It seems to me that Himachal is boundless. No matter how many lands there I traverse, there is still much larger part that remains uncharted, and what’s more, unknown. Every year, there is a new discovery, a wonderful one, that makes me wonder where was this before – or where was I?
This year, however, I went to a places well known, some even visited before (though it still felt like a discovery). On previous travels, we have been to the tribal, Sutlej and Beas circuits, and all the ravings around Mcleodganj by friends and fellow travelers has been pushing us towards the Dhauladhar circuit. We centered our travels in Dharamsala, and ironically spent the least time there if we do not count the time spent at the bus stand.
As all Himachal journeys, this one too started in Delhi, though it truly began when we stopped for dinner at Kalkaji and felt the chilly wind. It was the same place as last year, a little more sophistication added here and there. After 10 hours of a bus ride, we were in Dharamsala. And from there, it was a week of bliss and restfulness.
Our first halt was Dalhousie. I have heard of this place being quite commercial, and perhaps during the summers it is. I was however lured by its high altitude and its vicinity to Chamba valley. We were staying at Manimahesh from HPTDC, which was almost stranded and we did not encounter any guests in our 2 days of stay. Our room looked out to the Pir Panjal ranges, almost to where the holy lake of Manimahesh lies (which is what gives the hotel its name). The view was breathtaking, even more so after an evening of snow-fall in the distance made the peaks go white.
For two days, we enjoyed this view, and walked around Dalhousie. It has its lovely walkways, which are not too steep and are just perfect for those contemplative or romantic walks. It is not so easy to climb up to the town-center though, which is at a good walk from the Manimahesh hotel. There is that quintessenial mall road, and though mall roads are horrifying during peak times, this one was a welcome breath of life in that otherwise deserted and empty town.
From Dalhousie, we went to Khajjiar, which is, in the tourist lingo known as the Switzerland of India. With its Deodar trees and lovely winding paths, it does have its charm, but its tourist label is almost annoying. Like the Solang valley near Manali, Khajjiar ground is full of people, but more so of vendors who want to take your ‘stylish professional pictures with the lake’, or take you on a paraglide, or a horse ride. Sadly, their pestering completely breaks the mood of serenity which the Deodars have so painstakingly tried to create! Yet, in the late evenings and the early mornings, Khajjiar is unbelievably quiet and peaceful. Just the kind of place where you would like to put up your feet and read a book – that is what I did. The life of Khajjiar is its very famous ground, in the middle of which is a lake. Apparently, the depth of the lake has not been measured and the locals believe that it goes to the center of the earth. Perhaps.
Between Dalhousie and Khajjiar, we took a detour to Chamba. Both these destinations are themselves part of the Chamba valley, but the town of Chamba lies on a much lower altitude. The drive in the valley is very pretty, with beautiful views of the river and also the lake Chemur. The river Ravi flows along most of the route, and though it seems like there is little water in it at this time, you only have to go near to feel its defeaning roar.
Chamba city itself was a very haphazard hilly town, with old houses tumbling into each other – you never know where one begins and the other ends. In the city centre is a Laxmi Narayan temple which is pristine, with an architecture which takes you years back. I would have loved to photograph it if they had let me. Neither could I get on any of the nearby buildings to capture them, as we were greeted by a soft shower and I was alarmed for my camera’s well-being.
Around Khajjiar is also another temple which is under consruction. Close to this temple there is placed a giant statue of Lord Shiva. With the view of Kailash in the distance, Lord Shiva is revered in the area. This statue looks beautiful and daunting, as it stands in the center, almost as if guarding the whole valley. The entire circle around the statue, and upto Khajjiar is part of the Kalatope Sanctuary and is a beautiful place to walk. I could almost imagine how it would look in the summers when all streams would run amok and greenery would cover the place.
After spending a night in Khajjiar, we hired another car to take us to Palampur, where we planned to spend the next three nights. The route, which we had already traversed on the onward journey is beautiful. From Khajjiar, we keep climbing for sometime up to Jot, which is almost at 2500-2600meters in altitude and is freezing cold. The road then descends rapidly, but not before you see the lovely mountains shrouded in mist and mystery.
I think I will leave Palampur and Mcleodganj for another post – it was another world, and quite different from this first part of the vacation, though equally peaceful and lovely. (Continued here)