Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Dalhousie



As a hill station, Dalhousie is something that really does not make you go ga ga over it. It does not have the exotic charm of a Dharamshala, nor the sheer majestic grandeur of Darjeeling.Nor does it have a picturesque lake like Nainital, nor unlike Ooty or Kashmir it is a popular movie location. But if you are idea of a vacation is just lazing around, taking leisurel walks, watching the sun set and being totally laid back, Dalhousie is the best place for sure. In a way Dalhouse is some what like Yercaud or Ranikhet, leisurely laidback places, which have often been overshadowed by their more glam cousins Ooty and Nainital. My visit to Dalhousie was way back in 2001, when my sister was in Pathankot. Apart from the fact that it has an army cantonment, Pathankot is like any other dusty, small town, one comes across in Punjab. But lying right next to the Himachal Pradesh border, makes this a popular starting point for people wanting to hit the Chamba area of Himachal Pradesh. Chamba is one of the oldest Indian kingdoms, and is the heartland of the Pahari culture. This district is located on the western edge of the Dhauladhar mountain range in the Himalayas, and that is where Dalhousie lies too.

Dalhousie was founded in 1851 when the British acquired 5 hills from the then ruler of the Chamba State, to establish a sanatorium here. The 5 hills of Kathalagarh, Potreyn, Terah, Bhakrota and Bhangora are what make up this hill station. Named after the then British Governor, Lord Dalhousie, it was a part of the Punjab under British rule, and after the reorganization of states, it became part of Himachal Pradesh. Dalhousie has quite a long association with the freedom movement too. Subash Chandra Bose spent his days in exile here, as did Mahatma Gandhi for some time. Rabindranath Tagore was inspired by the serene beauty of the place to write some wonderful poems, and Ajit Singh, the uncle of the legendary freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, spent his last days here.

From Pathankot as you hit the road, you cross the border and enter Himachal. One of the signs that greets you here is "Devbhoomi-Land of the Gods". Well looking at the natural beauty of the place one can imagine so. Alas along the way i was witness to progress particularly in the lower ranges of the hills. Most of the hills had been exploited, by the timber mafia and many looked bare. And yes more signs of progress as ugly concrete structures, usually resorts or hotels, perched precariously. And yes the ultimate sign of progress, a car full of loud people, blaring even louder songs. Anyway as you hit Dalhousie, you see the town, nestled serenely among the Dhauladhar ranges. With its lush pine trees, and the towering peaks of the Himalayas surrounding it, Dalhousie is one of the most beautiful places for sure. As i had said before it does not have any specific tourist attraction, but if you just want to watch the sunset and smell the flowers, this is the best place for sure.

The best way to enjoy Dalhousie would be to book into a hotel which is not too expensive. You do have good number of cottages available there. And then walk around the town. The place is quite warm during the day time, so you can explore a large part of the town. Like most other hill stations in the North, life in Dalhousie revolves around the Malls( not to be confused with those ugly concrete monstrosities in our metros). Though not as popular as the Shimla or Nainital Mall, Dalhousie Malls have their own charm too. The malls along the Moti Tibba and Potreyn Hills are a tourist hotspot. Both these areas are quite flat and not too steep, making it easy to navigate. This is where the hotels, restaurants and tourist spots are. Gandhi Chowk and Subash Chowk are more like open public areas, named in honor of the two leaders. Gandhi Chowk is also referred to as the GPO, because of the post office here. This area is where one can go for shopping in areas like Upper Bazaar, Sadar Bazaar and the Tibetan market. I would recommend the different Himachal Pradesh knick knacks and curio items.

But if you are looking for some really scenic views, i would recommend you walk a bit up to the Upper Bakrota area which is nearly a 1000 ft above the Gandhi Chowk. This area has a school and some army barracks also. Dayan Kund is the place from where you get some really excellent views. On the south west we have the Kalatop spur, and far away in the distance lie the Siwalik ranges. If you are lucky and the weather is really clear, you can see the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej rivers in the distance. The best view lies in the North and North East directions, where you can watch the towering peaks of the Himalayas. That is where one sees the Pangi range, which comes in the middle Himalayas, with most of the peaks stretching from 18,000 to 19,000 feet. Even if you are not too familiar with all the Himalayan peaks, i still suggest you spend time here. Just lie back, watch the peaks towering, and the sun casting its golden hue, simply magical. As i had said earlier, the Alps might be picture post card pretty, but for sheer breathtaking grandeur nothing to beat the Himalayas.

Panchpula or 5 Bridges is a popular tourist and picnic spot close to Dalhousie. This place is from where Dalhousie gets it's water supply. One interesting area is where 5 streams meet at a point, which has a monument for Shahid Ajit Singh, the uncle of Bhagat Singh. This was the spot where he breathed his last. Like most of the hill stations, Dalhousie has a fair number of churches too, the St.Johns Church being the oldest. Dalhousie is also the site for a large number of Satsangs, the Radha Saomi one being the most prominent. The more adventurous can use Dalhousie as a base camp for the treks to Kalatop and Khajjiar, unfortunately two places which i had missed out. So if you are looking for a leisurely laid back vacation, Dalhousie is one of the best places for sure. The nearest point is Pathankot Railway Jn, which is connected by Rail to most of the cities in India. The best way to spend time here is to laze, walk around and have a look at the Tibetan Handicrafts. And yes the best way to get along is to ask the locals, many of them are really helpful and friendly.

No comments: