A Visit to Dalhousie
UA Satish finds it refreshing to walk by the forests of pine, oak and cedar trees
We travelled by train till Chakki Bank railway station. It is on the Delhi-Jammu line, near Pathankhot. From there, we hired a taxi. The air became cooler as we climbed up the hilly route to Dalhousie. The journey took about 2 hours 30 minutes (85km). Dalhousie is like most hill stations in India. There is a cluster of buildings and shops at the centre of the hill town. Houses are built on the slopes with a structure of long stilts (mostly of concrete). In winter time, the number of visitors comes down and many of the migrant workers move out to the plains. We could see a small temple down below, among the trees. We decided to walk down to it. It was comfortable going down. But the climb up to our hotel was a bit tough.
St. John’s Church was built by the British. It has been maintained in good condition. Regular services are being conducted. The priest allowed us to go inside and see the interior of the church. It is a neat little church with rows of benches for the faithful. Built in 1863, it is located in the crowded Gandhi Chowk area. There are stained glass windows which are beautiful. They are likely to be from British times. I found a blue Agapanthus flower (African lily) by the roadside in Dalhousie. It is a lovely flower with strong stems and large heads. I had not seen it before. May be it grows only in cool climates.
The roads in Himachal Pradesh are good. Border Roads Organisation maintains many of them. Traffic was not heavy. I noticed a number of army vehicles on the road. Dalhousie is not far from the international border. The terrain in Dalhousie is hilly. Terraced cultivation has to be used on the slopes. Apples are grown widely. Himachal Pradesh has earned fame as the Apple State. Other fruits produced in Himachal Pradesh include plum, peach, apricot, strawberry, litchi, guava and orange.
Driving on these roads is a highly skilled job. The roads are cut on the mountain slopes. There is often a sheer drop on the other side. Passing another car on the narrow and winding roads is not without risks. The road shown above is at a height of 10,000 feet.
Khajjiar is a scenic area near Dalhousie. There is a beautiful glade with tall Himalayan cedars along the periphery. It has a circumference of five kilometres. A lake can be seen in the middle which is fed by brooks running through the glade. Horse riding is a favourite activity of visitors to Khajjiar.
Kalatope is an animal sanctuary, 6 km from Dalhousie. There are dense forests of cedars and pine. An entry fee has to be paid. The area is clean and pollution free. Inside there is a 3km stretch which leads to the jungle rest house. We covered part of the route on foot. Although it is an animal sanctuary, we did not come across any animal. The place is free of noise pollution. It was refreshing to walk by the forests of pine, oak and cedar trees. There is a rest house inside the forest. It is a quaint cottage set in a picturesque location. There are big trees around it with a lawn in front. There are well laid out trekking paths in Kalatope. The sanctuary is supposed to have wild animals including bears, jackals and leopards. But their population may be small.
Jot Pass is at a height of 8,600 feet. It is 70 km from Pathankhot. In summer months, families move from the plains to Jot Pass. They come in search of pastures for their cows. Himachal Pradesh means Land of Snowy Mountains. The state is in Outer Himalayas. Snow covered Himalayan peaks can be seen in the distance. On a clear day you can see Lahore across the border.
Kathmandu: Of temples, casinos & ‘buff-meat’
Dr Manjul Pande Parvez, Assoc. Prof. in Psy (Retd), recounts a recent trip to Nepal
One day while talking about the Bob Seger’s song “ I am going to Kathmandu” we suddenly realized that having lived all our life in Lucknow we hadn’t seen Nepal, our nearest neighbouring country! Matters were soon rectified. Air tickets and hotel were booked quickly enough. We embarked on our journey one fine April morning. The flight from New Delhi to Kathmandu was eventless except for one disappointment-there was no view of the gorgeous Himalayas from our window seats! It was clouds all the way. As per our American friend’s advice we had booked a hotel in Thamel in Kathmandu. We took a prepaid taxi ride to our hotel, approaching it with trepidation lest it turns out to be dirty and seedy. As we entered our hotel we noticed the floor and the corridors which were very clean. The bed linen was white and spotless as also the walls of the room! It was such a relief! The electricity supply was available only for half the day for most of the town. We registered ourselves, and after the welcome pot of tea went out to explore. Thamel is supposed to be a haven for tourists as it has innumerable hotels, restaurants and shops for everything. A more glorious version of Paharganj in Delhi since Thamel is bigger, cleaner and more international! We preferred it too, to far- flung places with more renowned names in hotels because Tamel was an easy walk from anywhere in central Kathmandu. While walking around the Thamel area we came across an intriguing name- The Garden of Dreams! An alluring name that conjures up images of exotic well designed landscapes, quietly flowing streams, rows upon rows of flowers, tiered fountains , lush lawns, lots of love seats etc. Well the Garden of Dreams in Kathmandu had none of these elements. Fairly small and overcrowded with a high entrance fee (Rs 200/- per person including Indians), it offers little in the name of a garden. Next morning we walked up to the Kathmandu’s Darbar Square. Listed as a Cultural World Heritage site by UNESCO, also called Hanuman Dhoka, is a cluster of ancient temples, palaces, courtyards and streets that date back to the 12th centuryand houses the two museums. It has an entrance fee of Rs 100 from members of the SAARC. A walk around the complex revealed several major attractions like the impressive Taleju Temple, Jagannath Temple where exquisite wood-carvings embellish the doors, windows and roof struts. Mul Chowk, is barred to visitors and hence generates a lot of interest in the visitors who were seen peeping in. Vilas Temple is a magnificently carved three-stories building The large three-storied Manju Deval on its unusually high stepped base seems to dominate Durbar Square. Kumari Bahal is the house of the Living Goddess. It looks like a monastery. The young girl who is selected to be the town's living goddess, is supposed to live there but it wasn’t so when we saw it! Immediately outside the temple complex were a lot of places selling various snacks dominated by the non-vegetarian stuff. We learnt a new word “ buff meat” very popular in Nepal meaning buffalo meat! The walk back to the hotel was quite interesting. The streets were adorned with statues of various gods and sometimes a real treasure could be spotted. Tired after the day’s excursion, we decided to have an early dinner. We stopped at a quaint looking house with a courtyard with tables and chairs set around. It was a restaurant run by a westerner specializing in Nepalese cuisine! We had a most wonderful vegetarian pizza like Nepalese dish called Chatamari. For the next day we had booked the hotel taxi to take us to the nearest hill station Nagarkot-just 32km from Kathmandu, on a ridge facing one of the broadest possible views of the Himalaya. Here Many hotels were damaged in the 2015 earthquake and the debris is still lying around. We were in for a disappointment. The mountain range had disappeared behind thick clouds and not a peak was visible. A sad tale of many a scenic spot! On the way back we visited the famous Changu Narain (Vishnu) temple, a climb of several stairs. The temple is believed to have been constructed in the 4th century. The last spot on this trip was the visit to the town of Patan which also boasts a Durbar Square full of temples, statues, and palaces and Patan Museum. It is a traditional center of handicrafts. It seems that the 2015 earthquake not only destroyed many temples here but also shattered the peace of this area. The government gave permission to all the neighbouring villages to ride through the complex and hence it has become a thoroughfare. One had to dodge a whole sea of two wheelers within the complex itself! It not only added the nuisance value but also created a lot of noise and needless rush in the complex! But the place was impressive! Most buildings were typically Nepalese in architecture, high and made of black wood so they stood stark against the sky and had an aura of mystery, authority, and spiritualism! There was a huge bell dated 1737 and is still rung once a year. The Shankar Narayan temple, with kneeling stone elephants in front, the Krishna temple with amazing stonework, the Garuda on the pillar with eyes of crystal were some major attractions’ Next day we took the hotel taxi . Our tour began with a visit to the famous Buddhist temple and Unesco World Heritage Site of Swayambhunath. Soaring above the city on a lofty hilltop, it is a fascinating, chaotic jumble of Buddhist and Hindu iconography. Climbing up to Swayambhunath, with ancient carvings jammed into every spare inch of space and the smell of incense and butter lamps hanging heavy in the air is a heady experience. The compound is centered on a gleaming white stupa, painted with the eyes of the Buddha topped by a gilded spire. It also offers a fantastic view of the city! The next place on our itinerary was The Bhaktapur Durbar Square. The complex consisted of four distinct squares. It is a conglomeration of pagoda and shikhara-style temples, mostly dedicated to Hindu gods and goddesses grouped around a 55-window palace of brick and wood. The golden effigies of the kings perched on the top of stone monoliths, the guardian deities looking out from their sanctuaries, there are several wood carvings in every place. Pashupatinath Temple was the next stop. This temple complex is an UNESCO World Heritage. An ill-timed visit since it was in the afternoon, the viewing of the deity was not possible before 5 pm. Nevertheless we took a look round within the complex -it’s a huge compound and has hundreds of smaller temples. The two storied pagoda style main temple roof is made of copper and is covered with gold. The temple is richly decorated with wooden sculptures and the most astonishing decoration of the temple is the huge statue of Nandi. Shiva is considered the patron of animals and all living organisms, monkeys , goats, dogs and sheep have a free license to roam around the complex all with their droppings etc. The Buddhist stupa of Boudhanath dominates the skyline; it is one of the largest stupas in the world and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. Surrounding area has a most popular market for household items. Kathmandu is also known for its casinos so we visited one- the Mah Jong at Hotel Soaltee. There were several gaming tables, poker rooms, slot machines, and a live performance better known as floor show! A sumptuous buffet was laid out! I tried my hand at the slot machines. Had the beginner’s luck but soon lost all that I had planned to play with. The Nepal sojourn had come to an end. The early next morning was our flight back home. The crowning glory of the trip was yet to come. From our window seat we were lucky to see one of the most glorious scenes of our lives-rows upon rows of scow covered peaks and expanses of snow fields golden and multihued in the early morning sun against the azure skies! We really felt blessed!