“Those bitten by the travel bug know that high they feel when they are out there, exploring the world. It’s simply exhilarating! The experience becomes more unique when you decide to leave that touristy approach and backpack through the terrain.”
This is what our Uncommon traveller Debjani Paul has been doing- on a six month sabbatical from work, she is living the life many of us only dream about!
So read on and journey with Deeghi as she is known in her Instagram handle 🙂
Finding Snowdon in snow den!
The quest of the non-conformist traveller:
It was the morning after Dalhousie experienced one of the heaviest snow showers of the year. It was second week of January, 2017 and I was on 3rd month of my solo backpacking mission.
“A dream, which started off as a personal wish, by now has become a pet project to push beyond limits and make the world around us believe that every inch of this earth is indeed accessible by girls!”
And thus the freezing winter could not pull back the traveller in me! Mercury dipped way below the freezing point, yet bright sunshine on a clear blue sky gave a zest to my new snow-boots. The non-confirming traveller’s gene in me wanted to venture into a non-touristic route that morning.
I always walk as much as I can in any new place as it not only makes me familiar with the place at its ground zero level, but it also opens up unknown history and lesser known stories of a place. And that morning the quintessential Bengali in me wanted to search for Snowdon!
The Tagore and Netaji link to Dalhousie
Bengalis and Dalhousie share a long bond, with two of our most distinctive personalities spending important part of their lives here in these hills. While Subhash Chowk is one of the major landmarks on Dalhousie mall road with a statue of the hero erected on the chowk, Snowdon, atop Bakrota hills, is the ancestral abode of Rabindranath Tagore.
The landscape beauty and sylvan serenity of Dalhousie left a deep imprint in young Tagore which came back in his poems, songs or letters time and again.
“On the other hand, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, one of the greatest freedom fighters of India, stayed here while he was suffering from Tuberculosis.”
The water of this hill is said to have tremendous healing powers which helped Netaji recover fast from his ailing health and carry out his undying mission of freedom of the motherland.
Surrounded by 5 hills, Dalhousie is a famous hill station situated in Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh which falls on the north western part of the state. Situated on the western fringes of Dhaula Dhar range(which is clearly seen from Dharamshala), one can get to see a panoramic view of the majestic Pir Panjal range of Himalayas from Dalhousie.
Heart of Dalhousie is around its upper and lower malls, dotted with beautiful colonial houses, few bazaars along with beautiful conifer woods covering most part of the hills.
Living a childhood dream
It seemed not many people visit Snowdon as most of the locals were unaware of its exact location. So instead of asking for the house I started asking for the way to Bakrota hills where Snowden is situated. After enquiring a few locals I took the upward road beside St. John’s Church on Gandhi Chowk. Within minutes after leaving the busy and chaotic Gandhi Chowk, I was walking through a fairy land of white Christmas trees, white roads and white hills with no one around me. After a few metres of steep uphill hike, the mighty Pir Panjal Range of Himalayas appeared on my left, with its full glory and this majestic view continued throughout the path.
Walking on freshly fallen snow is an experience in itself with each step oozing out a crunchy sound, as if, I am walking on powdered sugar! It was hard to resist the urge of grabbing a handful of snow every now and then. Although I was walking alone, I could not but stop smiling like a kid in a candy store. Yes, I was living a childhood dream!
After walking for around 5km, crossing a colourful Tibetan settlement, I managed to reach upper Bakrota. This region has a big army camp and is always under surveillance.
“The chowk had a small memorial dedicated to Tagore, mentioning about the house and his stay.”
After meeting couple of army men at the chowk who was not able to locate Snowden, I continued further. The Bakrota mall road, in normal season, is motorable. But due to heavy snow fall, only couple of army trucks were plying on the road which also made the fresh snow crush down and somewhat manageable to walk on. While I struggled to keep balance on snow way a quaint cafe caught my eyes. It was just before Dalhousie hill top school.
“Tagore’s house is closed due to heavy snow fall on the road” – The first response from the cafe owner left me little disappointed, but the warm tea and a chance to sit by the fire took away all sad feelings. I did not want to stop hiking as I was already enjoying my journey and Snowden was a mere destination by then. I was told about Lakkadimandi, a small village situated further ahead, is the gateway to Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary.
“Kalatop is a famous tourist spot during season as it offers not only panoramic view of the surrounding hills but also promotes various adventure sports.”
One can reach the top by car during summer. But everything was under thick layers of snow now. It was the same road one takes to reach Khajjiar from Dalhousie with a diversion at Lakkadimandi for the sanctuary.
With my daypack carrying water, a packed aloo-paratha and a bar of chocolate I was all set to walk for the entire day without knowing where and when I will reach! And as always, roads did not ditch me.
The hike was through one of the most beautiful landscapes of Himalayas. Beautiful snow covered houses stacked against the blue sky,thehalf-asleep Tibetan colony, fluttering prayer flags and of course the mighty Devdar trees. Everything seemed so surreal to my tropical eyes. The sound of snow fall from Pine leaves, every now and then, is a thing of surprise and immense joy. One must hear it at least once in her lifetime!
Lakkadimandi had a few houses but only one family was running a small tea corner along with a home stay. By now a trekking group from Gujarat had also reached Lakkadimandi. They were on an overnight trek to Kalatop, guided by a local guy named Rajesh. As we chatted over tea and parathas, I realised that I had already trekked around 9 kms and was just 3km away from Kalatop end point. It was a lovely group of amateur trekkers and they insisted that I should go ahead and camp with them on Kalatop.
Being a solo backpacker, I had had umpteen experiences of meeting strangers on the way and then slowly becoming fellow travellers by hitch hiking with them. This, not only made a lot of ventures possible for me, but also made me believe more in people and their goodness. So I decided to take a leap of faith and camp on Kalatop overnight with the group. After a quick phone call to my hotel in Dalhousie, we started for the most serendipitous journey which I will fail forget in a long time!
“The trek was through the most pristine part of the Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary. Spotting a bear, jackal or even a leopard is common in these regions, but we were not lucky or unlucky enough to meet any of the habitants.”
Instead, the afternoon rays started playing hide n seek through the conifer branches. Snow was fresh and deep. This stretch was clearly not ventured since the last snow fall thus making it more beautiful and treacherous at the same time and the forest was getting denser. The 3km stretch was mostly through knee deep snow and last part was more than that. Although it’s not a tarmac road, one can reach this place by a car during summer. But to experience the real magic of the woods, one has to walk this path! With each bend, the forest comes out more beautiful and alive.
The devdar trees were high and lofty, almost 40 to 50 feet, and very dense which makes the place darker even during day time and thus the name Kalatop!
After an hour long trek and numerous photography breaks we reached Kalatop just before sunset, just in time for the magic hours.
The orange hue of the setting sun created a divine light over the snow blanket and while my toes went numb my mind was overwhelmed with joy. It was one of the most dramatic sunsets I ever witnessed. Even long after sunset, the sky continued being a canvas of an impressionist artist! It was a riot of pink, purple, deep red and orange shades.
There is a small settlement at Kalatop consisting a few mud houses, couple of private guest houses (offers only room) and a forest rest house. The forest rest house is a beautifully built wooden bungalow from colonial period. One can book it in advance from forest office, although it was closed when we were there.
We stayed in the guest house with very basic facilities of a room and sleeping bags. There was a toilet but the water was frozen! Mercury dipped faster after sunset. It was hard to stay awake in -7 degrees without a fire around. So we had an early dinner of poori sabji and slipped into the sleeping bags.
The next day I had to come back to Dalhousie and then head to my next destination, Chamba. Temperature was still subzero after sunrise but the warmth of morning Sun made up for it. After bidding goodbye to the awesome people I camped with, I started walking alone. The entire 11 odd kilometres hike was challenging yet beautiful and I was lucky to see some of the most unique views of Kalatop sanctuary in the first rays of morning Sun.
There was no snowfall the previous night and thus the 2days old snow had started to become chunks of slippery ice. Each step down the hill had to be taken with utter caution so as to avoid an unwanted fall. But with each step you are forced to look up once and savour the magical light n shade of the snowwhite woods!
“Himalayan terrains offer some of the most breathtaking views during winter season which is unparalleled to anything else. And thus, no season is offseason in the Himalayas!”
After walking for more than an hour with no life around, I found a small tea stall and stopped to warm up by the fire. They were surprised to see a traveler, all the more a woman, walking alone from kalatop at that wee hours of the morning. According to them it’s unusual to start so early in subzero temperature but then they happily received me and offered tea.
“It always feels nice to talk to the local people as it adds more perspective and understanding of the places I am visiting. It also helps me to spread the awareness of traveling alone and especially traveling alone as a girl.”
People connect more when you treat them with equal importance and in spite of how different and unusual it may seem, your ideas will always be appreciated if you care to share it with a reason and good will. Traveling through various known and lesser-known Himalayan hamlets for months, I have tried to spread awareness on solo girl traveling at the grass root levels – sometimes talking to the locals in a dhaba or interacting with the bus drivers, local guides or hotel owners – the journey has been strenuous but fruitful.
Seeing people opening up and accepting a single female traveler with due respect and appreciation has made me believe that the ball is rolling, the trend is being set somewhere.
On my way back I met the army jawans again at Bakrota circle, they were kind enough to offer me another cup of tea. With my spirits high and happy It took me another couple of hours to come back to my hotel in Dalhousie walking past the famous Dalhousie Public School.
“It was Tagore’s poetry that made me start the walk on those unknown roads, but my love for mountains brought me closer to its poetic self, at the end I came back with much more than what I started seeking for!”
To share this journey with her vicariously gives us some taste of what Debjani must have experienced on her trip! And guess what? This computer engineer is off to explore the north east soon, and we are making sure, we get to savour that trip as well!
You can find more of Debjani’s work on the following links:
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