Once you have hiked up to Triund, eaten grilled trout in Manali and strolled through the tea gardens of Palampur, what next?
Walk in Jibhi Nature Reserve, hike in the Jubbal region, and try a weekend of pottery at the Shilaroo Project
Himachal Pradesh is a summer favourite, with its orchard-framed villages, snow-dusted peaks and friendly residents. But once you have hiked up to Triund, eaten grilled trout in Manali and strolled through the tea gardens of Palampur, what next? From offbeat driving routes to new cultural capers, here are some interesting new ways to navigate Himachal this summer.
Despite the limit on vehicles to Rohtang Pass, a large number of tourists visit it daily to fulfil their desire to see a high-altitude pass. Hardly a surprise, since it is quite an awe-inspiring sight. To skip the queues and crowds and truly enjoy the majesty of the mountains, drive instead to Sach Pass at 14,500ft, which connects the Chamba and Pangi valleys of western Himachal. The route is often used by the army, and offers a good fix of adventure for off-roading enthusiasts. It is also dubbed “the new Valley of Flowers" for the wildflowers that bloom in a riot of pinks, blues, whites and reds from April-June. The peaks of the Pir Panjal range seem close enough to touch. The pass—a three and a half hour drive from Chamba town—is open through the summer months but confirm with locals before you drive up. Consider renting a taxi if your car is not a 4X4.
WALK IN JIBHI NATURE RESERVE
Located at the edge of Jibhi village in the Tirthan valley, the Jibhi Nature Reserve is a beautiful deodar-dominated forest with spruce, oak, chestnut and rhododendron trees, and the occasional small meadows dotted with wild primula flowers. Gentle trails that are suitable for all levels of hikers weave through the reserve—an average loop is about 7-8km and takes approximately 3 hours. Hire a local guide to accompany you ( ₹1,000 for the day). Alternatively, experience the reserve on a healing walk conducted by Lalit Kumar of Jibhi Adventure, a locally run outfit. Inspired by the Japanese therapy of shinrin yoku, or “forest bathing", these guided silent walks help guests focus on their physical and mental well-being (Jibhiadventure.com; ₹2,500 for two with packed lunch).
DRIVE ALONG THE NAWAR RIDGE
About an hour from the popular Hatu Peak in Shimla district is the small town of Narkanda, with a handful of grocery stores, tea shops, grand mountain views, and a picturesquely located government circuit house. To enjoy views of the imposing Chandernahan range, go on a 5-hour drive along the Nawar Ridge, from Narkanda to the even smaller village of Beral (about 90km east of Shimla). Plot a route via Umradwar, Baghi and Kharapathar for unmatched views of the mountains and the sweeping Pabbar valley below. About 40 minutes out of Narkanda, you can take a detour to Hatu Peak. Though touristy and frequently crowded, it is a scenic spot. Grab a bite here because the rest of the way is an isolated (and frequently bumpy) ride through scenic apple orchards.
Popular Himachal trekking trails like Triund and Hampta are well known, but few explore the largely unexplored Jubbal region. About 90km from Shimla, towards Kinnaur, Jubbal is full of trails that lend themselves to easy and moderate treks. The 7km Giri Ganga temple hike is a wonderful, near-private outdoor experience along winding deodar trails. Add a few hours and you can climb all the way up to the Kuppad Peak that is visible all along the trail. The last stretch is a steep, 4km climb from the temple, so if you want to take it easy, plan to camp overnight (Beral is the closest village to the Giri Ganga trailhead; Ashish Kalta of Himalayan Backcountry Trails runs a home-stay there and can organize hikes and overnight camping; firstname.lastname@example.org). A multi-day trek to the arresting Chanshal Peak is very rewarding, but those who don’t have the time can drive 5 hours straight to the peak. Or opt for a combined option, with a three-and-a-half-hour drive to Larot, and a 4-hour one-way hike to the top through beautiful forests and meadows.
TASTE HIMACHALI FOOD
The simple pahadi food is delicious, primarily because of its freshness. Himachal’s famous rajma chawal, served at local food outlets and small dhabas for just ₹50 a plate, is a prime example. To try a more diverse spread of traditional food, eat at Himachali Rasoi in Shimla’s Middle Bazaar. They have two types of dham, or thalis—the tangy gram-heavy Kangri and the more yogurt-based Mandiali ( ₹500 for two). Leena’s Homestay in Jibhi serves the most delicious lingda (wild fern) pickle, which can also be prepared for purchase on prior request. Guests can also sign up for a cooking class with Leena and learn to cook the local favourite siddu—a dumpling stuffed with local seeds (email@example.com; ₹500 per person). For a unique Himachal-meets-Ladakh culinary experience, eat at the Kalta home-stay in Beral village, run by Ashish Kalta and his Ladakhi wife Kunzes. Dig into spinach and cheese momos served with bulka, a local dish of wild greens, poppy-filled bednis or bread, and more.
RELAX IN SHILAROO VILLAGE
Try a weekend of pottery and yoga at the Shilaroo Project, spearheaded by sisters Virangana and Shubhangana Kainthla, who worked in cities for many years and chose to return to their roots in Shilaroo, 50km from Shimla. Having mastered pottery and hatha yoga, the Kainthla sisters created this haven to bring together the two forms, along with community organic farming, in an attempt to integrate physical, mental and spiritual equilibrium for visitors. You can stay in their beautiful living space, which has private rooms, a small dorm for student groups, a yoga studio that overlooks the surrounding mountains, and common dining and recreation spaces to eat, paint, read and relax (Theshilarooproject.com; about ₹10,000 a night for a couple, including meals, accommodation and classes).
SKIP DALHOUSIE, VISIT KALATOP
The British cantonment town of Dalhousie features prominently on Himachal itineraries which frequently also include the nearby Khajjiar lake and meadow. In summer, however, these otherwise quiet spots are overtaken by holidaymakers. To escape the crowd, travel a short distance west to the Kalatop Khajjiar Wildlife Sanctuary. This dense deodar and fir forest has wildlife like barking deer, yellow-throated martens, leopards and the Himalayan black bear, and footpaths that start right from the entrance gate in Lakkarmandi. Take a winding forest dirt track up to a quaint little forest resthouse and a handful of guest cottages sitting in the midst of these coniferous woods (book online via the forest department or through a travel agent). Go with a government guide, arranged through the resthouse, if you want to hike deeper into the sanctuary.
One off-the-grid Himachali destination that has become very popular in recent years is the Spiti Valley, with trekkers, bikers and intrepid travellers making their way to it. Most frequent the Kaza-Dhankar-Tabo circuit, but to really experience the remoteness of this region, travel to Phukchung in Spiti’s Pin river valley. The village, originally established as a meditation retreat for monks and nuns, retains a sense of timelessness. Stay at the basic but neat Phukchung Retreat, and walk on the banks of the Parahio (firstname.lastname@example.org; ₹3,000 for two, including meals). The rooms are large and clean, with a spacious porch that frames the mountains in front. Potatoes are the staple in the simple meals offered, but do try the locally grown sweet peas.
STAY IN QUIET LUXURY
A benefit of Himachal’s immense popularity with travellers is the emergence of luxury and boutique properties. The Mirage near Andretta has been designed as a Himachali mudhouse but offers modern comforts (Mirageandretta.com; suites starting from ₹9,050, inclusive of breakfast and taxes). Run by a husband-wife duo, Colonel’s Resort near Bir has its own tea garden and is a great base for families looking for an adventurous escapade at Bir (Colonelsresort.com; luxury rooms for two with breakfast starting from ₹4,400, excluding taxes). Meena Bagh in Ratnari, which sits in the midst of an apple orchard, is a fusion of local elements and Swiss chalet styles. It offers vegan meals and discounts to artists and writers (Meenabaghresorts.com; ₹28,500 for the entire bungalow, with vegetarian meals and taxes; ₹6,500 for a single room, subject to availability). For regal extravagance, stay at the legendary Chapslee in Shimla, the erstwhile summer home of the king of Kapurthala. Winner of some of the best hospitality awards, it has to be booked well in advance (Chapslee.com; rooms starting from ₹25,000 for two, with breakfast and dinner).
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