Khajjiar has been rightly given the title of mini Switzerland

The drive from Pathankot is enchanting. Barely 15 minutes of travel in a car up the hills, the person behind its wheel quietly switches off the air-conditioning and rolls down the windows to let in the fresh cool breeze. It can take up to three hours by vehicle to reach Khajjiar, a meadow that nestles at a height of 2,000 metres in the foothills of the Dhauladhar ranges of the Western Himalayas and christened mini Switzerland.

The State tourism department literature notes that in 1992, the Swiss head of Chancery in India gave the area an official ‘mini Switzerland' tag and placed a yellow signboard close to a Swiss hiking path marked ‘Switzerland 6194 kilometres' in the direction of Berne, the capital city. The literature also notes that a stone from Khajjiar was collected to be placed in the stone corner around the Swiss Parliament marking locations from various parts of the world that resemble the country that lies in the lap of the Alps and is one of the most sought-after holiday destinations for tourists.

Khajjiar's centrepiece is a meadow with a lake in the middle of the green expanse amid thick forests dotted with pine and cedar trees. It offers a breathtaking sight, located as it is, inside a protected area. The guards at the barrier gate hand out a receipt after collecting a fee reminding the visitors that they are entering a reserve area and encouraging contribution to preserve the environment. The view from the room run by Himachal Pradesh Tourism is picture postcard perfect. The landscaped area offers a variety of things for people who decide not to just to sit on the wooden benches placed close to a walk-way or saunter on the grass soaking in the atmosphere.

Local enterprise allows the visitors to take a quick roll down a slope strapped inside a zook ball, a huge plastic ball with a cavity inside to allow two people to face each other with seats and experience an upside-down tumble, down the hill. For those with weak hearts, there is the usual hill station excitement of taking a round of the park or other areas of interest on horseback. And for those who are willing for a more challenging experience, there is parasailing. Though the charges are a bit steep — Rs.2,500 for a 15 to 20- minute sail it offers an unhindered view of the forest after taking off from a nearby cliff. The thrill of drifting across the wooded areas is conducted by an instructor controlling the strings of the sail from a tandem seat guiding the amateur through the joy ride and landing safe.

What is not recommended is the instant variety of parasailing offered by various groups. Charging Rs.300 for a short ride is nothing but a rip-off for anyone other than children. At least three to four youth start tugging the ropes of the para-sail down the slope while another from the rear releases the tail to enable the sail to gain height. The sail barely rises two or three metres from the ground and the ride ends even before it begins. Except for parents of kids who seem more excited, the effort is not worth spending one's money on.

As for sight-seeing, a little distance from the lake is the 12th Century temple of Khajji Nag. A little distance away is a recently constructed temple of goddess Durga.

A 15-minute drive away from Khajjiar en route to Chamba is a spot earmarked Mani Mahesh. From here the viewers can see Mount Kailash, the mythological abode of Lord Shiva. Irrespective of whether one is a believer or an atheist, the visitor would have to be fortunate to have a clear sky to be able to see it. It is a pity that while there is a board to assist visitors to look in the direction of the snow-capped mountain, there is no evidence that authorities have made any effort to even place a telescope to view the mountain.