There are lot of interesting tales that happens during the trip sometimes pleasant and many a times challenging but for me coming up to the terms of going on a solo trip especially on birthday was quite a stretch. I have always been the one who researches, plans and strategize for the travel in the group, which puts unnecessary burden and undue responsibilities instead of just enjoying and exploring the places! Hence this birthday i decided to let go of all things that I do while on trip that included planning, booking for train/planes/hotels and to do lists. And that’s how my solo trip to Dalhousie began with minimal planning and challenging my comfort zone of controlling the various aspects of traveling.
One of my acquaintances had shared that when you travel to Himachal Pradesh; always go for Government stay so I booked ManiMahesh hotel without much ado and booked train ticket to Pathankot Cantt through tatkal facility. I reached Pathankot Cantt early in the morning around 5.30 am – I took taxi from the stand just outside the railway station; though the rates were fixed I negotiated a bit and considering I was alone, they gave me 500 Rs waive off. The car drive till Dalhousie was about 2 hours 30 minutes through quaint and charming road with splash of nature that made me all pumped up for my tryst with Dalhousie. Fortunately the front desk staff at ManiMahesh Hotel was very accommodating so they offered me the room much before the check in time. I was absolutely delighted to see my room as the view of snow clad Pir-Panjal Range welcomed me through a huge window wall and spacious balcony.
The tiredness of last night train journey and the car drive started seeping in so I decided to take some rest in the coziness of warm blankets and room heater. I stepped out of the room in the evening to explore the near-by areas. I kept walking aimlessly to just enjoy the nature trail, witnessing the quiet surroundings in otherwise touristic area of Dalhousie. As evening sun went down to night, I reached Gandhi Chowk that was overly crowded with the people; so I quickly walked back to hotel. This whole walk from my hotel to Gandhi chowk and back was about 7-8 kms it wasn’t actually tiring instead very enticing and if you love nature then nothing like it.
The next day which was my birthday; I hired the same taxi person to drive me through Dalhousie; he had suggested few tour packages just like tour people which I denied because I wanted to take my time to see things and spend adequate time at the destinations that I would enjoy. I am not a trekking enthusiastic person though I have moderate level fitness so I was in conflict whether to go for Dainkund or not but since this trip was all about kicking the comfort zone and stepping up the adventure level, I decided to give it a shot. Before our first destination – we stopped by at Bakrota Hills, which offers a scenic view of serene landscapes and lush green Oak, Pine and Deodar trees.
Located at an altitude of 2755 metres, Dainkund is the highest peak in Dalhousie. It is popularly known as ‘singing hills’ as calm breeze blowing through the woods creates musical serenade. The trek begins from the Alha village which offers a photogenic enticing view of mountains and forests. The trek is an easy to moderate level of difficulty, 4.5 kms long divided into 3 distinct sections – concrete stairs, climb through the forest and walk along the ridge.
The hike entices you with the snow clad mountains, lush green fir and deodar trees, and spectacular ridge. One of the things I really loved apart from the enticing nature was the thoughtful idea of keeping several benches and gazebos on the way to the peak, which is really needed for people to rest between the walk or maybe to enjoy the view.
Honestly I am not much of a fan of stairs and I saw few people going back just because of it. I would suggest to actually go for it because the whole way to the top and view from the temple is worth the efforts.
While I was hopping my way up there was a family following me who actually went back after the ridge. One of the women was very surprised to see that I was going alone and that too for the first time without any guidance – up till now I didn’t even think about it; but hearing someone say this made me smile and more determined. It is believed that Dainkund (Dain = witch, kund = lake) was an abode for a powerful witch.
She was slayed by an incarnation of Kali Mata that arose at the site from a stone. The locals worship this incarnation as Pholani Mata. This temple looked surreal with the goddess idol in the center, lot of trishuls on the sides and Mount Kailash at the back drop. Standing here, looking at the mountains with cool breeze blowing softly made me alive and full of energy. On my way back to the starting point of the trek, I met few kids from the local villages who offered to let me pose with rabbits; instead we spoke to each other and parted with smiles on our faces.
The second part of the challenge was to go for paragliding at Khajjiar. My heart was beating crazy because I had never tried it however at the last moment just when we reached Khajjiar, I decided to let go of the fear and try it out. So, my taxi driver directly took me to the people who engage on paragliding near the Shiv temple just few minutes from the main Khajjiar. Point of caution: It is important to go for the people who have license and are skilled; there might be certain people who would offer discounts who may or mayn’t be trained. Secondly- if you weigh more than or equal to 90 Kgs then unfortunately you won’t be allowed for paragliding. The cost for short distance is 2000, long distance – 2500, with additional charges of video camera (if you want) - 500 and photographs – 200. For paragliding, you need to trek uphill to the top which is about 1-2 km hike; it was exhausting and tiring! Unfortunately the climate was not favorable because of which I had to wait for like an hour and that wait actually eased my nerves.
I was all geared up with the camera handed over to me and pilot behind my back at one moment and in the next I was flying over the tall deodar trees, houses, deep valley and so close to the mountains. I screamed with joy, enthralled to be able to fly like a bird, the freedom was exhilarating and unbelievable. All the fear, nervousness and thoughts vanished in the air; it felt like the nature was celebrating my existence! The adrenaline rush I experienced was beyond any words and in that moment I thought I would do this again!
The car dropped me to the entrance of Khajjiar! As against my imagination of a quaint village hidden somewhere in the mountains, the sight that welcomed me was a picturesque grassy landscape surrounded by evergreen cedar trees which had one side covered entirely by taxis!
I was little disappointed to see such a beautiful place crowded by humongous number of tourists. However as I kept strolling there was strange charm and peace in the place.
Khajjiar is known as mini Switzerland as it bears a very striking resemblance to latter’s topography. It has a rare combination of three ecosystems: lake, pasture and forest. The bowl-shaped, pine-ringed meadow with the lake in the center calmed my soul and gave adrenaline rushed body much needed rest. If you can ignore the ocean of people here then it is a beautiful place to actually feel the moment and live them!
Next and probably the last destination for the day ‘Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary’ was the one I was waiting for the most. This is the place where my favorite film ‘Lootera’ (adapted from the book ‘Last leaf’) was shot- the most beautiful, cinematic moments were captured in the rest house. I couldn’t contain my joy and excitement even while I was very tired.
There are two ways to reach Kalatop rest house; either you can walk 3 kms (it takes more than an hour to cover the distance) or take your vehicle by paying an entrance fees. As it was already late afternoon, I decided to go with the taxi which dropped me at the entrance of the guest house. Located amidst the oak and coniferous forests and in close vicinity of the Ravi River, this place is breath taking! For few moments, I was just staring at the gate without an ounce of belief that I am actually here.
I took my leisure time to explore the place; the stairs led me to a small shop which offered tea and snacks. The lip smacking hot beverage with the view of the towering and immaculate Pir Panjal range fulfilled my day in the ways even I can’t describe. I wish I could stay here for long! I never felt so satisfied and complete from any trip I ever went to!
It was surreal to describe in one word. On our way back to hotel, I stopped by St. John’s Church, located at Gandhi Chowk.
As I lit the candle, prayed and showed my gratitude here, I felt overwhelmed and somehow I didn't know what to do. I approached father and told him that it's my birthday and you are the only in this city who knows it! I didn't know why I said this? But his response made this day even more memorable. He asked me to finish my prayers and come back so that he can pray for me afterwards! Every word of his prayer and love that poured through it made my heart and soul so full. I just couldn't believe that someone who is a stranger who has got nothing to do with me showered me with kind words and blessings.
With my heart full and soul singing accomplishments of day’s adventures I retired for the day!
I had planned to go to Sach pass next day which is located 150 kms from Dalhousie and takes about 6 hours of car drive to reach there. It runs over the Pir Panjal Mountain range, at the height of 4500 meters and is considered to be one of the most difficult passes to cross in North India. I was advised not to go there considering the condition of the road to the sach pass, dangerous altitude and recent weather making it more inconvenient , but since the whole idea of this trip was to challenge my comfort zone and indulge in the things that I usually don’t do – I decided to take the leap of faith.
We started around 5.30 in the morning when the entire town was asleep; there was pin drop silence and empty roads. This was the day when I would be exactly at the place that was a mesmerizing view from my hotel room, I was too excited and bit bumpy. As we were going ahead, the taxi person actually pointed out to the mountains where we would be going – the snow clad mountains beyond so many massive hills, it seemed impossible! The 6 long hour journey was exhausting, overwhelming and scary – every turn, every road – mainly good but many a places broken, muddy, extremely bumpy and the whole ride I could see crossing one mountain to another, it was mystical.
They say that sometime journey is better than the destination – here I felt it. It was altogether a different world from the window pane of the car, I was truly amazed by the way he was driving – all in control, swiftly, avoiding the bumps or dust clad roads with ease! The drive till Bairagarh was astounding to say least but the real adventure began from there. The police at the Satrundi check post reviewed our identity cards, checked driving license, wrote our details in the register and gave us a warning about the condition of the roads being really bad and the ongoing construction making the roads all the more challenging.
As we drove ahead, the road became more and more difficult, narrow and bumpy but with each turn we were close to the snow clad mountains – it left me breathless. I was in awe of the splendid nature that was in its almighty form- beautiful, enticing and overpowering. The entire way up had lots of natural waterfalls, flowery valleys, tall vegetation and snow covered hills; there were times when the waterfall was directly falling over the car – it was one of the most delightful sites that I had witnessed! We reached Kalaban for a quick halt to grab chai and snacks – there were lot of quaint shops offering tea, coffee and maggi- I was literally wondering as to how these people come every day here; to which they shared that they reside here for few months before it becomes unbearable to stay.
Interestingly we were the first ones to arrive so I took my leisure time to breathe the fresh air, soak in the serenity of the mountains and be grateful to be able to come here! We were now moving on the road that was surrounded by the walls of snow on one side and mountains with snow on another side – so close, so unbelievable and crazy!
The car halted before the glacier which had mountain walls of snow and the road was filled with water! The car couldn’t go ahead and with my excitement – I quickly borrowed boots for 50 Rs and ran towards the glacier. Can you imagine witnessing snow in the month of May? I didn’t and here I was playing with it.
This is nothing but nature’s miracle and yes human beings are just tiny specks of it! I walked about 4 kms from there just being on feet after 6 hours crammed in car in the lap of nature was such a delight. I stood on the top with snow, trees and clouds all around watching the mountains this close to me which seemed impossible when we started the car journey in the morning. I felt truly blessed!
This surreal experience will remain in my heart for long and this extended birthday adventure has taught me to step up my game! On our ride back to Dalhousie we stopped by Chamera lake to fulfill the demands of our stomach. The perennial carpeting of the conifers, the lake entrapped between and the squeaky cleanliness in the air makes the experience here unforgettable. Currently boating and other activities are put on hold considering a conflict going on the parties over the claim over the lake.
The next stop was Rock Garden, created by the diverting flow of natural hill streams. It comprises of rocks strewn across natural streams of water and lush green surroundings overlooking the magnificent mountains and pristine air. Rock Gardens provides for a calm, peaceful and relaxing spot away from the hustle and bustle of the otherwise busy Dalhousie town.
After an extremely exhausting and mind blowing day I retired in my room pretty early.
The next day I got up leisurely enjoying the day sipping hot tea with a marvelous view and a reminder that I actually visited this place! I had reserved this day to explore Dalhousie. The tiny tinsel town Dalhousie boasts of old world charm, mesmerizing natural landscape, pine-clad valleys, magnificent misty mountains and some of the most spectacular views. The air smells of the Scottish and Victorian architecture and the ambience is reminder of the pristine British flavors. I had read somewhere that if you love walking then you can explore the entire town with your two feet – so why not try it out!
Subhash Chowk – It’s a small market area with number of eating joints, a statue of Subhash Chandra Bose at one end, scintillating view, walking trail and St. Francis Church at another end. I took around 15 mins from bus stand to reach Subhash Chowk. You can enjoy the valley view, walk across the trail or have cuppa of coffee.
I was enticed by the beauty and magnificence of St. Francis Church. The architectural style of the church bears the old British type of architecture. The magnificent stone works and the glass designs were charming. There are stairs after you enter through the main gate to reach the Church, where you can find small keeps for rabbits and some birds; there is a beautiful garden surrounding the church and also there are these glass designs with the message and stories of Jesus Christ that just pulls you! As I entered the church, I was captivated by the serenity and the divinity of the place. I sat there for quite a while and offered my prayers – how one place can calm your soul!
Gandhi Chowk is the main market area that houses number of hotels, eateries, restaurants and shops; central to Dalhousie. The mall road and Tibetan market are very famous for shopping here. If you wish to eat then do try Dalhousie Café and Kwality Restaurant which is one of the oldest restaurants here that offers lip smacking delicacies.
Garam Sadak is considered to be one of the best spots for walks in the arms of the nature of Dalhousie. This road is one of the criss-cross roads that connect Gandhi and Subhash chowk. The road has derived its name because of its warm and snug temperature as it receives direct sunshine. The signboards near the road holds an interesting caption that reads ‘walking is the trend in the knolls’
Thandi Sadak is another criss-cross road intertwined in the shape of the number eight. The place receives its name from the fact that the rows of pine, deodar and oak trees planted beside the roads restrict sunlight, making the place cooler than the rest of the area. It is an ideal place to enjoy the stunning view of Mount Pangi while strolling through the town.
With this, my birthday solo trip was accomplished!