Fieldwork: Indigenous Building Practices, District Kangra, Himachal Pradesh

Latitude: 30N; Longitude: 75E

Altitude: 250-6975 m

Average Annual Rainfall: 1539 mm

Average Precipitation Days: 86

Max. Summer Temperature: 34-35 degree Celsius

Min. Winter Temperature: 0-3 degree Celsius

Languages of Indigenous Craftsmen: Pahadi, Gaddi, Punjabi, Hindi

Local Materials: Kacchi inth (Adobe), Gaara (Mud mortar), River stone, Blue gun patthar (Blue sand stone), Baans (Bamboo), Cheer (Himalayan Pine wood), Deodar wood, Chakka (Slate stone tiles), Reth (River sand), Gobar (Cow dung)

The Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh, a former part of Punjab state, lies on the windward side of Dhauladar mountain range-a southern branch of the main Outer Himalayan chain of mountains in north India. Due to this, it receives heavy rainfall for most parts of the year compared to the rest of the state giving it a unique ecosystem of lush greenery and flowing khuds (rivulets) and a rich reservoir of natural building materials like stone, bamboo and wood. Summer temperatures here are pleasant and winter temperatures drop to below freezing point with some areas experiencing annual snow fall. The indigenous Gaddi tribes of the region are nomadic shepherds, spending their winters at the foothills of the mountain while migrating to greener pastures above in summers along with their herd of sheep. Hence their homes are designed and built for winters.

 

 

Photos Courtesy: Suyash Khanolkar

Houses are designed to have large south facing verandahs and courtyards to maximize the effect of the low winter sun. Verandahs are also provided on the upper storey to be used extensively for day time activities. Moulded over time by the force of running water, river stone is used for foundations along with mud mortar. Thereafter for plinths and walls up to a certain height dressed sand stone is used either with mud mortar or using a dry stack masonry technique. Adobe or sun dried mud brick is the main building material here. Sizes are generally 12 inch by 6 inch by 3 inch and walls are 18 inch thick. This thickness gives a wall the required compressive strength to carry the weight of a single storey house and also provides the necessary thermal thickness for the heat battery effect thereby protecting the inhabitants from the intense winter cold. Mud for adobe is generally excavated after leveling slopes and contours on one’s land.

 

 

Photos Courtesy: Suyash Khanolkar

Intermediary floors are made of 3.5 inch- 4.5 inch diameter baans (bamboo) rafters over which is placed chachhra (split bamboo mat). This acts as a base on which a traditional 3 inch mud floor is laid out. Upper storey walls are also made of adobe and have a low ceiling height. The floor-ceiling heights of both floors is kept low so that there is lesser volume of air to heat up in the bitter cold months. Roofs are pitched at angle of 22.5 degrees and have a system of pine wood trusses and bamboo rafters that are nailed together. Over this are wooden batons and thin tiles of chakka (slate) measuring 9 inch by 18 inch are nailed onto the same. These slate tiles can be arranged in two local patterns-a simple pattern and the lehri pattern. Roofs have a deep 3 foot overhang to protect mud walls from splashing rain.

 

 

Continuous horizontal wood beams are provided at the lintel levels above doors and windows to counter lateral movements during earthquakes as this region lies in a Zone 5 seismic zone. Cheer (Pine wood) is generally used for the same. Three coats of mud plaster are applied to walls to protect it from rains. Also north faces have deeper overhangs and verandahs as the micro climate of the region is governed by the northern Dhauladar Mountains due to which monsoon rains lash from that side. River sand, wheat husk and cow dung is used in mud plasters and natural dyes are added to the final coat to personalize plasters and finishes.

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