In the month of October of 1977 my wife and I decided to take in Chamba and its surroundings. Chamba is in the Himachal on the banks of Ravi, one of the famed five rivers of Punjab and a tributary of the Indus. Situated at a height of a little more than 3000 ft. it has a very friendly and pleasant climate, more so because we happened to be there in October. The monsoons had withdrawn and the place was green with clear blue skies and one could hear the River, rejuvenated and roaring, making its way down to the plains.
Chamba is a historical place and finds mention in ancient texts. Its kingdom changed many hands. The district was well protected by the high Himalayas and many of its temples have survived, some of them that are more than 1000 years old have living deities and are being used for worship till today. It is a temple town with numerous important temples. The Laxmi Narayan temple is the most visited. It has that typical Chamba architecture with wooden chhatries topped by shikharas. We visited it but unfortunately did not take a shot
Chamba, like all hill capitals, has a large ground where people come and perambulate or just hang around. We too did so sitting out in the sun and could watch the distant landscape of greenery and buildings – some modern, some historical. It was a pleasure doing nothing in the warmth of the sun.
Chamba also is known for its style of painting that originated in the 18th Century during the reign of one Raj Singh, one of the popular rulers of Chamba. The Guler-Chamba style of painting evolved and flourished during his reign. Drawing from nature as also from the Hindu epics they were greatly influenced by the Mughals and found expression in murals and miniatures.
While in Chamba we took a day trip to a place called Khajjiyar, a place that was highly recommended by friends. The three-hour painful journey in a ramshackle bus over a very bad road was tiresome. At places the road was so narrow that while negotiating a hairpin bend one of the rear wheels would go out and away from the road and get suspended in thin air over a thousand feet of fall. The driver was remarkable in his composure and took the passengers safely to more than 6000 ft. high hill station of Khajjiyar.
All the tiredness and anxiety of the fearsome journey disappeared as we saw the green meadows surrounded by deep green thick forests of Khajjiyar. The place had very little construction and that too at the far end from where we gor off the bus. The meadows presented the classical picture-postcard scene of sheep and horses grazing on the sumptuous grass. It reminded me of my first view of Gulmarg in the summer of 1957 as my elder brother and I climbed up from Tangmarg and got the glimpse from the spur of a range of the green meadows down below where horses were busy grazing. In the middle of the meadow of Khajjiyar there was a small pond which had some water, fed as it is by a few streams.
Khajjiyar presented a fabulous view. The entire meadow was flooded by a sharp and bright sunshine that evidently I could not capture properly in the camera. The photographs, nonetheless, do give an idea of how beautiful the place is. The cold at 6000 ft in October was neutralized by the heat of the sun. It is said that the Ambassador of Switzerland once visited Khajjiyar and named it Mini Switzerland. Having spent about 8 weeks Switzerland I think Khajjiyar (as also Kashmir) has a raw natural beauty which one finds but rarely in Switzerland.
After spending an hour or two we were back on the bus for the treacherous journey to Chamba.
Dalhousie is another hill station in the district of Chamba, approachable from Pathankot. It is also situated at an elevation of more than 6000 ft. Established in 1854 as a summer resort it was named after Lord Dalhousie who was at that time the British Governor General of India.
We took a train from Chandigarh for Pathankot Two of our friends equipped us with wind-cheaters and sleeping bags as, they said, it would be cold. It was indeed very cold and but for these equipments we would have been hard put to bear the weather.
Situated on and around five hills, it has beautiful walks that offer spectacular views. A road that is most frequented is the one that makes the figure ‘8’ going round two hills. That is where one finds conifers in thick and dense growth. After a good and long walk it was pleasure to sit out on the side of the road in front of a tea/coffee shop. The place was run by, presumably, an Anglo-Indian who had maintained the ambiance of good looking joint you find in Europe. He made delicious Darjeeling tea that went down well with home-made pastries.
Dalhousie appeared to me to have retained till then the old colonial flavour. It was a very attractive town. Now, one understands, there are 600 hotels and home-stays to cater to the hordes that assemble there. Good that we made it to Dalhousie when it was still nice and quiet.