Himachal Pradesh has a special place in my heart; the way I feel about this state is kind of like what most people feel for a close friend. What I find so mesmerizing about this place is the grandness of its mountains, the beauty of its rivers, and the warmth of its people. This is why I was excited to visit it for the second time with my friends.
I made it my mission to show them iconic restaurants and pubs and tell them about monasteries and my encounters with the locals. But the number one thing on my agenda was showing them my favorite spot in the hills.
When I first found this spot, it wasn’t on my itinerary; I just happened to find it during a stroll in the evening. The sun was setting as I walked towards the public school in Naddi, a town in the upper reaches in the Kangra Valley. Out of sheer exhaustion, I put my bags down and settled down on a bench. Behind me were the formidable Dhauladhar Mountains, covered in snow. Right in front of my eyes was a never ending, lush green valley where a large flock of sheep was grazing. I sat there for a few hours, watching the sun descend into the hills.
You can imagine my disappointment when I found that six years later, this spot was nothing like it used to be. It had almost disappeared. Yes, the mountains were still there, but the trees were cut down and the grass was removed to construct hotels. And the sheep were nowhere to be seen.
I remember throwing a fit and whining about how this trip was ruined. This went on for two days, until I visited the Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary.
I could tell you about details and statistics, such as how big the sanctuary or what species of animals it is home to, but I think the sheer beauty of Kalatop deserves an entire article.
The air turned cooler and the sounds of cars and people became muffled as we walked into the sanctuary. Despite it being May, one of the hottest months of the year, there was a cool breeze constantly blowing through, which carried with it the fragrance of pine and deodar trees.
I’m still fascinated by how these trees towered over us and created a play of light and shade when the sun’s rays filtered through them.
For the most part, the terrain of this trek is flat with very little elevation, which makes it a great first trek for people who are not used to heavy-duty trails. For those who like to take the road less travelled, there are certain parts of this trek that have a narrow trail carved out of the side of the mountain. Be careful while you walk through these stretches, because they only a few feet wide and are flanked by a steep valley on one side.
Stark contrasts to the thriving greenery in the sanctuary were the old, leafless trees that had fallen to the forest floor. We used one of these trees as a sort of bridge to cross over from one part of the sanctuary to another.
What we found at the other side of the bridge was like the metaphorical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Hidden behind the hillock, perfectly preserved was a valley full of white flowers; a picture taken straight out of a fantasy novel.
The absence of the din of people, the tranquility of the surroundings, and the preserved quality of the forest gives Kalatop a surreal, almost spiritual feel. I found it difficult to believe that such a place could exist. Kalatop was the highlight of my vacation and lessened the pain of losing my favourite spot. Here’s hoping that more people stumble upon its magic and beauty.