“Would you like to visit Dalhousie’s Cottage?” asked Prithvi.
It was our tour group’s first evening at The Hotel Grand Shangri-La, Kalpa and we were having dinner. Prithvi, the Managing Director of the hotel, was offering suggestions with regard to places we could visit.
“Dalhousie? As in Lord Dalhousie?” I asked.
“Yes, the very same. His cottage is located about 8 km from here,” was Prithvi’s reply.
“But what was Lord Dalhousie doing here? I mean, he has a place named after him, Dalhousie, in another part of Himachal Pradesh, right? Or is this the Dalhousie you’re talking about? I’m a little confused now,” said someone from my group.
“Dalhousie, the place, is quite different from what I’m talking about. This is a cottage that Dalhousie built for his stay whenever he came to this region. Kalpa was his favourite hunting ground, you know,” Prithvi said.
“Hunting, as in, shikaar?” asked another person.
“Yes. Kalpa used to have a lot of wildlife, including snow leopards and Dalhousie was particularly fond of hunting them. He used to sail up the Sutlej and then set up camp in the area. The cottage was built later, when his wife came here. Local legends say that she had an incurable disease and was dying..”
“She must have had TB,” piped up another voice from our group.
“So, would you all like to visit Dalhousie’s cottage tomorrow? It is a nice level walk on winding roads and under beautiful trees… It is only after we cross Roghi village that the climb begins — just the last 2 km, in fact. Those who cannot do the climb can stay back and rest in the village,” Prithvi said most persuasively.
Our group didn’t need much persuasion and there was a resounding yes from all of us and next morning, after a hearty breakfast, we set off for the trek with Prithvi leading the way.
It was a beautiful morning, cool and crisp with bright sunshine. The pace was leisurely and we had fun peering over the walls of the fruit orchards we passed by and look longingly at trees laden with apricots, peaches, pears and apples. We passed men and women off to work, children going to school, and a truckload of what looked like road repair workers. There was bird song in the air, no other tourists around, and all was well with the world. 😀
Prithvi was a great guide and he shared local customs, traditions and practices with us. For example, while pointing out the pine nut trees at the edge of the village, he also shared information how the trees were a collective property and belonged to the women of the village. Money earned from the sale of pine nuts was divided equally amongst the women of the village and the men had no rights over that money.
He also pointed out local plants and trees and their uses in healing, building material; the difference between male and female deodar tees; etc.
And when we passed an almost circular loop of the road, Prithvi pointed at the ground just below road level. That was the local cremation ground during winters. Bodies would be burnt on pyres there and when spring came, the snow melt would carry the ashes to the River Sutlej in the valley below. Here he explained how the Sutlej was most sacred to the people of Himachal, even more than the Ganga. The reason being that Sutlej originated from Mt. Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva. As many a Himachali I met during the course of my trip said, “How can any river be more sacred than the Sutlej, which comes from the abode of Shiva?”
Soon I got totally immersed in my surroundings. Everything was new to me — plants, trees and geology of the area. Every rock cutting had something new to see, rock structures and ferns and lichens to exclaim over in delight, and have some class from college suddenly become clear. Somewhere along the way my camera battery decided to die, without any warning. I was a little surprised as I had charged it the previous night. [Later on I came to know that high altitude can sometimes cause this to happen.] So, with the camera back inside my backpack, it was my phone camera that recorded the highlights of the remainder of the trek.
It was after we crossed Roghi, another charming little Himalayan village, that I got my first glimpse of the red-roofed structure of Dalhousie’s Cottage. What the photograph below doesn’t show is the steep and winding ascent to the cottage. More than half of my group dropped out when they saw the ‘target’ preferring instead to wait for us to return from the trek. What the photograph also does not show are the remnants of landslides and big boulders that blocked the path and made the climb challenging.
When I questioned Prithvi about them, he answered with deep sadness about how the 2013 Uttrakhand disaster had affected the Kinnaur region as well. While human lives were not lost, there was a lot of damage to property and many villages in the region had been cut off for days without any aid. It is only as I write this post that I realise that I have no photos of that portion of devastation. But at that time I was more concerned about climbing about not losing my balance or getting hurt and needed all the concentration I could muster to stay on course. Taking photographs was the last thing on my mind.
It was tough going for me and sooon, I was lagging behind the rest of my group. I huffed and puffed and finally made my way up to the cottage where some cold water and juice revived me, and brought my skin colour, which had turned an interesting shade of red, to normal.
After a while, when I felt sufficiently recovered, I set off to explore Dalhousie’s Cottage, which I discovered was now a state government-run rest house / holiday cottage. But looking at the shabby condition of the cottage and its accessibility, I wondered whether people actually came to stay here. The cottage interiors, though beautiful, were in a worse condition. Shabbiness is one thing, but it was not very clean, even though the place had a caretaker. I wondered how anybody could even stay there !
We left after a while and though the descent was much easier and quicker, it was no less tricky. At Roghi village, our vehicles were waiting to take us back to the hotel for a late lunch and some free time till our evening excursion.
I loved the trek and enjoyed it at two levels. The first was hearing local stories and legends from a local person, and the second was on not giving up and completing the trek. In fact, I was felling quite pleased with myself, for while I can do any amount of level trekking and walking, climbs are a little difficult for me. So completing this 8 km trek made me feel very good about myself, gave me confidence, and in a way set the tone for the other treks to follow in the course of my Himachal trip. 🙂
I searched in the hotel library for information on Dalhousie’s Cottage. But to my surprise, I found nothing on this topic in the library or on the net. Rather, what little I found was too sketchy to be even considered as a reliable source. While I don’t doubt the local legends and stories that surround Dalhousie’s Cottage, a little extra by way of documented history always makes writing a post like this that much more credible. Still… I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I loved writing it. 🙂