Surbhi Kapila and Maussion Margot
A Getaway into the Silence of Wilderness
Trek up a hill, amidst a thick cover of trees, or pass some quiet moments languishing on a sunny meadow, tailor your trip as you want. Spend laidback moments in the coziness of a cottage or get exploring the local culture and food; come discover Dalhousie and its neighbourhood in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh.
In corners of many a quaint hill stations, somewhere at the end of long, curvy alleys, behind dense cover of trees or in the middle of the bustle of a market, there stands a small church or temple housing the beliefs of the locales. In the St. Patrick’s church in Dalhousie, a hill station in the Chamba district of north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, visitors come in, pray, write down their wishes on bits of paper and surrender their trust in a small box. Located at Gandhi chowk, bustling with tourists and locals, who come to unwind at the cafes here, this church bounces all noise from the mall road and emanates only peace.
A few kilometres up, away from the trinkets-selling Tibetan shops, street food vendors, city cars and the litter they drop at this tourist hub, is an ancient temple. Mounted at the top of Dainkund peak, the highest peak in Dalhousie, at 2,755 metres, this temple reverberates the faith some other locals hold. Natives of this place come here to commemorate special occasions, celebrate with and pray to their almighty, goddess Pholani. It is common to see people walk in here with the beats of drums, expressing their faith and joy while dancing their way to this holy place painted in bright pink. A cultural feast for tourists, the sights and sounds of this place make for a rare experience.
A confluence of cultures and belief systems, like any other place on the diversified land of India, Dalhousie reflects a unification of ethnicities while holding tight some facets only it possess. From andscapes, mountain ranges, valleys and lakes to food, Dalhousie is different from its neighbouring hill stations in ways that might pump adrenaline to an adventurer’s heart or bring the laidback vacationers at peace. Come discover this place in the manner you prefer.
Trek through a valley of deodars
A thick cover of deodar or cedar forests border Dalhousie and give the hill station its unique landscape. In an ariel shot, the trees seem to be wrapping the entire place like a protective blanket, also demarcating it from other stations at lower altitudes. Deodars are known to be found in regions at high altitudes, and at 2,000 metres Dalhousie is one such destination in Himachal Pradesh where they flourish.
This trek into the wilderness of deodars begins from the base of the Aamod Resorts, a property perched at 2,200 metres, and finishes at the peak of Dainkund.
With the first step towards the trek, it feels like entering a scenic landscape that is right outside the window of the resort’s room but appears far away. Aamod Resort is just a few steps from the trek’s starting point, and expert trekkers from here guide their guests into the wilderness and silence of the jungle. The canopy that the deodars make here, lets the sunrays fall into the forest only partially, and even in the early hours of the day, evening seems to be setting in. The crunch of the leaves below the trekkers’ feet, their exasperations from the climb and the soft chirpings of birds hidden in the density of the forests, are the only sounds making for a euphony that the deodars might be familiar with, for they are all sounds of nature, made and lived only in the shelter of this far-flung paradise.
These environs are aloof and the deodars are used to this silence and austerity, for the rare gem they are, their cutting and distribution is illegal in India. “Although smugglers manage their way out,” sighs Gaurav Jain, managing director, Aamod Resorts. “But the forest department makes sure these practices are curbed. Whatever trees fall off naturally, are picked by the officials,” he says. The deodars hold much value in the market for all the good properties their wood has. A deodar jungle never catches fire, produces oxygen in abundance and their trees’ bark is a storehouse of medicinal agents and relief oils.
Into the silence of this wilderness, this trek is unperturbed by much human activity. On the way up, there is a small tea shop next to the owner’s house with only a family in the neighbourhood of trees. A little more further, at an altitude of 2,570 metres is a military area, which is the only brick and cement establishment in this home of nature. Dainkund peak is not too far from here, and the Pir Panjal range, which seems far away from the hotel’s window, is now closer to the eyes and to the heart.
Lay under the sun in a grassland
A meadow with a lake in the middle and rows of pine and deodar trees in the vicinity, as far as the sight goes, the Khajjiar valley in the Chamba district is just a drive down from Dalhousie. Teeming with tourists during the summer months when the plains are crippling inheat, this place is quiet and running at its own pace otherwise; and months other than May and June are recommended to those looking forward to a peaceful vacation.
The place can be best enjoyed by staying at the quaint cottage that is in one nook of the meadow and offers its residents an unhindered view of the entire meadow. With the calm sight of a cow grazing its day away, a horse ready to carry a rider, fun activity centres by its side and traditional food stalls at the other end of the meadow, the Khajji cottage, as it is called, makes for a rather humble but enchanting holiday abode. It is maintained by Himachal Tourism and a stay here can be prebooked.
Outside the cozy walls of this cottage or perhaps any other hotel in the neighbourhood, the chilly winds that blow across the meadow, sing a melody of the local culture of this place. There are children playing and youngsters strolling around. The kurtas and the handcrafted hats they are wearing, tell of their belongingness to this place. The food shacks that sell a more Indian version of Chinese food also have traditional food from Himachal Pradesh on their menu. Tourists can savour the madra, a delicacy of soaked red kidney beans or chickpeas prepared in a gravy of curd.
Savour traditional Himachali food
vour traditional Himachali food Dalhousie or Khajjiar do not have dishes born in their valleys; it is the traditional food from Himachal Pradesh that relished all across. While a visitor can try one of these at the food shacks in Khajjiar or at the Aamod Resorts in Dalhousie, nothing parallels a home-made preparation. A tasteful blend of locally available ingredients and age old recipes, these dishes are all loaded with desi ghee or clarified butter which keeps the body warm in the constantly chilly weather of this place, have a dominant hit of jaggery or tamarind, which is used intensively in the local preparations alongside sugar or dried mango powder.
In fact, the distinctive tangy and sweet taste is what makes the cuisine stand out from other Indian cuisines. Look forward to a plate full of lentils, meat and green leafy veggies, some of which, like the bichu buti or stinging nettle, is intensively grown in Himachal Pradesh and only a few more places.
This special catering is provided to the guests considering their interest towards the local culture and food. The staff at Aamod can organise special visits to local homes in a nearby village where tourists can get to experience not just some traditional food but also their culture and living practices. Mostly, the hosts are the staff at the resort and these excursions give more to a traveller than just a meal’s experience…a lifetime of memories and some new friends in a far away land.
How to reach
The nearest train station and airport is at Pathankot, a city in the neighbouring state of Punjab. Dalhousie is a three hour drive from there and it is recommended to pre-book a taxi.
Where to stay
The Aamod Resorts is a good option. Away from the cluster of other hotels in town, it is located in a naturerich neighbourhood with dense deodar forests all around and snow-capped mountain ranges in far sight. The resort was once a forest lodge and was rebuilt to host naturelovers and adventure seekers looking for a fine holiday.