A rendezvous with India’s Mini-Switzerland, Khajjiar, in Himachal is simply breathtaking.
“Often called India’s Switzerland, the exquisite glade of Khajjiar, 1960 m has a circumference of about 5 km. Along its fringes, thick forests of deodar climb the slopes, the snow-line rests above these woods…,” says the government run website, which intrigued and hooked me to this quaint and resplendent valley.
If you still don’t believe about the place being known as the ‘Switzerland of India’, read this: “Khajjiar was bestowed with the title of Mini Switzerland in 1992 by Wiily Blazer, Vice Chancellor and Head of Chancery of Switzerland. Khajjiar is one of the 160 places in the world that bear tropical resemblance to Switzerland.”
Still not heard of Khajjiar?
Khajjiar is tucked away in one of Himachal’s most northern fringes of Dhauladhar circuit, away from the squalor of cities and untamed urbanization. Not many tourists are aware of this valley. Usual crowd heading to Himachal would go to the done-to-death ‘Shimla—Kullu-Manali’ route. But if you want something different and quiet, you should head to the Dhauladhar circuit. The nearest commercial town to Khajjiar is Pathankot, but that’s more than 100 kms away. Pathankot is also the nearest railway head if one wants to reach Khajjiar from New Delhi.
Hence, I decided to plan our journey to Khajjiar through a combination of railway and road trips. We took the Dhauladhar express from Old Delhi railway station. The train departs at 7.30 pm and arrives at Pathankot railway station next day at 8.20 am. Quite interestingly, we had to struggle our way through Delhi’s maddening traffic to catch this train. We caught hold of the train by a whisker. The moment we reached Old Delhi railway station, it was already 7.15 pm and we had to just rush our way through the crowd to the platform.
However, after we stepped onto the train, we actually thought, our trip to Khajjiar is still on. The train was surprisingly on time and we arrived at Pathankot for our onward journey to Khajjiar. We had arranged for a pick up through our hotel (Mini Swiss, Khajjiar); and as we stepped out of Pathankot station, we occupied the cab. Some friendly conversations ensued with the driver and in a moment, we could see the beginning of the hills.
After an hour’s drive, we stopped at a Dhaba (restaurant) for our refreshments and breakfast. We didn’t have much though – just a hot piping Aloo Parantha, dipped generously with butter – and a cup of tea. Zarak, our two year old had to have his mouthful as well and his mother generously helped him have his baby food. The uphill journey began to unveil gradually, as we curved our way through pine and deodar covered forests and ridges in the Himalayas.
After a drive of over 90 kms we realized, we have reached Dalhouise. We knew that this hill station was on our itinerary and hence we didn’t quite get down to hover around a bit. Our excitement was obviously palpable and we managed to hold on to it tightly. At 1.30 pm we arrived at our hotel in Khajjiar. Hotel Mini Swiss is not one of those three or four star hotels that packs in all amenities and facilities, but nonetheless provides a comfortable accommodation, with friendly staffs. It is one of the very few resorts in this area – Hotel Royal Residency and the government owned resort – being the other ones. A quick shower in the mildly cold waters, a cup of tea and we were ready to head to the majestic meadows of Khajjiar valley. The meadows were in fact a stone’s throw from our hotel and comes across as a pristine undulating landscape with a lake at the centre.
The meadows were surrounded by a sheath of deodar trees throughout and buzzing with activities (I was told this ground looks completely different and covered by snow in the winters). It was a bright sunny noon and quite expectedly, tourists have thronged this place from nearby state of Punjab, Delhi and far off places such as Kolkata and Tamil Nadu. One could stroll around this verdant landscape for hours, have food or snacks from hordes of roadside stalls or take a slow pony rides. We bargained for it and got a deal of Rs 200 for a roundabout trip of the meadows.
Mousumi, my wife, in the meantime, decided to take a stroll in the valley and managed to try her hands at our digital camera as well. And I must admit, she did manage to click few brilliant images.
The lake at the centre of this landscape looked quite dry and could have been managed well by the tourism department. It appeared bit scruffy. Tourism plays a vital role in Himachal’s economy. It is one of the three major mainstays for the state’s gross domestic product, the first two being hydro-power and horticulture. It has been contributing approximately 9.75 percent to the state’s GDP.
Incidentally, the state has received this year a financial assistance of Rs. 600 crores from Asian Development Bank for upliftment of the tourism infrastructure. I wonder when this money will get reflected sprucing up the popular tourist circuits such as this.
Nonetheless, we spent a good two – three hours here and enjoyed the sun, breathed in the fresh air and experienced the mist and the clouds. We gave another activity – zorbing – a miss though.
Next day, we headed to the heart of Chamba valley. The town, at a distance of 26 km from Khajjiar, has a brisk population and we could see exciting people in the festive mood. It was Dusherra and locals were seen gathering in large numbers in the main market ground.
However, we parked our cab, got down, and went around the town. Our first disappointment – the Museum was closed as it was Dusherra; dejected we went around strolling to see the Lakshmi Narayan temple. It looked quite resplendent, and we did manage to click few images capturing its architectural magnificence. There were few steady tourists around and they chatted blithely, taking selfies.
We began our day next, early with a quick breakfast and headed for the trekking point in Khajjiar. The trek was marked distinctly and by the time we reached, we could see a bevy of tourists already lined up for the trek. The trek was a sharp 4 km up hill and we joined in our excitement to reach the peak. All the hard work and efforts paid off when we got to see the view of the nearby hills and forest cover from atop the misty and cloudy peak.
Done with our adventure and achievement, we headed straight to the historical town of Dalhousie. The town had an insane old world charm to it – the post office, church, schools and the ambience was magical. The weather was brilliant to say the least. It seemed, we are walking on the clouds. We got down at the chowk and took a stroll sampling a dish of locally made Momos.
A walk down little further and we spotted Sunil. He is the town’s most popular ‘two wheeler restaurant’. If you have been to Dalhousie, chances are you may have come across Sunil. He can be easily seen selling fast food items at a brisk pace to tourists near the Dalhousie chowk. He usually sells omlette, french toast and hot piping noodles in his humble mobile scooter. He doesn’t have a printed menu, unlike a physical restaurant. All his food items are named in the body of his yellow scooter. He proudly flaunts a framed article of his interview given to a popular Hindi newspaper.
Sunil was surrounded by customers, when we caught hold of him. How long have you been selling here, I asked, curiously?
“20 years,” pat comes his reply. In Dalhousie, you can also spend time and shop at the local Tibetian market and visit the Church.
Khajjiar is connected by road and is 520 km from New Delhi. It is 120 km from Pathankot, which is the nearest railway station and 23 km from Dalhousie. The nearest airport at Gaggal in Kangra is 180 km away. Taxis and buses are available from all these places. (Source: HPTDC website)
Amit is a travel blogger, photographer and an avid traveller. He tweets at @lifeon140 and based out of New Delhi.