Himachal Pradesh: 3 Incredible Destinations to Discover

Go hiking, mountain biking and experience local culture in Manali, Shimla, and Dharamsala. Elen Turner shares her tips on travel to Himachal Pradesh.

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Photo © iStock/Dushyant Kumar Thakur

Towns and villages in Himachal Pradesh come with views of mountains above, rivers winding below, and orchards all around.

It’s not a big state, but the undulating terrain can make it slow to traverse, so pick a base and explore these outdoor activities and cultural experiences nearby.

Explore Manali & Surrounds

While the rest of India scorches in the summer, Manali (2,050m/6,725ft) in the Kullu Valley is a comfortable temperature, and becomes a popular base for outdoor activities, or simply chilling in one of many traveler cafes.

If you’re going overland to Ladakh, Manali will be the point of departure. It’s possible to motorbike the 450km (280mi) road, or even cycle it ­– you might be surprised to know more travelers undertake this feat than you’d expect!

If you’re looking for a less strenuous adventure, travel companies around Manali can arrange mountain biking, trekking, rock climbing, canyoning, and white-water rafting.

Some of the top trekking spots near Manali include the Parvati Valley, the Malana Valley, and Lahaul/Spiti, as well as elsewhere in the Kullu Valley.

A camping trek in Himachal Pradesh isn't complete until you wake up to a cow outside your tent. Photo credit: Elen Turner

Get a taste of the local culture in Manali by visiting the wooden Hadimba Temple, which stands in a cedar forest, and is unlike others in India.

Across the Beas River from Manali is Vashisht, a quieter backpacker hangout, with gorgeous natural hot springs attached to the small Hindu temple.

An hour’s bus ride from Manali is Naggar, which is well worth a day trip. There’s an unusual wooden palace, some lovely temples and the spectacular Nikolai Roerich Museum. Naggar is also a good trekking base.

The pretty town of Naggar is an easy day trip from Manali. Photo credit: Elen Turner

Explore Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj & Surrounds

McLeod Ganj is home to the Dalai Lama, and Tibetan Government in Exile, so many of the town’s attractions revolve around Tibetan Buddhism.

Visit temples and monasteries, spin prayer wheels, watch colorful prayer flags fluttering in the wind, and appreciate the peaceful and rather incongruous nature of this Tibetan community in the heart of the Hindu-dominated Indian Himalayas.

Good hikes are accessible from Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj, including a day hike to Bhagsunag Waterfall and Shiva Cave, a two-day camping hike to Triund and the snowline, and a four-day trek to Kareri Lake and the Minkiani Pass (4,250m/13,943ft).

Explore Shimla

Shimla was the summer capital of the British Raj, and what’s left today is a quirky town full of tumbledown colonial-era buildings, improbably built on mountain slopes.

Cars are not permitted in the center, so it’s a pleasant place to walk around. There are mountain views in the distance and short hikes around the town – just watch out for the monkeys!

The Kalka-Shimla Railway was completed in 1903, and while it’s not the quickest option, it’s a quaint and enjoyable way of traveling down to the Indian plains, as you can connect to Chandigarh.

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