Himachal Pradesh Tourism
Himachal Pradesh is rapidly turning into one of India’s premier tourist destinations because of its fantastic wildlife, scenery, and relatively modern amenities. Hundreds of thousands flock here every summer to get away from the sweltering heat of the lower elevation states.
Himachal Pradesh is Hindi for “Land of Snowy Mountains”, and as it is at the foot of the Himalayas, it doesn’t disappoint. Some of the most spectacular scenery in India can be found in the state. Many rivers valleys and glaciers augment the beauty of the area, and its drainage system leads into both the Indus and Ganges basins. Himachal Pradesh also has tremendous climate variation due to the massive changes in elevation.
Himachal Pradesh’s history dates to the Indus Valley Civilization some 4500 years ago. Many tribes lived in the area from pre-history, including the Koilis, Dagis, Dhaugris, Dasa, and Halis. Parts of the region belonged to the Mauryan and Guptan empires, and passed through many periods of princely rule before becoming a part of the Mughal Empire.
In 1768, the Gorkhas, a powerful Nepalese tribe, moved into the area, and they ruled the area off and on for about a century before the British defeated them in a series of battles during the Anglo-Sikh war. Never a politically active area, the state largely stayed out of the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 and played a minor role in the Indian Independence Movement.
Himachal Pradesh is a very diverse state, with the population divided between many tribes. Hindus form a majority, and Sikhs and Buddhists are large minorities in the state. Most people speak Hindi, and Punjabi, Mahasui, Lahauli, Sirmauri, Dogri, Kangri, and many other languages are spoken in the regions many isolated valleys. The culture of the area has been isolated from many external influences due to the extreme terrain. Himachal Pradesh is known nationwide for its industrious and strong tradition of crafts, and is renowned for its dancing. Himachali cuisine is very similar to the food of northern India.
Many tourists visit the state for its wildlife, as some 2/3 of the state is covered in dense forest. It has an enormous variety of species, with about 1200 bird species and an estimated 350 animal species, including leopards and snow leopards. The Great Himalayan National Park and Pin Valley National Park conserve much of the wildlife of the state.
The charming town of Shimla is nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas and is the capital and largest town of Himachal Pradesh. It’s history is fairly short, as it was the site of a small temple before the British established a presence in the area. It became extremely popular among the British because of the cool mountain air there As a consequence, the city underwent extensive planning and is easy to get around in, and it also has many modern amenities for Western tourists.
Nearby Shimla is the ski resort Kufri, said to be the winter sports capital of India by many. Like much of the state, Shimla has limited historical attractions but immense natural beauty nearby, with thick pine forests and excellent snow in the winter.
Rewalsar Lake, located in a valley of the Himalayan foothills, is a popular place to visiti because of its idyllic green hues, farms and religious sites. The Buddhist monastery on the lake is considered a picture-perfect postcard by many and, like most of Himachal Pradesh, the village is a great place to relax.
The hill station of Khajjar is a popular resort for tourists and local businessmen, located on top of a small plateau next to a lake surrounded by verdant fields and thick pine forests. It is known as the “Mini Switzerland” for its natural beauty and was even baptized by a Swiss ambassador as such in 1992.
The sleepy town of Keylong, high in the Himalayas at 4, 228 meters, is isolated every year from the rest of the world from November to April because of the heavy snow in the nearby Rohtang Pass. It’s a bit lacking in modern amenities but for the intrepid tourist it is nearby some of the most spectacular scenery in the world in the Lauhal valley, as well as many impressive monasteries such as the pyramidal Ki Gompa. Care should be taken when traveling in this remote region because there have been some accidental deaths recently on the areas treacherous highways.
The scenic town of Chamba was a popular destination for the British seeking to escape the heat, and it has remained a tourist attraction because of its scenic streets and beautiful location. Chamba is famous for the large temple towering over it. For many, this is a great place to relax outdoors and take in nature.
One of Himachal Pradesh’s famous lakes, Renuka lake, said to be shaped like a sleeping woman, is trapped between two mountains and has an impressive array of resorts on its shores. Located in a cool, temperate area, it is a perfect getaway for people exhausted by the city life. Every summer, there is a major festival that draws thousands.
Dharamshala was the temporary home of the Dalai Lama, and has earned the moniker “Little Lhasa in India” because of his time spent there. Dharamshala is on the edge of the Himalayas and is on the slopes of a large mountain, with scenic rice patties flanking the town on both sides and ice capped peaks towering over it. In the summer, hikers can make it to glaciers if they leave in the morning. It is a beautiful place to visit, although it gets extraordinarily cold in the winter.