Inside Himachal Pradesh
"Nature I love best, then art, For, Nature is God, and God is nature."
Kulu Valley in Himachal Pradesh is known as one of the most beautiful places on earth. Shimla, capital of Himachal Pradesh, is one of the most important hill stations of India. The main languages spoken here are Hindi and Pahari. It has an area of 55,673 sq km. It came to be in its present form with the partition of Punjab into Punjab and Haryana in 1966. It is a mountainous state and takes in the transition zone from the plains to the high Himalayas. Visitors throng here to beat the heat during summer. Shimla, the "summer capital" of the British, was discovered by them in 1819 and is at an altitude of 2130 metres.
Himachal Pradesh is bordered by Kashmir on the North, Tibet on the East and Uttar Pradesh and Punjab on south-western side. Agriculture is the main occupation here. Fruits, ginger, vegetables, wheat and paddy are the main crops here. About 36.6 per cent of the area is covered by forests. The minerals available here are Gypsum, Rocksalt, Dolmite, Pyrite, etc. Hydro- electric power is generated at Rohtong.
This place is excellent for trekking and mountaineering.
The trekking season here starts from May and ends in October. Fishing possibilities here are very good, and there are a number of trout hatcheries. However, a license has to be obtained for fishing. Himalayan black and brown bears are found in many parts of the state; the black bear is fairly common, but the brown bear is usually found at higher altitudes. In certain districts, wild boars can be found at lower altitudes. Snow leopards are now very rare and found only in remote parts of the state. Panthers and leopards are, however, still found in many forest regions. Himachal Pradesh has numerous kinds of pheasants, partridges and mountain birds.
Though Himachal Pradesh has no renowned temples, the ones it does have are interesting and architecturally very diverse. Eighth and tenth century temples in the Indo-Aryan shikhara style are found in the Kangra and Chamba valleys. Pagoda style temples with multi-tiered roofs are found in the Kulu valley. Temples with Moghul and Sikh designs are to be found to the south of the state. In Lahaul & Spiti to the north of the state, Tibetans who came to the state from China, have built colourful gompas (monasteries) and temples.
Shawls woven in Kulu Valley are very popular. These are made from the fleece shed in summer by mountain goats. Shawls made out of hairs from the pashmina goat is the finest. Leather chappals are worth buying in Chamba.
Shimla: Altitude: 2130m. Shimla was the summer capital of the British before Independence. During summer, the elite come here to beat the heat. The high-flown social life here still has an air of the British about it.
The Residence of the Viceroy, is a huge, fortress-like building having six storeys and magnificent reception and dining halls. It is situated on a hillock west of Shimla. It is open to public and also houses a good library.
The Jakhu temple which is at an altitude of 2455 metres, is near the highest point of the Shimla ridge and is dedicated to Lord Hanuman. There are many monkeys around the temple and it offers a fine view over the surrounding valleys and the snow-capped peaks.
The State Museum which is about 1 km from the church on the Mall, has a modest collection of stone statues from different places in Himachal Pradesh. It also exhibits pictures from the Kangra school. Four km from Shimla is The Glen, which is a popular picnic spot with a stream flowing through it.
Chadwick Falls and the Summer Hill which are about five km from Shimla are worth visiting, especially during the monsoon when the Chadwick Falls is a sight to behold.
Thirteen km from Shimla is the Wildflower Hall; it was the former residence of Indian commander-in-chief, Lord Kitchener. The huge mansion surrounded by pine trees provides a fine view over, Shimla, the mountain peaks in the Pir Panjal and Badrlnath ranges. Now, this is converted into a Hotel.
The best known ski resort in Himachal Pradesh is Kufri which is 16 km from Shimla.
The other places worth visiting here are Mashobra (good for forest walks), Craignano, Naldera and Fagu.
Local tours, tours to places around Shimla and longer tours are conducted by HPTDC.
Things to buy:
Wood carvings and other craft items.
How to get there:
Air: Flights operate from Shimla to Delhi.
Bus: Buses connect Shimla with Chandigarh, Delhi, Dhar- masala, Kulu Valley, Manali, Dehra Dun etc.
Train: Trains connect Shimla with Kalka, Solan, New Delhi, etc
The rail trip from Shimla to Kalka is miles and miles of smiles though a little more ex- pensive than by road. The narrow-gauge railway line was built in 1904. Pinjore, 21 km south-east of Kalka near Chandigarh has a Moghul summer- house and a garden.
The highest point cricket pitch in the world can be found in Chail, which is 45 km from Shimla. Chail has a palace dating back to the days when it was the summer capital of the princely state of Patalia. Today this is a luxurious hotel.
Kasauli, which is 15 km from Kalka is a pleasant hill station. Four km away is Monkey Point, a picnic spot and look-out with a panoramic view. Thirty eight km from Kasauli is Sabathu which has a 19th century fortress built by the Gorkhas.
Sixty four km from Shimla is Narkanda, which has been recently developed as a skiing centre. This is a popular spot for viewing the Himalayas. From here one can continue journey to Kulu Valley and on the way can be found apple or- chards around " Kotgarh. Another apple growing area on this route is Thanedhar.
The south of Himachal Pradesh is bordered by Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. This border district is known as Sirmur. There are a number of places of interest to see here.
Paonta Sahib is situated on the Yamuna River on the border with Uttar Pradesh. Guru Gobind Singh lived here. Twenty three km from here at Bhangani, he achieved a great military victory and his weapons are displayed here in his gurdwara.
The Renuka Lake which is to the north-west of Paonta Sahib is the centre for a major festival held each November. There is a small zoo and a wildlife sanctuary with deers and many water birds.
Nahan in the Shivalik hills is the place where the climb to the Himalayas commences. On the trek to Choordhar one could take an enchanting view of the plains to the south and the Sutlej River. There is a fossil park with life-sized fibre glass models of pre-historic animals at Saketi which is 14 km south of Nahan.
To the south-west is the Bhakra-Nangal Dam, which is one of the largest in the world. Permission to visit this dam are arranged at the public relations office at the dam. This dam provides irrigation water to a vast area in Punjab and also produces hydro-electric power. Close by are Bilaspur and Naina Devi. On the banks of the Gobindsagar Lake, the Vyas Gufa, Lakshmi Narayan and Radha-Shyam temples are worth seeing. The scenic beauty over the lake from Naina Devi is superb.
The town of Mandi, on the Beas river, is the gateway to Kulu Valiey. At an altitude of 760 metres, the temperature is higher here, but the town is famous for its beautifully stone-carved temples. Mandi is 202 km north of Chandigarh and 110 km south of Manali. This town mainly serves as a traveller's crossroad as the roads from Pathankot and Dharamsala meet here whether one goes to Chandigarh or to Kulu Valley.
Another place worth visiting here is the Rewabar Lake which is 24 km south-east. This is a pilgrimage centre for Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs. There is a mountain cave refuge here as many foreign Buddhists stay here.
Kangra Valley: Starting from Mandi, it runs north- ward, then bends east-ward and extends to Shahpur near Pathankot. There are a number of places of interest along the valley, including the popular hill-station-- Dharamsala. The Kangra School of Painting developed in this Valley. Baijnath which is 16 km from Palampur is an important pilgrimage centre because of a very old Shiva temple here dating back to 804 AD. Palampur is 35 km from Dharamsala and is surrounded by tea plantations. The Kangra town is 18 km to the south of Dharamsala. Here stands the famous temple of Bajreshwari Devi dating back to the first century. It was invaded time and again and its legendary wealth carried off by Mahmud of Ghazni, Tughlaq and others. It has since been rebuilt.
Jwalamukhi, 34 km south of Kanga is famous for the temple with its eternally burning flame and is the most popular pilgrimage sites in Himachal Pradesh. Eighty km south of Dharamsala near Bharwain is Chintpurni, which also has an important temple.
Nurpur which is 24 km from Pathankot acquired its name in 1622 when Jehangir named it after his wife, Nurjahan. Nurpur fort is now in ruins, but still has some finely carved reliefs. A ruined, but well carved Krishna temple also stands within the fort.
Dharamsala: This hill station varies in height from 1250 metres to 2000 metres. Also, there is a temperature variation between the top and the bottom. Dharamsala has the additional attraction of its Tibetan influence. It was here that the Dalai Lama and his followers fled after the Chinese invasion of Tibet. It has one of the best schools in the world for a study on Tibet and its culture. At McLeod Ganj, there are many Tibetan hotels selling foodstuffs at low prices. Dharamsala was originally a British hill resort. Near McLeod Ganj, stands the beautiful church of St. John, where Lord Elgin, Viceroy of India was buried in 1863.
How to get there:
Buses connect Dharmasala with Shimla, Delhi, Manali, Kulu, Chandigarh & Pathankot.
Dalhousie: Altitude 2036m. Founded by Lord Dalhousie, the town sprawls over around five hills. This was a place where those who could not go to Shimla, retired to. Dalhousie is a good place to spend some time at, with its dense forest, old English houses and Tibetans selling colourful handicrafts, with carpets in different designs of rabbits, elephants and nature. Nearby is a fresh water spring--Satdhara. Kalatop offers an exhilarating view over the surrounding country-side.
How to get there:
Buses connect Dalhousie with Pathankot, Amritsar, Jammu, Dharmasala, Shimla and Chamba.
Khajjiar: This is 22 km from Dalhousie, and is ringed by pine trees with a lake in the middle. There is a golf course and a golden-domed temple here.
Chamba: Altitude 996m. Beyond Khajjiar and 56 km away from Dalhousie, is Chamba. High above the river Ravi and perched on a hedge, it is often compared to a medieval Italian village. It is famous for its temples, which are dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. The Bhuri Singh Museum houses the art and cultural collection of this region, particularly the miniature paintings of the Basohli and Kangra schools. The Rang Mahal palace in the upper part of the town had been damaged in a fire. Some of its murals are now in the museum. There are a number of interesting treks from Chamba-- both long and short. The temple of Devi Adi Shakti here is dedicated to the goddess of primeval energy.
How to get there:
Buses operate from Chamba to Dalhousie and Pathankot.
Brahmpura : Brahmpura is 65 km from Chamba. There are some very old temples here which are grouped in a compound known as the chaurasi. Dharamsala is about 80 km from here. One can cover the distance by walk in about six days. During the walk, one can take a lovely view over the Kangra Valley. The important pilgrimage spot Manimahesh Kailash is about 35 km trek from here. Thousands of people congregate here on the 15th day after Janmashtami which falls in August or September each year. Kilar, 167 km north-east of Chamba is in the high Himalayas, in the nar- row and deep gorge of the Chenab River. This is the Pangi Valley. From here one can trek to Kishtwar in Jammu & Kashmir or into the Aanskar Valley or to Keylong and Manali.
The Kulu Valley: The main towns, Kulu and Manali, are in the fertile section of this valley. It is also the gateway to Lahaul & Spiti. In the south, the valley is wider than a precipitous gorge, with the Beas river. The valley is more than 80 km long and barely more than couple of km wide. Here are stone fruit and apple orchards, paddy and wheat fields with snow covered rocky peaks in the background. People here are light complexioned and friendly. They are hard-working and relatively prosperous. Women- folk here wear lots of silver jewellery and flowing garments of homespun wool. They are rarely seen without a large conical-shaped basket on their backs, filled with fodder, firewood or even a goat kid. Other inhabitants in this valley are the Gaddis, who are nomads. They take their flocks of black sheep and white goats up to the mountain pastures in the early summer and retreat before the winter snows. There are also some Tibetan refugees here who run restaurants and hotels in Manali. Tibetans are shrewd traders-- they are found in most of the bazaars and also work in road gangs.
Kulu town is at an altitude of 1200 metres. Though not a tourist centre, it is a site for Kulu's fairs and festivals. In particular, is the colourful Dussehra festival, from which the Kulu Valley gained the name 'Valley of the Gods'. This festival is celebrated all over India in October, starting on the 10th day of the rising moon known as Vijaya Dashami and continues for nine days.
Dussehra is in celebration of Lord Rama's victory over the demon king Ravana, but in Kulu, the festival does not include the burning of Ravana and his brothers, as in other places in India.
All the gods from the various temples around the valley are brought from their temples down to Kulu during Dussehra to pay homage to Lord Raghunath in the temple at Raghunathpura in Kulu. The gods number around 200. The festival cannot commence until the powerful goddess Hidimba, patron deity of the Kulu rajas, arrives from Manali. Like the other gods, she is pulled in her own temple car or 'rath'. Hidimba arrives before all the other gods and also leaves before them. The Raghunathji chariot is brought down, decked with flowers and surrounded by other important gods. Priests and the descendants of Kulu's rajas circle (pradakshina) the rath before it is pulled to the other side of the ground. The following days and nights of the festival are marked by dances, music, fairs and other festivities. It concludes when Lord Raghunath is carried back to his main temple in a wooden palanquin.
Other main temples in and around Kulu are the Jagannathi Devi Temple, Vaishno Devi Temple and Bijli Mahadev Temple. Fifteen km south of Kulu is Bajaura, wheredle famous temple of Basheshar Mahadev has enchanting stone carvings and sculptures. There are large image slabs facing north, west and. the south.
Near the Parvati Valley, which is to the south of Kulu, is Manikaran built near sulphur hot springs. It is interesting to watch the locals cook their food in the pools of hot water at the Sikh temple. The temple offers free accommodation with hot water bath facility separately for men and women.
Other places of sheer scenic beauty here are Raison, Naggar and Katrain.
How to get there:
Air: Flights connect Kulu with Delhi, Shimla, Chandigarh, etc.
Bus: Buses connect Kulu with Dhannasala, Shimla, Chandigarh, Delhi, Manali etc.
Rafting trips on the Beas river, treks mountain biking tours, kayaking tours, etc, are conducted by Gy Robins & Gerry Meffat, who operate Equator expeditions.
During the high season, bus tours to Rohtang Pass, Mam- karam and Naggar castle are conducted.
Manali: Manali is 42 km from Kulu on the main road. Manali is beautifully situated offering pleasant walks around the town and a large number of hotels. At the peak of tourist season, it abounds with Indian and foreign tourists. Smaller villages around Manali have semi-permanent hippy population. These villages are beautiful and worth seeing. Manali' is famous for its marijuana where it grows wild all around. But the police are strict here and will confiscate any marijuana found on one's person.
Nearby is the Hidimba Devi Temple. It is a wooden temple in a clearing in the dense forest. It was built in 1553 and is also known as the Dhungri Temple.
Accommodation in and around Manali is quite cheap except for the period from March to April which is the peak season. Independent houses can be rented for as low as Rs 700/- per month in the near-by villages.
How to get there:
Bus: Buses operate from Manali to Delhi, Shimla, Dharmasala, Mandi, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Jammu, Kulu, Keylong.