The reality of India’s population of 1.25 billion, with a thriving middle class, hits you when you decide to plan a holiday during an extended weekend and book hotels for the same at short notice. Thanks to the unavailability of hotel accommodation in Dalhousie, after immense hard work we zeroed in on a plan wherein we decided to drive directly to Khajjiar from Gurgaon (taking a route that by-passed Dalhousie). The plan of action was: Leave from Gurgaon on Thursday night. Reach Khajjiar the following morning and chill in Khajjiar for the day. On Saturday go for the Dainkund trek and shift base to Dalhousie. Spend the remainder of Saturday and the first half of Sunday in Dalhousie. Leave by noon for Gurgaon.
About: This quaint little hill-station in the Chamba district (located approximately 24kms east of Dalhousie) is referred to as the mini Switzerland of India. The story behind the nomenclature goes like this: On 7 July 1992, Mr. Willy T. Blazer, Vice Counselor and Head of Chancery of Switzerland in India called Khajjiar “Mini Switzerland” and put a yellow sign board showing Khajjiar’s distance from the Swiss capital Bern. Khajjiar was chosen because it is among the 160 locations in the world that bear topographical resemblance with Switzerland.
Things to do: You will be disappointed if you visit Khajjiar with the intention of fulfilling a sunrise to sunset itinerary. The place does not offer touristy sites that you can visit and tick off. What is on offer is a serene environment with plenty of fresh air to breathe. The lovely meadows surrounded by the Dauladhar provide an excellent retreat from the mundane city life. A lazy stroll, basking in the sun and watching the ponies/horses move about with tourists mounted on them or just watching the sun set and the mists rolling in provides a mystical aura to the place and gives the tourist a sense of oneness with nature.
Tourists can opt for a horse ride or go for zorbing. There are a plethora of candy floss sellers that dot the meadows. The child in me could not resist the sight of the pink cotton balls! There are photographers who move around with a wicker basket filled with artificial flowers and a rabbit for the tourist to get her quintessential “pahari” photo.
Where to stay: The most conveniently located hotel is the HPTDC owned Hotel Devdar. With an amazing view of the meadow, the hotel offers good quality food. While we ate here, we could not manage to stay here due to unavailability of rooms. Booking rooms in advance is recommended.
There are a few other Hotels in Khajjiar. We stayed at Royal Residency which, along with a few other hotels, is located further away from the meadows. They offer stunning views of the far away mountain ranges. The conditions inside the hotel were very basic.
About: Dainkund is the highest mount in Dalhousie. It provides a bird’s-eye view of the whole valley. It is believed that in old days there were witches (dain in hindi) living here who used to trouble the villagers!
Things to do: Depending on the path that one takes one can catch a glimpse of Mount Kailash. The mild trek (perfect for beginners and children) from Dainkund to the Pohlani Mata Temple offers breathtaking views of the Pir Panjal and the middle Himalayas. Walking along the ridge also gives one a bird-eye view of the Khajjiar meadows and makes the contrast of the anomalous grassy patch amidst lush forest more stark.
Blessed with an amazing weather, we spent a considerable amount of time sitting on the jutting rocks enjoying the view along with the refreshing breeze. The rustling sound made by the breeze (bordering on wind!) makes one feel like an eavesdropper listening to the conversation between the wind and the mountains. Hence the popular name: singing hill.
How to get there: The ascent to the Dainkund begins after a turn from Lakkar Mandi. A 6 kms drive from Lakkar Mandi will take you to the Indian Air Force Barrier, where the cars are parked. The top of the hill is occupied by an Indian Air Force establishment.
About: One of the more popular hill stations of Himachal Pradesh, Dalhousie is named after the eponymous British Governor General who was in office when Dalhousie was being established as a summer retreat.
Things to do: Gandhi Chowk is the vortex of the whirpool of activities. Most eating joints and the market area is located here. Dalhousie’s oldest church, St. John’s Church, is also situated here.
Having coffee on the rocks (literally!) under a starry night sky with the sound of gurgling water floating in the air alongside blaring Honey Singh music, Panchpula was quite an experience for us. The place is one of those touristy must-visit places which more often than not disappoint.
Where to stay: There are multiple options in Dalhousie. While there are a bunch of hotels near Gandhi Chowk the hotel worth staying in is The Grand View Hotel situated near the Dalhousie Club. While we could not manage to get a room in this hotel (thanks to the rush) we visited the place for breakfast and we were glad for having made that decision. The breakfast buffet was excellent.The wood paneled dining hall, the view from the windows and the courteous staff gave an old-school, colonial aura to the place.
The hotel we stayed at was Mohan Palace, located quite close to Gandhi Chowk. Their premium rooms were quite good, but the others were deplorable.
The food in Dalhousie was quite basic. We did not have any outstanding Dalhousie specific dish that was worth remembering.
The Road Less Traveled
The route we took for this trip involved us taking an offbeat track to Khajjiar that by-passed Dalhousie altogether. We completely relied on google and nokia maps. On our drive back from Dalhousie google maps showed us the way, yet again. There was a stretch with bad roads, but the gushing stream that accompanied us downhill made us forget our woes. Being staunch believers in the principle of enjoying the journey and not just the destination, we stopped at multiple places during our journey; be it to enjoy the view or to sit on the banks of a river. The drive can get thrilling, as in our case with an approximately 6-feet long snake on the road that brought our car to a halt.
Time Taken: It took us a good 12 hours to reach Khajjiar from Gurgaon-we had left MG road metro station at 11:00 p.m. and reached Khajjiar around 11:00 a.m the following morning. While returning we again took roughly 12 hours (which includes our stopovers).
A special Thank You to Ashutosh for his brilliant photography. Cheers to an amazing trip!