard to tell from outside that this little building contains one hundred and eight rooms. Interestingly, all rooms are built around a sort of atrium. However, unlike the classical atrium design, the roof does not open into the sky, or is covered with glass. It is just a normal roof, covered with mud and thatch and wood. There were, however, a number of small windows which let in a sufficient quantity of light.
To me, the most interesting aspect of the fort were the little well-like structures in each room. You will notice one in the photograph above. It is a small square arrangement with wooden slats all around, perhaps to prevent the curious from falling in! The interesting thing is that looking down you find yourself staring into a giant kitchen. In the old days, big fires were lit in the cooking area. These were used not only for cooking, but also for heating water. More importantly, following the well known theory of physics, the warm air rose and managed to warm the entire castle. What an ingenuous system!

Ask me about the one feature that struck me about the Khangsar fort, and I will say it was the carving on the wood. The patterns were incredibly delicate, so finely-wrought in their detail. It is like seeing lace on wood. The motifs, interestingly, find resonance in many gompas around Lahaul. The dragons, the inverted flower buds, the lotuses, the waves and the pearls in flames. You also notice the typical and incredibly lovely chequered pattern hewed out of the wood and then embellished in bright cobalt blues and forest greens.

Entering the sanctum sanctorum of the fort, one finds the usual spot designated for the deities of the family. Now here is an intriguing aspect. An ageing sepia photograph reveals the Rana to be a gentleman of distinctively Indian features. He looks as though he could belong to anywhere in Himachal and is probably a Hindu. His face is unlike the people he would have ruled, whose features are Monogoloid.
Juxtaposed with this is the fact that the area of worship is completely Buddhist - whether it is the religious texts, swaddled in colourful silk, the deities, mainly Avalokiteswara and Padmasambhava, and all other accoutrements of devotion: the offering bowls, the butter lamps, the prayer wheels, the drilbu (the bell, rung during prayer), the kapala (in this case the skull was that of a goat!) and the dorje, the small sceptre which represents Buddha's compassion.

The little fort, standing up valiantly against the rampage of weather and time, betokens an age of grace, of tolerance and a culture that was urbane while existing happily in the midst of wilderness. The deliciously straight lines, the sumptuous colours, the projecting terraces topped with a pillar in turn embellished with rams' horns. One never gets tired of uttering exclamations of joy!


Dick Richards said...

What a fabulous adventure. Thanks for sharing it. I too love the browns of old places. Brown smells vaguely musty, doesn't it?

Bibliophile said...

What a lovely old place, and great photos as usual. Thanks for including a link to SdS blog.

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