The landscape dramatically changes the moment we cross from Punjab to Himachal Pradesh as I am on the road to Dalhousie. The winding roads take me through a smattering of dense forests and some thick shrubbery as we plough through the mountain roads slowly.Slowly the mist descends . The roads get narrower and curl up around the mountains. Conifers stand tall on the lush meadows wrapped in layers of thin white fabric. The mist dances in front of me, a slow surreal performance as the breeze carries it away. The mountains suddenly unveil themselves to me. We stop for a few moments. I just stand there and lose myself in this thin white fabric. Pauses I realize are so important, even in the journey of life. That is why I love slow travel. There is no hurry to head anywhere and there is no agenda either. Standing there and watching the dance of nature, I feel a special bond. I lose myself as I meditate. This is mindfulness in its most pristine form. I sigh as I pull myself out of the scene and continue on my journey, listening to stories of Khajjiyar, one of the places to see in Dalhousie.
Dalhousie is a quaint hill station that occupies barely 14 sq kms. Built on five hills, there are main malls or arteries that run across the hills with two chowks named after Subash Chandra Bose and Gandhiji, which are the main places to see in Dalhousie.
Built around the 1860s are the lanes and bylanes but the malls are the main arteries of the town. The malls around Moti Tibba are the popular tourist sites while Kishori , my driver says that Potreyn Hills are equally popular. Gandhi Chowk, Upper bazaar. Subhash chowk, Catholic church of St. Francis, Sadar bazaar and the Convent founded by an Order of Belgium nuns and their Sacred Heart School are on these two malls and are the main places to see in Dalhousie. We drive up to the highest mall was built around the upper Bakrota hill which is almost 1000 feet above Gandhi Chowk. This is where Rabindranath Tagore stayed and most of the area is now part of the Airforce and the Army.
What really intrigues me are the two lanes in Dalhousie called Tandi Sadak and Garmi Sadak. As the name suggests, one of the lanes is cold, while the other is warm. While the Tandi Sadak is shrouded in mist and is a little dark, surrounded by the tall trees, cutting the sunlight, Garmi Sadak is bright and sunny and brings a bit of cheer to people. This is where locals and tourists meet over a cup of chai that brings warmth to conversations . Walking around these lanes and doing nothing is one of the top things to do in Dalhousie, if you ask me.
Dalhousie has been home to Rabindranath Tagore who penned some of his poems here but it was also visited by Rudyard Kipling, Subash Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru. Locals say that Subash Chandra Bose was healed from tuberculosis from the waters of the natural spring, located in Karelanu near Dalhousie. At Panchpula is a memorial to the freedom fighter, Sardar Ajeet Singh, who was martyr, Bhaghat Singh’s uncle. Panchpula itself is scenic as it means five bridges and there are streams and waterfalls gushing around here.
Pottering around I see so many students walking around the hill station. I wish I was lucky enough to have studied in one of the public schools here, in the arms of nature, surrounded by the mountains. Besides DPS or Dalhousie Public School, there is Dalhousie Hilltop School and the Sacred Heart School of the Belgium nuns. There is the school for the Tibetans as well. Colourful flags in the air as we pass through the Tibetan colony.
Everything about Dalhousie is an ode to beauty. Kishori, takes me to Mini Switzerland or Khajjiyar, which is one of the best places to see in Dalhousie. The fragrant oaks and pines give me company as we meander around the mountain roads. We stop by at a marriage ceremony of a local tribe where everyone is dancing to the tunes of some Bollywood songs interspersed with some local folk music.
Khajjiyar, located at 1920 metres is barely 10 kms away but the winding roads take us into a magical world. There are not so many places to visit in Khajjiyar and around but I am already fascinated by the charming destination. Through the trees, I can see lush green meadows in the distance. As we go downhill, I am for a minute transported to Switzerland. The green meadows are so mesmerising as the mountains are covered with mist. A lake stands in the centre with some boats floating around. It is like a picture postcard from the Swiss landscape.
A handful of people are walking around aimlessly while a few are planning to go parasailing. Horses and cows graze in the meadows. . I just sit on the grass and just meditate on the beauty of the landscape, which according to me is one of the best things to do in Dalhousie.
The entire landscape is a wildlife sanctuary and it is called Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary, which is one of the best places to see in Dalhousie. Spread over 3000 hectares, it is a dense forest with tiny tributaries of River Ravi flowing through. We drive through this wildlife reserve which even covers 15 villages besides tourist spots like Dainkund and Bara Pathar among others which are some of the places to visit in Khajjiyar.
I see a mongoose cross the road as we drive past. A beautiful yellow billed blue magpie flits through the branches. Langurs greet us . We see boards warning us of bears and leopards. The reserve is a haven for birds and bird watchers. A road takes you atop where you can walk around the woods, soak in the beauty of meadows filled with wild flowers and drive through the dense jungles.
Finally Kishori takes me to his favourite place , Dainkund which is the highest peak at 2755 metres. It is called the Singing Hill as you can hear the sound of the breeze echoing through the woods creating a melodious tune. As most of the area is under the Indian Air Force, we are not allowed to explore at our will. However there is a hiking path that takes us uphill . While stunning views greet us , there is a temple dedicated to Pholani Devi atop the hill. The story goes that Pholani Devi who is believed to have risen from a stone here killed a witch who lived in a lake close by. Kishori says Dain means witch and kund means lake. The locals who are hiking up with me tell me that they believe that the deity is an incarnation of Kali and that she originated from here. The stone is now housed in a shrine and a trident is placed there.
The mist engulfs me as I trudge uphill. Nature teases me as I keep waiting for the mists to clear . There is an amphitheatre of mountain peaks with valleys and forests in the foreground while I can hear the murmuring of streams. Kishori tells me that there are two peaks, which the locals call Bride and Bridegroom. But in a moment everything just vanishes under a carpet of white fabric. I find a bench and sit there for a while, feeling the mist caress my cheek.
We head back and on the way stop at Bara Pathar, where twelve rocks were apparently believed to be mystical. There is a temple dedicated to Bhulwani Mata which is apparently 150 years old. On the way we stop at some lush fields where potatoes are grown. A local approaches me with a basket full of goodies from the mountains. There are flowers and fruits and sitting on top are two fluffy rabbits nibbling on the carrots. The lush fields, the misty mountains, the floating clouds, the velvety rabbits – everything feels like a dream and I am like Alice in Wonderland. So I do the touristy thing and pose with this bountiful basket against the mountains for a photograph. I cannot have asked for a more beautiful souvenir from the hills.
I do a quick detour to Chamba, the main town in the hills. It gets warmer as the lakes and rivers give me company. I cross the River Ravi and head to the town which is in the middle of a local festival. The markets are buzzling with energy and I slowly walk towards the ancient Lakshmi Narayan temple.
The silence is soothing but the warmth of the sun is welcoming as well. There are old museums, palaces and several temples in this ancient town as well.
I head back to Brijvilla , my home in the mountains which is a charming colonial villa who have hosted me. I am right in time to watch the mist float towards me . Standing there in the woods, I am caught in its fold this time and I wander away along with it to a land of mystery and magic. And the Himalayan whistling thrush sings such a beautiful ode to the mountains as I lose myself in this pristine atmosphere
I was hosted by Brijvilla, which is managed by 1589 hotels.