A Walk in the Clouds in Chamba and Dhanaulti: Footloose in Himalayas

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” ~ Pat Conroy

Chamba and Dhanaulti tours

Sun and clouds playing hide and seek - A walk in Clouds in Chamba and Dhanaulti


Once again – as more often than not during weekends – I was footloose in Himalayas. The very name Chamba and as an extension Dhanaulti – as I discovered to my enchantment – contains a magic. Traveling to Chamba and Dhanaulti – especially during monsoon – is undoubtedly a walk in the clouds. No they are not a popular tourist destinations and that is one of the reason they are such charming retreat just 200 or so kilometers from Delhi. Chamba is often referred to as kingdom of clouds and Dhanaulti – if you happen to travel there during monsoon – is no less.  Being footloose in Garhwal Himalayas is one of the most endearing and spiritual experience one could ever encounter – alas a personal observation. The seclusion witnessed in the pristine environs almost becomes a brotherhood …something to cherish and treasure in the normal run of the mill life we live with, in the chaos of our big cities.

Getting there is easy. Just catch a bus from Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT Delhi) which costs around 260 rupees (AC) and sleep through the night and wake up the next morning in Haridwar or Rishikesh. Catch a bus again at around 4-5 AM (IST) which will cost around 50 bucks and reach Chamba in a few hours. Step off the bus and step into a different world altogether. Yes, welcome to Chamba and thank you but no it’s not Narnia – it was a bus mind you not a closet.

Chamba is painted in white and green – white of the everlasting clouds and green of the coniferous trees, mostly Deodar. These colors engulf everything in Chamba and stretch as far as I have gone – which happens to be Dhanaulti in my case.  A narrow winding road leads up to Dhanaulti from Chamba and yes let me remind you again there are no attractions in these places there is only journey and you arrive as soon as you embark. There are no set prescriptions as in there is nothing to do in Chamba or Dhanaulti. No must visit temples, museums, theaters or lakes even a ‘tal’ which lies midway is named Kanatal because it is ‘kana’ it translates to lacking.

A taxi (read Sumo) hired for 800 bucks from morning – around 8 AM (IST) in our case till 5 O’ Clock in the evening – is one of the best ways to explore the bounties of nature sprinkled across Chamba and Dhanaulti. Stop wherever you want to – and as it happens that you want to stop everywhere along the way to capture exquisite canvas painted by the interplay of sunlight and clouds and emerald forest. On the one side there are mountains on the other side there are mountains too but with the reliefs and spurs which include sprawling valleys, distant peaks and cotton wool orbs (read clouds).

The weather was overcast as it always is in Chamba. It is to be earnestly expected especially during monsoon. But it’s never as gloomy as was in the case when Dementors lurked in the vicinity in “Prisoner of Azkaban”. Although it does get as dark as it was during the Quidditch match in the same movie. In fact one of the most intriguing sights is conjured by the clouds while you travel here. They are an intrinsic part of your overall experience in Chamba and Dhanaulti.

So what did we do while we were here in Chamba and Dhanaulti? Well nothing and everything. That is to say that except reveling at the wonders of nature capturing a few frames to reminisce and visiting the Eco Park in Dhanaulti and rejoicing in the fact that it is good to be alive then and there. In the movie Hitch when the protagonist (Will Smith) says “life is not the amount of breaths you take; it’s the moments that take your breath away” he was on the mark.

A trip to Dhanaulti and Chamba give you many such moments. Some of the picture perfect moments were our halt en route to Dhanaulti at a prep school with camera-shy kids and other was on our way back at a place where hoarding read protected forest area with bold claims of leopards, jackals and even bear inhabiting the Jungle. Well after an hour of downhill and uphill climb what we encountered were some pilgrims asking us “Bhole, road kitni durr hai” and ”Bhole rasta to yahi hai na?”. Well they where pilgrims who had taken a shortcut from Gangotri and were headed towards Neel Kanth (Saawan).

The other thing of interest included a resort under construction and elusive avifauna for which we toiled hard to take a few nice shots. I did got two pics and it was well worth the time and effort. A thing which I ought to mention is the lip smacking Aloo Parantha (stuffed potato chappatis) which we had as our lunch in Dhanaulti. It really had stuffed potatoes in abundance as opposed to same paranthas offered in Delhi which are more parantha and less aloo. And the Aloo (potato) too was freshly harvested…pahadi aloo if you know what I mean. Loved it completely and recommend it absolutely :-)

A journey to these two destinations – with the benefit of hindsight – presages dream like vistas and you literally walk on clouds when you are here. Clouds float all around you and even beneath you. Chamba is a place which resides perpetually in clouds the interplay of shadow and light is one of the magic cast upon your being as you arrive here. It is often asked of me that why do you travel…and Chamba provides me with that answer. It is that somewhere along the way during your detours to explore the infinity of this universe you kind of rediscover yourself. I give away nothing and I take away moments in which to rejoice for a lifetime, a most beckoning and divine experience as always is in the case when you are footloose in Himalayas. “Half the fun of the travel is the esthetic of lostness” and its more than true when you are here in Chamba and Dhanaulti.

Footloose in Himalayas

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A walk in the clouds in chamba and dhanaulti

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Deodar inside Eco-Park in Dhanaulti

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Grasshopper spotted during road block on way back to Rishikesh

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Gunning for glory - A happy kid near Kanatal

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I have got you babe

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Inside Dhanaulti Eco park

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In the queue - Waiting for rain to stop in our hotel in Chamba

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Kingdom of Clouds - On our way to Kanatal

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Lost and Found - Birding near Kanatal

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Lost in Fogs---Dhanaulti Eco park

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Moon Shadow - Logn Exposure from our hotel in Chamba

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Resting place - Near Chamba

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Triveni Ghat, Rishikesh

16 Comments

  • ??? ????? ???? ?? ???? ?? ?? ??? ??????? ??, ?? ?? ??,
    ????? ?? ???? ?? ???? ?? ??? ?? ?? ???? ???? ???

    • Chandra81 says:

      Hello Sandeep bhai,
      Actually hotel nahin dhaba is more appropriate. But thank god for it. A reclusive hill station is way better than din of Nainital or Shimla :-)

  • Vibha says:

    I think for all hillstations the best time to visit is towards the end of the monsoons. At that time you get to see the lush greenness and the clouds. On the downside, there’s a risk of landslides.
    Nice post and pictures Nikhil. You are right, a village or a town in the hills is much more than the must-see tourist points it boasts of. At the end it is the abundant natural beauty that matters. And that was why some of the more popular hill stations became popular in the first place.

    • Chandra81 says:

      Hey V,
      The best time for any hill station is off season. That is the only way you know what it has to offer. Thanks for liking my pics.
      Against your reasoning I’ll be happy that these pristine escapades remain reclusive. If wishes were true I’ll wish that they remain reclusive. But then that’s my personal opinion.
      Cheers!
      Nikz

      • Vibha says:

        Yes, I know what you mean. I wish they remain unspoilt and unexplored. We’re anyways running out of places that haven’t been well explored by humans already.

  • Lovely images brother.. Yes photography is a passion.. passion to reconnect with nature !!

  • Chandra81 says:

    Thanks Bro…
    Its one of the best compliment I have ever received.

  • Amit Kumar says:

    Hats off to your photographic skills. In your each post I first make sure to scan all pictures first and then read the post. I got many tips from your images. In Ram-jhoola pic the depth is amazing.

    • Chandra81 says:

      Thanks Amit
      I really appreciate that…Well the limit of my depth is f8 :-) But then most of the time it do the trick. It is a dream of mine to become a photographer just like I wanted to be a guitarist…But then I only cover them…there’s nothing original.
      Thanks for your encouraging comment. I look forward to it.
      regards,
      Nikz

  • AUROJIT says:

    Hi Nikhil,

    ‘with the benefit of hindsight’ preclude that benefit;

    don’t we still feel that in the humdrum of our existentialist living – all those places were nothing but sweet dreams, yet achievable.

    Great write-up and pics. That kid supporting the world on his back, look at their face and you know that the world is not going anywhere yet.

    Enjoyed.

    Auro.

  • AUROJIT says:

    there is one more ‘Eco park’ in Dhanaulti, which you come across while moving on this road from Mussouri.
    Actually we once visited both, drawn by enticement of bystanders – irrespective of the varying claims, both appeared equally interesting.
    Thanks.

    • Chandra81 says:

      Thanks Auro,
      Your wonderful comments are always appreciated. Existential as in ‘myth of Sisyphus’? Well I don’t think so. It could have been a dream but I lived it thoroughly and with open eyes and overwhelmed heart as I do always…whereas existentialism is knowing that you will reach the summit yet still fail. It was not like that…It was being but never nothingness :-)
      Yes there were other Eco-parks too but we were short on time as always so couldn’t explore them… A way of looking at thing is the kid having his dream full of bag…he only has to open it to realize them… And the world will follow…ah that’s me being Descartes in a different way…I travel therefore I am :-) thank you for liking the pics. That’s one gesture that I really look forward to :-)
      Keep liking them
      Cheers,
      Nikz

  • Nandan says:

    The literary and sublime discussion is on, I guess :-)

    The road which connects Chamba to Mussorrie, via Dhanolti is really one great drive with as many stops as one would want to have. There are some good properties, one called ‘The Terraces’, which is pricey but seemed worth it. Of course, you have the old warhorse, Classic Hotel, which is on a good enough incline and gets snow. I have been to Chamba few times and its really one place which has survived the sanity even though it is so close to Mussorie (from one side) and falls bang on the way to Gangotri.

    Pictures are awesome. My personal favorite is the one from the Bus, almost seems like you mirrored it using Photoshop. :-)

    Bahut Badhiya Nikhil Babu.

    • Chandra81 says:

      Thanks Nandan,
      Sa-dhanyawad prapt kiya.
      Classic Hotel is way too costly for my budget if its Classic Hilltop you are referring to :-)

      And yes even I liked the bus pic the best and it was my friend (in picture) who gave me the idea.

      Would you believe this was the 4th time I was visiting Chamba…

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment and know that I appreciate that. I am planning to go to Hauz Khas Village for birding on 2nd October and I plan to go to KunZum too… May be we Ghumakkar can plan a common “heritage walk” later this year.

      Cheers!
      Nikz

  • Nandan says:

    Their rack rate is always way high. We have done two trips (one in 2004 and I think the other in 2003) at Classic and he would give us very good rates (1K per person all meals) since he was a fan of one of my friend who used to do a TV Show :-). You can imagine that we have been always very shameless to ask for discounts, when it comes to travel.

    4th trip :-). Very good. I always feel that one should go to the places they love most, many many times.

    I should stop talking about Heritage walk, a lot of talk has happened with no walk. Guess we would need to walk the talk now. Lets see.

  • suman bhatia says:

    Hi Travellers on Ghumakkar
    My first visit and post on this site.I was given this name just y’day by a young,dynamic and pure fun loving group of twenty somethings who chanced upon my property in passing on their way from Dhanaulti to Chamba. A hotel known as The Hermitage to Kanatal and Google at large, which I prefer to acknowledge more as a 14 roomed tidy and cosy holiday home which I run personally whilst in India. The first on this road built in92, it still retains it sights and stories of dayz gone by, when I first arrived as a schoolie in the late 70’s.
    Well thanks for sharing your experiences, pics and stories about this region that I love so much.N the next time any of you should happen to be in the vicinty, shout a hoy, and share a cuppa chai with me.
    visit,share with me or blog me on http://www.kanatalhermitage.com/facebook and hope to c you around sometime.

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