Dusk at Dalhousie—a jewel in the Himachal hills
We had arrived from Kolkata two days ago. My friend made plans for me and Tukai to enjoy the Himachal hills along with our stay at his Jammu house. I had heard lots about Dalhousie. It still is one of the renowned old-time hill stations in the Himalayas. Though my friend spent many years in Jammu, it had been more than a decade now he moved over to Himachal on work. His weakness for Himachal was apparent, to which I also became a party.
In Jammu and Kashmir Himalayas, Kashmir is one famous tourist place, but Himachal is all dotted over with many popularly known and not so well known tourist spots of great natural beauty. Overall on the basis of variety, Himachal was favored. And which place should be the first? It was easy to decide—Dalhousie was still considered a prime hill station in India.
We started after breakfast from Jammu towards Dalhousie. We would have to travel along this national highway 1A a number of times in near future. We could maintain a good speed through the plains of Jammu and Kashmir. First halt would be at Kathua from where we would turn north towards the hills and Dalhousie.
Though we were not conventional tourists, we looked forward to our first destination Dalhousie where we would stay back for three days and then my friend would take a break from his work and join us at Dalhousie for the next part of our trip. Me and Tukai would be on our own for two clear days at Dalhousie before bidding goodbye to it.
As the car sped across the plains we looked out to the ripe golden crops swaying on both sides of the road. This was harvesting time. Shortly harvesting will start. But now stalks full of grains filled our vision.
At home we live amongst a forest of brick and mortar. Here the open fields made us happy and want to stop the car. It always feels nice to stop on a road cutting across open nature and walk around awhile in it. I went down for a short walk into the golden stalks.
The narrow path curved left to the village hidden in the clump of trees. This is our countryside, typical. The area type being Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, the crop most probably was wheat or bajra. Good thing about these croplands—you could walk easily inside if you wish. Back home we are used to rice fields which are not so easy to negotiate.
But leaving aside the ease of walking in, these fields, be it wheat or rice, never fail to stop me in my tracks with their quiet deep charm. To feel this charm you would have to go down to the level of the stalks and sit amongst them for a few minutes.
Turning back I joined my friends. Straight ahead lay the road through two rows of overhanging mango trees on the two sides. I call this a mango avenue—another of my favorites on the Indian roads.
After we crossed the avenue, scenery changed. Low hills came into view. The first hills always create a sense of excitement.
Far away from the bed of river Ravi rose low hills. This is Ravi valley. It was inhabited as it should be. Most civilizations started along a valley. The wide expanse of the spot where we stopped gradually went down to the valley. The flowers reminded us of home. These wayside flowers are spread all over our country.
Surprised flower buds
The buds must have been very surprised to be photographed first time in their short life. But that’s Tukai.
The road moved straight ahead rising slowly, with Ravi valley accompanying us on the left. A little ahead the valley narrowed and the river came nearer. The road still moved straight. But this can’t go on indefinitely. We had to rise to an altitude of about 6500 feet. The valley had no other option than to get narrower as the river rose.
Suddenly with a cry of surprise we stopped the car. Ravi had surprised us with a sharp bend to the left. Looking down we had to acknowledge it as a blue beauty.
Blue beauty, river Ravi
The color of the water bore the stamp of permanent ice high in the mountains. Ravi is a proud perennial river. Looking up, the spectacular horseshoe turn greeted me.
Horse-shoe turn, river Ravi
You may understand a river flowing straight down, but it takes a while to absorb the complexity of the events and circumstances that brought in this unnatural shape. This I call—nature’s will. All in all, this will is what keeps life interesting.
We moved on and up the bare hills. Now I knew why I all but forgot the road to Dalhousie. In early April it was barebones rocky hills practically devoid of any noticeable green tree cover.
The road hugged the hills and rose. All along the path rose the river. Time to time the river vanished from sight, again appearing a few minutes later. A rare wide patch on the river bed had attracted the farmers. It looked picturesque.
This was a special mountain road, not like others. Take for example the road to Darjeeling. The way twists and turns and rises all the time. The view changes every few seconds. That is the usual Indian mountain road. Locally we call this a ghat road.
Today we were not on such a usual Indian mountain road. Turns were few, the road mostly rose on straight stretches. All around it was drab grey. Hillsides were covered with shrubbery. Occasionally, the bare bones hills were dotted at the top with a few stick like trees further accentuating the bareness. The uncared-for wayside flowerbed somehow saved the day for Tukai.
Wayside flower bed
We decided against any further halt. It was hunger call. The car passed through lower Dalhousie which was clean and neat, and quickly reached the upper Dalhousie. It rolled forward on level road, went down a bit at a fork, and at last, there beckoned our hotel. Room was fixed beforehand by my friend from Jammu. We finalized our lunch order and retreated to our room.
Now I felt tired and cold—without much heed we had risen quickly from the hot plains to about 6500 feet.
After lunch I retreated further inside the quilt. Tukai pulled me up, pushed me out and we boarded the car again. Some amount of daytime was still left.
As the car moved slowly on the narrow level road on the Dalhousie mountain top I wanted to move a bit away from the main town into trees. That we found after a short walk from a point where we parked the car. It was in a way outskirts of Dalhousie town.
The hillsides were dotted with signs of habitation. The place was good—full of greenery and generally level. Now the streams were all dry, but water supply would come not from natural streams but from civic water supply system—the perennial river Ravi still lay on one side, though a few thousand feet below.
While I was with the green hillsides far away, Tukai focused his attention nearby. The day was near its end and light weak. I liked his attempt to capture the play of golden light on lime green young fronds.
Play of light on lime green fronds
Tukai looked up and asked, “Where is the snow view?” It was a desire natural to him. I knew little about Dalhousie except that it was an old renowned hill station. I asked a gentleman passing by. It turned out that the road running one level up near our hotel was one of the main roads and from there only we could have snow view.
We turned back and left the car a little before our hotel. Dalhousie was built for walking leisurely, and not for zooming about riding in modern day demons called cars.
Truly there was a snow view, though far away and looking small and weak.
Dalhousie at deay end
For me it was no disappointment—in my long life, I had seen some great snow views of Himalayas. Tukai also seemed to be unaffected. We turned and walked on, crossed the fork going down to our hotel and stopped together.
Now we liked the view. The old trees lend a lot of charm to Dalhousie and we both are fond of old trees. At this moment the grandeur of the trees could only be felt in fading low light, not seen. From tomorrow onwards we would see them in full glory. I felt happy.
First day sunset
A bit of slow walk helped us adjust to the surroundings. Now we felt comfortable and were in no hurry to return. At least till the daylight remained. Tukai not only looks near at his feet but also looks up to the sky time to time.
Dusk at Dalhousie
It was dusk at Dalhousie. Tomorrow we would hopefully wake up to a brightly lit morning.
Author’s Note: This was a trip from Kolkata to Jammu where we had about 12 days. We went from Jammu by car to Dalhousie first. That was our prime destination. From Dalhousie my friend picked us up for Khajjiar for a one night halt. From Khajjiar we returned back to Jammu via Jot pass.
Later we made a short visit to Dharamsala and then ended the whole trip with Patnitop. Except Patnitop all the places were in beautiful Himachal.
Memories of those days come back to me vividly with scenes of tall mountains covered with high altitude trees, winding ghat roads along the hillside, down below occasional thin silver streak of a river flowing through the green valleys and glimpses of majestic Himalayan snow peaks.