A visit to India’s north west will show you a very different side of this fascinating country. On India tours, you can expect spectacular scenery from snow-capped mountains to flowering meadows, rushing waterfalls and unique Buddhist monasteries… all contained in one geographic region.
When I visited this region after persevering with intense heat in central India, I found welcome relief, as the country’s north west sits at a higher altitude than most of India. It lies in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, bringing temperatures that I found comfortable; however, perhaps a little chilly in winter. The climate is why the British Raj headed here to spend the summer, accordingly inventing the term “Hill Station.” Let’s look at some of the places that are worth the journey on India tours.
This was one of the most popular hill stations. It is located in the state of Himachal Pradesh and is known as the “Queen of the Hills.” You will notice the British influence on the culture and architecture here. The greenery around the city provides a pleasant backdrop and on a clear day, you can see the Himalayas in the distance. Shimla is a comfortable place to walk around as traffic is banned from the central part of town. On your trip to India, you might start at The Mall, the main shopping street in the city. Shimla arts and crafts are excellent and range from pieces of jewellery, embroidered shawls and garments, to leather-made articles. Then go to The Ridge, a large open space which is the cultural centre where you will find Christ Church, the second oldest church in Northern India. From here, walk or take the cable car up the steep hill to the highest point in Shimla for views of the city and the mountains. Here you can visit Jakhu Temple, next to which is a 33 metre/108 feet high pinkish-orange statue of the monkey-god Hanuman. Ironically, this attracts numbers of harmless monkeys hoping to be offered food. Watch out they don’t snatch your personal belongings. Coming down again, your next stop could be at the Lakhar Bazaar where you can purchase creatively-made wooden artefacts and other souvenirs. Shimla is full of pine trees and the wood is used in the making of these.
Check out the Vice-Regal Lodge in Shimla, once the official summer residence of the British viceroys. This can be toured with its 3 rooms of historic photographs. There is a library with 180,000 volumes and also well-kept gardens. Another place to spend time is at the Shimla State Museum, with its collection of miniature paintings, sculptures, bronzes, wood-carvings, costumes, textiles, and jewellery from the region.
Also in the State of Himachal Pradesh, Kullu is known for its temples and also for its pine-covered hills surrounding the town which are suitable for trekking (on foot or by bicycle), white water rafting, and mountaineering. Treks and hikes from here on India tours will take you to absolutely spectacular countryside with waterfalls rushing down from the mountains into the valleys. You can hire a local guide who will accompany you on a great trek. If interested in viewing wildlife, then visit the nearby Great Himalayan National Park which contains a variety of wildlife species. This includes snow leopards, blue sheep, Himalayan brown bears, musk deer, and many other species. The park has approximately 31 mammals, 181 bird species, and 9 amphibians.
An incident I will never forget in Kullu was when I took a stroll after dinner at my hotel and came across an open-air wedding celebration. In India, these celebrations can go on for several days and this one was on its second or third. I was watching the dancing and listening to the music when someone in the wedding party came rushing over and grabbed my arm pulling me towards the celebrations. I was made welcome with smiles all round and plied with food and drink.
Just north of Kullu is Manali, again in Himachal Pradesh. Once again, the attraction is the surrounding scenery and is a centre for outdoor activities such as trekking, climbing, and white water rafting. This is a major resort in the region as it is very popular with honeymooners. There are a couple of interesting temples just outside of Manali. The Hadimba Temple is an ancient cave temple built in the 16th century surrounded by a beautiful cedar forest. Inside is a large sacrificial stone where animal slaughtering used to take place. The Maa Sharvari Temple is worshipped as a manifestation of the goddess, Durga and an image of her is enshrined here. You can visit the Museum of Himachal Culture & Folk Art close by which features models showing the construction of temples and forts from the region. However, Manali is really about the surrounding nature.
Rohtang Pass is not too far away and is situated at 3980 metres/13,050 feet and is the highest point in the area, providing exceptional panoramic views of the mountains. Another beauty spot is the Vashist Hot Springs situated in a small nearby village with natural sulphur springs. You can bathe here in one of the modern bathhouses. There is a long list of other natural beauty spots surrounding Manali, too numerous to mention.
Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh is famous for being the residence of the Dalai Lama who has lived here in exile since 1960. This place reflects both Buddhist and Tibetan culture. It has been called “Little Lhasa.” However, Dharamshala has more to offer as it is located in a scenic valley once again surrounded by cedar forest and snow-capped mountains. One place to visit on India tours is Mcleodganj, a beautiful village located close by and a scenic hill station with stunning views of the magnificent Dhauladhar mountain range. Apart from the scenery, you can visit the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives which contains artefacts and manuscripts dating back to the 12th century. It is known as one of the pioneering institutions in the study and research of Buddhism. There are 80,000 manuscripts, 600 Buddhist artefacts including beautifully crafted silk thangkas, and a wood carving of Avalokiteshwara, one of the most revered and compassionate bodhisattvas in Buddhism.
Something of a contrast is the Dharamshala Cricket Stadium, which boasts being one of the highest sports stadiums in the world. Visiting a cricket stadium may seem a strange thing to do but the magnificent natural backdrop makes a visit here worth it on India tours. St. John in the Wilderness Church was built in 1852 and is one of the most important churches in Himachal Pradesh. It is set among lush cedar forest and is known for its Belgian stained-glass windows. Dharamshala is also an excellent place to go shopping. It offers the opportunity to buy Tibetan handicrafts, carpets and mats, as well as Tibetan dresses, woollen shawls, and other gift items at very reasonable prices.
Moving further north to the Ladakh mountainous region in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Leh is located in the Indus River Valley and used to be an important town on the Silk Route between Europe and China. Apart from enjoying the breathtaking views of the Himalayas, you can visit Leh Palace, the former palace of the King of Ladakh, built in the 17th century. The charming Old Town, built in a traditional way, has an ambience that evokes the past. There are also many Buddhist temples you can visit on India tours, and there is good shopping. The Main Bazaar and the surrounding streets have numerous shops selling souvenirs, mostly Tibetan antiques or replicas. The Tibetan market is a good place to buy jewellery, souvenirs, and books.
Surrounded by a ring of mountains, Srinagar is the largest city in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is known for its natural environment, its gardens, its lakefronts, and houseboat stays. It has earned the ubiquitous title, the “Venice of the East” due to the lakes that are to be found in the area. The Dal Lake, 15 kilometres/9 miles in circumference, is the best known and is the one you hear about when you stay on a houseboat. Staying on a houseboat is an excellent way to view the magnificent Himalayan scenery while relaxing on India tours. The lake has the only floating vegetable market in India.
A big attraction in Srinagar is the Mughal Gardens, the Pari Mahal (palace of the fairies), and the Nishat Bagh (the garden of spring). Just outside of Srinagar are supposedly the world’s highest golf course and also a gondola cable car to take you up to Kangdori for more great views.
The Jim Corbett National Park
No article about India tours would be complete without mentioning a tiger sanctuary. The Jim Corbett National Park in the state of Uttarakhand is the oldest national park in India, established in 1936 to protect the endangered Bengal tiger. It was named after Jim Corbett, a well known British hunter and naturalist. Tourism activity on India vacations is only allowed in selected areas of the tiger reserve so that people get an opportunity to see its landscape and wildlife. Bengal tigers, although plentiful, are not easy to spot due to the thick and abundant foliage. The jungle around the Ramganga River and plentiful prey make this reserve an ideal habitat for tigers.
Leopards are also found here as well as deer, sloth, Himalayan black bears, Indian grey mongoose, otters, and langur and rhesus macaques. In the summer, Indian elephants can be seen in herds of several hundred. Additionally, 580 bird species and a total of almost 500 different species of plants have been recorded in the park.