The Himalayan hill station of Chamba sits pretty at the confluence of the Ravi and the Sal River in Himachal Pradesh, northern India, surrounded by snow-clad mountains and lush forests. The ancient Chamba passed through the hands of many tribes before it finally came to be ruled by the powerful Maru dynasty circa 500AD. The region takes its name after the beloved daughter Champa of the later Maru king Sahilla Varman who made Chamba his capital circa 920AD. Before the reign of Sahilla Varman Chamba was split up in several territories, termed Rahnus under the control of numerous Ranas and Chieftains. It was Sahilla Varman who unified these territories and created five administrative zones which he called the Mandlas. This administrative apportionment is relevant to the present day and are now called the Tehsils of Bharmour, Chamba, Bhattiyat, Churah and Pangi.
The temples built by rajas of Chamba over thousands of years ago are still active places of worship. The most prominent temples are the Laxmi Narayan Temple built in the 10th Century by Sahilla Varman in the Shikhara style, the Chamunda Devi temple dating back to the 16th Century, dedicated to the wrathful avatar of the Mother Goddess, the Brajeshwari Devi Temple dedicated to the Goddess of lightning and the Champavati Temple dedicated to the memory of Champavati who was said to have influenced her father Sahilla Varman to set up the city of Chamba. Other important temples are the Hari Rai Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnuand the Sui Mata Temple dedicated to the memory of Sahilla Varman's Queen. The story goes that she sacrificed herself to bring water to the town from the stream of Sarota. A four-day festival called the 'Suhi Mata Mela' is held every year in spring to commemorate her great sacrifice.
The town of Chamba sees its fair share of light- hearted fairs and festivals. The Minjar festival is held on the second Sunday of August and goes on for seven days. During this time the locals make offerings of money, fruits and flowers to Varuna, the God of rain. Another festival held in the month of August is the Bharmaur Jatra Fair. This is a six-day long festival and the Jatras are dedicated to six different deities. The Nawala is another important family festival of the Gaddis, who reside in the upper hills of the district.
The locals are passionate about protecting their customs and traditions. Besides Hindi, ‘Pahari’ and ‘Himachali’ are spoken widely among the residents. The two main clans of the region are the Gujjars and Gaddis. The Gujjars are followers of Islam with roots in Kashmir and the Gaddis are Hindus, and belong to separate ethnic groups like Brahmans, Rajputs, Thakurs, Rathis and Khatris. The general population practice animal husbandry and are excellent craftsmen. Chamba is famous for its miniature Pahari paintings, attributed to the school of Basohli painting that flourished in the 17th and 18th Century.
Major tourist attractions in Chamba are the Khajjiar lake situated at a height of 1,920 m above sea level, set in a sprawling grassy landscape surrounded by lush cedars, the Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary, the Chamera Dam and the Dainkund Peak.