It was time for my annual journey through Himachal. I love doing these once a year. This time I picked up Chamba – Dalhousie – Dharamshala sector. One rainy morning, I packed myself in the car and started from Shimla. It was an hectic journey across the length and breadth of Himachal to Dharamshala. This is a long drive of almost 8 hours covering a distance of 265 km. Drive from Shimla to Ghagas touching the Bilaspur border has become painful, because of the road widening work going on. It took 3 hours to reach Ghagas. Roads are in a complete mess till Bhararighat. The main bazaar at Darla is still full of potholes giving you a feel of zero gravity in the small car.
Once across, Ghagas, I expected better roads, Not so! The road is full of potholes till Ghumarvin. Road is better in stretches but then the potholes make you shift gears. Ghumarvin is a border town of Bilaspur and Hamirpur district and has grown up impressively since last time I had visited. As usual, the outer areas of the town are dotted with car and truck workshops. The bazaar is full of all kind of big showrooms. Signs of people’s growing purchasing power. Crossed Ghumarvin and next stop was Hamirpur. I was entering the CM’s area and hoped for better road but to my disappointment, the road was in the same condition. Roads are wider on this stretch making it easier for the two way traffic to move smoothly. Another drawback on this journey is absence of a proper stopover for lunch and resting. Buses from Shimla stop at Chamakri pul and Bhararighat before Ghagas but couldn’t find a decent stopover after Ghagas.
After crossing Bhota, found a small dhaba at the road bifurcating to the Baba Balak Nath temple. This dhaba is a bamboo shack with bare minimum furniture. The place smelled of freshly cooked food and offered tawa chapatis instead of the usual tandooris which I always avoid while driving. Gave myself a 30 minute break and tended to the car after lunch. All appeared to be fine. Zipped across Hamirpur. It was Sunday, so there was minimum traffic on road. Crossed Nadaun, Jwalaji and a small tea break at Kangra, Dharamshala looked just over the hills. Drive from Nadaun till Mataur, where one leaves the main highway for Dharamshala is a dream drive. The main bazaar at Jwalaji was crowded as ever and Kangra has a new bus stand. Quite immaculate!! Young ones at Kangra love driving there bikes and come pretty close while overtaking and even when coming from front. I was rattled at this sort of driving and reduced my speed from Kangra onwards. Road from Mataur to Dharamshala is better than the one I had traveled last. Still have potholes in places but drivable. Reached Dharamshala around 7 pm and simply crashed on the bed at my brother’s place.
Next morning, started my journey at 7 after a cup of tea and left for Chamba. I planned to travel via the Chamba Jot. Had breakfast after crossing Shahpur and left the highway and joined the shorter route to Lahru. This is a single road across the hills and forest and occasional small hamlets. The morning air had a feel of the chill and children going to schools gave me company till 9 am. Reached Lahru around 10 am. The road till Lahru is decent and one can touch 50 km in stretches given the hilly steep and blind curves. The sun was out by now and from Lahru it is a steep climb up till the Jot. In between passed the beautiful village of Chowari. This is at an ideal location just below the mighty Chamba Jot. The valley is open and gives a 360 degree view as you climb up the Jot. As I moved up, I could virtually feel like driving up in the clouds. 3 km before the Jot, a thick fog had come up. The air was lighter with loads of chill. I was looking forward to stop at the Jot and click a few pictures but it was a complete let-down once there. There are buildings on both side of the jot completely blocking the both side view! Didn’t stop at all and climbed down the other side into the Chamba valley. The descent is gradual and road in pretty good condition. One needs to keep a constant foot on the breaks. It took me around 45 minutes to reach Chamba from the Jot.
Chamba was quite a disappointment. The main bazaar is crowded and no place to park your vehicle. Looked for an old friend who runs a small hotel behind the Tehsil office. Left the car with him and went to explore the market. Chamba is famous for Chamba chappals and rumals, all local handicraft work. Found a good pair of chappals for Anu and after some aggressive bargaining bought one for 150/ Went over to the Laxmi Narayan Temple for darshans on top of the bazaar. Came back to the hotel and caught up with our lives over lunch with my friend.
I had earlier planned to stay at Chamba for the night but dropped the idea and left for Dalhousie. You travel across the same road as to jot and after 10 km there is a U turn to Khajjiar. There is no signboard at this place and in case you are not attentive, you may miss the turning and end up at the Jot!! Found out there are no signboards in Chamba town itself. Thanks to the motor mechanics on the outskirts, I was able to take the correct road who also had a good sense to warn me to look for a diversion ahead for Khajjiar as there was no signboard. The tourism deptt. have placed signboards everywhere in the state, how they left Chamba is beyond any reasoning.
Chamba to Khajjiar is a 40-45 minute drive. Being off season, found the place to myself. The sun was just settling behind the meadow. Amazing..amazing place sans the tourists. Being a Shimla wala.. couldn’t resist taking a walk around the meadow. A good 25 minute walk and after a cup of hot tea I started for Dalhousie. This stretch is part of the wild life sanctuary area and many of my friends have recalled their experience of sighting the leopard here. It was evening time, perfect for the bragh to come out on the prowl. I was almost reaching Lakkar Mandi with no sign of the elusive leopard. Suddenly about 15 meter ahead found a bear coming off the road and accompanying her (I guess she was the mother) were two baby bears, walking in tandem.It was an amazing sight, like two babies with their mom out on a stroll on the Mall. As I looked for the camera, the mother just glanced at me and moved down the road. I missed a great picture. Thanking my stars to let me see such a beautiful family, I drove off to Dalhousie a further 15 minutes drive. Passed through the impressive looking Dalhousie Public School. It has army written all over the building. Saw impressive looking Sardarjis, ex army types, taking a walk around. It was getting dark when I reached Dalhousie. Checked-in to the hotel, had soup for dinner and was lost in dreams around 9 pm after a hectic day.
Next morning, woke up at 6 am and went out for a walk. Dalhousie is spread across Subhash Chowk and Gandhi Chowk. From Subhash Chowk took a full circle on the Cart road and back to Subhash Chowk. Then took the pedestrian path to Gandhi Chowk. Found Gandhi Chowk all to myself at this time of the morning. Took the Mall road back to Subhash Chowk and then to the hotel. Dalhousie is a cantonment and army has maintained the character of this town. One of my ex army friend used to describe this place as “Dul-lousie” (Dull & lousy). I differ from his opinion though. It started raining when I reached back at the hotel and it was time for a short nap again. After breakfast left the hotel again at 11 am and went out to explore the area. Went to Punjpulla, which is a small picnic spot and further ahead found a resort nestled in the forests. This is known as the Peace Channel Resort. It offers good accommodation and above all the peace here is mesmerizing. Ideal place if you are looking for solitude and want to listen to the chirping of the birds and occasional roar of the leopard!! Dalhousie is a must visit place for Gujju travelers. Restaurants here serve Gujju food and Ahmedabad style Pao-Bhaji. Visited the three churches in town. It was 7 pm when I came back to the hotel. Ordered an early dinner and switched off the lights by 9 as planned to leave in the morning.