Welcome to Incredible Himachal!
Below are brief descriptions of the more well-known places on route as there are just too many to include here!
Shimla – Capital of Himachal Pradesh
Shimla is the starting point for Himalaya Discovery’s packages and routes to our hotels – apart from those flying directly to Manali.
Shimla, or ‘Simla’ as it is also known, is named after its patron goddess Shyamla Devi. Most of the area was once covered with dense forests until the 18th-century when it was developed by the British due to its similar climate and flora to England. Later in 1863, John Lawrence, the Viceroy of India, officially shifted the summer capital of the British to Shimla when many of his colleges actually wanted it to become the capital of India.
Shimla boasts the only South Asian natural ice skating rink. Historically, the area was captured by Bhimsen Thapa of Nepal in 1806, following which The British East India Company took control after establishment of the Sugauli Treaty, post Anglo-Nepalese War. During this time, British soldiers, merchants and civil servants moved to Shimla in the summer months to escape the heat of the Indo-Gangetic plain.
Shimla was also the capital of the undivided Punjab until the construction of Chandigarh. After the formation of Himachal Pradesh in 1971, Shimla was named as the state capital.
To this day, Shimla is home to many buildings styled in the Tudor, neo-Gothic and Victorian architectures dating from the colonial era, and also houses a number Christian churches and Hindu temples which attract tourists.
Its attractions also include the Viceroy Lodge, the Christ Church on The Mall, Jakhoo Temple, as well as Mall Road Ridge which together form the city centre. The Kalka–Shimla Railway line was built by the British and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Owing to its steep terrain, Shimla hosts the mountain biking race MTB Himalaya, which began in 2005 and is regarded as the biggest event of its kind in South Asia. Apart from being a centre of tourism, the city is also an educational hub housing a number of colleges, research institutions and boarding schools.
British tourists are intrigued by Shimla’s architecture but often feel ashamed when seeing the lower tunnels that Indians were forced to use by law, as natives were not allowed to walk on the overall Mall area unless they were employed as servants, porter carrying goods up or as nanny’s pushing prams.
Shopping on the Mall is generally more expensive than the two markets either side of this mountain peak; Lakkar Bazaar Market and the Tibetan Market. Our guests arriving have ample time to browse around and purchase clothing and materials needed for exploring remoter areas at prices far cheaper than in the West.
The journey from Shimla to Kinnaur, in particular, is breath-taking and our vehicles make a point of stopping for photo shoots.
Manali – Kullu Valley side of Himachal
Manali’s name was changed over time. Originally it came from the law-giver-sage ‘Manu;’ Manu-Alaya meaning ‘the residence of Manu. Legends suggest Manu arrived in Manali and created the highest spiritual laws after great flood destroyed the world. There is a temple dedicated to him in Old Manali. Today, Manali draws many young people who like to shop, enjoy sport activities, such as paragliding and skiing, as well as the many westernized restaurants and foreign tourists that frequent it in the summer months. As with developing Shimla, it’s more like a small city than a town. Manali is well connected to the rest of the world by Air and Road, with the Kullu-Manali airport operating Air India planes from New Delhi. Buses include luxury coaches from New Delhi and Chandigarh. The nearest rail routes are to Una, Kalka and Chandigarh. If your time is limited, you can fly to Shimla and get a connecting flight to Manali door –to-door within 6 hours. But if you live on the plains, be advised that two days are necessary to adjust to its altitude. From Manali you can journey via the Rohtang Pass to Ladakh, Laul Spiti, Kalpa, Sangla Valley on a circular route back to Shimla.
Saharan – on-route to Kinnaur
Sarahan is the site of the Bhimakali Temple, originally known as Bhimadevi Temple (Bhīma Kālī), dedicated to the mother goddess Bhimakali, the presiding deity of the rulers of the former Bushahr State. The temple is one of 51 Shakti Peethas in Himachal.
The village is known as the ‘gateway of Kinnaur’ being near the old Indo-Tibetan Road which also runs through Kalpa. Sarahan is identified with the Shonitpur mentioned in Puranas and from here you can see the first extensive view of the Himalayas.
Sarahan Bushahr has always been the summer capital of Bushahr Kingdom, with Rampur Bushahr considered the winter capital. Today, it’s where one of Himalaya Discovery’s associate hotels is based before journeying into Kinnaur.
Take a walk on the wild-side…
Scenes by Himalaya Discovery’s hotel
Relatively untouched by the world and of tourism, the tribal people of Sangla Valley have retained a distinct culture of their own. Located at the center of the Baspa valley, today this valley remains serene even though it’s one of the most sought after places for nature lovers due to its immediate access into the Trans-Himalayas and nearby Uttarkhand.
Sangla Valley is a rock-climber’s paradise. In relation to meditation, its beauty means hardly any effort is required to enter a natural state of mindless wonder. As a dead-end valley with dense forested jungle throughout, it hosts a variety of wild-life, as well as housing ‘the last village in India.’ This valley is surrounded by towering glaciers; to the right-facing Uttarkhand, directly ahead Tibet, and to left, Laul Spiti.
If ever a Himalayan Valley can be linked with Shangri La, it’s in the last part of Sangla’s single road access. With scattered crops of buckwheat, vegetables, nuts, apricots, apples plus highly sought-after Ayurvedic herbs, its fertility is fueled by numerous glacier waterfalls flowing down into the Baspa River. This area still embodies its original timelessness and for these reasons, Himalaya Discovery bases itself in Rakshham, Sangla Valley.
The entrance to this unique Kinnauri village begins with ‘The Famous Rupin,’ with the village on one side and the Baspa River directly facing the other. Rakshham is one of the most authentic tribal villages in Kinnaur with a newly-renovated Shiva temple housing numerous ancient artifacts, as well as being in easy walking distance. And this is where rock-climbers cum trekkers know the real magic begins…
Located in the nearby valley of Solang, Kamru Fort is another portal to a bygone age. It houses a 15th-century 3-story temple regarded as an architectural marvel. The fort has now been developed into a temple dedicated to Goddess Kamakhya. Her statue is said to have been brought from a more ancient temple and holds significant religious importance among the locals of this valley.
Bering Nag Temple is located 2 km from Sangla Village and is also considered a work of art, holding significant religious importance among local tribal people throughout Kinnaur. It’s dedicated to Lord Jakh which is one of numerous forms of Shiva. Every year in August and September, the ‘Phulaich Fair’ is celebrated in the temple grounds.
Coined ‘the last village in India,’ this hamlet is a 15 minute scenic drive from our hotel, or alternatively a stunning two hour walk on the flat. The snow-clad mountains directly facing this village are actually in Tibet – shown in the photo below. During the last twenty-years, many hotels have been built here, but still if you walk around the traditional old village, its magical presence is still felt.
This is one of the most popular places to purchase novelties in Sangla. Here, you will find an array of beautifully carved Tibetan objects to take home as gifts or memoirs of your journey. The center is located on the outskirts of Sangla near Saffron Farm.
Batseri is another hamlet famous for its scenic beauty and handicrafts, such as local shawls, Kinnauri caps, and edible pine nuts and Chilgoza. Trout Farming is also found here.
This beautiful Buddhist monastery is below Sangla Town. Established in 1922 by the Mahabodhi Society to perform the Kalachakra ceremony, it houses a 10 meter high statue of Lord Buddha. Locals and tourists alike often visit to meditate and seek solace.
Himalaya Discovery has two hotels in this tribal village and also a large self-contained cottage (see ‘our hotels’ section for more details).
As with Sangla Valley, which is the other side of the surrounding Kailash mountain range, it has been home to tribal communities living harmoniously in scattered farms for thousands of years.
Kalpa has an average elevation of 2,960 meters (9,711 feet). Today, its main source of income is from tourism, apple orchards and pine-nut forests. Because of its close proximity and access to the Tibetan boarder, and the fact that it has a strong holding of military posts in the town of Recong Peo below, it was only open to the public in 1996. Consequentially, there has always been an air of mystery about its history.
During the time of British rule, those in the army with lung problems, such as Tuberculosis, were sent to this area to be cured by the purity of its air. In ancient times, Kalpa formed a part of what was referred to as ‘Kanaurra.’ Locals swore allegiance to the kingdom of Magadha which was later annexed by the Mauryans during the 6th century B.C.
In those times, the inhabitants of this remote region were the Valhika, Kamboja and Panasika tribes. The region was later divided into chiefdoms and a power struggle ensued. A host of small fortresses such as Kamru, Labrang, and Moorang still stand testament of this to this day.
Kinnaur later passed into the hands of the Mongols’ with Akbar’s conquest of the region. After the fall of the Mongols’ and British rule, Kinnaur was formally established but was initially called Chini-Tehsil. Later it merged into the Mahasu district for administration and remained so until 1960 when it was re-organized and formally came under the heading of Kinnaur.
Reorganization was put in place owing to ethnic and cultural considerations. As with Sangla Valley, Kalpa and its surrounding villages still has the tradition polyandry. But with the growth in education and developing mindset, this is rapidly changing.One of the most stunning and easy 2 km walks on the flat in the remote Himalayas is from Kalpa to the tiny tribal village of Roghi; and the road to it begins directly outside Himalaya Discovery’s ‘White Nest’ Hotel.
Laul Spiti covers a vast area that leaves explorers feeling they have transcended the world below. Hidden away are ancient monastic villages and some of these are visited in our packages through this, the highest and remote habitable regions on Earth.
For the sake of protecting the monks and their monastic settings, we can only include a small amount of information.
In 2011, the government census gave the entire population of this area as only being under 32,000, and because of extremely harsh winter conditions, cut-off for at least 6 months a year, we can expect only a small increase in population as young people become more educated, gravitating to large towns in Himachal.
Despite being nick-named ‘a desert in the sky,’ this area has many different species of wildlife. But due to strict religious beliefs, the locals do not hunt wild animals. As with Sangla and Kalpa, Laul Spiti has snow leopards, foxes ibex, Himalayan brown bear, musk deer and Himalayan blue sheep.
There are two important protected areas in this area that are home to snow leopards and their prey found in the Pin Valley National Park and Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary.
As with Sangla Valley, in certain areas of Laul Spiti there is a profusion of wild flowers where more than 62 species of globally important medicinal plants can be found.
Translated, the Rohtang Pass means ‘a pile of corpses’ perhaps because of the amount of people in ancient times that attempted to cross one of the highest passes n the world in bad weather.
Today, and in spite of its hazards, this stunning area attracts many tourists mainly because it’s the best place for skiing in India. And there’s no need to purchase gear as there are numerous shops nearby to rent warm clothes, boots and ski equipment. Guides are also available to teach skiing.
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