From Shimla the main road winds west and north to the riverside market town of Mandi, an important crossroads linking the Kullu Valley and the hills to the northwest. The rolling foothills on this side of the state are warmer and more accessible than Himachal’s eastern reaches, though less dramatic and considerably lower. The area sees little tourism outside Dharamsala, the British hill station turned Tibetan settlement, home to the Dalai Lama. Dharamsala is an excellent base for treks over the soaring Dhauladhar range to the Chamba Valley, which harbours uniquely styled Hindu temples in Brahmour and Chamba. South of Chamba, the fading hill station of Dalhousie still has a certain ex-Raj charm, and is popular with Indian tourists who arrive in droves during the hot season.Read More
- Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj
- Dalhousie and around
The junction town of MANDI, 158km north of Shimla, straddles the River Beas, its riverside ghats dotted with stone temples where sadhus and pilgrims pray. Once a major trading post for Ladakhis heading south – mandi means market – the town still bustles with commercial activity, now centred on the attractive Indira Market and its sunken garden, in the centre of the town square. A collection of sixteenth-century Naggari-style temples sits above the town on Tarna Hill. On the summit is the main Kali temple, decorated with garish paintings of the fierce mother goddess draped in skulls and blood.
If you’ve any interest in Buddhism it’s worth taking a detour 24km southeast of Mandi to REWALSAR, where three Tibetan monasteries (Nyingma, Drikung Kagyu and Drukpa Kagyu) mark an important place of pilgrimage. There are also Sikh and Hindu temples here, all of which draw a steady stream of pilgrims and tourists. The devout complete a chora around the small sacred lake and along narrow lanes full of shrines and stalls selling Tibetan curios, before lounging beneath the prayer flags on the lake’s grassy fringes.
It’s believed that Padmasambhava left many footprints and handprints in rocks and caves up in the hills around the lake, and steep paths lead up from the lake to caves that are used today as isolated meditation retreats. Of the three monasteries around the lake, Tso-Pema Ogyen Heruka Gompa, below the tourist lodge, is the most venerated and atmospheric; check out the tree planted in 1957 by the Dalai Lama, who visited India that year to celebrate the 2500th anniversary of the Buddha’s birth, two years before his exile from Tibet. Towering dramatically over the lake and visually dominating the Rewalsar setting is the large but much newer Drukpa Kagyu Zigar Gompa.
For Hindus, Rewalsar is regarded as the abode of the sage Lomas, for whose sake the lake was created with waters from the Ganga and Yamuna. Three small temples dedicated to Krishna, Lomas and Shiva, along with a Nandi bull statue and lakeside ghats, reflect Rewalsar’s Hindu connections. On the west shore, the Sikh gurudwara attracts pilgrims retracing the steps of Guru Gobind Singh, who came here in 1702; this is one of the few sites associated with his life in Himachal. To the south a small sanctuary protects deer and Himalayan black bears.
Kangra and around
Kangra and around
Although most travellers bypass KANGRA on their way to Dharamsala, 18km further north, it’s worth a brief detour. Buses from all over the Kangra Valley and further afield pull into the bus stand 1km north of the town centre, where there are frequent connections to Dharamsala. Kangra can also be reached from Pathankot and from Joginder Nagar by the daily narrow-gauge railway service.
Kangra’s crumbling, overgrown fort was also damaged by an earthquake in 1905 and is now inhabited by screeching green parrots that flit through a few simple temples still tended by priests. High gates, some British-built, span a cobbled path to the deserted ramparts. To get here, head 3km south on the road to Jawalamukhi, then turn up the 1km access road just before the bridge.
Thirty-five kilometres southwest of Kangra, the tiny village of MASRUR is the only place in the Himalayas with rock-cut Hindu temples similar to those at Ellora in Maharashtra. Though nowhere near as impressive, the fifteen temples, devoted to Ram, Lakshman and Sita were hewn from natural rock in the ninth and tenth centuries. You can get here by taking a bus towards Pir Bindu, getting off at the tiny village of Nagrota Suriyan, then walking 1.5km up to the temples.
A simple whitewashed temple in the otherwise nondescript town of JAWALAMUKHI, 35km south of Kangra, protects one of north India’s most important Hindu shrines. The sanctuary, crowned with a squat golden spire, contains a natural blue gas flame emitted from the earth, revered as a manifestation of the goddess of fire, Jawalamukhi. Frequent buses (1hr) depart from Kangra and there are also direct services to Dharamsala, 53km north.