The last time I remember being in a scenario where a long forest path with trees on one side and hill on another, led to a secluded neo-Gothic Church, was in a horror movie – both Hollywood & Hindi cinema. The first time it ever happened in real life was when I started walking on the crowded streets of Dharamshala towards McLeod Ganj in Himachal Pradesh and for a second wondered how touristy it has become, even if I was one of them. Lost in my thoughts and chitter chatter with my friend, I suddenly realised that the voices of people had drowned out, the road was getting broader and darker with the dense Deodar forests blocking the last few rays of dusk and there wasn’t one single specie to be seen except the speeding bikes & cars driving to & fro Dharamshala.
After walking for around 1 km, we could finally see a small tea-maggi stall on the right hand side and a white antiquated gate on the left leading to a grand Church almost hidden in the shadow of the colossal trees.
Given its flawless neo-Gothic architecture & towering structure, one couldn’t tell that these strong walls have engraved in them a dark harrowing story from years and years ago. In the year 1905, when the Kangra earthquake killed close to 19,800 people, injured thousands in the Kangra area, and destroyed most buildings in Kangra, Mcleod Ganj and Dharamshala, the St. John in the Wilderness Church was one of the very few buildings to survive. The church, built in 1852, is known for its Belgian stain-glassed windows and dedicated to John the Baptist.