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Hidden Himachal Pradesh

The main Tourism circuits in Himachal Pradesh are fairly well known and even remote districts like Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur are now coming into the tourist mainstream. Himachal has however many undiscovered spots with unspoilt charm that are worth a visit for a quiet rewarding holiday - spent amidst the splendor of nature, away from the crowds.

DISTRICT CHAMBA

MANIMAHESH (4170 m): Accessible from Bharmaur, 35 km away. Scared to Lord Shiva and his divine consort Parvati, the lake of Manimahesh is 35 km from Bharmaur. Past Gaddi villages and wide meadows that give way to bare rock and snow fields, this tarn is a three day trek from Bharmaur - via Hadsar and Dhanchha. The deep blue waters of the lake, rest at the feet of the Manimahesh Kailash Peak - which is one of the mythological abodes of Lord Shiva.

BHARMAUR (2195 m): Linked by road to Chamba is 65 km away. Surrounded by alpine pastures, this is the summer home of the nomadic Gaddis. At a distance of 69 km from Chamba town, Bharmaur, once known as Brahampur, was between the 6th and 10th centuries, the capital of princely state of Chamba. It is renowned for its cluster of temples - collectively known as the 'Chaurasi'. Though of varying architectural designs, these temples are noted for their fine workmanship. From Bharmaur, the Kugti and Chobia passes and trek routs they offer can be approached. Other interesting places at hand are the temples of Bani Mata and picturesque Khundel. There are Forest and PWD rest houses in Bharmaur.

BHANDAL VALLEY (1730 m): Linked to Salooni (22 km) in the Chamba valley by road. The beautiful Bhandal Valley with its wealth of wildlife is at the western extremity of Himachal Pradesh. Approachable from Chamba, it is the base for a trek routes that connect Chamba to the Kishtwar region of Jammu and Kashmir over the Dagni Dhar. The route begins along the right bank of the river Ravi, goes past Pukhri, down to the Siyul stream, then rises to Salooni on the Prithvi Jor ridge to finally arrive above the valley. From Bhandal via Langhera one reaches Kishtwar. The highest point on the trek is the Padri Gali at 3049 m. There are rest houses at Sundla, Bhandal and Langhera.

PANGI VALLEY (2438 m): 137 km from Chamba. Locked between the greater Himalyan and Pir Panjal ranges, the wild and beautiful Pangi Valley is 137 km from Chamba. Its subdivision headquarters at Killar is located in the deep and narrow gorge of the river Chanderbhaga (Chenab). The foaming river, the high crags of the gorge and the difficult terrain are a challenge for intrepid trekkers. The Sach Pass (4428 m) opens the way to several trek routes. Thick forest the habitat of varied wild life surround the Pangi Valley and  the numerous side valleys - Saichu, Hunam, Sural Nallah, that are also endowed with remarkable natural beauty. The temple of Mindhal Basan Devi in Pangi is an important shrine. Appropriately, the people of Pangi are as attractive as the tract they inhabit. There is a rest house in Pangi.

DISTRICT KULLU

INNER AND OUTER SERAJ: Accessible from Kullu and Shimla by road. The Jalori and Basil passes stand as markers between the Inner and Outer Seraj regions of Kullu. Outer Seraj faces Shimla district and reaches out to touch the river Sutlej and Inner Seraj turns towards Kullu. Anni near Sutlej provides the access point to Outer Seraj from Shimla. Some of the beautiful unspoilt spots in this area include Change, a wide meadow surrounded by thick forests and Takara and Pane which have fine rest houses. Within Outer Seraj is Normandy known for its exquisite wood and stone temples. The 5155 m Shrikhand Mahadev Peak is a part of Outer Seraj. Beyond the Jalori Pass the scenic splendor of the Inner Seraj area unfolds. This area has variety of trek routes.

JALORI PASS (3134 m): The Jalori Pass which links Inner and Outer SERAJ is 76 km from Kullu. Its crest offers panoramic views of the area. The new pass is a man made one and was carved out of the mountain range in the early part of the Twentieth century. This is about 150 m lower than the old Jalori Pass. Surrounded by majestic forests, this area is home to the Himalyan brown bear and certain varieties of pheasant - including the Mona and Tarpon. The Shangri Rich Temple is close-by, and 5 km from the Pass is the jewel like Sloes Lake.

SHOJA (2692 m): Shoja in Inner SERAJ is close to the Jalori Pass. A charming unspoilt location of exceptional beauty overlooking lush meadows and tall snow-capped ranges, Shoji is 69 km from Kullu via Aut. The Raghupur Fort and Dough Thatch, a lovely grassy meadow very close to Shoja are worth visiting.

AUT: Aut on the Mandi-Manali highway is the entry point to the Kullu Valley where the road enters the Mandi - Largi gorge. Aut, the entire reservoir of the Pandoh Dam and Largi are excellent for angling. The rapids between Shamshi and Aut are splendid for river running. There are rest houses at Aut and Largi.

DISTRICT MANDI

JOGINDER NAGAR (1220 m): Joginder Nagar is the last stop of the little toy train, that runs from Pathankot on a narrow gauge line. Accessible by road from both Palampur and Mandi. In 1925, the enterprising Raja Joginder Sen of Mandi created an elaborate hydel power scheme near the village of Sukrahatti - which was then renamed Joginder Nagar after him. After tunneling and piping the water over several kilometers from the river Uhl to Joginder Nagar, the power house at Shanan was built by a team of engineers. Joginder Nagar's attractions include the Macchiyal Lake, the Bassi Power House, Gumma and the haulage trolley. The HPTDC runs Hotel Uhl at Joginder Nagar and there are rest houses too.

JHANTIGRI (2130 m): 12 km from Joginder Nagar is this enchanting spot atop a hill, surrounded by a thick forest of deodar trees. The remains of the summer palace of the former rulers of Mandi are located here. The spot unfolds breathtaking visats of the valleys below. There is a PWD rest house at Jhatingri.

BAROT (1830 m): Just 40 km by road from Joginder Nagar and 12 km by haulage trolley, Barot packs an enormous range of outdoor activities. The reservoir of the Joginder Nagar Hydel Power Project is located here. A trout breeding centre, makes it a wonderful place for angling. Across the river Uhl is the Nargu wildlife Sanctuary - home to the ghoral, Himalyan black bear and a variety of pheasants. A trek route through thick forests links Barot to Kullu. There are rest houses at Thaltukhod and Silbadhwani in the Nargu Wildlife Sanctuary.

SHIKARI DEVI (2850 m): It is possible trek to Shikari Devi from Janjheli and Karsog. Through woods of assorted trees and shrubs - which include several medicinal herbs - two separate trek routes lead up to this ancient shrine which crowns the top of a hill. One approach is from Janjehli and the other from Karsog. Hunters in the area once prayed to the Goddess for success in their hunt - and here, perhaps, lies the origin of the name 'Shikari Devi'. The Goddess is worshipped in the form of a stone image. Interestingly, the temple which is said to have been in existence since the time of the Pandavas, has no roof - for local legend has it, that all attempts to build one have been unsuccessful.

TATTAPANI (656 m): On the bank of the river Sutlej, Tattapani is approachable from Mandi via Karsog. It is also approachable via Shimla. Resting deep in a scenic valley and surrounded by high hills, Tattapani is famous for its hot sulpher springs- noted for their therapeutic powers. The HPTDC runs a lodge and there are rest houses at Tattapani.

PRASHAR LAKE (2730 m): Linked by road to Mandi. An interesting 14 km. trek is possible along a steep track from Kataula, which is easily accessible from Mandi. The beautiful Prashar Lake is located high in the mountains, 40 km north of Mandi. It is here that sage Prashar is said to have meditated. On the lake's edge is a three-storeyed pagoda-like temple dedicated to the sage. Capped with a roof of slate tiles, the temple has a wealth of wood carving. It is said to have been built by Raja Ban Sen of Mandi in the 14th centuary. An entire panorama of snowy mountain ranges is visible from this location.

DISTRICT KANGRA

NURPUR: Once a principality of Kangra, Nurpur is 24 km from Pathankot and 66 km from Dharamsala. Nurpur was known earlier as Dhameri. It achieved its peak during the rule of Raja Basu (1580-1613). The remains of his impressive fort can still be seen. Raja Basu's son Suraj Mal rose in rebellion against the Mughal Empreror Jehangir. After the uprising was quelled, the town of Dhameri was renamed Nurpur after Jahangir's beautiful wife, Nur Jehan. Today, apart from the fort, the attractions of Nurpur include the Brijraj Temple dedicated to Lord krishna. There are few other old temples at Nurpur. The place is renowned for its fine pashmina shawls.

MASRUR (800 m): Easily accessible by road from Kangra (15 km) and Dharamsala (40 km). Fifteen richly carved, monolithic, rock temples, dating back to the 8th century, are to be found at Masrur, just 15 km south of Kangra. Located on a hillock that rises above a well watered and fertile tract of considerable natural beauty - they are framed by the snow-clad peaks of Dhauldhar mountains. These shrines similar to the rock-cut temples at Ellora and Mahabalipuram, are the only monuments of this style in northern India. With rich ornamentation executed over staggering proportions, the Masrur temples brings to mind the remark that Indian temple builders "conceived like giants and had the finish of jewelers". Images of Lord Rama, Laxmana and Sita are installed in the central shrine.

MAHARANA PRATAP SAGAR: The Maharana Pratap Sagar can be approached from Pathankot via Jassur, from Chandigarh via Talwara and from Dharamsala via Dehra. The shimmering waters of the Pong Dam reservoir are clearly visible from the heights of Dharamsala. A man-made wetland over the River Beas, the lake, is the habitat of a variety of migratory birds from Siberia and Central Asia. Over 220 species of birds have been sighted here. It is also an excellent place to go fishing for mahaseer, there are numerous spots for the angler.

BIR (2080 m) AND BILLING (2600 m): Just 16 km from Joginder Nagar and 19 km from Baijnath, Bir is located amidst verdant fields and tea gardens. There is a large a Tibetan community and beautiful monastery here. Facing Bir is the fort of Ahju to which a trek can be made. Surrounded by an amphitheater of low hills Bir is an ideal landing ground for hang/paragliders. The road to Billing goes past Bir and climbs through thick woods. Billing, 14 km from Bir with its arena of 200 km or more for high altitude and cross country flying is an exceptional site for aero sports. An annual hang gliding festival is held at Billing.

DISTRICT BILASPUR

BAHADURPUR (1980 m): Close to the town of Bilaspur (40 km), Bahadurpur range towers over lesser hills of the area. A small forest of deodar and Himalayan oak that spreads over it considerably enhances its beauty. The crest offers panoramic view and the Ratanpur Fort, Swarghat, the Fatehpur Fort, Naina Devi, the plains near Ropar and even the Shimla hills can be seen from here. The Bahadurpur Hill is crowned by the remains of a circular fort which was built by Raja Keshab Chand in the 17th century.

SWARAGHAT (1220 m): Swarghat is 40 km from Bilaspur on Chandigarh- Bilaspur road and 22   km from Nalagarh. It is surrounded by low rolling hills that are draped by forests of pine. An attractive picnic spot, it forms an interesting excursion. The shrine of Naina Devi and the Bhakra Dam are approachable from here. The link road for Nalaragh and Pinjor turns off  from the National Highway at Swarghat.

KOT KEHLUR: The square structure of the fortress of Kot Kehlur is 3 km from Ganguwal, close to boundary with Punjab this impressive fort, over 30 m high, has effectively withstood the ravages of time, it is said to have been built by Raja Bir Chand. Legend has it that at the site of the fort, a goat staved off an attack by a lion to protect its new-born kid. This was taken as an auspicious sign and the fort was constructed at the site  of the struggle.

GOBIND SAGAR (520 m): In 1963, the the world's highest gravity dam, the Bhakra, was dedicated to the nation. Its huge reservoir, the Gobind Sagar Lake, on the River Sutlej, extending for 90 km upto the town of Bilaspur covers an area of some 170 sq km. Its clear waters hold a variety of fish and its banks are a draw for hopeful anglers. A large range of avian life can be seen in the lake. The Gobind Sagar Lake is also emerging as a major site for boating and water sports and a wide range of facilities and training courses are available. Every winter, the Mountaineering Institute holds a festival of water sports here.

DISTRICT SIRMAUR

RAJGARH (2169 m): Just 30 km from Solan Rajgarh blessed with considerable natural beauty, is an unspoilt retreat set amidst apple orchards. Its entry into the tourist circuit is relatively recent. A rest house and eating places made it convenient for a holiday.

SHILLAI: Approachable by road from Paonta Sahib and Sataun and surrounded by woods, Shillai lies close to the River Tons. It is closely allied with the worship of local deities Shirgul and Gugga and is an important centre of folk culture. A trek to the 3647 m peak of Choor Chandni also called the Churdhar, loosely translated as the 'mountain of the silver bangle', can be made from here via Haripur Dhar. A trek to Chakrata in Uttar Pradesh is also possible from Shillai.

DISTRICT SOLAN

ARKI: Just 52 km from Shimla, once the capital of the princely state of Baghal. The elegant palace at Arki, picturesquely located against a wooded hillside, is famous for its Ast Bayaka frescoes, executed in the Arki Kalam style. Refurbished now, the palace is a Heritage Hotel.

The Jakholi Temple, at Arki, is a remarkable archetectural specimen- a triple shrine of the 'shikhara' style. Other temples include those dedicated to Lutuur Mahadeva, the Shakni Mahadeva, Bhairon and Durga Mata.

NALAGARH: 45 km from Pinjore in Haryana, and at the half-way point on the road to Swarghat, Nalagarh was the capital of princely state having the same name. The Nalagarh Valley is a long strip bounded by the heavily eroded range of the Shivaliks in the south and west and the spurs of the outer Himalayas to the north-east. Around the valley are the ruins of the Surajupur, Malaon, Ramgarh and Chamba forts. Nalagarh is best known for its fortified palace and its fine wall paintings. This palace, recently refurbished is now a Heritage Hotel and promises an unusual royal experience to visitors.

DISTRICT SHIMLA

SARAHAN (2125 m): 184 km from Shimla, Sarahan is well connected with bus service. Taxis are also available at Shimla and Rampur. The gorgeous spectacle of the Himalayan ranges with the unspoilt pastoral loveliness of an unpretentious village, Sarahan is truly a haven tucked away in the foothills of the Himalayas. Situated in the Sutlej Valley, on way to district of Kinnaur, Sarahan was the old capital of Rampur Bushair, one of the biggest princely states in Shimla hills. The major attraction in Sarahan is centuries-old Bhimkali Temple and Raja Bushair Palace. Steeped in legend, the temple complex is a resplendent example of hill architecture. Sarahan is also the gateway to Kinnaur.

CHANSHI (4220 m): This high pass that closes in October to reopen only in April, hides the fascinating tract of Dodra-Kwar, where time seems to have stood still for several centuries. From here one can descend to the Rupin River. One can also trek on via Natwar and Panog to Haripur Dhar, include the Churdhar and loop around to Chaupal.

CHOPAL (2328 m): The little town of Chopal, 100 km from Shimla, has an authentic flavor of the Himachal hills, With wood and slate houses surrounded by forest of deodar tress, with high snow covered peaks in sight, Chopal has a perfect picturesque setting. This is one of the starting points of the trek to the churdhar Peak. Above Chaupal is an old temple dedicated to Lankra Bir (Bhairon), and at Sarain, there is the Bijjat Temple.


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