India on the Road
A journey to Little Tibet
Route: Shimla to Dharamsala via Mandi-Jogindernagar-Baijnath-Palampur.
Distance: 270 Kms.
Driving Time: 6-7 hours.
Notes: From Shimla take the road to Brahmpukhar and onwards to Ghaghas. From Ghaghas hit the National Highway 20 enroute to Mandi. From Mandi as you proceed further towards Dharamsala, you will pass by sleepy Himalayan towns like Joginder Nagar, Baijnath and Palampur. Dharamsala is just 40 Kms. from Palampur. The state of Himachal Pradesh is basically a mountain state and is a delightful tourist destination. From the picturesque Himalayan vistas of Shimla, which used to be the summer capital of the British East India Company and still one of India’s premier hill stations to the enchanting realms of Dharamsala, which is the home-in-exile for the Dalai Lama, the captivating 6 hours journey from Shimla to Dharamsala is easily one of the state’s most scenic stretches when it comes to traveling by road. The surreal sight of the mystical Dhauladhar range, which is nestled strategically at a height of 4750 meters above sea level, it’s distinct Tibetan culture, hordes of Western backpackers and pilgrims who come here for that rare spiritual bliss, which only Dharamsala is capable of offering makes for a truly rewarding nature-culture odyssey in the lap of the Himalayas.
Shimla was first discovered by the British and it was not until 1822 that the first permanent residence was erected and not until many years later that Shimla became the “Summer Capital” of India. Situated at an altitude of 213 meters, Shimla sprawls along a crescent shaped ridge with its suburbs clinging to the Mall. The Mall and its surroundings are dotted with stately Victorian houses. The Ridge along which the Mall runs dips away to the west and offers breathtaking views of the valleys and the ominous Himalayan peaks. The streets are narrow and the bazzars of Shimla is always buzzing with activity.
What to See:
State Museum, Jakhu Temple, the Glen, Summer Hill, Chadwick Falls, Prospect Hill, Sankat Mochan, Tara Devi, Wildflower Hall, Kufri, Mashobra, Craignao, Naldera, Fagu, Inverarm and Bantony Hills, Hanuman Temple, Christ Church, St. Mary’s Church, Rothney Castle, Scandal Point, Skating Club.
Where to Stay:
Shimla STD: 0177
The Cecil (2804848), The Chapslee (2802542), Hotel Peterhoff (2812236), Hotel Holiday Home (2812890-94), Madan Kunj (2811837), Woodvile Palace (2623919), Springfields (2621297), Camp Potters Hill (09418065001), Woodrina (09816069315), Ashiana Regency (2621572), Combermere (2651246), East Bourne Resort (2623664), Hotel Basera (2656242), Hotel Dreamland (2653005), Hotel Gulmarg (2653168), hotel Honeymoon Inn (2624967), Hotel Pineview (2657045), Hotel Sukhsagar (2803973), Shilon Resort (2733343), The Clarkes (2651010), Toshali Royal View (2733470).
Where to Eat:
The focus of the numerous restaurants in Shimla is on North Indian Tandoori fare. The local Himachali cuisine has been relegated to the back seat. So is Continental cuisine. The Woodvile Palace, The Cecil and the Clarkes are the only exceptions. Here in the restaurants and eateries of Shimla, Chicken Masala and Tandoori Roti/Nun rule the roost. Also conspicuous by their presence is the Tibetan cuisine and you may find some exclusive eateries that offer mouthwatering Momos. It is always advisable to have your lunch and dinner at the in-house restaurants of the hotel of which you are a guest. You can be assured of the quality and hygine of the food served.
For traditional Himachali cuisine, the best places to indulge in are at the Himachal Tourism Department run Ashiana and Goofa restaurants and for multi-cuisine restaurants the best option is Baljees. The confectionary of Baljees is top rate. Fast food chains like Domino’s and Barista too have made their presence felt and have their outlets at the Mall - Shimla’s principal boulevard.
What to Buy:
Hand woven woolen shawls, mufflers, scarves, Thangka paintings, miniature art of Kangra Valley, walking sticks, hand made Chinese shoes, apple and plum wines. Most good shops are located in and around The Mall. The stretch from Combermere Bridge to the Telegraph office is particularly popular with the tourists. Tatung, Hopsons, Hugh & Co, Fook Chung, Diwanchand Atmaram, Comarsons, Lalsons and Maria Brothers are reliable outlets that sell genuine handicraft items at an affordable price.
The quaint Himalayan town of Mandi is located at a distance of 165 Kms. from Shimla and primarily serves as travel crossroad. It is nestled at an impressive height of 800 meters and the swift flowing river Beas meanders through much of Mandi. Presently, this quaint little Himalayan town serves as a district headquarter. The local folks are warm and friendly. Most devout Hindus regard Mandi as the Himalayan version of Varanasi. The ethereal charm of Mandi lies in the numerous ancient temples that dot the banks of river Beas.
What to See:
Rewalser Lake, Prashar, Bhutnath, Triloknath, Panchavaktra, Ardhanari and Shymakali.
Your next stop is at Jogindernagar, located at an elevation of 1220 meters above sea level and is 56 Kms. Northwest of Mandi. One one side of a hill there is a hydel power plant and on the other side there is a reservoir. There are numerous well-defined trekking trails and some of the best places for high altitude fishing exist in and around Jogindernagar. The holy Macchiyal Lake, located in close proximity to Jogindernagar is much venerated by the pilgrims.
As you proceed further ahead from Jogindernagar, you will come across the pilgrim town of Baijnath, which is located at a distance of 23 Kms. from Jogindernagar. The ethereal sight of the impressive Dhauladhar and Ashapuri mountain ranges is bewitching. The town’s principal attraction is the holy temple of Baijnath, which happens to be one of the twelve “Jyotirlingas”. The temple is said to date back to 804 AD.
Palampur is the penultimate destination on your journey to Dharamsala. It is located at a distance of a mere 35 Kms. from Dharamsala. This scenic hill station witnessed the introduction of Tea by the British East India Company. The Palampur tea has carved a niche for itself in the international tea market with its signature – “Kangra Valley Tea”. The forests around Palampur is dense with foliage. In close proximity is the ‘Andretta’, which is an artist’s village where Norah Richards – the grand dame of Punjabi theatre set up her retreat. It is impeccably maintained and worth visiting.
Dharamsala – The Little Tibet
Dharamsala is the place where the Dalai Lama and his followers fled after the Chinese Red Army’s invasion of Tibet. This enchanting Himalayan town is split into Lower and Upper Dharamsala. Upper Dharamsala or McLeodganj is one of the best places to appreciate Tibetan culture and heritage. It is all color and energy – a real freak center with a plethora of Tibetan specialty restaurants and hotels along with stressed out Western tourists in search of instant “Nirvana”.
His Holiness The Dalai Lama has his residence at Dharamsala and if you are lucky you might even spot the revered Dalai Lama cruising by in his Mercedes. Dharamsala was originally a British hill station and one of the most poignant memorials of the Raj era is the elegant Church of St. John in the Wilderness. The meteoric rise of Dharamsala from a sleepy Himalayan hamlet to the most preferred Tibetan tourist destination in the world is in itself a stupendous achievement.
What to See:
Tsuglakhang, Namgyal Monastery, Church of St. John in the Wilderness, Dal Lake, Bhagsunag, Kangra Art Museum, Tibetan Culture Library, Tibetan Handicraft Center.
Where to Stay:
Dharamsala STD: 01892
Asia Health Resort (220877), Clouds End Villa (222109), Glenmoor Cottages (221010), Hotel Dhauladhar (224926), Hotel Kashmir House (222977), Norling Guest House (246402), Snow Hermitage Resort (227189), Chonor House ()221006), Surya Resort (221418), Hotel Triund (221122), Spring Valley Resort (220802), Meghavan Holiday Resort (221277), White Heaven Estate (226162).
Where to Eat:
Upper Dharamsala (McLeodganj) in particular is the melting pot of world cuisine. Quality German bakeries rub shoulder with Italian pizzas. Add to it the authentic Tibetan cuisine and the ‘desi’ Dhabas and the quintessential South Indian Dosa shops and you have an eclectic mix of new age cuisine to pamper your taste buds. Dharamkot’s pizzeria, Hotel Tibet, Nick’s Italian Kitchen and Snow Lion are among the most popular restaurants of Dharamsala.
What to Buy:
Thangka paintings, intricately woven Tibetan carpets, masks, votive items, ethnic Tibetan jewelry, Tibetan prayer wheels, traditional Tibetan Cheese, warm jackets.