Time: 3 days
Ideal Season: May to Nov
Location: Chamba District, northwest Himachal Pradesh
Lt Col Mapier of Magdala first conceived of Dalhousie as a sanitarium in 1851. Since the sanitarium was founded during the tenure of Lord Dalhousie as Governor General of India, it bears his name. Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore stayed at Snowdon, located on Upper Bakrota Road in the town, and Subhash Chandra Bose spent seven months here beginning May 1937. Pandit Nehru, who visited Dalhousie in 1954, wrote, “One of the finest hill stations in India is Dalhousie from the point of beauty, climate and agreeable surroundings.” It is known for the long level walks around its five hills (Bakrota, Balun, Kathlag, Patryn and Tehra). Among these, the circular walk on the Thandi Sarak and Garam Sarak, connecting Gandhi Chowk and Subhash Chowk, is the most popular.
My first trip from Dalhousie to Chamba was in 1995 and it yielded an unforgettable image. We started late from Dalhousie in a car and, only a few kilometres out of town, we came across a full grown leopard sprawled in the middle of the road. Disturbed by the light and sound he raised himself from the road and, with a disdainful flick of his tail, ambled off into the forest. I did not comprehend what Kala Top meant till I reached there. The deodar trees are so thick and tall that all one sees on looking up are the dark treetops shutting out the sky. It’s a hillop dedicated to Lord Shiva and boasts of a grand view of the Pir Panjal Range.
Khajjiar is a picturesque green alp set in the midst of handsome deodar trees. Its fame is justly earned but it is also true that the crowds can detract from its serene charm at the height of the tourist season. In the sixties and seventies, many Bollywood producers would head to Khajjiar for location shoots for their films. The 17th-century golden-domed temple of Khajji Nag is dedicated to the serpent of Khajjiar. Legend has it that a renowned sage lived at this beautiful spot. One day, a powerful serpent saw this enchanting glade and decided to make his home here. The sage resisted but lost the ensuing battle. On his defeat the sage is believed to have told the serpent “kha aur ji” (eat and live), giving rise to the name Khajjiar.
A small temple dedicated to Hadimba is located nearby. This trek can be completed even in a day. But don’t be tempted into doing that. This is a trek that should be done by those seeking a leisurely walk and not the thrill of crossing a high pass or visiting a remote region. One should allow at least three days to enjoy the natural beauty of the region. The route passes through one of the finest deodar forests in India. The walk is either along the motor road or very close to it, so it can be terminated at any stage by switching to the buses/ taxis plying on the road.
DALHOUSIE-KALA TOP DISTANCE 131/2 KM TIME 4-5 HOURS LEVEL EASY
Start from Dalhousie (2,039m) after an early breakfast and follow the vehicle road going east to Khajjiar (22 km/ 1,920m). The road meanders upwards to Alha (7 km), a pretty spot with terraced potato fields. Alha has a small rest house on a hilltop and the road approaching it serves as a ski slope for beginners in winters. From Alha, the road winds up east to the Lakkar Mandi Wood Depot (3 km). The main road drops down further east to Khajjiar and a dirt road to the left heads off for the Forest Rest House tucked inside the Kala Top Wildlife Sanctuary (31/2 km). The metalled road to the right goes to Dain Kund (4 km from Lakkar Mandi), a high point offering a panoramic view of the Pir Panjal Range.
◆ Entry fee for sanctuary Rs 160, to be obtained from the Forest Checkpost, Lakkar Mandi Forest Rest House Permit Contact Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife), Chamba; Tel: +91-1899- 222639/ 239. Trekkers can stay either at the Forest Rest House or opt to camp around Lakkar Mandi.
The Kala Top Sanctuary (2,440m) area is the habitat of a variety of fauna including the leopard, black bear, goral, barking deer, serow, langur, giant flying squirrel, and monal, koklash pheasant, khaleej pheasant, yellow-throated marten and the chakor. This is open forest area which means the animals move in and out of it depending on the season. The rest house in the sanctuary is ideally located amidst a thick grove of conifers. If not short of time one can profitably stay another day to explore the surroundings and enjoy the view from Dain Kund.
KALA TOP-KHAJJIAR DISTANCE 121/2 KM TIME 4-5 HOURS LEVEL EASY
There are two options from the Kala Top Rest House to Khajjiar.
Follow the charming bridle path managed by the Forest Department from the rest house to Khajjar. This gradual descent of 11 km takes about 3 hrs, heading south-east through a thick and lovely forest of deodar, oak and rhododendron. Carry a picnic lunch and choose from the many charming spots for a lunch break.
Retrace the route to Alha, and follow the vehicle road that curls down south-east to Khajjiar. The last couple of kilometres are a sharp plunge down the forested slopes to the lush green meadow of Khajjiar with its little lake in the middle (shrinking with a growing silt load and vegetative growth in recent years). Once famous as a royal retreat for golfers and polo players, it was named the Switzerland of Himachal Pradesh by the Swiss envoy in 1992, becoming the 160th tourist spot in the world to be christened mini-Switzerland! Accommodation at Khajjiar includes a standard hotel of the state tourism corporation, a government rest house and a few private hotels.
KHAJJIAR-CHAMBA DISTANCE 10 KM TIME 3-4 HOURS LEVEL EASY
Follow the road going north-east to Chamba for about 2 km till Mayari Gala from where a broad bridle path goes down left (north-east). Mayari Gala is at a sharp right turn near a tea-shop. This steep bridle path passes through mixed forest of deodar and blue pine and a number of small hamlets. Chamba town, located on a plateau on the right bank of the Ravi, is visible from a considerable distance. The bridle path joins the motor road (Sach Road) near Sultanpur, which is 5 km from Chamba.
By Deepak Sanan and Minakshi Chaudhry
About the authors: Deepak Sanan is an IAS officer, Himachal Pradesh cadre, who has trekked extensively in the state. His writings include a book on exploring Kinnaur and Spiti, as well as numerous articles about Himachal in magazines and books.
Minakshi Chaudhry has trekked throughout Himachal over the last decade and authored two books: Exploring Pangi Himalaya: A World Beyonf Civillisation and A Guide to Trekking in Himachal. Her interest in studying nature and people’s lifestyle grew in Nigeria, West Africa, where sge spent her formative years. This was nurtured on her return to Himachal Pradesh where she travelled extensively as a correspondent of The Indian Express.