Of Gods and Mountains
The state of Himachal, with an area of over 55,000 sq.kms. and a population of 5M, is almost entirely mountainous, and full of magnificent scenery. The lower hills are dotted with popular resort towns, while higher up mighty mountain ranges form the border with Tibet. It is a paradise for the adventurous mountaineers, trekkers, river rafting enthusiasts and, in the winter, for skiers.
Situated at a height of 2,205 m., Shimla, the state capital, is spread over a 12 km. ridge and offers fantastic panoramic views of distant snow peaks. The hills around are thickly wooded with pine, fir, rhododendron and Himalayan oak – sylvan settings for enchanted walks. The British chose the ridge of Shimla for their summer capital, and the town is a mixture of Gothic and mock Tudor buildings, English cottages and new, impersonal architecture. It is an excellent base from which to visit scenic places such as Chail, Kufri, Narkanda and even Kinnaur.
Kulu and Manali
On the banks of the Beas river, at an altitude of 1,200 m., is the Kulu valley, famous for its apple orchards, its beautiful people, its gods and temples, and’its folk songs and dances. Further up lies the lovely resort town of Manali, encircled by snow covered peaks. The sulphur springs of Vashisht are 3 kms. away, on the road to the 3,900 m. high Rohtang Pass, a drive of unparalleled beauty. in itself.
Lahaul and Spiti
Beyond the Rohtang Pass lie the valleys of Lahaul and Spiti. The Rohtang Pass remains open from May to October only and these valleys are cut off from the rest of the world for the greater part of the year. Interspersed with the rivers, valleys, mountains, glaciers and pastures of Lahaul and Spiti are forts, gompas (monasteries) and ancient frescoed buildings, for the heritage here is predominantly Buddhist.
The Kangra Valley
The valley is one of the most charming areas of the Himalayas. Dharamsala, the focal point of the Kangra Valley is situated at the foot of the Dauladhar Range, and is divided into Upper and
Lower Dharamsala. His Holiness the Dalai Lama now resides in Upper Dharamsala and the area is as famous, for its historic temples as it is for its Tibetan flavour.
The legendary valley of milk and honey, Chamba is almost unrivalled in beauty. With an altitude ranging from 600m. to 6,300m., this area has all the charms of Himachal. Valleys, meadows, rivers, lakes, springs and thick forests provide a fitting backdrop to the ancient Shiva and Vishnu temples of Chamba town, some of which date back to the 10th century. Dalhousie, a quiet hill station, is located on five small hills. Bharmaur, the yesteryear capital of the Chamba princely state, is famous for it’s Pahari architecture and Nurpur for it’s handspun textiles.
Shawls, embroidered woollens, handmade shoes, wooden toys and other articles of wood and handlooms are some of the local crafts.
Shimla and Kulu are connected by air. There is also a narrow gauge line which connects Shimla by rail to Kalka. Himachal is best travelled by roads as the terrain restricts rail travel and most settlements are not large enough for air connections.
There are good, comfortable hotels all over the state; the smaller destinations have cottages, government run tourist bungalows and guest houses, etc.