No matter which part of India you stay in, when the heart says ‘hills’, the map pretty much always points to Himachal Pradesh. Little wonder then that this hilly state has been a hot favourite of common folks and celebs alike. Even as you read this, Kareena Kapoor Khan with hubby Saif Ali Khan and munchkin Taimur are holidaying in Himachal Pradesh. Her bestie Malaika Arora Khan is there too with her boyfriend Arjun Kapoor. Himachal Pradesh has always been a Bollywood favourite too with countless movies like Ye Jawaani Hai Deewani (who can forget Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Aditya Roy Kapoor and Kalki Koechlin having a blast in Manali?), Rockstar, Roja, Jab We Met and more shot in the state.
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But while Shimla, Kullu and Manali have always been crowd favourites and newer destinations like Dharamshala and McLeodgunj picking up in recent times, have you ever wondered where Himachalis go when they want to travel in their own state? Well, the answer lies in being part touristy and part offbeat.
So, if you want to travel to the favourite destinations of Himachalis and gawk at the mighty snow-capped Himalayan mountains and soak in the flavour of the hills, we got you a comprehensive list. From the serenading charms of Prashar Lake to the spiritual vibes of McLeodganj, here are some great destinations in the hill state which you could visit this winter.
The pretty little town of Dharamshala is what the Dalai Lama calls home. Home to the Tibetan government-in-exile and also the largest Buddhist temple outside Tibet, Dharamshala is a must visit not just for its aura of spirituality, but also for its natural beauty.
The Norbulingka Institute, which will give you an insight into Tibet with its art studios, crafts, weaves and all, is a must visit. And so is the HPCA Stadium, which offers picturesque views.
Remember a dishy Ranbir Kapoor strumming his guitar to Sadda Haq and the crowd going crazy? Well, the song was partly shot in McLeodganj, with its imposing colonial-style buildings and winding roads in the backdrop. Walk around the hilly lanes, sip a cup of hot coffee in one of the cutesy Insta-worthy cafes or pack your backpack for a trek to Kangra Valley and catch stunning lakes, old temples and cute mountain towns on the way. The Triund Hill is another good trek from McLeod.
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Famous for the Bhagsu Nag temple and the Bhagsunag waterfall, Bhagsu, about a 15-minute drive from McLeodganj, came into its own a few years ago as the nearby towns started getting crowded with tourists. After the hustle and bustle of Dharamsala and McLeodganj, Bhagsu will offer you some much needed calm and quiet, and of course, unparalleled natural beauty. This is one place where you can literally walk in the clouds (unless you have been to Sohra in Meghalaya and done that already).
Want to fly like a bird? Or would you rather camp it out with the hills on all sides giving you company? Fancy a trek? Want to go biking in the hills? How about hang gliding? Or a walk by the river? Well, you can do all of these and more at Bir Billing, easily the adventure sports hub of India. From paragliding to camping to hang gliding to treks to the various waterfalls, Bir (the village) and Billing (the takeoff site for paragliding), will rekindle the spirit of adventure in you.
With coniferous forests and hills on all sides and the beautiful Tirthan river flowing through it, Tirthan Valley in Kullu district – nestled in the lap of the Great Himalayan National Park – will leave you mesmerised with its scenic vistas.
More than 31 species of mammals, 181 species of birds and 375 species of fauna call it home, so don’t forget to visit the national park. The crystal clear Serloskar Lake and the Raghupur Fort (with a spectacular view of the Dhauladhar mountains) are also unmissable attractions of Tirthan.
Close to Mandi, the Prashar Lake is another little-known haunt and therefore a favourite with the locals. The crystal-clear waters of the lake, which also has a floating island, and the surrounding mountains will make you want to camp out on the banks just to enjoy the view. There is also a three-storied pagoda-shaped temple dedicated to Rishi Prashar that you can visit.
At 2,200 metres above sea level, Janjheli is rather unexplored. It’s about 200 km north of Shimla, this is where you should go if far away from the crowds is your idea of a vacation. With a handful of hotels, lush greenery and rolling hills, Janjheli is just the detox that your soul craves. The Shikari Devi temple, which dates back to the times of The Mahabharata, and treks to Budah Kaidar and Magru Galu are some of the attractions of Janjheli.
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Known as the mini Switzerland of India, Khajjar in Chamba, 6,500 feet above sea level, is another favourite with Hmachalis. Snow-capped mountains, green rolling meadows and dense deodar forests make up Khajjar. The Khajjar Lake, which has a floating island bang in the middle, the Khajji Nag temple, the Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary and pretty villages are some of the attractions of Khajjar.
Once upon a time, people used to cross Chail while on their way from Shimla to Kufri. But now it is a destination on its own. Spread across the three hillocks of Sadh Tiba, Pandewa and Rajgarh, Chail overlooks the Satlej river, Shimla and Kasauli. Go to Chail for some of the most breathtaking views of the Himalayan mountains and the beauty of dense deodar and pine trees.
The land between Tibet and India (Spiti means the ‘middle land’), Spiti Valley is further up from Manali and will legit give you Ladakh vibes. With the Spiti river, deep gorges and snow all over (the region is snow clad from November to April), Spiti Valley is a spectacular place to visit for the adventure-hungry soul. Pro tip: A bike trip will make it an absolutely exhilarating experience.
So have you packed your bags already?