Of snow-capped mountains and smokey lore, Himachal Pradesh is so much more than hill stations with colonial hangovers. There're legends to be followed through Shimla's mall road and Old Manali's cobbled streets, ancient lore to be listened to and nirvana to be attained.
Delhi to Shimla
Shimla offers much more than charming colonial buildings against a backdrop of the magnificent snow-capped Himalayas. Take the long drive from the City of Djinns to the former summer capital of British India. While on this fascinating drive, stop by to visit the Mughal-styled gardens at Pinjore or the famous ropeway to Timber Trail at Parwanoo. The turns become more frequent and the pine trees grow thicker as you climb higher. The concrete houses planted on the slopes of the hills beside the coniferous trees present a picture of an urban hill-town.
Check in to your hotel, rest and in the evening head out for a stroll at Shimla's hotspot - the Mall Road. Walk the ridge, take note of the colonial structures that still houses government offices and the iconic Christ Church.
Heritage walk from Scandal Point to Viceregal Lodge
Shimla has a lot of stories to tell, some legends and more heritage, but all equally exciting. The heritage walk begins at the appropriately named 'Scandal Point'. Legend has it that the Maharajah of Patiala was exiled from Shimla after a fierce argument with the Viceroy (where some stories say he eloped with the Viceroy's daughter) and was eventually exiled from Shimla - giving this spot its name in 1892 (the Maharaja went on to build a summer palace in Chail close by). Send yourself a postcard from the timber-structured 'wild west Swiss'-styled 133-year-old Shimla General Post Office as a souvenir from Himachal. Pass Christ Church on the ridge that was built back in 1857 with its tower clock and fresco designed by Rudyard Kipling's father. Take a break at The Town Hall's steps, but make way for officials as it's still used by the Municipal Corporation of Shimla. Get transported to grandeur and aura of times gone by at the century-old Gaiety Theatre before you move on to the ancient Kali Bari Temple. Stop for a breather at the neo-Gothic Gorton Castle set in the midst of gigantic Deodars. Walk past the enormous Vidhan Sabha to the old Victorian mansion that now houses the Himachal State Museum with its numerous cultural treasures. Head on to the Viceroy's Lodge used by viceroys and governor-generals of India in summer. Our local expert will walk you through the history of each of these sites and the local legends that go with them. Be prepared for a pleasant colonial hangover at the end of this walk.
Shimla to Manali
An early checkout is necessary if you want to enjoy the beautiful sites en route to Manali from Shimla. Believe us, you'll come across plenty of sites wherein you'd stop your car to look at the scenery and click a few photos. The Beas River seems to be in a hurry rushing downhill as you make your way up to Manali. A slice of heaven in the midst of some seriously spreading urbanization around the area, Manali offers that perfect mix of cultural serenity in a rapidly growing town.
Sightseeing in Manali
A short drive from your hotel will take you to the ancient Hadimba Temple. This ancient wooden structure, built over a huge rock that was worshiped as a deity, is dedicated to Hadimbi Devi from the Mahabharath. Past narrow lanes of Old Manali's bazaars, you get to the small village of Vashisht with its natural hot springs. Visit the revered Manu Temple on your way here as our guide tells you more about the significance of various temples around the region. The serene little village of Vashisht is home to a few hotels with quaint terraces as well as fascinating old stone temples directly opposite each other. Enjoy a warm dip at the hot springs here before you head on to Jogini waterfalls. Sci-fi-esque scenery marks the area around Jogini waterfalls with grey rock massifs and dense green surroundings. Enjoy some time here by the high Jogini Falls before you head back.
Rohtang Pass Drive
Manali has been a major draw for tourists for a fairly long time now, and one of its star attractions is the drive to Rohtang pass. The ban of diesel vehicles and activities and eateries at the pass by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) did create some confusion, but clarity ensued, and this has been well received by nature lovers. We pick you up from your hotel for the 51-kilometre drive from Manali to Rohtang Pass. One of Manali's most scenic rides, the road at first runs parallel to the turquoise Beas river till you leave it behind for an uphill drive towards the pass. Forested mountain slopes and flat-topped grasslands make you want to stop at every turn to capture these frames on your camera. Distant waterfalls and a sudden wind before you make it to the top sort of wakes you up to the fact that the pass is near. A quick glance back on the loops set against the incoming mist is a mystical treat. With panoramic views of the mountains all around you, the road that leads further down disappears out of sight. At 3978 metres above msl, you feel on top of the world! Zip up those jackets as the wind here is chilly and tends to blow rather hard. After a little rambling around the top and the trails nearby, we drive you back to your hotel. You've been there, done that!
Manali to Dharamshala
From the heights of Manali to the gem of Kangra, this drive is eventful as well as beautiful. The old Shiva temple at Baijnath and the lush tea-gardens of Palampur call for a break in your journey. Surrounded by beautiful dense pine and deodar forests, Dharamshala is divided into the Upper section (which is essentially Mcleodganj about 4 kilometres north) and Lower section of town. Literally bursting at the seams with everything Tibetan, from momos to monks, there are Tibetan souvenir shops around every corner and nirvana-searching souls of every known nationality. This former colonial hill station, in the higher reaches of Kangra Valley, is now the centre for the exiled Tibetan government. Explore the caf?s around the main square and taste some lovely Tibetan delicacies.
Full Day Cultural Tour
The best of Mcleodganj in a day begins with a visit to Bhagsu Nag Temple and the waterfalls beyond. A mere 2-kilometre drive from Mcleodganj would take you to Dharamshala's hotel hotbed in Bhagsu. Walk past the natural swimming pool, fed by the waters of Bhagsu falls, although taking a dip here might not be an option with the general crowd around. A gradual climb, of about 20 minutes, on a cemented pathway would then take you up to the famous Bhagsu Nag temple and waterfalls ahead. Stop for a minute by the clear turquoise pool at the base where tourists sit and enjoy spray from the falls. Move on to the Church of St. John in the Wilderness. Built in 1852, this church survived the fatal Kangra earthquake (that resulted in the loss of nearly 20,000 lives) and is a charming stone structure nestled amidst coniferous trees. With beautiful Belgian stained-glass windows and a unique bell (brought all the way from England), the church also has an interesting cemetery with gravestones dating back to the British era. We then drive down to Dal Lake where, if you're lucky to be visiting at the right time of the year, the annual festival to celebrate the sacred night of Shiva is held. A couple of kilometres from the Dal Lake would then lead up to the quaint village of Naddi. Perched high up in the mountains in the shadow of the imposing Dhauladhars, once a pristine gaddi (shepherds) village, Naddi now has a couple of hotels up on the top of the hill. With panoramic views all around, a walk down pebbled trails would lead you to the Naddi of old. Scenic stone-roof houses, mud-washed floors and smiling local children welcome you to this little hamlet.
A 16 kilometre downhill drive from Naddi would then lead you to the serene Norbulingka Institute. Originally set up in 1988 to keep Tibetan culture and heritage alive, the Norbulingka Institute also offers courses in traditional Tibetan studies, English, Chinese, and world history. Spend some time at the art studio for real-time demonstrations of Tibetan statue making, thangka (scroll) painting, screen-printing, appliqu? and tailoring, woodcarving, wood painting, papermaking, and wood and metal craft. A gentle walk in the Japanese-styled gardens leaves you with a clear impression of why this institute is named after the Dalai Lama's summer residence. The seat of Happiness temple is known for its 1,173 murals of Buddha, frescoes of all the Dalai Lamas and drawings chronicling the life of the 14th Dalai Lama. The main hall has the 4-metre high gilded copper Buddha Sakyamuni statue, made by the institute's master statue-maker, the late Chenmo Pemba Dorje.
After a sumptuous Tibetan lunch, we drive down a further 30 kilometres to the rolling tea-covered hills of Palampur. The, supposedly, 12th century AD Shiva Temple of Baijnath is revered as a mark of respect to Ravana's devotion to Lord Shiva (Dussehra festival in October, in which traditionally the effigy of Ravana lit, is not celebrated at Baijnath). The day comes to a perfect end with a visit to the Tashi Jong Monastery at Palampur, famous for its craft emporium and Tibetan artefacts. A big, wide courtyard welcomes you to witness the wood-carved gilded monastery. Interact with the monks here as you take look at beautiful handicrafts the monastery has to offer.
Our local expert will take you through the history of Mcleodganj, its culture and traditions, the story of Dalai Lama, and how this town became a beacon of hope for Tibetans in exile.
Dharamshala to Dalhousie
Often the setting for numerous short stories and fiction, Dalhousie is Chamba District's most popular hill station. A fairly long, but fantastically scenic drive would lead you up to this charming town on five hills. Founded, obviously, by The Earl of Dalhousie, then Viceroy to India in 1850, Dalhousie lives up to its image of being a constant crowd pleaser and attracts tourists from across the country. Much of Dalhousie's elevation as a premier tourist destination can be attributed to the meadow of Khajjiar. Thick deodar trees, almost suddenly, open out to a great clearing with deep green slopes to a small lake. Enchanting beauty with vast grass expanses reveal a temple in the distance with a couple of shops beside.
Dalhousie to Amritsar
From the hills to the plains, the drive takes you to one of the most fertile patches of land in India. Lying close to the border of Pakistan, Amritsar is a revered city for the Sikhs owing to the presence of the beautiful Golden Temple. Enjoy the calm of this beautiful gurudwara and its finger licking good food that is served here for free. The tragic massacre at Jallianwala Bagh still hurts but the story needs to be heard. Spend a little time understanding the event and praying for the people who lost their lives.
Amritsar to Delhi
Prepare for the journey back home with all the memories in your mind and the hundreds of photos in that camera of yours.