Dalhousie in Himachal Pradesh
in India is a town established by the British for their own interests only during the
colonial times. This hill area has an Alpine climate (altitude is 6000ft to 7500ft)
This place was situated in the ancient kingdom of Chamba and was a secluded place with
virgin forests when the British first came here.
When British officers got to know about this charming forest of Oak and Deodar pine in a
setting of Alpine beauty, they informed their higher authorities to pressurize the state
of Chamba to allow them to occupy in 1850 this area and build a settlement here in 1851.
Maharaja Shri Singh was the King of Chamba state at that time, and he knew that it, would
not be possible to resist the pressure of the British. So he allowed the British to make a
settlement there and in return he had a substantial amount lessened from the amount of
taxes that the kingdom of Chamba was paying the British Raj. In 1853 the sanatorium was
The British army built a sanatorium for convalescent British troops. A British officer,
Lt. Colonel Napier who later became known as lord Napier was the person who
took the main initiative in the work to acquire this large tract of land.
In 1851 the State authorities were approached by Government with a view to the
establishment of a Sanatorium for Europeans within the territory, and every facility was
given for this purpose. A site was selected on the western extremity of the Dhaula Dhar by
the late Lord Napier of Magdala. then Colonel Napier. After the necessary observations as
to climate had been made, Government sanction was given, in A.D. 1853, to the transfer of
certain plateaux from the Chamba State, viz., Katalagh, Potrain, Terah, Bakrota and
Bhangor, in consideration of which a reduction of Es. 2,000 was made in the amount of the
tribute annually payable by the State. On the recommendation of the late Sir Donald
MacLeod the new Sanatorium was named Dalhousie. In A.D. 1866 the Balun plateau was also
taken over for a Convalescent Depot for European troops, and at the same time the Bakloh
plateau was transferred for a Gurkha Cantonment. For these a further reduction of Es.
5,000 was made in the tribute. More transfers of land to Government have taken place since
then, with a relative reduction in the annual tribute. - (History of the Punjab
Hill States by Hutchison & Vogel)
To please the higher authorities Sir Donald Mcleod named the new settlement
Dalhousie after Lord Dalhousie the chief representative of British
rule in India at that time.
Actually Lord Dalhousie never cared to come to Dalhousie. Since the town was
founded by the British, the architecture of Dalhousie of British style, giving the town an
English flavour. The Alpine climate combined with trees and wild flowers usually found in
Europe, with state roofed stone and wood buildings made in the style of 19th century
Europe must have appealed to the British people with a nostalgic memory of their homeland.
To secure their settlement the British people built a cantonment for Gorkha soldiers who
worked under them at Bakloh.
The town of Dalhousie was built with the thought of the convenience of the British. There
was no thought about the development or progress of the common native hill
people in the psyche of the British rulers.
The typical colonial attitude of the British from the occupying rulers pont of view was
evident here as in other parts of India during the British rule.
British officer did the planning but the labourers for the hard work of building the town
came from the hamlets around Dalhousie.
The villagers who worked for the British Sahibs were very poor and deprived of
many basic needs of life. The photographs of ill clad hill people often in tatters and
with bare feet, swollen and cracked, working for the British contrast vividly against the
plump well dressed British who wanted all available luxuries of life.
The Christian missionaries who came and lived in the settlement generally did
conditional social work when it suited them for the cause of spreading their
The spread of the religious activities of their community was much more important to them
than the preservation of traditional hill culture and heritage.
The people who provided and maintained the physical base of the civilization are often
neglected and taken for granted when the socio-historical aspect of any civilization is
recorded and presented.
I present social anthropology and history from my own view point and according to my own
Horses and dandis carried by porters to carry people provided the main
Carts and mules were the main goods carriers. Dhar, Dunera and Bakloh were main halting
points on the way to Dalhousie from Pathankot.
The journey took two to three days. I have heard from an local old man that there were
carts that were drawn by human beings too. I also heard that the Sahibs who
traveled on there human drawn carts. Sometimes whipped the pullers if they could not pull
Entire colonial system under British imperialism was based on pressurization of human
resources of India for the convenience of the foreign rulers and for the interests of
their own people.
The general view point of the British people who came to Dalhousie during the colonial
days was no different.
The British army and other people of the settlement needed supplies. So few traders from
the lowland came and established supply stores at Dalhousie and nearby. In 1895 the first
hotel named the Bulls head was built.
In the first half of twentieth century, a regular flow of tourists from other parts of
India started visiting Dalhousie and more hotels and guest houses were built there.
The British officers built a club house at Dalhousie on 1895. The club was
necessary as a community meeting place for British a society and also for their
The cantonment of British regiments was established in Balun. Balun has been known as
cantonment area ever since. In 1868 the sanatorium was established at Balun.
There is market Balun and most probably a market existed there since long ago.
The educated Europeans loved books, so the culture of and keeping books and maintaining
home libraries came with them to Himachal Pradesh.
Drawing room culture, and club culture also came with the Europeans. Modern Indian society
in Dalhousie and elsewhere in India has greatly influenced by European culture. Life in
Dalhousie town in nineteenth and early twentieth centuries give clear examples
of the introduction of western lifestyle amongst wealthy their sections of Indian society.
At that time, Dalhousie was one of the hill towns where the introduction of western values
and lifestyle started influencing the social setup.
Wealthy sections of Indian society were influenced directly by many aspect of European
life style. These social aspect made old Dalhousie an absolutely different
place to live in than other places in Chamba district.
The climate of Dalhousie is like the climate of Alpine area of Europe. Many alpine flowers
bloom there and the forests of pine and oak make the place even more like Europe. Sunlight
has a soft mellowness that we find in Europe and we find many birds that we find in
A town built in old English way in this climate must have seemed very homely to British
soldiers and officers coming from the dusty hot plains.
No wonder Col. Napier found the place so appealing to build a sanitariums for British
soldiers. The climate of Dalhousie in 19th and early 20th centuries was considerably much
colder and in winter the snow lay much deeper.
The community in Dalhousie was snow bound in winter in the town, as it must have been
impossible to keep the uncovered cart road in operative condition except for hill porters
We must remember, that there was no electricity and many more bears and leopards than
there are now. Days were short in Winter and the darkness of night came early.
Coming of the mail bag must have been a big event long awaited occasion. The British
residents of Dalhousie managed to communicate through letters to when the postal system
became operative at Dalhousie in 1863.
There were some hotels in Dalhousie from the British times as some European and well to do
Indians came as tourists even then. The lure of the mist covered magical forests of
Dalhousie had drawn visitors ever since the settlement was established there.
Hotels, guest houses operated in this hill town for the tourists who came mostly in
season, and for the few in off seasons too. The trouble in Kashmir increased the flow of
tourists to Dalhousie.
in old Dalhousie town
Any society at any given time has different tiers or sections. Even in societies that
claim to be classless class distinction exists. The different sections of the
society at any place of human habitation exist at the same time with their individual sets
of values and standards of living.
In Dalhousie town, high ranking British army officers and British officials enjoyed the
maximum amount of privilege and power. It is quite evident that these officers were quite
particular about their duties but were arrogant with their set values biased with the
concept of power.
These people considered themselves the cream of the society and were served by hordes of
servants, who were looked down upon as low class native minions. Undoubtedly
the discipline of the British officers helped to build this hill town on the forest
covered hills, but they failed to integrate themselves in this area.
Next in social tier came the low ranking officers and Indian businessmen who opened shops
and establishments to supply the British army and the well to do residents of the town.
These people enjoyed comfortable lives. Some of the Indian tradesmen were quite wealthy
and enjoyed many luxurious of life, though basically their way of life was of Indian
European missionaries who built up churches and conducted services for the Christians
community has important position amount the European community and established schools for
children of the European community. Their work involved some important social service but
they looked down upon Indian culture and religions as their main aim was to spread
Christianity with missionary zeal.
The soldiers lived in the cantonment area and were subjected to strict discipline
generally by the officers.
The last in the social gradation came the serving people. Though these people were
considered native minions by the European community, the local laborers who
served the town by providing the physical support vital for day to day work formed the
base for the development of this town.
Although underestimated and largely uncaredfor, these poor people who lived in scattered
villages around Dalhousie, and in Dalhousie as serving people, formed a large part of the
population of this area.
All the transportation system was dependent on manual labour in those days, and the hill
people who naturally moved near the new town in the hope of earning some money maintained
that lifeline of communication by working as porters, dandi or sedan chair
bearers, muleteers and took care of the ponnies and pack horses for carriage.
The photographs of there poor people show hardened but undernourished people in tattered
clothes and often without shoes. They laboured to provide their masters with eggs, chicken
fresh vegetables and milk from the villages and did every sort of minion work.
They could not dream of giving their children the benefits of higher education. Just two
meals a day was all they could hope for and that too at times became difficult to procure
for themselves and for their families.
The European masters did not have that system of Chuachut or untouchability
that high caste Indian masters often had.
There was a great psychological difference between the hill folk serving as servents and
the free tribal shepherds roaming freely with his flock. Folk art, folk dance and folk
music develops best amongst free people. Arts do not develop so well amongst people in
restraint of servitude.
They had their own set of values that were radically different from the values of the
privileged classes of the society.
These values were formed in the school of adversity and penury. Yet, they were the
children of the soil, and their descendants sustained when the age of the foreign
masters came to an end.
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