From folktales to offbeat places, here's how to explore 'Hidden Himachal'

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Shimla: The 17th century-town of Bilaspur, considered to be amongst the first planned towns in the hills of India, was submerged in the Satluj with construction of the Bhakra Dam in 1962.

A cemetery in Dagshai, which grew under the rule of British India, holds the grave of Mary Rebecca Weston. Some consider this to the most elegant of graves in the country. A strange superstition grew around the grave. Childless women believed that they would conceive if they swallowed a bit of tombstone.

Like these, many other tales and stories of Himachal Pradesh were penned by Shimla-based writer-cum-historian Raaja Bhasin in a 115-page coffee table book 'Hidden Himachal' for Himachal Tourism.

It was released by Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur this week.

Divided in three sections, the first talks about places that have ease of accessibility from primary tourist destinations and yet are not very well known.

In the second section, the places with a little more difficulty level of accessibility, and the third covers some of the most difficult areas like the Great Himalayan National Park in Kullu district and some of the high mountain passes.

Dhami and Arki are two small towns that date back to the time when there were numerous princely states in Himachal Pradesh.

Both of these are fairly close to Shimla and both, while relatively off the normal tourist circuit, have substantial natural beauty and examples of fine architecture.

In terms of heritage and history of Bilaspur town, some 120 km from the state capital, the most significant loss in the submersion was of the 28 large and small temples.

According to Bhasin, most of these were built in the classical 'nagara' style.

The temples remained unstudied largely by scholars. The only research done was by noted art historian Hermann Goetz in the 1950s shortly before they went under water.

Surrounded by lush fields and mango groves and bordered by the waters of Maharana Pratap Sagar, Daba Siba, which lied close to Punjab border, holds a rare architectural and art marvel in the shape of striking temple of Radha Krishna that dates back to 1835.

At a height of some 6,000 ft, Dagshai was a barren hill that in 1847 was transferred by the Maharaja of Patiala to the British for the purpose of creating a military station or cantonment.

Inner and outer Seraj are not well known as nearby Kullu or Manali, but are woven with a rich culture that is fairly distinct from that of the Beas Valley.

For rural charm, undisturbed woods, exquisite temples and simple lifestyle, the Seraj region is a great area for the offbeat travellers.

A major portion of inner Seraj is taken up by the Tirthan Wildlife Sanctuary that is contiguous to the Great Himalayan National Park – part of one of the largest flora and fauna reserves in the Himalayas.

For some 1,400 years Naggar was the seat of the erstwhile princely state of Kullu.

Naggar, which boasts of the famed International Roerich Memorial Trust, is home to age-old shrines, including the pagoda-shaped temple of Tripura Devi.

The lesser known destinations showcased in the coffee table book include the shrine of Mata Kunal Pathri located on the suburbs of Dharamsala town.

The shrine is dedicated to Devi Sati, the consort of Lord Shiva, which has a huge following in the Kangra region.

One of the most remarkable of Spiti's monasteries is located in Hikkam village. This is one of two Buddhist monasteries in Spiti under the Sakya-pa order.

Unlike the second, which is of relatively recent order and located in Kaza, the one at Hikkam, some 350 km from Shimla, is believed to date back to at least the 14th century.

The Pangi Valley, lies between the Pir Panjal ranges and the Greater Himalaya, and may well be considered to one of Himachal's best kept secrets.

For eight months, Pangi remained locked within itself. It is true that when Pangi was part of formerly state of Chamba, officials posted there were given a 'funeral allowance.'

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