Choosing a list of amazing places to visit in Himachal Pradesh was not as easy as we thought. There were some arguments; with each one of us coming up with our own ideas from experience, passion, and knowledge. We started with a list of over 50 locations, knowing that we had to whittle it down to 5. We failed.
Here are our top four destinations to visit in Himachal, each one being a pure gem on its own:
Chitkul, Sangla Valley
Deep inside the Sangla Valley, between burly mountain slopes, where evergreen forests rise to alpine meadows crowned by snowy summits, lays the village of Chitkul. If there is one reason to get in Sangla Valley today, Chitkul would be it.
It’s unfortunate to say that Chitkul is the last reason left to visit Sangla Valley. I remember the charm and enchantment the valley had before the invasion of modernity and technology. Sangla Valley was once a blissfully peaceful village of low wooden houses and slate-roofed temples looking out over a pristine valley, but the hydroelectricity plants changed all that. Chitkul, however, remains almost untouched by the fuss of the Sangla Village and the rest of the lower parts of the valley. Most of the tourist who come to visit Chitkul will be coming for a day trip from Sangla, and return on the same day.
Due to its high altitude (3,800 m), most of Chitkul’s villagers move down to lower proximities come winter time, while only a few stay behind maintain the small family farms. The winter weather in Chitkul is not friendly, and often leads to road closures. In January 2011 around 100 tourists from Kolkata got stuck in the region due to heavy snowfall, and they could only be rescued after the roads were cleared a few days later. Needless to say, unless you want to be stuck there, the best time for you to visit Chitkul is May to October.
Chitkul has an extremely pastoral ambiance with its old-style gristmills right between the narrow alleys inside the village homes. There are few enjoyable walks around the village that I would suggest to you. You can walk south east Chitkul through the barley field trails towards the army check point. From there you’ll have to turn around because it is prohibited to go any further. The Tibet-China border is very close to that location, and the Indian army can get quite suspicious with your intentions to keep on going. To return, you can use the trail along the Baspa River- you won’t miss it, as it is just below your feet.
Another nice walk around Chitkul is climbing up the mountain on the north east side of the village. To start the trail, you just have to go inside the village until you hit the path that goes towards the mountain. The higher you go, the better! The incredible views from the mountain will make up for your sore feet, just be sure to take plenty of water with you!
Bahu, Banjar valley
Hidden away in the mountains just above Kullu Valley, you can find the serene Banjar Valley. Banjar Valley has just recently become an alternative for those who wish to run away from the ultra-busy Parvati Valley. It is a perfect destination for peace seekers, nature lovers and the wildlife enthusiast. The valley is surrounded by stunning panoramic views of snow-capped peaks of the neighboring Kinnuar and Spiti Valleys. Banjar Valley is abundantly covered with apple orchards on its lower elevations, and ancient cedar forests as you rise up to higher points. Exotic birds, butterflies and exquisite flowers adorn the forests. At the top of the valley lays the magical tiny Bahu Village. The village is a perfect example for a traditional Himalayan community, with fine of local architecture, sometimes dating back to over thousands of years ago.
Along the valley there are many places to explore such as Shri Ngarishi Temple, Chaini Fort or in its local name, Chaini Kothi, and the beautiful Saryolsar Lake, near Jalori Pass.
Chandra Tal Lake, Spiti Valley
Chandra Tal, literally means the Lake of the Moon. It is located below the famous Kumzum La (Pass) in Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh. The lake is at an altitude of 4,300 meters, and mountains overlook the lake on one side, and a magnificent cirque circle it on the other.
The lake is very popular camp ground for trekkers who are looking to begin the Chandra Tal trail to Barachala La. The vast meadows are perfect camping sites, and during springtime, the meadows are carpeted with hundreds of different wildflowers.
A SHORT STORY ABOUT CHANDRA TAL
Like so many other places in India which are connected to a story, Chandra Tal too has one. In Himachali folklore, Chandra Tal was daughter of the moon and Suraj Tal (nearby lake) was the son of the sun. The two fell in love with each other deeply. Unfortunately, they could not fulfill their love because both rise in the sky at opposite times. The two sweethearts decided to challenge the natural order and to meet up on Earth, and Baralacha Pass was supposed to be their meeting point.
Bypassing the laws of nature and sacrificing the rules never goes without paying for the price in Indian culture. Sadly, when they came down to earth; they landed on different sides of the Baralacha mountain range and were unable to meet yet again.
The grief was unbearable and tears turned them into two lakes, and with time the water swelled, letting two mighty rivers break free– the Chandra and Bhaga Rivers, which flow around the mountain range. The two rivers finally meet at a confluence at Tandi in Lahaul district. At least there was some comfort in their brave act of love!
Besides the Himachali folk tale, Chandra Tal got its name because of the resemblance to a crescent shape. Chandra Tal is a popular destination for hikers and campers who attempt to trek to Baralacha La.
The lake is accessible on foot either from Batal, or from the upper Kunzum Pass. There is also a road suitable for driving from Batal, which is 16 km away from Chandra Tal, however its conditions can be bad if you go before August. The road above Kunzum Pass is only accessible by foot, and it is about 9 km long. The best time to go is from late May to early October.
Although Rewalsar Lake is quite a popular destination for travelers (especially for those who feel related to Buddhism), we have deiced to include it in our off-beat places to visit in Himachal suggestions. Don’t worry! Rewalsar Lake is far from being too crowded or too overloaded, and surprisingly its easy-going atmosphere is almost never disturbed. It’s a 20 minute drive above the central city of Mandi, at the main intersection of Kullu Valley and Kangra Valley.
Aside from all the fuss, the pastoral village, with its small sacred lake in the center, is famous for being the place where Guru Padmasambhava (“The Lotus-Born”) departed to Tibet to speared the word of Buddhism in 8th century AD. Around the lake there is a complex of three Buddhist monasteries, called Tso Pema. Another holy lake, ‘Kunt Bhyog’, which lies a little bit above Rewalsar, is the lake linked to a dramatic scene mentioned in the great Hindu epic of the Mahabharata, where the ‘Pandavas’ escaped from a burning palace of wax.
Rewalswar Lake is also extremely important to the Sikh religion. Govind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru most likely lived here for a part of his life. A magnificent pale blue Gurdwara was built to honor him. In the other direction, at the Tso-Pema Ogyen Heru-kai Nyingmapa Gompa you can soak in the atmosphere and participate in the daily pujas (prayer rituals) from around 7:00 am to 3:30 pm.
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