Dalhousie, Kalatop and khajjiar, people say they are beautiful. But, I had no idea they could have been breath-taking too, and sometimes quite literally! So, here it goes: my second travelogue on these breathtakingly serene Himalayan treasure troves. And it starts from the famous hill station; Dalhousie in the state of Himachal Pradesh. At an altitude of 6500 feet above sea level, Dalhousie, named after a British Governor-General Lord Dalhousie was established by the British Empire itself as a summer retreat for its soldiers.
Youth Hostels Association of India, in the meantime, chose this little hill station as the base camp for a wildly amazing winter trekking expedition. The trails through the snow covered forest and many villages would lead you ultimately to the village of Mangla, near the town of Chamba.
The first day of the trek is an amazing walk through partly roads and mostly forest to reach the chilly and windy black forest of Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary. The motorable road out of Dalhousie soon took us to a narrow trail leading to a forest covered with snow. The slopes before us went high and green with patches of white scattered through it. The stillness and he silence becomes so thick, even the overwhelming joy of glancing the snow for the first time would not be able to break it.
This trail is basically a blissful shortcut against the motorable road that leads to the Kalatop-Khajjiar Wildlife sanctuary. From there, its again a little walking through the tar road unless you take up another forest route covered with thick snow.
And then, after walking in the woods for quite some mesmerized hours, comes the desolated village of Lakharmandi. The snow covered roofs and the locked doors give a feeling that somewhere in the corner a great dragon is hibernating, whose sleep, once its summer again, will be broken up by the heat and the village will be lively again. Till then, it only reminds of the hardship that the villagers must go through each and every year by leaving there own huts in search of warmth. What we, the natives of planes crave for one or two days are literally nightmares for them.
Yes, the heart grew heavier after thinking about the lives of these villagers. But Mother Nature seized our attention soon. When you would reach the day’s destination, the Forest Rest house in Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary (almost 8000 ft above sea level), every sane person would become inane and awestruck in love of The Himalayas. Just in front of you, a great valley of tinged clouds, blowing over the shorter hills with a backdrop of towering heights of gigantic snow-covered peaks just blew us away and all of our jaws continued to hang in a perpetual awe.
No words would escape your mouth. The hot soup became chilled in our cups, the evening snacks remained in the platters, uneaten, and we, ignoring the shivering sub-zero temperature, continued to gobble up the unearthly playing of colors as long as we can. And then came the moment which we all were waiting for. The setting Sun poured a generous quantity of pure molten gold on the snow-capped peaks. And thus came the last night of the year. Tomorrow will be a new dawn, a new year. What better way can one ask for to welcome the New Year, a year, which will always remind me of the futility of our daily clashes and the existence of an unearthly ethereal beauty which is way more mysterious and perplexing yet the most simplest object in front of us.
With the chirping of dozens of birds and a refreshing beam of light from the morning Sun, we started our second day in the woods. Destination: Khajjiar, situated at a height of 6500 ft. From kalatop to Khajjiar is a 12 km trek, of which, first half is continuous descent and the second half is a steep ascent through dense green woods.
After completing the descent and having lunch near a small mountain stream, we started the strenuous climb uphill. After crossing numerous fallen trees, challenging and “breath-taking” turns and twists in the trail, we reached the green meadow of Khajjiar .
Next destination was to get down to the Mangla village near the town of Chamba, an ancient hill station on the bank of ravi river at a height of almost 3000 ft. the descent is strenuously steep and the longest of all three days, a whirling 14 km straight from the height of 6500 ft. The trail goes through many Himalayan Villages and the villagers, spcially the children are of very sweet nature. They will greet you as if they know you since time immemorable! The fragrant flowers, lime-water and butter-milk which they will offer you just for a few ten rupees are no match for the smiles in their faces and the heart worming greetings; a massive blow of reality check for our urban life where we will always try to avoid strangers.
This trail also offers a nice view of the Mt. Manimahesh kailash,one of the five abode of Lord Shiva according to Hindu mythology. The peak, in a clear azure sky truly is grand.
With blistered feet, we all reached the village of Mangla. Chamba is at a stone throwing distant from there. Finally, reaching Chamba, we visited the Lakshmi Naath temple and the famous shops of Chamba Chappals and had yummy street food. But above all, this ancient town is basically to be experienced. Its not at all like any other hill-towns I have been to before. This was, in true sense, original, unadulterated and ancient. Although modernity has begun to sneak into the daily lives of this town’s people, the charm of the colorful Chamba remains true. So finally the trail ended there and so ends three day’s strenuous routine, picturesque landscapes, unforgettable fun and making new friends. Somewhere someday we all will meet once again; with this hope, we all departed, cause the world my friend is round and not so big.