Travel Bucket List: India – Himachal Pradesh Part 3

In this part, we visit some more of the beauties of the state.

Kangra
Historically known as Nagarkot, Kiraj and Trigarta, Kangra was founded by the Katoch Kshatriya Rajputs of the Chandervanshi lineage. Another ancient name of the city is Bhimagar and it was supposedly founded by Raja Bhim, the younger brother of the Kuru Emperor Yudhishthira from the Mahabharata. Kangra is also known for the backdrop of Dhauladar range, ancient temples and endless tea plantations. Repeated mentions of the valley in holy Hindu texts, showcase Kangra as Devbhumi or Land of the Gods. Kangra is a composite word made out of Kaann, meaning ear and gaddha which means creating or molding. The British archaeologist and historian Alexander Cunningham documented and brought to light the tradition and science of Kangra plastic operations. Although, modern plastic surgery uses the same techniques as the ancient techniques developed in South India, for north Indians Kangra’s own unique methods were more popular and accessible.

A beautiful and picturesque lake, the Kareri Lake is known as Kumarwah Lake and is a shallow, freshwater lake that is situated to the south of the Dhauladhar range. Located at an altitude of 2,934 metres above the sea level, Kareri Lake is a popular trekking destination and is frequented mostly by the Gujjars and Gaddis who reside in the nearby villages because of the extensive pasturelands that the lake houses. The lake also boasts of beautiful clusters of dense conifers and different kinds of colourful perennial flowers. The snow melting from the Dhauladhar range serves as the water source for this lake, and the pristine water from the lake then outflows in the form of a stream known as Nyund. One of the major attractions near the Kareri Lake is an ancient temple that is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Shakti located on a hilltop overlooking the breathtakingly beautiful lake.

Situated on the outskirts of the town, the Kangra Fort traces its origins to the ancient Trigarta Kingdom, mentioned in the Mahabharata. It is the largest fort in the Himalayas and probably the oldest dated fort in India. Though the tales of treasures are nothing but stories at this ruined fort, there was a time when the sanctum sanctorum of the Kangra Fort held unimaginable riches which were offered to the large idol in the Brijeshwari temple inside the fort. And perhaps because of these treasures, this fort has been attacked many times with almost every ruler, be it an invader or a native ruler have tried to lay control over the Kangra fort. After Emperor Jahangir captured the fort in 1622, it was Raja Sansar Chand II who finally succeeded in recovering the ancient fort of his ancestors from the Mughals in 1789. It was then handed over to the British occupied by them until it was heavily damaged by the earthquake of April 4, 1905. The fort is open from 9 am to 5 pm every day and Indian visitors pay INR 150 and foreign visitors INR 300 as entry fees.

Spread over a 15-acre forested land surrounded by tea gardens, the Taragarh Palace is situated at the height of 1000 meters at the foot of the Dhauladhar Mountains with splendid views of the peaks covered in snow. This picturesque residential property belongs to the royal family of Jammu and Kashmir and was earlier known as Alhilal meaning the land of the crescent moon. It is a hotel currently and the personal summer residence of the Nawab of Bahawalpur and was constructed in the European-style of architecture with greenery all over in the form of gardens along with a glass pavilion and a mosque. Its name was later changed to Taragarh after the wife of Hari Singh of Kashmir Maharani Tara Devi took over the property in 1950 and converted into a hotel in 1971. The hotel showcases a lot of portraits of the Dogra Royal Family, with Italian marble, chandeliers and tiger skins. After the Nawab of Bahwalpur decided to move to Pakistan, the vast property went to the government of Punjab, who sold it to Tara Devi of Kashmir. The glass exhibition area was converted into a temple and renamed Taragarh. The palace has an entry fee of between INR 4000 to 5000.

Built on the Beas River the Pong Dam is an earthfill reservoir constructed for generating hydroelectricity and irrigation. Constructed in 1975, the dam is based on the foothills of the Shivaliks and is known as the Beas Dam. The area surrounding the dam boasts of rich wildlife and is a breeding ground of commercially viable fish. The reservoir behind the dam, also known as Maharana Pratap Sagar is home to a large number of birds and has been converted into a Bird Sanctuary. The surrounding dense forest cover is a natural habitat for several flora and fauna species which adds to the natural beauty of the place. The region has been declared as one of the 27 international wetland sites by the Ramsar Conventions owing to its rich wildlife and vegetation cover. The sanctuary is home to several species of avifauna some of which include Barheaded Geese, Red-neck Grebe, northern lapwing, common teal, spot-billed duck, Eurasian coot, black stork, egrests, among others. Sprawling over an area of over 240 kms, the lake is also an important fish reservoir which acts as a fish breeding ground for commercial purposes.

The Baijnath Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva who is worshipped as the God of Healing. Baijnath or Vaidyanath is an avatar of Lord Shiva, and in this avatar, the lord rids his devotees of all miseries and pain. The water of this temple is believed to have medicinal value and the potential to cure several illnesses and diseases, drawing thousands of devotees from all around the world every year. Built in 1204 by two local merchants, Ahuka and Manyuka at a distance of 16 kms from Palampur, it is one of the few temples in India where both, Lord Shiva and the demon King Ravana are worshipped. According to ancient scriptures, Lord Shiva established 12 jyotirlingas, pillars that emanated pure light and unencumbered power, across the country as a challenge to Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma and one of these 12 jyotirlingas rests inside the Baijnath Temple. Set against the backdrop of the Dhauladhar Range, the temple have amazing views. The temple’s architecture hints of an early medieval North Indian style which is popularly called as the Nagara style. There are two entrances, north and south and a vast vestibule in the middle with balconies on either side known as the Mandap before which is a small porch that is based on four columns where the mount of Lord Shiva, Nandi rests. The inner sanctum, where the Shivaling lies, is surrounded by walls that are speckled with artistic drawings and paintings. The history of the temple is inscribed on the stone walls of the complex with inscriptions indicating that before the present temple, a shrine of Lord Shiva rested on the same spot. The temple is open between 6 am and 9 am daily.

The Brajeshwari temple reverberates with mysticism, mainly because of its architecture. It is highly advisable to make it for the Aarti as this temple is one of the 51 Shakti Peeths of India. This temple was one of the oldest and wealthiest in northern India but was destroyed, together with the fort and the town, by the 1905 Kangra earthquake on 4 April 1905. The Jwala Devi temple is dedicated to Jwala Ji, a Hindu Goddess depicted by a set of eternal flames. One of the Shakti Peethas, it is believed that the tongue of Goddess Sati fell where the Jwala Devi Temple is located. A temple with no idol, the five aartis conducted at Jwala Devi Temple are the main attraction. It is believed that the Goddess resides in the holy flames of the temple, which miraculously burn day and night without any fuel. The flames represent the nine forms of Goddess Durga, namely Mahakali, Annapurna, Chandi, Hinglaj, Vindhya Vasini, Mahalakshmi, Saraswati, Ambika and Anji Devi. The Goddess is offered the sweet Rabri. Located 1 km from the temple is Jwalamukhi Cave which previously had three openings but today only has one and is filled with the water of a spring. The temple is open from 5 am to 10 pm during summer and from 6 am to 9 pm in the winter months.

The hilltop temple of Chamunda Devi Temple is one of the Shakti Peeths, on the banks of river Baner. Chamundeshwari Devi is said to be one of the most powerful avatars of Goddess Durga with the Navratri festival a prominent festivity of the temple. The temple has engravings from the Mahabharata and Ramayana and is designed in traditional Himachali architecture. It is believed that the temple came into being during the 1500s when goddess Chamunda appeared in a local priest’s dream and urged the idol to be shifted to a specific spot which is the present-day temple. Also referred to as Raktha Kali, Charchika and Chamundeshwari, Chamunda Devi is a terrifying version of Mother Durga and it is believed that Goddess Durga created another goddess with immense power and strength to destroy the demons, Chanda and Munda. Upon destruction, the goddess was then named Chamunda Devi, or the one who triumphs over evil. During the summer months, the temple is open from 5 am to 12 noon and then again from 1 to 10 pm. During the winters, it is open from 6 am to 12 noon and then between 1 and 9 pm. The ancient temple of Kaleshwar Mahadev is also dedicated to Lord Shiva with the main attraction being the Lingam which is placed at ground level and the temple is adorned with beautiful sculptures.

Tashijong is located about 5 km west of Baijnath and is famous as it is home to a small community of Drukpa Kagyud monks and refugees. The Tashijong Gompa is quite impressive and attracts a lot of people. Apart from the Gompa, most of the life revolves around carpet making, thangka painting and woodcarving.

The trek to Indrahar Pass is a fairly easy one, being the most picturesque trail starting from Mcleodganj, covering Lahesh and Triund Caves, and lasts about 14 km one way. One can easily spot the Pit Panjal range and other smaller ranges on either side. The scenic beauty of this trek is spellbinding with the peak trekking time between April to October. The Dhauladhar Range trek is one of the most visually rewarding treks. This peak is visible almost all throughout the higher altitude treks in Kangra, but this particular trek is to the north of Kangra and covers the southern outer range of Himalayas.

The Kangra Museum is dedicated to the brilliant marvels of Tibetan and Buddhist artwork and their rich history. Among the large variety of its precious collectibles are jewelry, rare coin memorabilia, paintings, sculptures and pottery. The essence of tribal culture is beautifully reflected in the exquisite pieces of art on their culture.

Known for its Sikharas which resemble the Angkor Wat of Cambodia, Masrur is located around 30 km from Kangra. These 10th century temples, however were badly damaged in the 1905 earthquake.

Pragpur is a heritage village situated near Kangra and houses the Judge’s, Court Manor. The largely unaltered village, complete with an old world charm of small red brick shops and traditional rural houses is perfect for an undisturbed village tourism option. Reputed as India’s first heritage village, visitors get pulled by its cobbled streets, the ornamental village tank and slate-roofed and mud-plastered houses. Pragpur is also the base for the famous Kangra School of Painting. The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage are working on preserving and running the village in the same ethnic rural backdrop.

Haripur and Guler are twin townships carrying the heritage of Guler kingdom and are separated by a river which creates a wetland and home to a large number of migratory birds in winters due to the marshes and irrigated private land. Guler is situated on the other side of the town having a narrow gauge railway station connected from Pathankot to Jogindernagar while Haripur was founded in 1464 and it is the place where the Pahari Paintings known as the Kangra miniature paintings originated. The town also known as the cradle of Kangra School of Paintings came to a downfall at the end of the 19th century. Haripur comprises of old fort and water springs which are worth visiting. According to legends, Raja Hari Chand of Kangra went hunting but got separated from his hunting party and fell in a well. Everybody searched for him, but when they could not find him, the king was declared dead. After they returned to Kangra, his wives burned themselves, became sati and Karan Chand, who was his younger brother, was given the throne. Hari Chand was trapped in the well for 22 days after which he was rescued by a passerby. Hari Chand did not regain control over his kingdom but instead set up a new kingdom known as Haripur named after himself. Guler state which was founded in 1405 was a princely state which was taken over by Punjab in 1813. On the hills of Haripur, there is a ruined fort which was built by Raja Hari Chand, which is the second fort built by him after the Kangra or Nagarkot Fort as well as caves and some temples built by the king.

Khajjiar
Often referred to as the mini-Switzerland of India, Khajjiar is a small town near Dalhousie which provides visitors with a unique combination of forests, lakes and pastures. Located at an altitude of 6,500 feet, Khajjiar is known for its nine-hole golf-course which is nestled in the midst of lush greenery and a breathtaking landscape. Khajjiar is a small saucer-shaped plateau which also has a small lake and is surrounded by green meadows, dense forests and beautiful temples.

Thick deodar foliage, a plethora of wildlife, snowcapped mountains, carpets of verdant grasslands and easy on the eye streams of fresh water make up the Kalatop Khajjiar Sanctuary which is also known as the Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary. The name Kalatop means black cap, which refers to the thick, black forest cover on the highest hilltop in the sanctuary. Situated a few km from the Chamba dam and Chamera reservoir on the river Ravi, it is known to be rich in flora and fauna. Hundreds of small freshwater streams flow into the Ravi river north of the sanctuary. The well laid out trekking and hiking trails in the sanctuary offer an experience not found elsewhere. Treks are the best way to explore the beautiful untouched forests of the park area with views of the towering Pir Panjal range from sanctuary resthouse a breathtaking sight. The sanctuary holds a great diversity of flora and fauna. There is a small adventure park inside the sanctuary, ideal for kids to have some fun time. The Kalatop Khajjiar Sanctuary has a small guesthouse located inside the premises for which one will need to make prior reservations. The summer months from March to May are the best times to visit with the post-monsoon season from September onwards pleasant. During the rule of the princely states under the British, the place was famous as the hunting and sporting grounds for the Chamba rulers. The area under the Kalatop Khajjiar Sanctuary was notified as a natural reserve during the early 1960’s but efforts to protect and preserve the pristine area was undertaken only during the 1970’s when it was declared a sanctuary. The lush oasis has always been an open forest sanctuary, meaning that there are no enclosures of any kind and animals are free to move in and out of the area.

Bharmour
Known to be Himachal’s well kept secret, Bharmour is a quaint little hilltown boasting of lush green scenery and snow clad peaks. Formerly called Brahmpura, the hill hamlet is situated at a distance of 64 km from Chamba and is known for its several ancient temples, some of which are believed to date back to the 10th century. Flanked by the Ravi and Chenab valleys and tucked in between the Dhauladhar and Pir Panjal ranges, Bharmour is sometimes called the Land of Lord Shiva as it is believed that Lord Shiva resided at the Kailash Parvat nearby. Situated in the heart of Bharmour, the Chaurasi temple complex is the highlight of the place. The huge complex houses as many as 84 small shrines in the premises dedicated to different gods and goddesses, hence the name Chaurasi. Believed to have been built 1400 years ago, the Manimahesh occupies the centre which is built in the Shikhara style. The Lakshana Devi Temple is the oldest temple in the complex and it still retains features like the wooden architectural designs and intricately carved entrance. The temple is presided by Goddess Durga in the form of four-armed Mahishasuramardini and their are carvings from Shaivism and Vaishnavism. The Manimahesh temple is situated in the centre of the complex and is considered to be the most important temple. Enshrined by a large Shivalinga, the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The Narsingh or Narasimha temple also dates back to the 7th century and is enshrined by Narasimha, the half man half lion incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The Lord Nandi Bull Temple is situated right across the Manimahesh Temple and is presided by a life size metal sculpture of the bull Nandi. The Dharmeshvar Maharaj or Dharamraj temple which is presided by Dharamraj or the lord of death. It is common belief among locals that dead souls stand here to seek permission from Lord Dharamraj before departing on their final journey. The Ganpati temple is dedicated to Lord Ganesh and is built near the entrance of complex and is enshrined by a bronze statue of Lord Ganesh.

Bharmour is home to two prominent wildlife sanctuaries in the region, the Kugti Wildlife Sanctuary and the Tundah Wildlife Sanctuary. Kugti is one of the largest wildlife sanctuaries in the region situated at a varying heights of 2195 to 5040 m. The Tundah wildlife sanctuary is also situated near the Kugti Wildlife Sanctuary and is linked to it through a forest corridor. Both of these have a flourishing wildlife.

Chamba
Not to be confused with a town of the same name in Uttarakhand, Chamba in Himachal Pradesh is located at an altitude of 1,006 metres above sea level, on the banks of the ravi River, a major tributary of the Indus river, at its confluence with the Sal river. Known for the ancient temples and caves, Chamba is famous for mesmerising views of the Pir Panjal, Zanskar and Dhauladhar ranges which forms the backdrop to the town. Chamba is popular for its traditional handicrafts and art along with the miniature Pahari paintings, a form of Indian painting that originated from the Himalayan hill kingdoms of North India during the 17th to 19th centuries. It is also the base camp for several treks in the great Himalayan ranges.

Though historical records date the history of the Chamba region to the Kolian tribes in the 2nd century BC, the area was formally ruled by the Maru dynasty, starting with the Raju Maru from around 500 AD, ruling from the ancient capital of Bharmour. In 920, Raja Sahil Varman shifted the capital of the kingdom to Chamba, following the specific request of his daughter Champavati for whom Chamba was namedThis dynasty ruled Chamba until its merger with India in April 1948. Chamba celebrates two renowned festivals, the Suhi Mata Mela, held during March/April for four days and the Minjar Mela, celebrated on the 2nd Sunday of the Shravana month, in August.

The Manimahesh Lake, also known as the Dal Lake is situated in the Pir Panjal range nestled at an elevation of 4,080 meters and is considered only second in significance to the Lake Mansarovar in Tibet. Manimahesh means Lord Shiva’s jewels and according to local legend, on a full moon night, one can see the reflection of this jewel in the magnificent lake. It remains closed most of the year due to snow, and one has to trek a distance of 13 km to mountains to get there. Shaped like a saucer, the lake is divided into two parts, the larger part is the Shiv Katori or the bathing place of Lord Shiva, and the lower part is called Gauri Kund or the bathing place for Goddess Parvati. The lake is close to the peak of the Manimahesh Kailash Parbat, which is considered to be the holy abode of Lord Shiva and it is said that he created both the landforms as his marital home with Goddess Parvati, and is believed to be still residing here. There is a marble image dedicated to the Lord in the periphery called Chaumukha. There are many legends associated with the origins of Manimahesh Lake with one of the most popular that says that Lord Shiva created the lake after he married Goddess Parvati. It is also believed that the avalanches and blizzards that occur in the region are caused due to Lord Shiva’s displeasure and legends also mention the lake as the sight of Shiva’s penance. There is no better way to see the gorgeous landscape of the Manimahesh lake than through a helicopter ride. One can make reservations for the ride from either Bharmour or Chamba. The helicopter reaches takes passengers to Gauri Kund, and from there one has to make a 1 km hike, offer prayers to the Lord, before the return flight to Bharmour or Chamba. A return trip will set one back by around INR 8,000 per passenger from Bharmour and INR 14,500 per passenger from Chamba.

Thala Waterfall is a gorgeous perennial waterfall that is popular among locals and visitors. The cascading water forms a pool at the base which is a pure delight, however, it is advisable not to take a dip at the pond as the water pressure is really high and there are chances that one might get sucked into the bottom. Surrounded by immense natural beauty, the fall is also an ideal place to have a quiet picnic as it is situated at a distance of 100 m from the Thala Bridge and is easily walked from there.

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Hadsar is a small town that is known as the base camp of the Manimahesh Yatra and is home to the gorgeous Hadsar Waterfalls. Boasting of enchanting natural beauty and sprawling pastures of alpine woods, the waterfall is a popular picnic spot and can be reached through a short trek.

The Lakshmi Narayan Temple is the oldest and largest temple in Chamba, and is built in the shape of a Shikhara. It houses six stunning idols of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva with the central Vishnu idol carved out of marble.

The extravagance of the Vishnu idol takes the centre stage at the Hariraya temple. The idol is is a bronze idol covered in saffron, adorned with jewelry, including rings, armlets, kundals or earrings, a crown and necklaces. Lord Vishnu is seen riding a chariot pulled by six horses and the 11th century constructed stone carved shikhara type temple makes for an enchanting experience.

Built by Raja Sahil Varman in the memory of his daughter, Champavati, the Champavati temple is a thronged by pilgrims and is located in the heart of the cit built in the distinctive Shikara style with features inspired by the Nepal architectural designs. It boasts of several rock carvings and has a magnified wheel on the rooftop which makes it unique. Large sculptures grace the interiors and the walls have beautiful carvings on stone. The Champavati temple enshrines the idol of Goddess Mahisasuramardini, an incarnation of Goddess Durga. In addition, the premises also house shrines of Vasuki Naga and Wazir. The temple is managed and maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India and is open between sunrise to sunset daily.

The Vajreshwari temple is dedicated to the Goddess of lightning popularly known as Goddess Vajreshwari, and is atleast a thousand years old. Goddess Vajreshwari is believed to be a manifestation of Goddess Parvati and she is worshipped here in her pinid form. Built in the traditional Shikhara style of architecture, the shrine is a amalgamation of spectacular carvings, intricate woodwork and delicate stonework. The interior walls have elaborate carvings of different Hindu deities and idols. Also known as the Bajreshwari Temple, the temple has eighteen tiny inscriptions on the outer walls, and some on the gigantic pillar guarding the entrance. The entrance has a Nagarkhana or a drum house with two huge stone lions, which are a symbol for protecting the temple’s wealth. The shrine houses a magnificent idol of Goddess Durga seated on a lion along with Lord Vishnu on the side with three faces, human, boar and lion.The best time to visit the temple is in the month of March during Amavasya or the new moon, when a huge fair is held in the honour of Goddess Vajreshwari as well as during Navratri celebrated in March. The Vajreshwari temple has several myths attached to it with the most prominent one that goes to suggest that after Goddess Sati sacrificed herself during her father’s yagna, Lord Shiva started the tandav or the dance of destruction and took off with her body. In order to save the world from Lord Shiva’s wrath, Lord Vishnu destroyed her body and divided it into 52 parts with his Chakra. Goddess Sati’s parts fell in different parts of the world, the temple spot being one of it thus making it the shakti peeth. Later Goddess Parvati appeared in the dreams of Pandavas and ordered them to build a temple on the site to save themselves from destruction. This is how a temple came to be built in the memory of Goddess Sati and was named Vajreshwari Temple. The temple is known to possess immense wealth with the idols believed to be clad in heavy ornaments and expensive jewellery. The shrine was plundered repeatedly over time with Mahmud Ghazni pillaging in 1009 who destroyed the temple and built a mosque here. After thirty five years, the king of the region regained the site and the shrine was replicated and restored. The new temple was generously decorated with jewels in gold, silver and diamonds. Not long, it was plundered and looted by Firoz Shah Tughlaq in 1360, but later the Mughal emperor Akbar decided to restore the temple’s grandeur. In 1905 a severe earthquake annihilated the temple, but not to a great loss.

Perched on top of the Shah Madar range and overlooking a spectacular view of Chamba, the Chamunda Devi temple was built by Raja Umed Singh in 1762. Nestled amidst the woods of Pathiar and Lahla, the temple is entirely made of wood and has gable roofs and is situated on the banks of the river Baner. Dedicated to Goddess Kali, also known as the Goddess of war, the temple could only be reached through a flight of around 400 steps cut out of a stone pathway previously, but now it is easily accessible through a 3 kms long concrete road from Chamba. The seven-hundred-year old temple has a cave-like structure at the back which is believed to be the symbol of Lord Shiva and a stone phallus is kept to mark the territory. Also known as Chamunda Nandikeshwar Dham, the temple is home to Lord Shiva and Goddess Shakti. Lord Hanuman and Lord Bhairav guard the front gate of the temple and are considered to be the protectors of the Goddess. The shrine boasts of enchanting decor and striking architecture, and has carvings on silver sheet in the inner sanctum. Adorned with beautiful floral patterns and extravagant idols, the temple also present a wonderful picture of the beguiling Himalayan range in the backdrop. In addition, the temple complex also houses a handicrafts shop which sells pretty souvenirs.

The Sui Mata temple was built by King Varman in memory of his wife Queen Sui who sacrificed her life for her people. Situated on top of the Shah Darbar hill, the shrine provides a spectacular bird’s eye view of the township below. The temple complex has been divided into three parts which includes the main temple, a channel and a memorial dedicated to Rani Sui Mata. The temple can be reached by alighting a flight of stairs paved along a pathway from the bottom of the base. The interiors have been tastefully done in beautiful paintings depicting the life and times of Sui Mata. The temple is most crowded during the annual fair which is held in the months of April and May with little girls and women dressing up extravagantly to pay their homage to the sacrifice of Queen Sui. The legend behind the temple states that once there was drought in the kingdom of Raja Varman who prayed to the Gods, gave away offering and tried every way to please the deities but to no avail. Disappointed and anguished, he took advice from the brahmins and religious priests who told him about the extreme demands of the gods. In order to bring water to the town, the King would have to either sacrifice his son or his queen. Taking a very tough call, the king decided to sacrifice his son but the queen could not see this happen and so she died instead. Soon after there were heavy rains and the town was flooded with water. Later, a memorial was built for Queen Sui Mata for her sacrifice.

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Situated next to the Chaughan gate, the Sri Hari Rai temple is built entirely of woodwork and boasts of the shikhara style of architecture with wooden chattris and an elevated platform base. The temple is enshrined by Lord Vishnu, in his three faced avatar of human, lion and boar riding on six horses. Built in the 11th century, the main idol is heavily adorned with rings, amulets, necklaces and earrings. The temple also houses several other deities including Lord Shiva seated on a bull with Uma on his side and their mounts, the lion and nandi in the front and Lord Surya seated on a chariot among others.

The Church of Scotland, built in 1903, a quiet sanctuary, is a Protestant Church which speaks of its strong Scottish artistic sensibilities in its arched windows and deep cravings. With absolutely no alterations since its erection, except a boundary wall, the church, also known as St. Andrews Church is extraordinarily well preserved and should not be missed.

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The Bhuri Singh Museum is a delight for those interested in Indian epics and texts. Originally written pages from the Mahabharata and the Upanishads are on display here, apart from the rare brass and copper engraved coins and such artefacts. Also on display, are the popular Basholi and Kangra style paintings.

Built in the mid 18th century, the Chamba Palace or Akhand Chandi Palace is the stately white building which lording over town. The royal palace was originally constructed during the reign of Raja Umedh Singh as a residential palace, but over the years, the palace was reconstructed, renovated and modified many times both by the British and the Mughal emperors. They added the Darbar Hall, also called Marshall Hall, the Zenana Mahal and several specimens of Mughal architecture which makes the palace a wonderful amalgamation of the both their designs and creativity. The Akhand Chandi Palace also has a distinguishable green roof which showcases the regal building from other places of importance in Chamba. The entire premises are divided in three segments, with sloping roofs for the easy shedding of snow. The architecture boasts of well-decorated arc styled windows and intricate wood and glass work in the interior walls. Surrounded by plush gardens and fancy fountains, the palace was handed over to the Himachal government in 1958 and has now been converted into a government college and a district library.

Tattapani
A popular destination, Tattapani is a quaint village located 60 kms north of Shimla on the right bank of river Sutlej at an altitude of 2,230 feet above sea level. In the local language, Tattapani means hot water and this place famous for its hot water springs that is spread over an area of one sq km and this spring is is said to have curative properties for ailments like stress, joint pain, fatigue and other skin diseases. An ancient religious place, the Shiva Cave is about 3.5 km from Tattapani and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Apart from its religious aspects, in this cave one can witness stalactites and stalagmites which is also an ideal spot for fishing and swimming. The Shivaratri festivities in this cave are feverently celebrated which can be approached either by a 10 min drive or by climbing a well maintained 450 stairs. An ancient temple 35 km from Tattapani and dedicated to Mahun Nag, the Mahunag temple is famously referred to as the great snake of Maharaja Karana. An ancient temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman also known as the Jai Shree Dev Badeyogi Ji Maharaj, is a famous temple located in Mandi. The hot water springs in Tattapani are very sought after and it is believed that a dip in the hot water can cure skin diseases, joint pains and fatigue. The spring is however not a natural spring since it disappears in the month of June and July as the level of the river rises and reappears in November and December. Adventure tourists can also do white water rafting on the Sutlej river.with the time for this during May and June. Chindi is a small village packed with apple orchards, enormous pine and deodar forests and several small temples near the village.

Jalori Pass
Nestled in the peaks of the northern Himalayas the Jalori mountain pass is located between Kullu and Shimla. This pass opens in the second week of March and shuts down in December due to snowfall. Situated at a height of 10,800 feet above sea level, Jalori Pass is located 5 km from Shoja and the road leading to the pass is narrow and extremely steep, not to mention uneven and full of potholes, making it a bumpy ride and sometimes becoming difficult to drive even in first gear. Vehicles are prone to slipping due to frost during the winter, even after machines have swept away the snow. The Jalori Pass Trek is a moderate level trek which follows a trail amidst vast coniferous forests, and can be best covered between mid-June to mid-October when traversing through the snow is an easy feat. The path leads to the nearby Serolsar Lake and the Budhi Naagin temple. Legend has it that the Goddess Budhi Naagin, the Mother of snakes, resides in the Serolsar Lake and is said to have two birds as companions, who jointly protect the lake, keeping it clean and pure. It is also believed that the Pandavas visited this place during their exile. Numerous little hamlets can be found in the surrounding area, each with their own distinct cultures. The Jalori Mata temple is located approximately 3 km from the pass. The village of Shoja is part of the Great Himalayan National Park, which consists of large conifer and oak forests, rivers and glaciers. The pass is a treasury of flowers, trees, and migratory birds and is home to the Indian blue robin, nutcracker, white-throated tit, and yellow-billed blue magpie. Shrubs of Iris flowers, ferns and wild roses commonly festoon the grounds in the locale. The remaining fertile area is filled with fields of cauliflower, wheat, potatoes and other vegetables. The road through Jalori pass holds a historical and strategic importance and was constructed by the British to gain access to the Kullu Valley.

Jibhi
Often referred to as a mesmerising hamlet situated amidst the lush green forests and surrounded by variegated mountain, Jibhi is untouched by industrialisation and surrounded by nature. The dense pine forests, tranquil freshwater lakes and pristine temples make this place worth visiting. The dense forests of Jibhi are replete with flora and fauna with the rich biodiversity of this place leaving one enchanted. Many wild and rare flowers can be spotted in the rich forests. The Jibhi waterfall is hidden inside the forest that cannot be seen until one is well inside the dense forest. The gushing of water flows like music and small wooden bridges are built near the waterfall providing a picturesque view of the place. Built in the Pahadi style architecture, the 1500-year old Chaini Fort is a timber tower of 40 meters which makes it the best place from where one can see the panoramic beauty of the place. The fort has a secret tunnel underground and one can take a walk through the tunnel to unveil its mysteries. Made using fine timber interlocked with each other, the fort stands tall and today has been converted into a temple of dedicated to Lord Krishna. Located at a distance of 500 meters, the Shringa Rishi temple is surrounded by lush green trees and blooming flowers with the view from here is absolutely mesmerizing giving a bird’s eyes view of Jibhi. A short trek of 250 to 300 meters will take one to what is locally known as Mini Thailand A walk of 250-300 metres towards the Jalori pass and one will see a yellow board of the forest guest house on the left side. A trek down for around 200 metres will make you reach the pond where one can take a dip.

Mandi
Formerly known as Mandav Nagar, Mandi is located at the junction of Kullu and Dharamshala and is often referred to as the Varanasi of the hills or Choti Kashi because of the 81 temples spread across the town. Lying on the banks of river Beas, Mandi serves as the gateway to the valleys of Kullu, Manali, Spiti and Lahul and lies at an average altitude of 800 metres, which means summers are pleasant and winters are cold. The city was established in 1527 by Ajbar Sen, as the seat of the Mandi State, a princely state till independence and today, it is widely known for its International Mandi Shivaratri Fair. The first heritage city of the state, it has one of the oldest buildings in the state. The name Mandi and its former name of Mandav Nagar comes from the sage Rishi Mandav, who prayed in this area and it is said the rocks here turned black due to the severity of his penance. Alternatively, the name may also have been derived from the common word mandi which means a market and may be connected to the Sanskrit root word mandaptika, meaning an open hall or shed.

Dating back to the 1520s, the Bhutnath temple is as old as the town itself. Located almost at the center of the town, the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva with the Shivaratri festival celebrated in the month of March a major event of this temple and town. The Bhima Kali temple is dedicated to the Goddess Bhima Kali. Situated on the banks of the river Beas, this temple also showcases statues and idols of various Gods and Goddesses in a museum. It is also believed that this is where lord Krishna fought with the demon named Banasura. The Shikhari Devi temple is located 15 km from Mandi with the trek to this temple located at a height of 3332 m above the sea level quite exciting. Sunrises and sunsets from the temple leaves one breathless and enchanted.

Located almost 80 km from Mandi, the Kamlah Fort stands on the Sikandar Dhar ranges. Built by Raja Suraj Sen in 1625, it stands at a height of 4772 meters. With its entrance present in the form of a maze, the landscape around is lush, green and picture perfect.

The Pandoh Dam is an embankment dam that is constructed on the Beas river whose primary purpose is hydroelectric power generation. Commissioned in 1977, the man-made lake created by the dam picturesque and full of lush greenery. Entry fees to the dam start from INR 500 onwards.

The Rewalsar Lake, also known as the Tso Pema Lotus Lake is a mid-altitude lake located on a mountain spur about 23 km to the south of Mandi. This mountain spur is protected by a variety of dense vegetation and plants, and the lake is particularly well known for its floating islands of reed. It is believed that these islands can be moved by prayers or by the breeze. The square-shaped lake has a shoreline of 735 kilometres and is at an elevation of 1,360 metres above sea level. The major attraction at the lake is the statue of Guru Rinpoche, and it is the second largest statue in the country. Standing 123 feet tall, at the height of about 4,000 feet above the sea level, the lake houses a beautiful Gurudwara built by Raja Joginder Sen of Mandi in 1930 to honour Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s visit to Rewalsar in 1738. There are also three temples dedicated to Lord Krishna, Lord Shiva and the sage Lomas near the lake. The place also has a Drikung Kagyu Gompa, which is an academy for Buddhist studies. The lake Kunt Bhyog, which is located at an altitude of 1,750 metres above the sea level, is located above the Rewalsar Lake and is known by the Tibetans Tso-Pema which means the Lotus Lake. There is a 12-metre high statue of Padmasambhava at the lake, which is the main attraction of the location.

A famous trekking path all around and situated at the height of 3334 m, Kamru Nag Lake lies on the Mandi-Karsog road and serves as arresting place for trekkers. Bound by the snow covered Dhauladhar and the Bahl Valleys, there is a Kamru Nag Temple in the proximity which is flanked by thick cover of lush green forest. An offbeat places in Himachal Pradesh, Prashar Lake is a crystal clear water body situated about 50 km north of Mandi, with a three-storied pagoda-like temple dedicated to the sage Prashar. The lake is located at the height of 2730 m above sea level with deep blue waters and is bound by the mighty Dhauladhar ranges in Kullu Valley and is surrounded by snow-topped peaks that looks down on the fast flowing river Beas. The temple was built in the thirteenth century, and has a floating island in it, whose actual depth is unclear.

A former princely state, Sunder Nagar was known as Suket and is famous for the man-made lake produced by the waters of Beas-Sutlej Project, India’s biggest hydel project and is known for its shady and high towering trees. Sunder Nagar was once the jail of Mandi and the most visited temple here is the Mahamaya temple which is located on the hill and offers a panoramic view of the city. The Murari Devi temple is said to have been built by Pandavas during their exile and has rocks which are believed to be the footprints of the Pandavas. An ancient cave dating to the Puranas, the Shukdev Vatika is said to be the place where the saint Sukhdev meditated. The ancient cave leads to Haridwar, and it is believed that Rishi Sukhdev took a bath in the holy water of Ganges through the cave.

I can’t wait to share more of Himachal Pradesh in the next part…

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