The Forgotten Relic: Attargu Suspension Bridge, Spiti valley


In the breathtaking landscapes of the Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh lies a treasure trove of history, culture, and architectural marvels. Celebrated for its awe-inspiring Trans-Himalayan panoramas, high-altitude wildlife, and Tibetan Buddhist heritage, this remote region has been home to several ancient Buddhist monasteries and temples studied by esteemed Tibetologists since the early 20th century. Amidst this rich tapestry of heritage, stands a seemingly forgotten yet historically significant structure - the now-derelict suspension bridge at Attargu. Next to the functional bailey bridge that connects Spiti Valley to the Pin Valley, this derelict bridge silently speaks of the region's enigmatic past, adding another layer to the captivating tapestry of Spiti's history.

Colonial Legacy in the Cold Desert

Built in 1911, the Attargu Bridge serves as the sole representation of colonial-style architecture within Spiti and offers a unique glimpse into Spiti's architectural legacy. This distinctive structure stands as a testimony to the British perception of the region during the colonial era.

Spiti During the British Raj

Spiti came under British rule in 1846 after the British victory in the Anglo-Sikh wars. As a part of British India, Spiti was initially included in the Kullu sub-division of the Kangra district, which was part of Punjab. The British authorities recognized the challenges of administering Spiti directly due to its remote location, limited economic value, and low population.

Construction of the Attargu Suspension Bridge

In 1873, the British made strategic decisions to delegate administrative powers to the Nonos of Kyuling village near Kaza. While limited efforts were made to improve connectivity and infrastructure in Spiti, the construction and repair of a few bridges, including the Attargu suspension bridge, stood out as exceptions.

The Punjab Public Works Department undertook the construction of this bridge, and it was completed in 1911. Visually reminiscent of other colonial-era bridges such as the Victoria Bridge in Mandi (1877)  and the Sheetla Bridge in Chamba (1894), the Attargu bridge featured stone and mortar towers, iron cables, and a wooden plank deck. The bridge could comfortably carry pedestrian traffic, as well as laden mules.

Strategic Location and Purpose

The bridge's strategic placement below a cliff offered protection from avalanches. Located near Dhangkar, the then-capital of Spiti, it facilitated connection between Spiti and Pin Valleys. This connection served a dual purpose:

  • It linked the bridle paths leading out of Spiti Valley to Kullu and Pin Valley to the erstwhile Rampur-Bushahr state, routes favored by British officials and hunters.
  • It improved accessibility for local traders, serving as a crucial link for trade, transportation, and access for both local traders and British authorities.

A local legend attributes the name "Attargu" to the Hindi phrase "udhar jao, udhar jao!" (go there, go there!), supposedly the constant refrain of British engineers urging on their Indian workers during construction.

Shift in Status and Bridge Deterioration

Following the annexation of Tibet by China in 1951, Spiti's status transformed into that of a sensitive borderland. The subsequent rapid development of motorable roads in the 1950s-60s led to increased connectivity, rendering the old suspension bridge obsolete.

By the late 1980s, a new motorable bailey bridge was inaugurated by the Chief Minister, rendering the old Attargu bridge defunct. This new bridge facilitated the extension of the road network into Pin Valley.

Legacy of the Attargu Suspension Bridge

With the advent of the modern bridge, the Attargu bridge was gradually abandoned .Today, the Attargu suspension bridge remains a forgotten relic, serving as a tangible link to Spiti's colonial past. Standing as a testament to a bygone era, the bridge's historical significance and architectural uniqueness continue to spark curiosity and emphasize the intricate historical tapestry of the region.

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