Outside the beaten path, Himachal is littered with little wonders with many still to catch the travellers fancy. Cocooned in sheltered environs in hidden hamlets, these places charm you with their pristine natural beauty and cultural innocence. Take the road less travelled to discover the many secret hideaways in this mystical land of the gods.
Nestled in the calm and scenic River Uhl valley, Barot was protected as a reserve and a summer getaway by the former rulers of Mandi principality. The place only got noticed when Raja Joginder Sen of Mandi royal house in 1925 decided to harness the rivers waters for a hydropower plant.
Thickly forested hillsides with the river holding an abundant of trout fish flowing in the valley, alpine meadows for setting up camps and a hospitable people make Barot as a must go to place for those seeking a quiet mountain holiday. The Nagru Wildlife Sanctuary, upstream of Barot, conserves rare Himalayan flora and fauna.
Besides game fishing for exotic trout fish, the valley has ample opportunities for trekking, with one route going over Bhubu Pass into Kullu valley and the other more difficult one, going over Thamsar Pass, origin of Uhl river, into Bada Bangal valley would get the adrenalin of any seasoned trekker going.
Emerald reservoirs of the hydropower project and Colonel Battye’s cottage, the engineer who constructed it, have tales associated to them that have passed onto the valleys folklore.
Barot can be reached by road. It is 40 km from Jogindernagar and 65 km from Mandi.
The asphalted road that refuses to leave sight of the River Sutlej until Wangtu gives way to a narrow road leading to Kafnu – base for one of the most beautiful trek routes in Himachal, the Bhawa trek. The ascent in the valley alongside a glacial fed stream to Bhabha Pass at 4890 meters altitude to enter Pin Valley in Spiti is a challenging adventure. A western route from the Bhawa Pass gets into Parbati valley of Kullu.
A quiet and less explored hill station, Chindi with its rural charm of apple orchard lands, exquisite stone and wood temples with slate roofing built in traditional hill architecture style and deep forests around is a nature lovers paradise. The place has some nice staying options and even Himachal Tourism has a hotel at Chindi.
The hill station also serves as a good base for exploring Karsog valley which has well known temples like the famous Kamaksha Devi, Mahunag and Mamleshwar Mahadev temple.
From Shimla, Chindi is at a distance of 95 km.
Less traveled and lesser known, the rural charm of Churah valley of Chamba is a discovery for those on the lookout for offbeat destinations. Given to a slow pace of rural life, the religious beliefs, customs and festivals are centered around the temples. Famous temples of region include the Chamunda Devi temple at Devi Kothi and the Bhadra Kali temple at Bhalei.
Tissa is the sub-divisional headquarter for Churah. Well connected by road with Chamba and Dalhousie, it also connects up with Kishtwar region of Jammu in one loop and with Pangi valley in another. Tissa abounds in good trekking trails, especially those to the glacial lakes of Ghadasru, Mahadev Dal, Mahakali Dal, Maral Dal and Mehalwar Dal. Pilgrims in summer do make a journey to these lakes for a dip in their chilled waters.
The 27 km route from Tissa to Bairagarh is a tough drive. The highpoint on the route is the Sach Pass at 4428 meters before it descends into Chenab valley to meet the Tandi-Kishtwar road at Killar. This stretch of the road usually becomes snowbound in late November and again opens up in July.
The highest peak of Sirmaur, Churdhar rising to 3,647 meters is a trekkers delight. The views are so wide that George Everest, a surveyor general after whom the world’s tallest peak is named, used the vantage point of Churdhar to survey much of the western Himalayas from. Peaks around Badrinath and Kedarnath can be seen from here and towards the south, vast plains of the Gangetic plains open up to meet the horizon.
Churdhar is accessible from three routes, Chopal, Nohradhar and Haripurdhar stations. Passing through small villages, cultivated fields and alpine meadows the trek is moderately difficult but rewarding. Summiting the peak, on a clear day is rewarded with a riot of views. Just below the summit is the temple of Shirgul Devta, worshipped in the form of a lingam as Chooreshwar Mahadev. At the peak is a recently built temple of Lord Shiva.
Around the massive mountain there is a wildlife sanctuary. This wilderness is a wealth of herbs and beautiful alpine flora. Walking through the sanctuary one can spot monal, koklass and khaleej pheasants. The canine-toothed musk deer and the Himalayan black are known to inhabit higher forest areas in the region.
On the western extremity of Himachal Pradesh, the village of Dada Siba lies close to the state border with Punjab. Towards the middle of the fifteenth century, the erstwhile princely state of Dada Siba came into being as an offshoot of the kingdom of Guler.
The village holds a rare architectural and art marvel in the striking temple of Radha Krishna. The temple is regarded to have been commissioned in 1830 and was completed in 1835. This was during the reign of Raja Gobind Singh and the work is inferred to have been executed by his son Raja Ram Singh. Specialised craftsmen for the structure were employed and the finest bricks – the ‘Nanak Shahi’ ones – were placed at their disposal. A portion of the stone came from Jodhpur and special stone for the doorposts and lintels was quarried near the fort of Mangarh.
The true worth of the temple lies in its paintings. The sanctum has barely an inch of space that has been not adorned with frescos. Various styles can be discerned in the panels – Mughal, Sikh and of course, various schools of Pahari painting find expression in assorted sections.
For those who love the outdoors, Dhauladhar is excellent trekking country. To enjoying stunning views of the vast Kangra valley spread a summer trek to Triund (altitude 2975 meter), getting close enough to the snowline, is being in company of the spectacular peaks of the ‘white ranges’.
Making way through thick oak and deodar forests with scattered rhododendron flowers in the path, this moderate trek starts at Galu temple, about 3 km from Dharamkot and 10 km from Mcleodganj. The last stretches of the trek are demanding as you make your way up 22 gruelling loops to an open camping ground. Popular among weekenders and day-hikers, the trek offers chances of brief but thrilling encounters with beautiful birds and wild animals. The walk down is an easy run into the breeze. Triund is 7 km from Mcleodganj.
High altitude and proximity to Laka glacier and Indrahar Pass makes weather of Triund highly unpredictable as a hot and sunny day can turn into a small snowstorm in matter of minutes.
The land across Sach Pass (4414 meters) is Pangi, a valley full of grandeur and tribal majesty. The native Pangwals and Bhotis are a robust hardworking, handsome people, who keep the valleys unique culture alive in folk songs, music and tribal dances.
Spread over an area of about 1600 sq kms of steep, rocky and tough Himalayan terrain, Pangi is an offbeat and challenging tourist destination. Consisting of Saichu, Hudan, Bhatori and Surai Bhatori valleys that have only recently been opened up for travel as roads penetrate the area. Much of it still has to be covered on foot. Killar, 27 kms from Sach Pass, is the sub-divisional headquarter of Pangi. From here there are a number of exciting and challenging treks to Keylong and Kishtwar in Jammu.
Those headed for Pangi should be travelling in a sturdy off-roading vehicle, be equipped with good quality travelling gear, have spare tyres, food rations, extra gallons of petrol/diesel and need to carry emergency medicines. In those dizzy heights, at many places there is no electricity, no phone connectivity and emergency help may prove hard to come by. Best time to visit the region is between May to October.
Pangi valley 164 km from Chamba.
Pragpur in Kangra district is a heritage village. The government has declared it as the nation’s first heritage village in December 1997 for it unique architecture and aged charisma. The village centre of Pragpur is the “heritage village,” while the surrounding area of Garli being a heritage zone. The ambience of the heritage zone is zealously protected by the local residents to retain its unique character.
It was a Kuthiala Sood who founded the village in memory of Prag Dei in 16th century. Cluster of slate-roofed houses marked by cobbled lanes has time come to a standstill in the village. For Lohri, in January, the community comes together to hold a fair.
The most important place of tourist interest in Sirmaur is the sacred and picturesque lake of Renuka, 38 Km from Nahan via Dadahu. It is one of the most beautiful lakes in Himachal Pradesh having crystal clear waters. It is shaped like a sleeping women. As per a legend Renuka was the mother of the legendary saint Parsu Ram, who killed her in obedience of the orders of his father – the sage Jamadagni. After her death, lake Renuka was formed surrounded by stepped fields of golden corn. Even today, each year in October/November (after Diwali), a fair is held to celebrate the immortality of Renuka and her son. The key-notes of the colourful fair are the festivity and devotional exuberance. It lasts for a week in which cultural programmes and folk dances are organised for the entertainment of visitors. Several idols of Parsu Ram, believed to be the incarnation of Lord Vishnu and other local deities, are carried in decorated palanquins in an impressive procession to Parsu Ram Tal. Before the idols are installed in the temple, they are given a bath in this holy lake which today symbolises a mother’s head.
This valley starts 57 Km short of Kalpa which has been named after a beautiful and populous village Sangla. Sangla is situated on the right bank of Baspa river 17 Km. from Karcham. A Journey from Karcham onwards is enjoyable and adventurous throughout the valley. The natural scenery all around and the eternal snow view are picturesque and charming. It is also known as Baspa Valley since Baspa river flows through this area. This is the most charming valley in the entire District of Kinnaur. A temple dedicated to Nages god is worth a visit and other places are Sapni, Rackchham, Kilba, Kamru Fort which can also be visited. There are post offices, banks, rest houses for the convenience of the visitors.
Scattered wilderness, meditative silence and the sheer raw beauty of Shoja quenches the desire for a quiet mountain holiday. Aesthetically built houses set among apple orchards with wide view of the valley have travellers revisit the place year on year. Often missed by the Manali and Kullu-goers, this hidden gem is one of the best weekend retreat that nature can offer in the valley. Shoja is also the base for easy treks to Jalori Pass, Serolsar Lake, Takrasi and Khanag.
This quaint hamlet is slightly off the main road from the Kullu-Ani road that goes over Jalori Pass. It can be reached from Shimla and Kullu.
Sujanpur was a refuge of Sansar Chand Katoch, a great ruler of Kangra region from 1806 till 1824. Known as a builder and patron of pahari miniature paintings, a fortified palace at Tihra overlooking Sujanpur town, remnants of ‘Barahari Hall’ and some exquisite frescos on the walls of Narbadeshwar and Gauri Shankar temple are a testimony of Sansar Chand’s abilities. Holi, a festival of colors is celebrated with fervor in March – April.
Vast green pastures, captivating views of snow clad ranges and untrodden terrains of Janjheli are fast taking their place on a traveller’s itinerary. The farms and orchards spread over gentle slopes with mighty deodar (Cedar) and oak forests scaling the heights give Janjheli a lively charm.
It is a trekkers delight and serves as a base for several trekking routes in Seraj valley, to places like Shikari Devi, Kamrunag, Chindi, Karsog and Shoja that are in easy reach from the valley. The 15 km trek to Shikari Devi, the highest mountain of the area is a very popular with day hikers. The mountain top destination has a roofless temple where snow does not accumulate even when the surroundings are pounded with a heavy snowfall.
Janjehli can only be reached by road and is 85 km from Mandi.
Some of the most well known temples built in the indigenous hill architecture style are in Karsog valley. One of the rare but highly revered temples is that of Kamaksha Devi. The stone and wood structure with tiered slate roof makes the temple an architectural gem. Other important temples are that of Mahunag and Mamleshwar Mahadev, which has an eternal flame that has been kept burning for centuries. These temple exhibit some very fine wood carvings and reliefs that display skills of the of local craftsmanship.
Karsog valley makes for a quiet getaway. The countryside, laden with apple orchards adds to the places scenic value. During the rainy season, from July to September, well irrigated fields growing a paddy crop in the valley is a beautiful sight to behold.
Karsog can be easily reached from Shimla via Tattapani and from Mandi. It is 125 km from Mandi and 106 km from Shimla.