Kamru – A hidden gem of Kinnaur

Nestled in the hills of lesser Himalayas and about a 2 km hike from Sangla, Kamru is a blend of heritage and natural beauty. While, we get to see the most beautiful landscapes in Sangla valley, the best view of its splendour could be seen from the top of the Kamru fort. After a night stay in Sangla valley, Gautham, Aashish and I started early the next day to explore Kamru.

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Kamru village and Kamru fort as seen Sangla valley
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Stepping into the historic Kamru village

As we ascended up slowly and reached the Kamru Badhri Vishal mandir, we met Hariram ji, an elderly locallite of Kamru village, serving as the postmaster there. After getting to know that we were heading to Harshil via Lamkhaga pass, he couldn’t resist sharing his experience of crossing the pass way back in 1980s/1990s with me and Aashish.

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Entry to Badri Vishal Mandir in Kamru seen near few traditional Kinnauri two storeyed wooden houses with stone roofs.

He rewinded us back to nineties as he told us that the initial set up of hydro-projects across Himachal / Uttarakhand (was under U.P in 1990s) were the major source of employment and income in those days for men in the hills, and he had to cross the Lamkhaga pass few times to work in the hydro-projects for few months. Since the temple in Kamru would open only after 8 a.m, Hariram ji suggested us to check out the fort until the head priest arrives and performs the morning rituals to open the Kamakhya mandir (in Kamru fort) and the Badhri Vishal Mandir for the visitors.

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Badri Vishal Mandir – Kamru. The sloping stone roofs, overhanging projected wooden balcony with large openings (to allow most sunlight and warmth to pass through the structure) are a part of traditional Kinnauri Kathkuni style of architecture.

Though Kamru is a very small village, you will get to see lot of traditional Kinnauri wooden houses here with stone roofs. These traditional homes with two to three stories are built with Kathkuni architecture by stacking alternate layers of wood and stone without any binding material. You will get to see a lot of wood work, lion and dragon motiffs in all the temples and houses in Kinnaur.

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Amazing wooden work at the entrance of Kamru fort and the fort walls built with interlocking of wood and stone
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The pujari opens up the temples in Kamru every day after carrying out the rituals with a jug of holy water

As we reached the Kamru fort at 8 am, the watchwoman welcomed us with a smile. She asked us to keep our shoes and bags outside and passed on a Himachali cap and belt to each of us. She added on that we were entering a zone which has a rich history associated to it and ruled by over 100 different dynasties and anyone entering the fort, has to do so in a customary Kinnauri style (with cap and belt) and never remove them inside the temple. As we entered the fort, she reiterated the dos and don’t’s and pointed to restricted section of the fort to which only royal family and the Pujari has access.

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Chandru Negi ji, the watchwoman at Kamru fort helped us with the history of this fort

Chandru Negi ji is yet another amazing locallite, who guided us with a lot of information during this trip. She showed us the backside of the Kinnaur Kailash range (The front could be seen from Kalpa and backside is visible from Sangla/Kamru). With a government job to guard the Kamru fort during the day, Chandru Negi ji has to come to the fort everyday (throughout the year regardless of the seasons even if tourists are not visiting) from Sangla and guard the fort until the night duty watchman turns up for that evening. While she was happy that her children who are now in cities need not have to go through the hardships of the life in the hills, she was also little concerned that the culture and traditions kept alive by her generation.

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The Kamakhya idol in the Kamakya temple of Kamru fort is said to have been brought here from Guwahati (Kamrup dynasty) thousands of years ago. Image credits: Aashish

As the history of Kamru goes, this land was once ruled by various Kings and it served as a capital of Bashahr (A princely state in India during the British raj). The Kamakhya idol in the fort (which is the only portion allowed for visitors) was brought here about a thousand years ago from the Kamakhya Mandir in Guwahati, Assam.

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When we donned the Kinnauri topi and belt in Kamru fort. Group photo clicked by Gautam Baliga (http://www.bgbaligatraveldiary.com/)

Unlike the crowded Kamakhya temple in Guwahati, the Kamru Kamakhya mandir is very peaceful and tranquil place with very few visitors despite the fort and temple being open throughout the year (even during winters).

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Backside of Kinnaur Kailash range as seen from Kamru fort

The royal family (family of Raja Virbhadra Singh, the current CM of Himachal) visits this fort for family rituals/ ceremonies and they last visited this fort during the pattabhishek (crowning of prince) of the son of Virbhadra Singh in 2016.

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The restricted portions of the Kamru fort, to which only the royal family has access.

After digesting the massive information from the Chandru Negi ji, we wished her a good day and started descending to Kamru village.

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Take a closer look at the lion face door knobs which lead to restricted portions of the Kamru fort, that was ruled by 100+ dynasties.

As we neared the Badhri Mandir, we saw Hariram ji waiting for us. He gave us a surprise as he invited us to see few portions of his home built by his grandfather.

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Hariram ji proudly showed us few doors in his home which were handmade by his grandfather about 100 years back.

He proudly showed us three locks in his home that were made by his grandfather over 100 years back. Like all other traditional village homes, the doors to the next floor were fixed horizontally and we had to climb up the ladder type staircase to open the door. After a few hours in Kamru, it was time to bid goodbye to the locals and head to Chitkul, our next stop for the day.

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Inside the home of Hariram ji in Kamru

People in the hills are so friendly and happy to share a lot of information about their heritage to tourists. The traditional knowledge is always perfect for the region it originates in. It’s heart-warming to see that the traditional wisdom and practices relating to their surroundings have been passed on the next generations.

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The amazing locals in Kamru village

With many hill-stations in Himalayas slowly becoming commercial and turning into a concrete jungle, Kamru and Sangla are among those places where you could still get to see and experience the culture and tradition of Kinnauris. Most of the tourists skip or miss Kamru, unaware of its history. The flavours of history, culture and rural hospitality make Kamru one of the must visit places in Kinnaur.

Highlights:
Kamru Badhri Vishal Mandir
Kamru fort

Reaching Kamru: Kamru is a 2 km hike from Sangla town. Sangla is 360 kms from Chandigarh and the travel may take 15 to 16 hours. Delhi to Sangla is approx 580 kms. Below is the approach route for Sangla:
Shimla ⇒ Kufri ⇒ Fagu ⇒ Narkanda ⇒ Rampur ⇒ Jeori ⇒ Tapri ⇒ Karcham ⇒ Sangla
Public transport: There is a Chandigarh-Shimla-Sangla daily direct bus that starts from Shimla at 6 am. 2-3 buses also start from Reckong Peo for commuting within Kinnaur that stop at Sangla.

Best time to visit Sangla and Kamru:   May to September

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