As you drive inside the forested area towards Khajjiar from Dalhousie, you can see glimpses of Pir Panjal peaks rising magnificently over the tall fir and pine treetops.
The morning gleamed over snow patches and blinked through the lush of the forest. My fingers numb, I couldn’t do any justice to the photographer in me, desperate to capture the ambience. We stopped once at a sunny curve and spotted two pheasants (or Monal) in the bushes- who ran inside in a second, leaving us feeling helpless at being humans who scare fellow beings.
Make no mistake, the curvaceous roads are very demanding on the body and mind. Cold doesn’t make it better. But since you’re constantly dazed by the view, one us able to survive everything else. As we reached Khajjiar, my gape only increased at the sheer clarity of sunlight, contrasting blue sky and thick tree cover around the bowl shaped clearing.
Usual touristy calls beckoned. Paragliding is a thing here but wind wasn’t good enough that morning.
After having our fill of the sun we start returning and stop midway at Kalatop wildlife sanctuary. They said its a 4 km hike. With an uncertain mind we entered the area.
As usual, the mandatory guide was loud enough to scare away all the birds. The walk was easy, with level ground. Sunlight was elusive but the track smelled sharp and refreshing with the scent of pine wafting through.
And perhaps other herbs which i don’t know about. Still, silent, reverberating with chirps and your own footsteps, forest walks are often meditative. Compared to my previous, novice experiences in forests of Bihar, MP and one in Kashmir, this was a different feeling, primarily because of the altitude and stark change of flora.
Of course, snow capped peaks are an icing (no pun intended). Reaching the end we see a beautiful wooden British era guest house and the site where the movie “Lootera” was shot. The film crew claims wading through knee deep snow, but we have an unlucky warm year this time.
Someone said in their travelogue, nothing is worse on Himalayan travels than bad company. True feelings. While I was overwhelmed by nature as usual, my haughty company decided to tell me the futility of writing at a time when you have pictures and insta media. Already agitated with this person’s average- middle class- right wing- patriarchal- half baked- superficial views on other stuff, I decided to snob him for the rest of the trip. Back to the forest, we had maggi and tea before heading back.
Just around the entrance of the sanctuary, there is “Lakkar (लक्कड़) Mandi”; a hamlet and market of wood sellers.
To our amazement, this small valley like area was covered in shadows and all the houses were wooden and laden with snow. And, no inhabitants. We were told they migrate in winters in search of work. As my husband probed and i observed, a picture evolved- segregation of low caste, working class people into a secluded geographical area. It is not new for us, but in hilly terrain, this means no sun in harsh winter months and potential to alter the quality of life significantly.
The excursion ends here and the long road back home beckons.
Dalhousie itself was average. Nothing much on offer in the main town square. I bought a local green chilly mash called “chukh” from khadi bhandar. Our stay was supposedly exotic but the rooms were cold and the bed uncomfortable. Food options do not offer much variety or local fare, over the usual North Indian fare.
Make an advance booking at the forest or PWD guest house if heading this way. If you are a nature, solace lover type then stay at Khajjiar at least for a night.