Khajjiar, Dainkund and Kalatope
Trip Start Oct 02, 2011
16Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Khajjiar Dainkund Kalatope
The Deodhar hotel where we were to stay, stood at a strategic vantage point overlooking the old Khajji Nag temple, a few small lodgings and the meadow. We had an excellent view from our cosy all wooden room. The meadows beckoned; an immediate walk before it became too dark, was in order. Contrary to what it looks like from afar, these are marshy meadows for the most part, fed by tiny mountain streams. You cannot really run across the grass unless you do not mind wading through slush. Perhaps it dries out completely in the summer. The pond must certainly expand in volume in the rains, given the large number of feeder streams. The best 'dry' walk was along the circumference of the meadow. It was rather nice. A Forest office and rest house stood hidden behind the deodhars, a short distance away. The quaint Khajji Cottage, a part of the Deodhar Hotel was at the other end of the meadows, standing alone in splendid isolation with a magnificent view of the Pir Panjal in the distance. Rooms were available but we were advised not to stay here as it would take ages just to get a cup of tea! So true.
We returned for another round of the meadow, early the next morning. It was lovely with not a soul in sight, human soul that is. A couple of furry stray dogs accompanied us silently for most of our walk. Wagtails and other pretty little birds flitted in and out of the surrounding deodhars as the light became brighter. We walked up into the PWD guest house gardens at the other end. This must be booked out all year round. By now, the tea stall and dhaba owners had come alive and were setting up their wares in anticipation of the days visitors.
By the time we were dressed and ready, several huge transparent plastic balls had appeared out of nowhere, on the meadow. They had a receptacle within, where a person could propel himself all over the meadows, presumably without getting wet and miserable in the slush. Obviously these strange contraptions were hugely popular, judging by the number of them being pumped up and ready to go. We could see the parking area filling up to disgorge small groups of day trippers, all of them making a bee line for the giant balls.
Our plans were elsewhere. A short, scenic drive brought us to Lakkad Mandi from where we took the fork on the left. This road is broad and in excellent condition, thanks to the presence of an Air Force Station at Dainkund. Unauthorised persons may not proceed beyond the barrier a few kilometres away, where we parked our car alongside a couple of other vehicles. The military guard showed us a mud pathway on the left side of the barrier where we were free to go. He said it was a very scenic walk leading to a small temple of Bhulwani Mata. It was indeed a lovely walk, some parts steep but mostly level once we reached the ridge at 2740m.
The view was fabulous. We were on top of the world with a wide vista of the Pir Panjal and the Dhauladhar ranges. A flock of migratory birds flew swiftly past, making a pretty picture against the distant mountains. The Chamba Kailash peak of Manimahesh lake fame, was also visible. Pretty pink balls of primula, sky blue gentians and other wildflowers dotted the grassy slopes. There were not many people up here, the few that were made a beeline for the temple. We learnt later that one of the pathways here on the ridge led straight to Jot. If we knew, we would have hiked to Jot to eat at that yummy dhaba. We could see the military radars from an angle. The runway is visible on Google Earth!
It was so beautiful up here that we lost track of time until hunger pangs reminded us that it was time for lunch. On our way down we came across a group of men carrying lengthy water pipes. They were to be fitted in the temple. Upon hearing that we were from “Bambai” one of the younger lads wondered if we could get him a job in the big city. He was prepared to do any kind of labour, he said. I wondered if he would survive the heat, crowds and grime of Mumbai after living all his life in these pristine surroundings, but at the end of the day it is a question of economics above all. We suggested that he try closer to home, such as in Delhi where surely job opportunities must abound.
After lunch at the dhaba at Lakkad Mandi, we drove up to the Kalatope Forest rest house. The signboard said the fee for LMV’s was Rs 60 but the men at the checkpost charged us Rs 200, pointing out to another hand written sign board. Kalatope was disappointing after Dainkund. The deodhar forest here was nice but the forests between Khajjiar and Lakkad Mandi were more varied, those form part of the Khajjiar - Kalatope sanctuary as well. The rest house on top was an old Raj era building with a lot of character. Though the Kalatope sanctuary is known as a habitat of the Himalayan black bear, the guard at the resthouse said that they have not been sighted here in a long time. We walked the 11km back from Lakkad Mandi to Khajjiar, which was a lot more interesting that up at Kalatope, more so when we discovered some pretty pink ground orchids. I believe they are of the Calanthe species. A small roadside temple to Kali Mata caught our attention. Himachal Pradesh has innumerable little Devi temples and shrines at every bend in the mountain. The day trippers who had descended on Khajjiar earlier in the morning, were now on their way back to Dalhousie. A short cut nearer Khajjiar brought us to the meadow through the forest office. After a half round of the meadow, we enjoyed a reviving cup of tea, then had a quick look at the Khajji Nag temple. This had beautiful carved wooden statues on the outer columns and an old stone image in the sanctum. The temple apparently dates back to the 14th century.