The quiet, relaxed hill station of Dalhousie spreads over five low-level hills at the western edge of the Dhauladhar Range. While the town itself, mostly modern hotels interspersed with Raj-era buildings and low-roofed stalls, is unremarkable, the pine-covered slopes around it are intersected with paths and tracks ideal for short undemanding walks.
From Dalhousie the road east zigzags through forests to Khajjiar, a popular local day out, before descending through terraced mountain slopes to Chamba, perched above the rushing River Ravi. It’s a slow and relaxed place with some fascinating temples and a small art museum. Brahmour, three hours further east by bus and the final settlement on the road into the mountains, holds more Hindu temples – both towns make good bases for treks into the remote Pangi Valley.
Shielded on all sides by high mountains, CHAMBA was ruled for an entire millennium by kings descended from Raja Sahil Varma, who founded it in 920 AD and named it after his daughter Champavati. Unlike Himachal states further south, it was never formally under Mughal rule and its distinct Hindu culture remained intact until the first roads were built to Dalhousie in 1870. When the state of Himachal Pradesh was formed in 1948, Chamba became the capital. Today, only a handful of visitors make it out here, passing through before or after trekking, or stopping off to see the unique temples.
The chaugan, a large green used for sports, evening strolls and festive celebrations, marks the centre of town, overlooked by the Rang Mahal palace, now a government building. At the south end of the chaugan, the Bhuri Singh museum holds a reasonable display of local arts and crafts. Its eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Kangra miniature paintings, depicting court life, amorous meetings and men and women smoking elaborate hookahs, are much bolder than their Mughal-influenced Rajasthani equivalents. The museum’s best feature is its small cache of rumals. Made by women since the tenth century, rumals are like embroidered paintings, depicting scenes from popular myth. Today only a few women continue this tradition, but a weaving centre in the old palace is attempting to revitalize the art.