Himachal Pradesh is a state in the northern part of India. Situated in the Western Himalayas, it is one of the eleven mountain states and is characterized by an extreme landscape featuring several peaks and extensive river systems. Himachal Pradesh shares borders with the Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh to the north, and the states of Punjab to the west, Haryana to the southwest, and Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh to the south. The state shares an international border to the east with the Tibet Autonomous Region in China.
The predominantly mountainous region comprising the present-day Himachal Pradesh has been inhabited since pre-historic times having witnessed multiple waves of human migrations from other areas. Through its history, the region was mostly ruled by local kingdoms some of which accepted the suzerainty of larger empires. Prior to India’s independence from the British, Himachal comprised the hilly regions of Punjab Province of British India. After independence, many of the hilly territories were organized as the Chief Commissioner’s province of Himachal Pradesh which later became a union territory. In 1966, hilly areas of neighboring Punjab state were merged into Himachal and it was ultimately granted full statehood in 1971.
Himachal Pradesh is spread across valleys with many perennial rivers flowing through them. Around 90% of the state’s population lives in rural areas. Agriculture, horticulture, hydropower and tourism are important constituents of the state’s economy. The hilly state is almost universally electrified with 99.5% of the households having electricity as of 2016. The state was declared India’s second open-defecation-free state in 2016. According to a survey of CMS – India Corruption Study 2017, Himachal Pradesh is India’s least corrupt state.
On the banks of Parvati River lies a photogenic hamlet of Kasol, also referred to as the ‘Little Israel of India’. Laidback and serene, Kasol is popular among backpackers and hippies, and with good reason. The stunning landscape of snow-capped mountains, lush valleys, scenic waterfalls and undisturbed trekking routes makes it a paradise for nature lovers and trekkers, while the abundance of charming cafes, budget-friendly stay options and relaxed vibe makes it an amazing spot to backpack through.
While you’re in the region, it is worth exploring the nearby tiny hamlets, such as Chalal, which is known for its trance and psychedelic parties; Malana, known for its Malana Cream (cannabis); Rasol and Tosh, which are replete with lush greenery and tranquillity.
Also called the Queen of Hills, Shimla is a gorgeous colonial hill station, where picturesque vistas will greet you at every nook. A perfect place to wander, Shimla showcases some of the best colonial-era architecture, including the Viceregal Lodge, the Town Hall, Gaiety Theatre and the Christ Church. The city’s location at the foothills of the Himalayas amidst the lush greenery and snow-covered mountains makes it a perfect place for trekking and other outdoor fun. The appeal of the Queen of Hills increases manifold when the winter sets in – the entire city gets enveloped in snow, a sight to remember!
At an elevation of 1,900 meters lies a small colonial town of Kasauli. The town has little in terms of attractions, commerce and population. However, that’s exactly where its beauty and appeal lies – its unadulterated air, serene and peaceful vibe, and an abundance of nature is what attracts travellers. The places you can visit include the Baptish Church, Christ Church, Kasauli Brewery, Monkey Point, Nahri temple and Kasauli Club.
Nestled in the upper reaches of Kangra Valley, Dharamshala enjoys one of the best climates in Himachal. Surrounded by snow-laden peaks of Dhauladhar mountains and lush pine and deodar forests, the town is brimming with cultural and architectural attractions, along with a great number of restaurants, cafes and shops catering to its extensive multicultural Indian and Tibetan communities. Its suburbs, such as McLeod Ganj (India’s Mini Tibet), Dharamkot, Sindhbari, Ramnagar and Naddi are worth exploring. Also, with a plethora of trekking trails, waterfalls and scenic valleys, the town beckons adventurers from across the world.
At an altitude of 3,810 meters, Spiti Valley is a remote village up in the cold desert mountains. Despite the fact it is fairly isolated, plenty of spiritual and adventure travellers are gradually making their way to Spiti to explore its many Buddhist monasteries scattered throughout the area, and indulge in thrilling activities, such as trekking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting and wildlife spotting. In addition, it is surrounded by several high-altitude villages, like Tabo, Kaza, Dhankar, Kibber, Komic and Langza, which can also be explored on your trip to Spiti.
Situated at an altitude of 2,050 meters on the River Beas valley, Manali is a picture-perfect hilly retreat that draws in hordes of tourists every year. The picturesque landscape comprising lush pine and deodar forests, snow-covered mountains, scenic meadows, waterfalls and valleys attracts adventurers and nature lovers alike. Alternatively, the ancient temples and Tibetan monasteries beckon spiritual enthusiasts.
In the Kinnaur district of Himachal lies a small yet charming village, Chitkul, which is perhaps the last inhabited village near the Indo-China border. There isn’t much to see and do in the hamlet, however, its scenic landscape encompassing lush green vegetation, snow-laden mountains and apple orchards, and tranquil vibe make it an ideal place for those looking to be at one with nature – in peace and quiet. Of particular interest is its quaint houses, complete with wooden or slate roofs, and a temple that houses a 500-year-old deity of the town.
Despite its tiny size, Bir Billing is the it-place for paragliding in India. Also called the ‘Paragliding Capital of India’, Bir Billing boasts salubrious weather year-round and a spectacular landscape, which attracts thrill seekers and backpackers from across the world. The place offers panoramic vistas of the undulating beauty of the Himalayan mountain ranges.
Dalhousie is a year-round holiday destination, but looks all the more stunning in the winter months, when the entire hill town is blanketed in white sheet. Brimming with mountains, cascading waterfalls, lakes and lush pine and oak trees, adventure enthusiasts love to come to Dalhousie to partake in outdoor activities, like trekking, river rafting, canoeing, kayaking and camping. While the peaceful atmosphere and pristine nature lures nature lovers and peace seekers alike.
Khajjiar is a tiny slice of paradise amidst the dense deodar forests, verdant meadows and snow-capped Himalayas. Nicknamed the ‘Mini Switzerland of India’, visitors can explore its gorgeous scenery, get up-close with the exotic wildlife at the Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary, and take part in outdoor activities, such as forest trekking, zorbing, horse riding and paragliding at the Khajjiar Lake. An unmissable spot here is the 12th-century Khaji Nag temple. Dedicated to Lord of Serpents (Khaji Nag), the temple stands out with its beautiful architecture, which is a concoction of Hindu and Muslim styles.