I’m an uncharacteristic hot-blooded amphibian who loves colder destinations. I find it easier to survive a cold wave than a heatwave, and I am sure many of you reading this article may resonate with my feelings. Those with heat intolerance are always on the lookout for cold weather holidays. Especially in India, where most states have high temperatures. The Northern region is the coolest, though – making it a preferred summer holiday. Besides, North India has some of the best scenic spots. From snow-clad mountains to narrow-gauged, village streets dotted with stone houses and small eateries selling 2-minute Maggi noodles, it is a sight you won’t find elsewhere. Himachal Pradesh, my favourite northern state is kenned as the Switzerland of India.
My first memory of Himachal Pradesh is 25-years old, that of 1993. I was introduced to this state by my parents, who had planned an elaborate trip across North India. Kullu and Manali were love at first sight! From taking a snow point trip to eating a local fish snack on the Solang valley road and, from getting excited to snuggle up under warm blankets and watch snow peaks for hours, HP awarded me some priceless childhood memories.
What has changed as an adult? My love for adventures maybe! Sometimes I visit Himachal to attend music festivals, other times, to block the world and to calm my mind. For whatever purpose, you are drawn to Himachal Pradesh, here’s a list of things I think everyone should try on their first visit.
Stay in a Stone or Wood House
The first time I visited Himachal Pradesh as a little girl, we stayed at a wooden house in the off skirts of Manali. This house with a large, well-manicured garden was a delight of a stay. We enjoyed morning meals in the garden and evening meals by the comfort of a fireplace. Himachal Pradesh is famous for its wooden cabins and lodges that feature comfortable accommodation for economical prices. Staying at a wooden lodge keeps you warm and serves as a perfect setting whether you want to work from home or here to cherish a mountain retreat. The kids, in particular, will enjoy staying at such a place.
Eat Local Food
The local food in Himachal Pradesh is a marriage of Pahadi and continental flavours. In this northern state, you will find many roadside Dhabas that serve delicious parathas, masala Maggi noodles, dal makhani and other local dishes. In the cafes, you will find healthy fish salads, freshly baked confectionary and continental meals. Whereas, at the local restaurants, you can taste the typical Himachali red meat with wheat bread. These red meat dishes in a rich think curry come slathered in aromatic spices. One of the famous traditional food serving is Dham that is served, at weddings and other gatherings. Other traditional items worth tasting are Aktori, Babru, Bhey, Chha Gosht, Chana Madra, Cheele, Patrode, Tudkiya Bhath and Siddu.
Himachal Pradesh has one of the best handicraft collection I have come across by far. From the mountain markets, buy colourful woollens made from Yak wool, UV paintings, Chamba Rumaal, leather accessories, metal crafts, carpets, Himachali cap, jewellery, handcrafted woodwork, Pullas, stone carvings and Kullu shawl.
Attend A Music Festival
Music and dance are the folk flavour of the festivities in Himachal Pradesh. Locals perform Nati dance and music rituals paired with traditional food on different festive occasions. From observing local music at a wedding to attending Moon Light music festival in the valleys, I was left, impressed by Himachal’s congregation of traditions and modernism. Women sing Saṃskara melodies at festivals and other celebrations. Funnily, Himachalis even have a song that celebrates extramarital romance – it’s called the Jhoori. The female dancer who performs this act is called the Jhoomar. In Kullu, I also heard Laman, a type of love song.
Visit During a Festival
Travel at the time of important festivals, such as Kullu Dussehra, Solan’s Shoolini Mela, Mandi’s Shivratri Fair, Holi Fair, Renuka fair, Rampur’s Lavi Trade Fair, or the Kinnaur Valley’s Fulaich. This time of the year, Himachalis dress up in colourful costumes to celebrate the festivities together. This is the best way to experience the local culture up and close.
Be it Chamera Lake, Gobind Sagar or Manali – Himachal Pradesh is home to some of the best white water rafting sites in India. Himachal’s snow fuelled rivers tender the ideal scene for river rafting and rowing opportunities. Many tours and water sports operators organise frequent rafting trips, some even with an overnight stay in a tent amidst nature.
Toy Train Experience
Ride the Himachali Toy Train to beget a European experience in India. This toy train, coined as the crown jewel of North India, reminds me of Liechtenstein. Although what makes this train different is that it travels through the narrowest and the steepest mountain trails of India. All in all, this Himachal Train crosses 864 bridges, 102 dark, long tunnels and 20 stations – all that at the speed of 22Kmph. Himachal Pradesh operates two linear rail tracks – Kalka to Shimla and Pathankot to Jogindernagar. Along the way, immerse yourself in the stunning views of Himachali snow peaks and exceptional flora.
Heli-Skiing is an off-trail snowboarding sport accessed by a helicopter due to its remote location. Certainly not for the faint-hearted! In Himachal Pradesh, Hanuman Tibba is a perfect gliding spot to boost your adrenaline. For this sport, you are first, flown to the Dhauladhar snow range in Manali; where you partake in Skiing aloft powdered snow between awe-inspiring views.
Visit A Monastery Or A Temple
A trip to Himachal Pradesh is incomplete unless you have visited at least one of the monasteries or local temples. I have toured many Gurudwaras, Monasteries and temples over multiple visits. Some of my favourites are Dhankar Monastery, Kungri Kompa, Narvadeshwar Temple, Chamunda Devi Temple, Salughat Temple, Hidimba Temple, Vashisht Temple and Gurudwara Sahib Manikaran. The 14th Dalai Lama calls McLeodganj (a part of Dharamshala) his home. The best Monastery is here!
Trek Through a National Park
Himachal is home to two impressive national parks – Pin Valley and Great Himalayan National Park. Other fascinating parks worth visiting are Renuka Ji, Kibber sanctuary, and Kugti wildlife.