Himachal At A Glance
Land of Eternal Snow Peaks and Valleys
Area: 55,673 sq. km
Population: 6.13 million
Main Languages: Hindi and Pahari
Best time to visit: Mid May to Mid October (if trekking) and Late December to March (for winter sports)
Himachal Pradesh – the land of the eternal snow peaks – takes in the transition zone from the plains to the high Himalayas and in the trans-Himalayan region of Lahaul and Spiti actually crosses the mighty barrier to the Tibetan plateau. The State is bordered by Jammu and Kashmir in the north, Punjab in the west, Haryana in the south, Uttar Pradesh in the southeast and Tibet in the east.
Geographically speaking, Himachal is dominated by mountains and their associated rivers and valley. The mountains include Leo Pargial (6791m) in Kinnaur; Deo Tibba (6001m) near Manali, Kinnaur Kailash (6050m) to name a few. The mountain passes, such as the Rohtang La (3978m), Baralacha La (4950m) and Kunzum La (4551m), are pivotal points between culturally distinct regions. ‘La’ is a Tibetan word meaning pass. In winter, Lahaul and Spiti are completely isolated when these passes are blocked by snow. The Valleys are the easiest way to segregate the State, the major ones are namely – Lahaul and Spiti valleys in the northeast and east; Parbati and Kullu valleys in the centre and south, Kangra valley in the west; and Chamba and Pattan valleys in the north west
The regions that today comprise Himachal Pradesh were, in ancient times, crossed by trade routes to Tibet and Central Asia and also commanded the Sach Pass that led to Kashmir. The earliest known inhabitants of the region were tribals called Dasas. Later, Aryans came and they assimilated in the tribes. These hill chieftains accepted the suzerainty of subsequent Empires – the Mauryas, the Kushans, the Guptas and the Kannauj rulers. The Rajas, Ranas and Thakurs, however, ran their rival rahuns and thakurais, making Himachal a patchwork quilt of tiny states. Only Kangra and Kullu and later Chamba, had the power to break out of the petty feuding system. Several Himachal states had kings from Bengal, the best known of these is Mandi, which was founded in 1527. With the exception of the bigger states, most of the later states were founded by Rajput adventurers from the plains in the early medieval period.
The first westerners to visit the region were Jesuit missionaries, in search of the legendary kingdom of Prester John. The British discovered Himachal after their wars with the Sikhs and the Gurkhas. Little bits of England were created in Shimla, Dalhousie and Dharamsala during the late 19th century. In the interior however, feudal conditions remained. The State of Himachal Pradesh was formed in 1948. By 1966 the Pahari-speaking parts under Punjab administration including the Kangra, Kullu, Lahaul and Spiti were added. Full statehood was achieved only in 1971.
The popular hill station of Dalhousie is located in the Chamba Valley, at the foot of the spectacular Dhaula Dhar range of the Himalayas. It covers an area of around 14 sq. km, and is sprawled over five hills – Kathlog, Portreyn, Moti Tibba (formerly known as Tehra), Bakrota and Balun. It is a town full of old world charm and holds lingering echoes of the ‘British Raj’. This town was acquired from the Raja of Chamba by the British and was named after Lord Dalhousie, the then Viceroy of India. Dalhousie is famous for its public schools.
The lush cover of vegetation that adorns the town comprises of towering pines, deodars, oaks, and the beautiful rhododendron plants. Dalhousie also houses many fine specimens of colonial architecture especially, its old churches. The views that the resort has to offer are alone, worth a visit – to the north, one can gaze at the majestic mountains of the Dhaula Dhar range, that culminate in the Pir Panjal mountains of Kashmir, to the south, the plains of Punjab are discernible. Far below, the beautiful river Ravi can be sighted meandering its way through the plains.
Khajjiar (1960m) – often called ‘Mini Switzerland’, is a grassy marg (meadow) located 22km from Dalhousie towards Chamba. Along its fringes, thick forests of deodar climb the slopes, the snowline rests above these woods. The area is ringed by pine trees and in the centre of the glade, is a small lake fed by streams that traverse the green carpet. The lake has a golden domed Devi temple on a floating island. There is also a 12th century temple dedicated to Khajjinag. Within the temple are life-size wooden images of the five Pandava brothers of the Mahabharata
Chamba (926m) – is a serene town located on the bank of the Ravi River. An erstwhile princely state, it was the capital of the former rulers of Chamba. Its history dates back to the 6th century AD when it was ruled by a single Rajput clan till Independence in 1947. The town was founded by Raja Sahil Varman, who shifted the original capital here from Brahmpura (now known as Bharmour) and named it after his daughter Champavati. Today, it is famous for its marvelous architecture, and as the base for some fantastic excursions and treks. It has often been compared to a medieval Italian village and is famed for its ancient temples.
Set against the backdrop of the dramatic Dhaula Dhar Mountains, Dharamsala is one of the principle towns of the Kangra valley. With dense pine and deodar forests, numerous streams, cool healthy air, attractive surroundings and the nearby snowline, Dharamsala has everything for a perfect holiday. It is a charming town with elegant bungalows nestling in thick conifer forests.
Today Dharamsala has become synonymous to the Tibetan government in exile. It is the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, spiritual head of the Buddhists, who is now quartered at McLeodganj (also called Upper Dharamsala).
Bhagsunath – located 11km from Dharamsala, is a village that has springs and an Shiva temple built by the Raja of Kangra in the 16th century. There is also a waterfall here.
Triund Lake – is based at the foot of Dhaula Dhar ranges, 17km from Dharamsala. This is a popular picnic spot and trek route, with spectacular views of the mountains and valleys.
Pragpur – about 80kms from Dharamsala, is a small town located at an elevation of 1800feet in the Kangra Valley nestling below the majestic Dhaula Dhar Ranges. Local sights include nature walks, Kangra wall paintings at Dada Siba, visit to river Beas (within 15kms)
Kullu, located at an altitude of 1200m, is the district headquarters of the Kullu Valley. Located on the banks of the Beas River, the valley was once known as Kulanthapitha (End of the Habitable World). The first recorded inhabitants of the valley date back to the 1st century. Kullu came to be accessible to the outside world, only after Independence. This long period of seclusion served to enhance the element of rawness and simplicity that is inherent in the area and allowed the area to retain a considerable measure of its traditional charm. The valley is also known as the Valley of Gods due to the profusion of Hindu religious traditions and myths in nearly every stream and rock. In medieval times, it was the seat of a great hill kingdom. Today it is famous for its apple orchards, wooden temples, folk music and dance.
Adventure – the Kullu valley is the meeting point of several trek routes, mainly the routes from Chanderkhani Pass to Malana, over the Jalori Pass or Bashleo Pass to Shimla and over the Pin Parvati Pass to Sarahan. The magnificent Beas also offers ample opportunities for some exciting White River rafting.
Manikaran (1,737m) – located 45km from Kullu and en route to Manali, this place is famous for its hot water sulphur springs. It derives its name from a legend according to which, Parvati, Lord Shiva’s consort lost her earrings or manikarna and recovered them at the site from which the sulphur springs arise. There is also a Gurudwara in the area, and consequently, this spot is deemed sacred by both Hindus and Sikhs. The spring is said to be radioactive which cures many skin diseases. The water here is so hot that if rice and dal (lentil) is tied up in a cloth, it will soon be ready for eating. Thousands of pilgrims visit this place and have a dip in these springs. There are also trek routes from here that lead on to Pulga, Khirganga and Mantalai.
Manali (2050m) is located at the northern end of the Kullu Valley along the banks of the Beas River. Set amidst pinewoods with high mountains, Manali presents some magnificent vistas of the Himalayas. It is also the centre of a flourishing orchard industry, a popular honeymoon destination and trailhead for numerous treks. The nearby country and villages are truly beautiful and not to be missed. It is believed that when the entire world was deluged with rain and all the land was covered with water, arose a place of breathtaking natural beauty – which was only appropriate for, It was at Manali that life began again. As per legend, Manu, Hinduism’s Noah, stepped off a boat in Manali to recreate human life after floods had devastated the world. Manali means ‘Home of Manu’.
Rohtang Pass (3,980m) – 51km from Manali, the Pass once served as a crucial trade route, and still is the gateway to the Lahaul and Spiti valleys and the second entry (or exit) point to the tribal region (the other being Shimla). With its snows Rohtang is a major tourist attraction. A two-hour drive from Manali to Rohtang offers sledging, skiing, and tobogganing and a chance to frolic in
the snow. The road up to the pass opens only when the snow has melted (From June to October).
On the way to Rohtang Pass there are some other interesting places like Nehru Kund, a beautiful spring named after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru; Kothi, an idyllic village, which boasts of a superb view of the deep gorge, and the Beas River rushing through it. The Rahalla Falls (2500m), 16km from Manali is a charming spot for picnics
Nalagarh is the gateway to Himachal Pradesh in North India. Located about 60km from Chandigarh and 135kms before Shimla, it was a part of the Hindur state that came into being with Raja Ajai Chand (1100-1171 AD). The town itself was founded in the 15th century under Raja Bikram Chand (ruled 1421-35) and became the capital of the state. It was ruled by the Chandela Rajputs who originated from Chanderi in the Bundelkhand region of Central India. The Hindur used to be an important state in the confederacy of the Shimla hill states and bore the brunt of many a battle.
Nalagarh is known for its Fort built in 1421 during the reign of Raja Bikram Chand, which is also the major landmark of the area. The Fort is located on a hillock at the foothills of the Himalayas has now been converted into a heritage hotel, an ideal retreat away from the madding crowd. It stands above an estate of forests and orchards. In fact, it is built lavishly and strategically on five levels around manicured grassy courts. The fort offers splendid views of the Shivalik Hills beyond the Sirsa River with the Naina Devi Temple visible on a clear day. The present Raja has opened his home to guests and the once sacrosanct Diwan-i-Khas now serves as a banquet hall of the hotel.
Palampur (1260m) is a major station in the Kangra Valley. It is a pleasant little town with beautiful snow-views, surrounded by old British tea plantations and thriving on horticulture. In local parlance, the word for lots of water is ‘pulum’. This is what has given Palampur its name and it is water that has given the valley so much of its character. Countless streams and brooks crisscross the landscape. The town came into being when the tea bush was introduced in the 19th century and Palampur became a focus for the planters. Kangra Tea, with its centre at Palampur, has been internationally acclaimed since then.
Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh was once part of the Nepalese kingdom and was called Shyamala, another name for the Goddess Kali. It is gained fame under the British who made it their Summer Capital. And after the construction of the Kalka – Shimla railway line in 1903, the town really bloomed. Located at an altitude of 7,267 feet, is inhabited around a crescent – shaped ridge, which is blessed with perennially cool air and amazing views. It provides superb panoramic sights of the valleys, and the lofty peaks of the great Himalayan range, on both sides. The colourful local bazaars of Shimla are sprawled over the southern slopes of the ridge. The town still echoes of its colonial past with neo-Gothic Churches and imperial buildings dotting this
beautiful hill station.
When you are in Kullu
One can enjoy Trekking, mountaineering, skiing during the winters, white water rafting and para gliding are some of the adventurous sports.
You can also visit these places.
- Basheshwar Mahadev Temple
- Sultanpur Palace
- Parvati Valley
- Raghunathji Temple
- Bijli Mahadev Temple