People seek different things when they travel to a particular place. Every place, on the other hand, has something different to offer to every person who visits it! My writer friend for instance, “observes crowds from a safe distance” wherever he travels (how exactly he manages to do it without getting trampled, is still a mystery to me). Silently eavesdropping on people’s conversations, taking a peek into their lives and looking for new stories is what he enjoys the most. I on the other hand, hate the crowds. I love solitude and the peace and serenity that comes along with it!
This is exactly why I choose not to pay any heed to unsolicited advises from local drivers who clearly think staying in Khajjiar for two days would be a complete waste of time. In the morning, while we are almost ready to leave for Khajjiar however, we are informed that the shortest road to Khajjiar which is via Lakkadmandi and takes about one hour to reach has been closed down owing to heavy snowfall. Clearing the road would take at least three days more. Now the only option that remains, is to take a longer route via Chamba, which is about 90 Km and takes four to five hours at least!
This time, we decide to share our cab with a couple who comes from Mumbai. Our driver cum guide assures us that he would show us all the “spots” on the way, now that we have decided to take the longer route.
After about fifteen minutes or so of driving us through an extremely crooked road, he obliges and stops the car near an old looking shed.
“What’s this?” I ask him curiously.
“This is ‘Gadar point’ madam ji! Can you see that river down there? That was exactly where they shot the border scene from ‘Gadar’ movie!” he says proudly.
Our travel buddies step ahead enthusiastically to click a snap of the ‘Gadar point’, while I thankfully and with considerable effort, manage to suppress a giggle!
The second halt he makes is apparently the ‘Taal point’; place where certain scenes from the Bollywood blockbuster ‘Taal’ were shot. I’m starting to feel mildly amused, as the trip seems to be turning into a ‘guided tour to 101 Bollywood shooting locations’!
I cannot help feeling a little uninterested as he makes the third stop. I’m rather expecting this to be a ‘DDLJ point’ or a ‘Lagaan point’. This time however, he genuinely has something interesting to show! This spot offers a spectacular view of the ‘Pir Panjal’ range. From amidst the array of skyscraping mountain peaks, stands the magnificent ‘Chamba Kailash’ thought to be the abode of the ascetic Hindu God ‘Shiva’. This peak and the adjoining ‘Mani Mahesh’ lake is a place where hundreds of Hindu devotees seek atonement of their sins through pilgrimage. This peak is probably the farthest of all, partly eclipsed by a veil of clouds that surrounds it; yet its divine radiance stands out, like the tranquil visage of an enlightened monk lost deep in meditation amid a knot of fervent disciples.
The dangerously narrow road that twists and turns like a snake leads us to the village of Khajjiar. Although I’m calling it a village, in reality it’s a mere assortment of some thirty odd wooden houses built on elevated platforms. About 2 km away from the village is an enormously spread out marshy grassland. At one end of this grassland, concealed within a maze of shops and restaurants stands an ancient temple dedicated to the “Khajji Nag Devata”. It is from this temple and the deity, that the place derives its name. A few paces away from the temple, at the center of the grassland, there is a pristine lake with clear, placid waters. The locals here believe that the abysmal lake is the home of the Serpent God. At the back of the temple and along the edges of the grassland, the alpine ‘Deodar’ trees stand tall; like the proud guardians of the sacred sanctuary of the enigmatic Serpent Deity.
The place where I’m staying in Khajjiar is a lone cottage right at the opposite end of the grassland, away from settlement; along the very edge of the mysteriously dark forest. We spend the entire day admiring the mountain landscape. The night however, paints an entirely different picture on its canvas. The mountains, the forest and the lake fade into nothingness; as darkness brings along with it the most splendid display of a million twinkling stars above; a spectacle which is a rarity to someone like me accustomed to the razzle-dazzle of the glamorous city streets.
Star gazing is something that I always look forward to; and though many people would find it weird and almost crazy; this is one reason why I wish for more frequent power cuts at night! While we admire the beauty of the clear night sky, my thoughts as well as our conversation take a more philosophical turn. Gazing at stars always makes me marvel at the expanse of the universe and the innumerable secrets it holds. Unraveling all those mysteries is perhaps beyond the scope of us humans, whose existence is like a mere speck in the eternal abyss. This is precisely why I have always felt, that anyone who has given a thought to the complexities of the universe could never remain an atheist!
The next day, we decide to be a little adventurous and try para-gliding from a height of 2200 meters; which turns out to be an absolutely exhilarating experience! The remaining part of the day is spent trekking up a snow-capped hill near ‘Jot pass’, located 15 km from Khajjiar. From here, one gets a panoramic view of the old friend- the ‘Pir Panjal’.
Two days at Khajjiar are over within the blink of an eye; and it’s finally time for a goodbye! When I happen to look back and think about my stay in the tiny village, I realize that this place isn’t one of those “sightseeing places” that you cram up in your itinerary and pay a hasty visit to, with the sole intention of ticking off one of the many items on your bucket list. Unless you take a lazy stroll along those serpentine streets; experience your share of adventure; rest for a while under the canopy of a star-studded night sky lost in thoughts; devour the warm and delicious ‘parathas’ and sips of coffee you would never really appreciate the beauty of the place!
The place is a paradise for lovers; Mecca of trekkers and adventurers; food for the thought of writers and poets and feast for the eyes of artists. Khajjiar is not merely a destination; it is an experience in itself!