Dalhousie – Bakrota Hill that connects Bengal and Himachal
Living in the mountains amidst the thick growth of pines, deodars, rhododendrons, spruce and other flora and fauna interspersed with wooded trails is in itself a meditative and a medicative process. More so for urban dwellers who find themselves surrounded by greenery all of a sudden.
The great poet and Nobel Laureate Shri Rabindranath Tagore and Freedom Fighter Subash Chandra Bose from Bengal would have vouched for this, at least when it comes to the mountains of Dalhousie!
You may want to read more about Dalhousie here
At first glimpse, this lushness and the azure skies with breathable pure oxygen is too much of an excess, indulgence and opulence that remains just another spectacle. But as time goes on, a realization sets in that this is real living and everything else is a farce – the glassed malls, the unending consumption of things, the hobnob and the vanity fair, the mask that we wear for social acceptance, the pretence and the diplomacy in our everyday conversations, everything…I mean every single aspect, action and adventure of city living!
And, this, precisely is the reason why I call living in the mountains as a meditative process. One is bound to find inner peace, add some zing to the mundane and regain calmness as a sense of tranquillity sets in the daily routine. Of course, it is medicative too in the mountains of Dalhousie in Himachal Pradesh as known from historical records of this place.
A bit of history
More than 160 years ago, Dr Blemenger of the 49th Native Infantry supposedly trekked to the Pir Panjal Ranges in search of a place with cool climes for a ‘convalescent depot’. This idea of a retreat was given by Engineer Robert Napier who is associated with the Lucknow Mutiny. Lord Dalhousie is accredited with sanctioning this idea. Some say he supposedly came to this place in between 1850-1852 and saw to the execution of the plan while some say he was the Governor of Bengal at that time and he actually never made it to the hills of Himachal owing to the distance from Bengal!
According to the idea, the five hills of Chamba namely Batur, Kathlag, Potreyn, Tehra (Moti Tibba) and Bakrota were acquired from the Raja of Chamba for the sanatorium. For this, the annual tribute of Rs 12,000 due from Raja Sri Singh of Chamba was reduced to Rs 5,000!! Finally, in 1854 the Imperial Government gave sanction to the project.
I can’t but despise the treacherous ways of the colonisers to occupy the lands of the natives by a reduction in the unlawful taxes imposed on the natives!! Ironical, indeed… Sigh! And, I am more than glad that the rule is a history now.
Within eight years, the hill-station of Dalhousie was fully functional in British styled Cottages, Churches and buildings that served the colonisers! Thus, a hill-station with all elements that reminiscences England was built as a sanatorium for the convalescing troops of the Imperial Army who could find solace and recuperate amidst the cool climes of the five hills that makes up the quaint town of Dalhousie.
Soon, a convent run by Belgium nuns too was established to spread English education in the hills…
Dalhousie and its Connection with Bengal
It is interesting to learn that Tagore and Bose had lived in Dalhousie for over six months, thus affirming the Bengal bond in Himachal.The lush and the viridescent Bakrota hill of Dalhousie has played a major role in the lives of these Indian Freedom Fighters and thus establishes the Bengal connection of Himachal.
A trek around the Bakrota hills will give a glimpse of lush Punjab with the rivers Ravi, Chakki, Chenab flowing across on one-side and the deep valleys of Himachal encompassing Chamba that is fondly cuddled by the Dhauladhars and the Pir Pinjal, on the other side!
Tagore’s love for Dalhousie
I was surprised by the innumerable tourists from Bengal who visited Dalhousie and the statue of Bose near Subash chowk when I first landed in Dalhousie. Upon further questioning the locals and a bit of research, I got to know the rich history of this wonderful place. Also, a couple of Bengali families settled in Dalhousie, whom I met during my walks, piqued my curiosity.
This curiosity made me visit Bakrota wherein I gathered some more information : Tagore in his childhood had accompanied his father to this quaint hill-station, stayed in Bakrota and he admiringly discusses the time spent in Dalhousie in his book ‘My Reminiscences’. Here is an extract of the same:
“The house we had taken at Bakrota was on the highest hill-top. Though it was nearing May it was still bitterly cold there, so much so that on the shady side of the hill the winter frosts had not yet melted.
My father was not at all nervous about allowing me to wander about freely even here. Some way below our house there stretched a spur thickly wooded with Deodars. Into this wilderness, I would venture alone with my iron-spiked staff. These lordly forest trees, with their huge shadows, towering there like so many giants–what immense lives had they lived through the centuries! And yet this boy of only the other day was crawling round about their trunks unchallenged. I seemed to feel a presence, the moment I stepped into their shade, as of the solid coolness of some old-world saurian, and the checkered light and shade on the leafy mould seemed like its scales”
You may want to read the complete text that establishes the Bengal connection, from the link below:
They had lived at Snowdon on the Bakrota Hill and a plaque at that place confirms his stay at Bakrota.
The trail around the Bakrota hill is a photographic depiction of the words by Tagore! Here are some captures of the Bakrota Hills…though these photos cannot do justice to the actual beauty of the place.
Bose’s Dalhousie Stay
Subash Chandra Bose is believed to have had water from a spring at Dalhousie that had therapeutic effects and his health is said to have improved for good by regular consumption of this water. This place is now called ‘Subash Baoli’.Incidentally, this place too is around the Bakrota Hill but on the side of the down-hill.
This perennial spring was supposedly visited by Bose when he was recuperating from tuberculosis. Also, Gandhi had sent Miraben to Dalhousie to check on Bose’s health during his stay…The above photo reveals the same!
Sadly, there is nothing much left of the Baoli now, except, a pipe through which the water flows out. However, the surroundings are beautiful and the trail to this place from the Dalhousie GPO is picturesque.
The trail to Karelun passing through Subash Baoli is rich with lush pines on one side and beautiful flora and fauna of the Bakrota hills on the other. Also, do not be surprised if you get to meet a couple of affable Bengali families on this route 🙂
This path looks mesmerizing in winters with snowfall all around!
The Karelun trail in February (Snap was taken after a week post-snowfall)You may like to check the snaps of Dalhousie in winters with snow all around here
A hotel on the Mall Road by the name ‘Mehar’ claims that Bose had stayed with them during his recuperation. Very much possible, because it is one of the oldest hotels in Dalhousie and is at a walkable distance from Subash Baoli! Also, there are two cross-roads in Dalhousie: one named as Subash Chowk and the other as Tagore Chowk in remembrance of the two great leaders of India and their short-stays at Dalhousie.
Oh! by the way, during our short stint at Dalhousie for over 18 months, our home was perched on the Tehra( MotiTibba) out of the five hills that form the hill-station of Dalhousie.
Dalhousie Then and Now
Dalhousie still has a sense of tranquillity and peace that enchanted the Freedom Fighters and the Britishers, but only during the off-season and the weekdays!
The months from May-August are chaotic owing to un-ending traffic snarls all around the five hills.This is largely due to the influx of tourists from Punjab. The weekends around the year are tumultuous too, as the parents of the GenX who study in the handful of boarding schools of Dalhousie, descend in their huge cars onto the hill station and create a stir! As a local, I dreaded this the most. A route that takes less than 10minutes by walk took me more than 30mins and a detour along two hills during those chaotic times!
Still, the charm and the enchanting effects of this once colonial town is undeniable! Do plan a visit and hope my other posts on Dalhousie will come handy in planning your trip 🙂