A quaint hill station in Himachal Pradesh is a perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life. Dalhousie in Chamba district fits in beautifully with this. It is located on the western edge of the Dhauladhar mountain range of the Lesser Himalayas. The Pir Panjal range of Himalayas is also visible from here on clear days. I had been yearning for a vacation in the hills of Himalayas for a while now and an opportunity to visit Dalhousie was not to be missed! We visited Dalhousie as part of a trip to Amritsar and Kangra Valley including Dharamshala and Palampur.
Dalhousie is named after Lord Dalhousie who was the Governor General of British India at the time when the town was established as a summer retreat for the British from the scorching heat of the plains of North India. It was annexed from the Sikh Empire by the British. It has been built on and around five hills called Kathalagh, Potreyn, Terah, Bakrota and Bhangora. It remained a part of Punjab after India gained independence until 1966 and serves as a gateway to the Chamba region of Himachal.
We took a car from Amritsar to Dalhousie and the journey took us around five hours excluding food breaks. Other options to reach here include taking a train till Pathankot in Northern Punjab followed by a two and a half hour journey by road or taking a flight till Gaggal in Kangra district of Himachal followed by a three-hour journey by road. The peak tourist season is from May to September. We visited Dalhousie in the last week of September. The days were pleasant and it rained on and off, making the nights cold. The clouds covered the skies at most times but we managed to get a glimpse of the snow-capped peaks of Pir Panjal range on a couple of days.
Grand View Hotel
Grand View Hotel is a unanimous choice to stay when in Dalhousie. The fact that this reasonably old hotel has managed to stay at the top position on tripadvisor with rave reviews for a long time says a lot about the service here. We stayed here for three nights and had a wonderful time. Our little one loved the place and was sad to leave at the end. Our room was located in the new block of the hotel though we might have liked to experience our stay in the heritage block. We did visit the Tiffins restaurant in the heritage block for our meals and loved the decor and ambience. The food was delicious and the buffet had a good mix of North Indian, South Indian and Continental cuisines.
The location of the hotel is great to admire the beautiful landscape of the surrounding area. On clear days it must be a treat to watch the snow-capped peaks from the garden or balconies of rooms here.
The trees around the garden are abundant with birds and it was a delight for us to sight so many species easily without having to walk much :)
Subhash Chowk is a square in Dalhousie named after the prominent freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. It houses a statue of Netaji and offers sweeping views of the valley behind it.
Netaji stayed for a few months in Dalhousie upon being released by the British when diagnosed with Tuberculosis. The fresh mountain air of Dalhousie and water from a freshwater spring from which he used to drink everyday during his walks called the Subhash Baoli now is believed to have cured him miraculously. Thus Dalhousie has a memorable connection with the great Netaji.
Named after Mahatma Gandhi, this centrally located square is right next to the sprawling market on Mall Road. A statue of Gandhiji can be seen here. Lall Ji’s is an iconic shop in the market here for some beautiful sweaters and other woollen wear made locally.
Dalhousie has three old churches from the British era which can be visited. St.Francis Church is a historic nineteenth century Catholic church located in Moti Tiba next to Subhash Chowk. It is surrounded by tall Deodar trees and beautiful flowering plants. It contains dioramas depicting stations of cross. St.Johns Church is a nineteenth century historic Protestant Church next to Gandhi Chowk. It has glass paintings of St.John and St.Peter. It is also located amidst lush greenery. St.Andrews Church also known as the Church of Scotland is an early twentieth century Protestant church located in the Cantonment area. This church was closed during our visit unfortunately. One thing that is common between all these churches is that they are located amidst beautiful surroundings. They offer a peaceful atmosphere for those seeking solitude.
Khajjiar is a beautiful hill station in Chamba district close to Dalhousie. It takes an hour to get here from Dalhousie making it ideal for a day trip. There are options to stay as well. Khajjiar sits on a plateau and has a lake in the centre. It has a rare combination of lake, forest and meadows. It was nicknamed ‘Mini Switzerland’ by Mr.Willy T.Blazer who was the Vice Counsellor and Head of Chancery of Switzerland in India in 1992. Khajjiar is one amongst the 160 locations across the world which bear resemblance with Switzerland in terms of their topography. Khajjiar is part of the scenic Kalatop Khajjiar Wildlife Sanctuary which has dense Deodar, Pine and Fir forests with beautiful walking trails. On clear days, panoramic views of the Dhauladhar range of mountains can be seen from Khajjiar as it sits at the base of the mountains.
Khajjiar Lake is a small lake surrounded by lush green landscape and Cedar trees on all sides. The lake gets its name from the nearby ancient temple of Khajji Nag. The lake has shrunk considerably from its original size due to dense growth of weeds. Horse Riding and Zorbing can be done near the lake. The place is ideal for long walks around the meadow.
The ancient Khajji Nag temple dating back to the twelfth century was built by the King of Chamba. The sanctum has been carved beautifully from wood. Life size images of the Pandavas of Mahabharata can be seen on pillars inside the temple while the Kauravas have been depicted as hanging from the roof inside. These images were added to the original temple in the sixteenth century by Raja Balbhadra Barman. The temple was renovated in the seventeenth century by Batlu who was the religious nurse of the then ruler Raja Prithvi Singh. The deity worshipped here is Naga (Snake) called Khajji Nag. Idols of Snakes can be seen inside the main sanctum. Other idols include those of Lord Shiva and Goddess Hadimba.
Chamba town is the headquarters of the Chamba district and located on the banks of the Ravi river. It is named after Princess Champavati who belonged to the Maru dynasty which ruled the state of Chamba from around 500 AD. Their capital was Bharmour before it was shifted to Chamba by Raja Sahil Varman in 920 AD upon the request of his daughter Champavati. Chamba is well-known for its contributions to arts and crafts particularly miniature pahari paintings, handicrafts and textiles. Chamba is around 50 km from Dalhousie and it takes around two hours to get there. We did a day trip from Dalhousie to Chamba and went there via Khajjiar.
The Chaugan which is a huge ground in the centre of town is the nucleus of all activities in Chamba. It is surrounded by buildings and shopping markets. It is used for fairs, picnics, cricket matches and promenades depending on the time of the year.
Laxmi Narayan Temple
The Laxmi Narayan temple complex was constructed during the tenth century by Raja Sahil Varman. His successors added some of the other shrines later. The main Laxmi Narayan temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The dhwajasthambha (flagstaff) pillar at the main entrance to the temple complex has a metallic image of Garuda who is the mount of Lord Vishnu. These beautiful temples have wooden Chhatris. The carvings on the exterior walls of the temples are exquisite. The temple has been constructed in the Shikara style. The temple roof was adorned with Gold pinnacles in the late seventeenth century by Raja Chhatra Singh as a riposte to Aurangzeb who had ordered the temple to be demolished.
Chamera Lake is the reservoir of the Chamera Dam which has been built across the Ravi river for generation of hydroelectric power. It is located near Dalhousie. Boating can be done in the placid waters of the lake. We went here on our way back to Dalhousie from Chamba. The sun setting behind the hills with the lake in the foreground was a beautiful sight to behold from the boat.
Dalhousie is a walker’s paradise. While we couldn’t do the walks as we were traveling with a toddler, I am listing them down here.
- Thandi Sadak – This is a walking path in Dalhousie which gets its name as it is covered with trees which obstruct sunlight and keep the path cool.
- Garam Sadak – This is also a walking path connecting Gandhi Chowk with Subhash Chowk. This path receives direct sunlight and remains warm even in the evenings.
- Dainkund Peak – This is the highest peak in Dalhousie. A trek to the top is rewarded with panoramic views of the Himalayas. The path leading to the top is supposed to be pretty as well dotted with beautiful flowering plants. Vehicles can be driven up to a point near the Air Force base on the way after which one needs to walk. There is a temple dedicated to Pohlani Devi at the top of the peak. This peak is popularly known as the singing hill due to the sound created by the breeze passing through the trees here.
- Kalatop – This is part of the Kalatop Khajjiar Sanctuary and the trail leading to the forest rest house is supposed to be very charming. It might be a good place for birdwatching.
The below places are in Chamba town. We could not visit these places due to lack of time. A stay of at least one night might be needed to do justice to Chamba.
- Bhuri Singh Museum – This museum was established in the early twentieth century in honour of Raja Bhuri Singh who ruled Chamba at that point of time. It houses an impressive collection of royal paintings, portraits, traditional costumes, jewellery, arms and armour, coins, valuable inscriptions about the medieval history of Chamba, musical instruments and other such artefacts.
- Akhand Chandi Palace – This eighteenth century palace served as the residence of the King. It was sold by the royal family to the Government of Himachal Pradesh in the twentieth century and has been converted into a Government College and District Library now. It can be identified by its distinct green roof and gives commanding views of the town.