CONSIDERED ONE of the most scenic tourist destinations in the country, Khajjiar, also referred to as ‘mini-Switzerland,’ has become a victim of party politics. Despite thousands of tourists visiting each year, it has been poorly maintained, complain voters as well as tourists.
This tourist destination, known internationally for paragliding, is located a few kilometres from Dalhousie in Chamba district and offers breathtaking views of the meadows, Khajjiar lake and also Kalatop wildlife sanctuary on the way. However, the road leading to Khajjiar from Dalhousie is stuck between two constituencies and a tourists’ nightmare. Apart from being extremely narrow, the potholes make the bumpy ride riskier and thus some tourists even avoid going to Khajjiar.
A 32-km stretch from Dalhousie leads to Khajjiar, of which only 4 km has been renovated and maintained. The riskier stretch starts beyond the 4-km road and that is where tourists start feeling the danger. The road is divided between Dalhousie and Chamba constituencies and thus BJP-Congress politics also came into play. Apart from the pathetic road, tourists also complain of poorly maintained Khajjiar lake. “There are wild grasses and weeds and it is never cleaned. Though the spot is called Mini-Switzerland, poor maintenance takes away the sheen from the tag. Sometimes, grasses are so tall that one can step on it without realizing there is water beneath. It can lead to a tragedy. We came here by our own car but the taxi drivers overcharge seeing the pathetic state of the road. It is not everyone’s cup of tea to drive on Dalhousie-Khajjiar road and that is how they fleece tourists,” said S P Singh, a tourist from Punjab.
“The road needs to be widened immediately as there are some points where the vehicle cannot move an inch and then if there is another vehicle coming from opposite side, vehicle can easily roll into a gorge. Khajjiar meadows has mesmerising views but considering that it is a tourist spot of international fame, maintenance and cleanliness is really poor,” said Vishal Sandha, another tourist.
Locals say the condition worsens during winters and heavy snowfall. “The road from Dalhousie gets choked with snow and for days no one clears them. Many times, tourists get stuck and locals too suffer because of poor connectivity,” said Shyam Lal, a local. “Most tourists with families and small children avoid taking risk due to the narrow road towards Khajjiar. It affects our livelihood,” says Gopal, a taxi driver.
Chamba MLA B K Chauhan, a BJP rebel who is now contesting as an Independent and under whose area the lake falls, says, “Half of the road falls in Chamba and half of it is under Dalhousie MLA. I always raised the matter to renovate the entire stretch and proper maintenance of Khajjiar but since Congress government was there, my pleas were never listened to. I wrote to the Centre for taking measures to ensure immediate cleanliness of the lake and developing Khajjiar as a tourist spot of international standards.”
DS Thakur, BJP candidate from Dalhousie, defends Chauhan and says, “Chauhan saab might have left our party now but he always raised the matter of Khajjiar but the Congress government and its officials never let us work. They always imposed objections whenever we asked for road widening. Nearly 80 per cent of the road from Dalhousie to Khajjiar falls under Dalhousie MLA. Sadak pe khadda, khaddey mein paani, Congress sarkaar ki yahi kahaani (There can only be potholed-filled roads under Congress).” Dalhousie MLA and Congress leader Asha Kumari, in reply to a text message sent by The Indian Express, claimed that Dalhousie-Khajjiar Road was not under her constituency.