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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.