Among the cluster of rising ridges located immediately uphill the tri-city Chandigarh, there is quite a collection of small hills that offer instant sylvan refuge from the humdrum of city life. As you climb the road to Shimla in Himachal Pradesh from Chandigarh, passing the beautiful Pinjore valley, the first of these destinations and usually the more popular one is obviously Kasauli.
Spread on the facing ridges just off the Kalka-Shimla highway, at Kumarahatti, are the other two lesser frequented hilly sanatoriums – Barog and Dagshai – now fast emerging as popular weekend destinations from the plains. From up here, all around the lower hills spread out in every direction, romantic and picturesque, mountain, plain, and precipice, in hundred varied forms, blended by distance, and softened by the various tints of sunshine and shade; rounded ridges, green tops, ravines purple and red, and graceful hills covered most luxuriantly with dark cedars, clustered oaks, pines, and rhododendrons blushing with scarlet bloom. In the southerly direction the beautiful valley of Pinjore, and the verge of sight melting into a line of vapour scarcely to be distinguished from the horizon, is bounded by Punjab and Haryana plains.
Eleven km before Solan at Kumarhatti, a steep and narrow road bifurcates from the main Kalka-Shimla highway to reach the commanding hillock of Dagshai (1730m); at about six km from the main market. Compared to Shimla, the ridge may be a bit rainier, windier, and rather warmer being not so high in the altitude. But then, with its superb walks and wooded picnic spots under the canopy of oaks and holly forests, it remains to be a preferred destination for rejuvenation over a weekend.
Following the footsteps of its rather fortunate neighbour – Kasauli, a fine range of hills rising immediately above the valley of Pinjore, where a military station was established in 1843 by the British with a view to have an efficient body of troops ready on the contingency of a war with the Sikh nation spread in the plains below, the ridge of Dagshai eventually became a retreat outpost for the army regiments. With time, Dagshai became popular with army officers posted at Kasauli during the Raj.
The ridge of Dagshai certainly must have seen better days but unlike Kasauli it has successfully kept its pride intact which is mostly due to the army regiment stationed here. Due to burgeoning tourist and weekend party hoppers crowd, Kasauli might have lost a tad of its former self but at Dagshai, no street vendor or hawker would rob you off your peace.
Even after the opening of the renovated, more than a century-old, heritage cellular jail for visitors at Dagshai, just a few curious visitors travel their way across the wooded ravines and hills from the highway to Dagshai’s picturesque environs. Even though, Dagshai is particularly beautiful when covered with snow for a very brief period in winters but is equally attractive for short walks at any time of the year. Walk into the regimental past, reminiscent of the British Raj, through the old stoned streets lined with colonial bungalows and head towards the Charing Cross through to the main road with a picnic hamper in hand under the oak and holly forests. Roaming around Dagshai, one can see the remnants of the British regiments that served here in the times gone by. A couple of churches and a few cemeteries are the prime testimonies left.
Founded in 1847 by the East India Company, Dagshai is said to be one of the oldest cantonments in India. Legend has it that the name Dagshai was derived from Daag-E-Shahi and it is claimed that during the rule of Mughals, a Daag-e-Shahi (royal mark) was put on the forehead of criminals before they were sent packing to the then Dagshai village. The British built a jail here in 1849 immediately after taking thorough possession of the area from the then Maharaja of Patiala. The cellular jail came into limelight after a number of Irish freedom fighters were executed here, an incident that prompted Mahatma Gandhi to rush to assess the situation here. Four revolutionaries of Kamagata Maru were also executed at Dagshai. As of now this renovated jail is looked after as a museum by the concerned regiment of the Indian Army.
Facing Dagshai, on a ridge across the Kalka-Shimla highway, is the wooded settlement of Barog that came into the limelight during the construction of the Kalka-Shimla railways more than a century before. The Kalka-Shimla narrow-gauge railway track is punctured by an arrangement of 969 bridges and 103 tunnels and between Dagshai and Solan, the railway pierces the Barog Hill by what is claimed to be the longest of the lot – tunnel number 33 – situated several hundred feet below the road through the settlement.
The construction of this 1143.61 m long tunnel at Barog through fissured sandstone has a tragic story behind it. Col Barog, who was engineer in charge to construct this tunnel, committed an error in digging the tunnel from both ends. Having failed to align both ends of the tunnel by missing certain calculations, Barog felt humiliated and committed suicide. The incident warranted construction of a new tunnel which ultimately got constructed about one km away from the earlier point with the guidance of a local saint Bhalku from Jhaja, near Chail. The new tunnel was named Barog Tunnel and the settlement too was named after Barog.
Barog was buried in a grave not far from the abandoned tunnel and till today rumours of his ghost being seen haunting nearby are not very uncommon. Thereafter, the abandoned tunnel gradually became a place for people to go test their courage by walking near its entrance and perform the daredevil act. The abandoned tunnel – even as it continues to be an eerie place that is mostly filled with water – is at a short walk from the Barog Railway station or the HPTDC managed hotel.
With time, Barog (1630m) has developed into a curious and pretty little hillside in the centre of a magnificent amphitheatre of hills, which rise one above the other on every side. Set amidst pine and oak forests, Barog enjoys a commanding view including a frontal view of Chur Chandani peak in Sirmour. Apart from the short hikes it offers, Barog can be an ideal base to explore Dagshai, Solan as well as Karol ka Tibba. The Barog railway station on the Kalka-Shimla narrow gauge route, where quite a few Bollywood movies have been filmed, is yet another ideal spot for just a short rest. There is no dearth of rooms and food at Barog and even at the station which is managed by the northern railways.