In this part, some of the smaller towns and valleys in the state will be explored.
Tirthan Valley is perched at an altitude of 1600 metres above sea level and derives its name from the Tirthan river flowing through. It lies around 3 km from the entrance to the Great Himalayan National Park and is a paradise for nature lovers besides having an abundance of adventure activities. The valley is best known for its trout fishing, trekking, and adventure activities and beautiful guesthouses set in nature. A major attraction of the valley, the Serloskar Lake is located about 5 km from Jalori Pass with the walk to the lake is enchanting with a thick cover of oak trees at an altitude of 3,100 metres and is believed to have medicinal properties. The place is better known for its temple devoted to Goddess Budhi Nagin and it is believed that the Goddess has a hundred sons and acts as a guardian of the place and the trek to the lake is a moderate one.
The Great Himalayan National Park is a national park which is surrounded on three sides by the Himalayas and is home to diverse wildlife species. Instituted a national park in 1999, today it is home to more than 375 species of fauna, 31 species of mammals and 181 species of birds. The culture inside the park is unique with each village having a deity of its own with some fairs organised during April, May, August, and September. A permit is needed to visit the park and the park provides trekking facility to visitors for which the Kullu Valley is the starting point. There are different levels provided for trekking ranging from easy to moderate hikes, moderate to tough and strenuous treks. Moderate day-long treks to difficult multi-day treks are organized on all the four valleys of the park including Tirthan, Jwar Nala, Parvati and Sainj. It is compulsory for the tourists to seek prior permission from the park officials for the treks held at different days. The parj is open between 10 am and 5:30 pm and needs about three to four hours to cover. Entry fees for Indians is INR 50, for Indian students it is INR 30 and foreigners pay INR 200 while foreign students pay INR 100. Camping charges for a two person tent per day is INR 100, while it is INR 150 for a three person tent per day and INR 200 for a four person tent per day. For more than four persons, it is INR 500 per day while the toilet tent will set one back by INR 100 per tent per day. Trout fishing in the crystal clear Tirthan river, a tributary of Beas is a favourite angling spot for visitors. The river is filled with brown and rainbow trout and has many anglers who come here especially to fish.
A town used a gateaway to Kullu, Manali, Kasol and Manikaran, Bhuntar is where Kullu’s airport is located. It is at the confluence of the Parvati with Beas rivers where the Parvati Valley runs eastwards, through a steep-sided valley towards Kasol and Manikaran. A quaint little town, it is perfect for those who prefer to visit less touristy places. Bhuntar has a quaint serenity to it and is surrounded by lush greenery and temples with splendid architecture. The Basheshwar temple is said to have been built by the Pandavas and is a beautiful temple with stone carvings everywhere which are very detailed and awe-inspiring. Easily distinguished by the flat shaped shikaras, it is the biggest of the temples in the Kullu Valley. Located just 3 km away from Bhuntar, amidst lush green mountains, the Jagannath Temple, at a height of around 5,000 ft. above the sea level is dedicated to Lord Jagannath. The Bijli Mahadev temple is located at an altitude of 2460 m on a hilltop across the Beas river. As its name suggests, it is dedicated to Lord Shiva and it is said that the temple houses a Shiva linga which was broken into pieces by lightning, that was brought back together and bound by a temple priest using butter. It is said this happens each year and locals the priest use cereal and pulse flour with unsalted butter on the broken pieces to restore the linga back to its original form. There are various sources as to the lightning strikes and locals believe the lightning strike is divine grace and the deity wants to protect the inhabitants from evil and some believe the lightning is a form of the deity with supernatural powers. The temple has to be reached by a 3 km trek through long path covered with pine trees and has stunning mesmerizing views of the surrounding valleys.
Not widely popular and located at the lower areas of the Great Himalayan National Park, Sainj Valley, along with the Tirthan Valley, forms the Great Himalayan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site today. The Shangchul Mahadev temple, located in Shangarh, sits majestically on an expansive meadow. The main temple, a multi-storeyed building with intricate wooden carvings was gutted in a fire in 1998 but was soon restored. Smaller temples are scattered all around the place, with many stories woven around them. The Shangarh meadow is more beautiful than the more frequented Khajjiar and a visit here while in Sainj is a must. The Pundrik Rishi lake remains dry today, but is filled with countless beliefs and stories and one is not supposed to touch the waters of the lake. Shanshar is a village which has the Manu temple, believed to be hundreds of years old, built in the Pagoda style as well as another dedicated to Manu at Talyara village, which opens up to a view of the far-reaching valley and mountains of the national park. Other temples include the Ashapuri and the Budha Narayan temples which are built of stone and wood and have a gabled roof, reflecting the art and architecture of the region. Beginning at Neuli, the Raktisar Trek is a riverside trek that goes up to Raktisar, where the river Sainj originates. A seven day trek to cover 92 km, the best time to do the trek is between April and June or October and November. Another favoutitr trek is the one from the Sainj valley, the Tirthan valley through dense forests and streams with loads of walnut trees and medicinal plants. This trek, which take around either to nine days to cover is for experienced trekkers and offers a transition from one valley to another. The Jiwa Nala trek takes one amidst dense forests and lakes, with overarching views of the Himalayas. During this trek, one will come across two passes, the Kandi Galu at 3,700 metres and the Phangchi Galu at 4,700 metres and will take nine days. A permit is required to undertake this trek and permits can be got from the Great Himlayan National Park office at the Sainj village. The Lapah to Shumga trek is by far the most difficult one as it takes one to the highest altitude here at 12,500 ft with sceneries ranging from meadows to jungles to open landscapes with mountains bordering the way. Beginning at Shangarh, there is a defined trail up to Lapah, where one can set up camps and then the path leads one into thickets before arriving at Shumga. For a novice trekker, there are shorter trails available.
Barot is a beautiful village located in the serene valleys of Mandi about 67 km from Mandi. The scenic landscapes are captivating, and the unpolluted air is famous for its numerous trekking trails.An unexplored and unexploited landscape, it came into limelight when the Shanan Hydroelectric Project was proposed around 1920. The project was to utilize the hydroelectric potential of the river Uhl. The forests around the village are mostly Deodar and Oak that grow in abundance and is home to a variety of flora and fauna. Fishing in the river Uhl is popular because of a trout breeding centre which makes it a perfect place for angling with over 30 km of the river used for this purpose. Across the River Uhl is the Nargu Wildlife Sanctuary which is a great picnic spot and home to a variety of flora and fauna. There are numerous trails around the Barot valley with the Barot Himri Trek along the mule trail quite famous and during winters, many visit Barot for snow trekking. Astronomy enthusiasts visit Barot to get stunning views of the night sky since the village is far away from city lights and located in the midst of a valley.
A small town, Bir is named after Birsen the ancestor of the Sen dynasty and ruled by the Pal dynasty of the Chandarvanshi lineage. The town is known for the adventures sports like paragliding, treks and also as the town for meditation because of the influence of the Tibetan culture. One of the best spots in the world for paragliding, the take-off site in Bir is called Billing and the landing site is Bir and the overall altitude change is around 800m. Visitors can also go for short hikes, visit the monasteries, take a ride in the nearby Jogindernagar-Pathankot Narrow Gauge train or just spend a day at the tea gardens. In 1966 the third Neten Chokling, an incarnate lama of the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, brought his family and a small entourage to Bir and with the help of foreign aid, purchased over 200 acres of land and established a Tibetan settlement where 300 Tibetan families were given land to build houses. Chokling Rinpoche also started building a new Neten monastery and disciples who had followed him into India formed its first sangha. The Chokling Monastery or Pema Ewan Chogar Gyurme Ling Monastery is one of the main attractions of Bir and t houses a grand and colossal stupa as well as an enthralling statue of Padmasambhava. The monastery is divided into a passageway, a temple and a prayer hall. The Palpung Sherabling monastery located at Keori near Bir, is a religious centre of eastern Tibet that offers Buddhist studies and other forms of living art and culture along with Periodic courses in Buddhist meditation and philosophy. The monastery is divided into an old and new structure which creates a confusion amongst visitors as the two lie at quite a distance from each other and is one of the branches of Palpung Monastery of Eastern Tibet, Palpung which means glorious union of study and practice. The monastery complex has a school, college and university. The monastery houses an enormous stupa of Maitri Budh, the one who is yet to come. The Lamas perform the Mahakal Lama dance on certain days. The monastery complex is massive and sits in the middle of the forest, at the foot of the Himalayas, surrounded by pine trees. The Gunehar waterfalls in Gunehar village, is tucked away on a hillock around 1.5 km away from Bir. At a height of 100 ft., the gorgeous waterfall can be reached through a short trek from the village with the crystal clear water cascading down the hillock a sheer visual delight. The Bir Cooperative Tea Factory is located near the Bir Bazaar Road and manufacturers the local tea of this region and offers tours of the factory.
Nestled between the majestic Dhauladhar ranges amidst pine and deodar forests as well as tea gardens encircling the town and numerous streams pouring in, Palampur was first noticed by the British that was soon turned into a bustling town. The town derives its name from the local word palum, meaning much water. Once part of Jalandhar kingdom, the town came into being when Dr. Jameson, Superintendent of Botanical Gardens, introduced the tea bush from Almora in 1849 and since then, the Kangra tea of Palampur has been known internationally. The Tashi Jong Monastery complex has a college for freshers and a Tibetan restaurant beside the main shrine. Inhabited by the Tibetans for many years, the place has a quaint serenity about it with Tibetan artefacts sold in the crafts emporium. The hilltop temple of Chamunda Devi is one among the 51 Shakti Peethas approximately 10 km west of Palampur, on the banks of the river Baner. Chamundeshwari Devi is said to be one of the most powerful avatars of Goddess Durga and Navratri a prominent festival. The temple has engravings from the Mahabharat and Ramayana and is designed in the traditional Himachali architecture style. It is believed that the Chamunda Devi 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 hosts the present-day temple. Also referred to as Raktha Kali, Charchika and Chamundeshwari, Chamunda Devi is a terrifying version of Goddess Durga or Durga Maa as locals refer her. It is said that a corner within the temple has the footsteps of the goddess on a rock and the temple has a staircase in marble that leads downwards to a Shiva cave, where the Lingam is worshipped. The Shiva temple here, known as Nandikashwar Mahadev. Palampur is known as the tea Capital of northern India and is famous for its vast spreads of lush tea gardens. Tea was introduced in the 19th century and since then Palampur has become quite famous for its speciality teas, especially Kangra Tea. The first tea plantation was started in Palampur by Dr Jameson, the Superintendent of the Botanical Gardens, North-West Frontier Province. Today, the tea gardens cover an area of 1,000 hectares and produces 8,50,000 kgs of tea every year. The tea plantations are open from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm and then again between 1:30 to 4:30 pm. The Saurabh Van Vihar is a nature park dedicated to a soldier Saurabh Kalia, a martyr in the Kargil War located on the banks of the snow-fed Neugel Khad in the village of Kwat and is spread over a total area of 13 km. Saurabh Van Vihar is located 4 km from Palampur and offers a panoramic view of the Dhauladhar range and is home to a wide variety of plants, trees and birds. The park is open between 9 am to 7 pm and has an entry fee of INR 10. A picnic spot located 2 km away from town, Neugal Khad is a beautiful place to enjoy nature’s beauty. People watch at the Neugal cafe which is maintained by the government. The most popular attraction in Palampur is experiencing a toy train ride which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The train commutes between Palampur and Pathankot and takes one on a hilly ride amidst lush green forests, shimmering waterfalls and across meandering rivers. While one will definitely enjoy the picturesque vistas enroute, they will also cross rural villages and witness the rural way of living in the hills.
A quaint little village on the banks of the Parvati river, Kasol is popularly known as the Amsterdam of India. Kasol is 23 kms from Bhuntar and next to Manikaran and is famous for its trekking trails. Also known as Little Israel because of a large number of people from Israel, Kasol has few streetside cafes and sitting there and enjoying a meal amidst the dark green forests and the awe-inspiring mountains make the meal even more enjoyable. The Parvati river flows through the Parvati Valley with the thundering river originating from the Man Talai glacier, flowing north of Parvati Valley and eventually flowing into the Beas River near Kulu. Kheerganga is a tiny village with the Kheerganga Waterfalls a small stream of cascading water from the rocky hills on the side, en route to Kheerganga amidst the backdrop of beautiful green hills and lush greenery and is a popular stopping point in the Kheerganga trek. A little further from Kasol is the village of Chalal which is situated at an altitude of over 5300 feet and a 30-minute trek from Kasol and is favoured by backpacker and trekkers. Rasol is located at 10,000 feet above sea level with breathtaking views of the snow-capped Himalayas. Rasol is a three to four hour trek from Kasol with Chalal the starting point of the trek. The village temple is devoted to Jamdagini Rishi, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The villagers offer prayers to their deity, but if outsiders enter the temple premises, they are fined INR 2000. Located 3 km from Barsheini, Pulga is located amidst denser deodar trees, waterfalls and apple orchards and is known for its scenic beauty and wooden homestays and is only accessible on foot. Kheer Ganga at 3050 meters lies at the extreme end of the Parvati valley and the last inhibited village while trekking to Pin Valley via the Pin-Parvati pass. Kheerganga has a hot water spring, a small temple of Lord Shiva and a bathing tank. The Pin Parvati Pass is the perfect destination for the trekkers seeking a challenging adventure and is an amazing Trans Himalayan trek of approximately 110 km. The trek is not really well defined but get worse during the monsoon season. Blessed with diverse terrain and rich in nature’s beauty, the Sar Pass Trek is the perfect trek destination for beginners which passes through thick forests, lush green meadows, rustic villages, and snow clad mountains in the backdrop.
Set against the backdrop of majestic hills and the clear and pristine Beas River, Naggar is home to the Naggar castle, once the residence of Raja Sidh Singh of Kullu. Situated on the left bank of the river Beas at an altitude of 1,800 meters, Naggar is an ancient town and was once capital of the Kullu kingdom and was founded by Visudh Pal and remained as the capital until that was moved to Sultanpur by Raja Jagat Singh. Naggar Castle, the official seat of kings for centuries. was built by Raja Sidh Singh more than 500 years ago. According to a legend, he used stones from the abandoned palace or Gardhak of Rana Bhonsal to build the castle. Labourers were ordered to form a human chain over the Beas river to transfer the stones manually. The castle is a unique blend of the western and Himalayan styles of architecture. The castle, which is open from 7 am to 10 pm daily survived the earthquake of 1905 even though most houses in the valley and the nearby city of Jawa were completely ruined. The castle also houses a temple in the courtyard known as the Jagtipatt temple which has alternate slabs of deodar timber, making it an earthquake resistant structure. Naggar castle was taken over by the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) in 1978 to be run as a heritage hotel and has an entry fee of INR 15 per person and a camera fee of INR 25. The Russian painter and explorer Nicholas Roerich who settled in Naggar in the early 20th century has a two storied house, the Roerich Estate which today is a museum and features a collection of his popular paintings. The Gauri Shankar temple located just below castle is dedicated to Lord Shiva was built in the 11th century and is said to be the last structure of the Gurjara-Pratihara traditions. The temple has stone carvings with the stunning medieval architecture. A unique temple, the Tripura Sundari temple, built completely of deodar wood, is host to a rather unique practice, where every Baisakh, it receives the shrouds of dead bodies as clothes for the goddesses. The Chamunda Bhagati temple in Nishala village is surrounded by some of the most beautiful sceneries in the region. The Dagpo Shedrupling monastery is a recent addition built in 2005 with breathtaking views dedicated to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Originally established as a research institute in 1928 by the Russian Professor Nicolas Roerich with the aim of creating an intellectual environment where research on Tibetan and Indian medicine could be carried out, the Uruswati Himalayan Folk Art museum is located 100m uphill from the Nicolas K. Roerich Art Gallery. The name Urusvati which means the light of the morning star was named in 1993 and the museum is based on Russian folk art and houses various musical instruments and stone carvings made by Roerich himself. The Roerich Art Gallery and Estate houses a good collection of Roerich’s art, his car and the house where he stayed. Located at slightly secluded location and not far from the Naggar Castle, the estate a nice forest area or garden with a large number of deodar trees and a great view of the peaks around.
Located at a distance of 4 km from Kasol at an altitude of 1760 m along the banks of river Parvati, Manikaran is known as a famous pilgrimage destination for both Sikhs and Hindus. There are three hot springs where one can take a bath, one being inside the Gurudwara itself and the other two privatised by guesthouses. The water in these springs contain sulphur capable of curing diseases. The water is hot enough to prepare food by directly placing the vessels and is served as langar.
Hindus believe that Sage Manu recreated human life in Manikaran after the flood. Another legend says that when the Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati were walking in the valley where they live for eleven hundred years, Parvati dropped one of her earrings. The jewel was seized by Shesha, the serpent deity, who then disappeared into the earth with it. Shesha only surrendered the jewel when Shiva performed the cosmic dance, the Tandava and shot the jewel up through the water. Apparently, jewels continued to be thrown up in the waters at Manikaran until the 1905 Kangra earthquake. The name Manikaran is derived from this legend as mani is jewel in most Indian languages. According to the Sikhs, during third Udasi, the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak came to this place in 1574 with his disciple Bhai Mardana who felt hungry but they had no food. The Guru sent Mardana to collect food for the langar or the community kitchen with people donating flour to make rotis or flatbread. The problem was that there was no fire to cook the food, so Guru Nanak asked Mardana to lift a stone and a hot spring appeared. As directed by Guru Nanak, Mardana put the rolled chapatis in the spring which then sank and was told to pray to God by promising to donate one roti in his name if they float back. When Mardana prayed, all the chapatis started floating back, duly baked and the Guru said that anyone who donates in the name of God, will have his drowned items float back.
The Sri Guru Nanak Devji Gurudwara is mentioned in the Twelfth Guru Khalsa by Giani Gian Sikh. A highly revered center for worship amongst Sikhs, this Gurudwara is believed to have been visited by the Guru Nanak with his five disciples. The langar here is very big and it serves free food to disciples and the needy. A highly revered temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Shiva temple was slightly damaged and tilted due to an earthquake in 1905. It is said that Gods of Kullu pay regular visits to this temple. The Kulant Pith is said to be the most sacred and superior of all the piths in India. It is believed that Lord Shiva stayed here for some time. The Vishnu Kund is believed to be the purest of all the kunds and a dip into this is believed to wash away all sins. Also, locals believe that this place takes away all the anger and evil of the individuals dipping into it. Another belief is that having food boiled in the water here can take one to Vishnu’s abode in heaven. Built in the 17th century by Raja Jagat Singh, the Lord Ramachandra temple’s legend says that Lord Rama brought it from Ayodhya. The temple is famous for its idols of Lord Rama and Goddess Sita and is located in the center of the city with three halls and 40 rooms for devotees who visit. The hot springs in Manikaran Sahib contain uranium and other radioactive elements and is believed to cure diseases. The water in these springs are extremely hot, so much so, that one can even boil rice in these. The town of Manikaran is surrounded by the snow-capped mountains of the Harinder mountains to the north with breathtaking views from the town.
Popular for its cannabis plantations and located at the far end of the Parvati Valley at 2,400 m in elevation, Tosh is untouched by modernisation and the fast-paced life. With its gradual terrain and the waters of river Parvati flowing through the village, the Tosh Kasol trek is the go-to trek for adrenaline junkies. The best time to visit Tosh is between April to October, though it has a pleasant weather throughout the year. The period from November to February sees the whole village covered in snow and can be a good time to visit to experience the freezing cold and snow. Tosh is the place one comes to just chill and enjoy the peaceful surroundings for a laid back holiday. In the centre of the village, there is a temple of Jamdagni Rishi which is opened only once a year during January or February. The temple has a long verandah which provides a breathtaking view of the surrounding snow-capped Himalayan ranges.
Running along the various destinations in the state, the precipitous and stunning Parvati Valley is famous for backpacker hangouts and adventure activities. From the confluence of the Parvati River with the Beas river, the Parvati Valley runs eastwards, through a steep-sided valley from the town of Bhuntar. The Parvati River is joined by many smaller tributaries along the way that result in many beautiful cascading waterfalls. A clear-view of the Himalayas greet visitors as they indulge in trekking, camping and river rafting. The precipitous valley road climbs past a side valley leading to the village of Malana near Kasol. From here, the road passes through the pilgrimage town of Manikaran and terminates at Pulga, where the construction of the Parvati Hydel Project, a hydroelectric dam, dominates the landscape. From Pulga, the footpath climbs to a temple and small dhaba at the Rudra-Nag waterfall, apparently after its resemblance of a water snake. Beyond the Rudra-Nag waterfall, the trail ascends further through thick pine forests to Kheerganga where Lord Shiva is said to have meditated for 3000 years. From Kheerganga to Tunda Bhuj village at 3285 m, the Parvati Valley cuts a steep-sided gorge through the mountains and as the altitude increases, the thick, coniferous forest gradually makes way for patches of meadowlands scattered with boulders. Several tributaries join the main Parvati river and numerous waterfalls cascade down the steep valley sides. Beyond Tunda Bhuj, the conifers continue only as far as the Basuki Nal tributary but groves of silver birch continue to line the valley, quickly becoming sparse as the altitude increases. At Thakur Kuan village which is at an altitude of 3560 m, the Parvati Valley meets the valley of the Dibibokri Nal river which is a tributary of the Parvati River, which then climbs towards the northeast to the Dibibokri Glacier and the Dibibokri Pyramid mountain peak at 6400 m. The area is characterised by abundant alpine flowers and rocky outcrops glittering with mica. Beyond the Thakur Kuan village, the Parvati Valley ascends gradually to the Pandupul village where two natural, rock bridges cross the Parvati River and a southern tributary. According to legend, these bridges were created by the massive strength of the Pandava brothers. From Pandupul, the wide valley of the upper Parvati valley climbs gradually through the wide, high-altitude meadowland of Odi Thatch to the sacred site of Mantalai Lake at 4100 m, the source of the Parvati River. Continuing east from the Mantalai lake, it is possible to cross the Pin Parvati Pass at 5319 m into the Pin Valley National Park and on to the Mudh village in the Lahul and Spiti district.
More absolutely stunning locations from Himachal coming your way in the next part…