Leisurely afternoon at Khajjiar—a spot of Kashmir in Himachal
The Khajjiar ground reminded me of something familiar. Trudging towards the hotels it came to me—it was like a fairground; just like our small towns and villages where fairwallahs descend during the winter with their merry-go-rounds, occasional snake charmers, future-tellers, magicians and hordes of typical sellers of knick-knacks and transform an otherwise drab empty space overnight into a center of attraction for all people around with a pocket of color, noise and varied attractions.
The colorful inflatable contraption in front of us must have been quite attractive to children and the young. That’s what reminded me of a fairground.
Attractions for the young
But Khajjiar ground is no ordinary ground—it is by far one of the most beautiful grounds I had ever seen—its attractions lay not with the artificial attractions. A few of the specialties—the inflatable slide and the giant rolling balls looked not out of place in the midst of picture perfect nature all around. Most visitors relaxed on this natural stage—with only a few restless young tasting the novelties.
“Officially Khajjiar is called Mini-Switzerland,” my friend broke in, “It is recorded that long back, Governor of Switzerland on a visit to this place noted its similarity with Swiss natural scenes and labeled it as Mini-Switzerland. From then on the label has become official.”
“Through the ages people have shown a tendency of naming every other thing all over the globe, be it places or people, after their favorite entity. Brand has little real value—context is all important,” I couldn’t but say, “Comparison is a common tendency, but pointless.”
Leaving behind Swiss hangover we made a brief inspection of the hotels where we could get decent food and settled on an open air lunch option. We were not very hungry and quickly finished a light lunch. My friend went for the caretaker whose office was nearby, and I and Tukai moved slowly onto the soft carpet of grass.
A splash of color caught our eyes—a group of women, in highly colorful ornamental dresses accompanied by a tall gentleman stood together apparently waiting for a photoshoot.
The idea was a surprise to us. The man in business carried a trunk full of local ceremonial dresses that can be put on the normal clothing of women visitors changing them magically to colorful butterflies. As a proof of this pleasant transformation an instant group photo was taken and handed over to the happy ladies. We spotted this group just after the photoshoot. Approaching the group we found them to be a close-knit, modest and well-bred family and quickly became friends. It is a real pleasure to make friends with people in far off places while on the go.
Saying good bye to the family I looked at the opposite corner of the glade. Only a few hours ago our small red car entered through that place. Tomorrow again we will go out along that way.
Entry point to the ground
I found later the buildings to be a mix of hotels and government offices. The road that we would take tomorrow would continue to the right. We arrived from Dalhousie along the road from the left direction.
Business done, our man with dresses was packing his wares in his trunk; on the backdrop dense wall of trees looked dark—sun was behind them. Somewhere near the low building among the trees we would rest for the night.
Nearby on the slight rise lying left we spotted a very special tree. Trees are my favorites—always. This one made me joyous—what a tree!
Pancha Pandava and Draupadi
Distinctly identifiable six trunks went upwards enjoined together to a great height. Later I came to know the local name of this tree—predictably it is called Pancha Pandava—the five Pandavas from Mahabharata. And where Pandavas stand, Draupadi must be there—she is the sixth one. The original name of this country is still Bharat.
Moving up a little ahead we found my friend talking with another gentleman. That must be the office and the man must be the caretaker. The office didn’t look like an office at all. It must be having staying rooms with fire places to warm the rooms during snowing winter.
Rest house office
Lovely location—front open towards the grassy Khajjiar lake and tall trees at the back—nice. In no time my friend joined us, “I got the key.” We turned together towards the Khajjiar ground purposefully. In whatever time we had till sundown, we intended to cover as much of the ground as possible.
Slow and soothing
There was no hurry anywhere as far as eye could reach. This was no place for hurry. I found similar ambiance in Bhutan recently. When dense upright green trees cover tall mountains, white clouds float lazily overhead across the clear blue sky, nature and all in it tend to go slow and relax.
We went in—slowly meandered towards the lake at the center and beyond. Looking back from the middle of the ground, the hotel complex looked like downtown.
Center of activity
The area looked congested. It was but natural. An extended lunch period was still on. There, below the yellow orange striped canopy we took lunch.
“Look,” Tukai pointed to the floating glide excitedly.
“It’s your turn now.” Quickly I handed over the camera to him. He should be able to capture the landing. Twice I failed before. The paraglide not only moved in fast, but also veered sharply in its path.
Coming in to land
This time it was a young couple strapped on their seats and strongly holding on to the two portions from which the strings radiate upwards to the glider overhead—simple elegant construction. The glider moved fast, but Tukai was ready. He could finally get the landing well. “Well done,” I patted him.
Near the lake I experimented with the outer grey colored band around the bright green grass surrounding the lake. I was aware of the instability and planting my left foot firmly on hard ground gingerly placed my right foot on the grey patch. It gave way easily, so easily that I had to quickly withdraw my foot. “This part is very soft. You should avoid it,” warned my friend.
In front lay our honeymoon cottage at its lonely corner—a few visitors still around, but not for long; shadows already lengthening around it. As evening drew near, it would be left totally alone.
Honeymoon cottage getting lonelier
This was the back of the ground opposite to the well-populated areas. Not many people liked to venture this far out. They clustered near the parking stretch beyond which the forest paths went into the shades and vanished from view.
Forest paths leading out
The giant globes had been moved from their initial place near the corner cottage in the morning and were now resting. Perhaps their day’s job was over.
I looked close at the tall trees filling my view completely. Nothing else—only tall green trees. Pleasure.
Reaching the sky
The trees pulled me towards them. “I am going up on the road behind our cottage. Not for a long time though. I will be back soon.” I had to reassure my friends. My way separated. This I like most. Going alone. Nothing great in it— but you are now alone with the nature. No other human consciousness stands between.
Leaving the ground I took the short-cut using the stone steps and rose up to the road. Now with Khajjiar ground in front me behind the tall dense tree line, I stood alone.
A bird called from some distance—a clear call for its mate. I am no expert but still I could perceive. And true to my perception, its mate also answered after a few seconds. The second call came from a point much nearer. I switched on my audio recorder. In fact, I came up here alone among the trees after hearing these bird calls from the ground only.
With very little traffic on the road, there was hardly any interference. I stood still and listened. Time to time the silence was broken by one of my birds, and then the other one. By and by other birds started calling. I was thoroughly enjoying the orchestra. After some time, wanting to be nearer, I slowly walked towards the caller near me.
Over the years I met many people whose intense interest was in watching and capturing the little birds with their long canon-like zoom lenses. Somehow I never had that interest. I liked the sound—the birds are so small and restless it is quite a job to capture them. Much easier is to listen to them and enjoy, and if chance permits, to record their calls.
It is not easy for you to spot a bird perched high up in dense tree foliage, but the bird nevertheless can see you. Jim Corbett time and again tells us about the warning calls with which the birds announce the arrival of a tiger or other danger. It happened in the same way. My bird saw me approaching and with a loud call went off. I couldn’t see it, but its calls ceased.
Satisfied, I started my way back to join my friends. I had taken my bird friends with me.
The shadows on the ground already covered most of the ground. I found, during my absence Tukai could spot a mountain dove searching for food on the grass carpet. It preferred the cool and the cover of the shadows.
Later I could identify it to be an Oriental Turtle Dove courtesy Prashant Shrivastava in flickr.
We stood near the edge of the ground on the side of our cottage. A faint sound coming from the trees bordering the ground made me look up. The bright red and white shone through the dark green. The two horses led by their reigns trotted unhurriedly along the tree-lined path.
Horse and riders returning at day end
After the day’s ride, they were returning home, slowly. “Horse riding is another activity here that tourists love. There are many long trails in the forest on which you can ride on a horse for hours,” told my friend. No, I would rather walk, I thought to myself.
Tukai wanted the camera from me. He looked up towards the sky. The moon at dusk framed by the overhanging leaves of the pines.
The moon is up
The sun was not yet down, but most of the ground was in shadows by now. Many visitors had left, rest slowly moving towards their cars. Only a few, perhaps locals, were still on the shadow darkened grass.
Lingering sunrays on Khajjiar meadows
Along the length now I looked from the back of the ground towards the front, the center of activity throughout the day.
Lengthening shadows on Khajjiar meadows
Sprinkling of human figures now sparse dotted the view. By now most of the ground had been taken over by the shadows—the sun was going down on our left behind the tall tree line. People preferred the still existing patches of sunlight—that is human tendency. Usually we like to avoid darkness.
I turned my view towards the entry point that was sunny in the morning. Now it was in shadows.
Day end at Khajjiar
A few cars still were left parked. Some of these would be leaving soon. A few might yet remain through the night—some visitors might have decided to stay back.
Dusk at Khajjiar
It was dusk at Khajjiar, a day had ended, evening was about to drop its shroud. It was leaving time. Within an hour at most it will be dark and all the human figures would take shelter in their warm enclosures. Nature would again be left to itself.
Postscript: It rained and cold wind blew hard later in the evening. Our hotel friend somehow could reach us with packed food. Otherwise we would have had to go without food that night. The wind howled through the tree fronds. It was different from the sunny slow day. I tried to feel the corner cottage standing alone shaded by the dark wet trees.