Navigating through the pine clad valleys, the lush green meadows and the magnificent misty mountains; one reaches the picturesque town of Dalhousie, carefully tucked away in the lap of the Himalayas.
Set at the foothills of the Dhaula Dhar ranges, Dalhousie may be alluring, but the roads that lead to it, are like the naughty children who “boo” at you around the corners and takes you by surprise. Therefore getting to Dalhousie is a task in itself.
Jammu has the nearest airport and Pathankot an even closer railway station. However, one can fly to Amritsar and then drive to Dalhousie in the wee hours of the morning, crossing Jalandhar along the banks of the Beas river, famous for having caused trouble to Alexander’s invasion in 326 BC. It is also said to be home to an isolated population of the Indus Dolphin.
Unlike the scorching heat of Punjab and the ripe mustard fields on the way, Badhani brings a whiff of the imminent cool air, as you begin the uphill journey. The Badhani School with its recreated old world charm is said to have been built after a rift between the Grewal brothers who earlier owned DPS Dalhousie. Now though, DPS is handled by Dr.(Capt) G.S.Dhillon with an army-like discipline. He also installed some major embellishments, including „the tallest Flag post‟ in Himachal Pradesh, standing at a height of 108 feet, a warship, battle tank, and carefully designed “hanging flower baskets” announcing that one is nearing the school grounds from miles away.
Badhani to Dunera, boasts of many beautiful resorts and Dhabas. Dunera market is the only place, where you get the sweet and sour “mangathera”, as I call it, which I much later learnt was actually called “aam papad”. It is made from the pulp of mangoes, dried into thin layers, and then stacked one on top of the other. Apparently, the aam papad is a delicacy that dates back to a hundred years, when two brothers decided to do something with their home grown product, mangoes.
With nearly non-existent public washrooms and rare food stops after that point, one must be prepared to deal it all. Also, with the incline, there is a possibility of one’s ears closing with a “ddubb” like it happens when aeroplane takes off. The spiral roads are carved through the steeping mountains and one must stop at intervals to take in the magic around; the pine forests that seem to have been planted with precision to one side, deep forested ditches to the other, houses hanging on cliffs and the beautifully terraced farmlands. One can even see a huge waterfall, many feet above, through the mountains and a beautiful creek rumbling many feet below in the valley, both in the same frame.
The many monkeys, picnicking on the road sides with entire tribe of families, picking lice, chasing cars and making faces at the passer-by are something to look forward too. When one falls for their innocent faces and decide to share an apple or some corn kernels, they work with an unbelievable pace, to finish it all in minutes. Occasionally, the sheep and mountain goats also work as traffic police controlling the speed of one’s vehicle, while munching on the green all around.
Through the highest peaks, with hairpin curves and unwelcome landslides, it is recommended to take it slow. During the freezing months of December- January, it becomes even crazier and riskier with roads covered in fleets of ice. Sometimes, with an overnight shower of fresh snow and a morning torrent, the roads become ice rinks and it takes days to clear them and make them accessible again.
Google maps may say that the journey would take roughly 3-4 hours, while it could take more than five hours to finally reach the top.
More than anything, the journey is like a healing session where one can contemplate the unimaginable capacity of life, while still breathing, at an altitude of 1,970 metres above sea level.