It was always my dream to drive through the tough Himalayan terrain. From a very young age, I have watched Himalayan expeditions on television and craved to do one. I got my opportunity couple of years back when I was able to pack my bags and drive through the length and breadth of Himachal Pradesh for couple of weeks.
It was January of 2014, when I was looking at options for our customary summer vacation. We usually end up at a beach location, but this time around my wife wanted to go to a hill-station. Initially the options being explored were the usual destinations close to Bangalore: Ooty, Munnar, Wayanad, Kodaikanal etc.
Having already visited these places, the options kept changing until we finally decided to extend our 1 week vacation to 2 weeks and visit Himachal Pradesh. I usually prefer a beach holiday, but the possibility of fulfilling my childhood dream of driving through the Himalayan mountain range sealed the deal 🙂
The plan was to fly down to Delhi from Bangalore, rent a self drive car and explore Himachal for the next 10 days before returning back to Delhi and flying back to Bangalore. I started researching about the self drive options that were available in Delhi and received couple of quotes. Just as I was about to finalize a quote, one of my school friend got to know about this plan and joined the bandwagon. He had a new Tata Safari Strome (4X4) and wanted to do this trip to test out his new wheels. It was a perfect setup for us – 2 families, 1 Safari and 10 days of road trip.
The following plan was finalized:
DAY 1 : Flight from Bangalore to Delhi – Continue to Chandigarh
We booked an early morning flight and reached Delhi at around Noon. My friend and his wife picked us from the airport and we headed directly to Chandigarh. The plan was to reach Chandigarh by evening so that we coul have a good night’s rest before starting our expedition.
Being a Saturday, we had to wade through Delhi city traffic and it took us a good hour or so before we hit the highway towards Chandigarh. Roads from Delhi to Chandigarh were in great shape and we were making good time. It was around 2 PM when we stopped at a Dhaba in Haryana to have our lunch. Had some amazing parathas (baked flat wheat breads) and a glass of authentic “Lassi”.
Drive from Delhi to Chandigarh:
- Distance: 250 Kilometers
- Duration: 4 hours
We reached Chandigarh at around 5PM and checked into our hotel. We had booked our rooms at Homtel Hotel. The hotel was located in the Industrial area of Chandigarh and had nothing much close-by. We booked this place so that we could avoid the early morning traffic. We had our dinner at the hotel, and called it a day.
Following was the plan that we had finalized during the next 10 days.
DAY 2 : Drive from Chandigarh to Dalhousie
- Distance: 325 Kilometers
- Duration: 6 hours 30 minutes
Dalhousie is a small hill station that still retains its old British charm. It’s
marvelous forest trails overlook vistas of wooded hills, waterfalls, spring and rivulets.
We had booked our stay at “Hotel Grand View” which has some amazing views of the Himalayan mountain range.
Later in the evening, the plan was to visit the Martyr’s Memorial at Panchpulla which commemorates Ajit Singh, a supporter of Subhash Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army during World War II. En route the plan was also to visit Satdhara, acquiring its name from the seven gorgeous springs and said to contain mica and medicinal properties which are able to alleviate several ailments.
DAY 3: Places to visit in Dalhousie – An excursion to Khajjiar
The plan was to drive to Khajjiar (also known as Mini Swiss), a scenic spot set amidst the backdrop of dense pines, Deodars and lush green meadows. It is around 25 kilometers from Dalhousie and takes around an hour. Khajjiar is exquisitely nestled in the foothills of the imposing Dhauladhar ranges of the western Himalayas providing a panoramic and breathtaking view.
Post lunch the plan was to explore Mall road – the ladies wanted to do some shopping.
DAY 4 : Drive from Dalhousie to Dharamsala
- Distance: 120 Kilometers
- Duration: 3 hours 30 minutes
Our picturesque journey continued to Dharamsala, the principal township of
Kangra district which overlooks the wide spread plains with pine and Deodar forests.
On arrival, the plan was to check into our hotel “Hotel Grace Cottage”, have lunch and head to McLeod Ganj – the residence of His Holiness Dalai Lama. McLeod Ganj is known for its Tibetan market and has several handicrafts which are made by the Tibetans themselves.
Later in the day, the plan was to visit the St. John’s Church and the Tibetan market. St. John’s Church is popularly known as the ‘Church in Wilderness’ as the area is uninhabited, completely surrounded by tall Deodar trees and left in its natural condition.
DAY 5 : Drive from Dharamshala to Manali
- Distance: 240 Kilometers
- Duration: 7 hours 30 minutes
The plan was to start early morning at around 6 AM and proceed on a breathtaking drive to Manali, nestled on the banks of the River Beas amidst the Kullu Valley. The chunky afforests with cool gentle winds, vast expansion of meadows, small quaint settlements and lovely orchards, give a majestic look to the serene ambiance of Manali.
After a long drive the plan was to check-in to our hotel “Hotel Honeymoon Inn” and spend the evening relaxing in the hotel.
DAY 6 : Explore Manali
The plan was to start the day by visiting the four and a half century old Hadimba Devi Temple which is located amidst wooden forest of Deodar and has four-tiered Pagoda shaped roof. The doorway is carved with legendary figures and symbols. We also wanted to visit the Tibetan Monastery which houses several images of Lord Buddha and Tankha paintings.
After having our lunch, the plan for the evening was to stroll and shop on the mall road, which is the center of activity at Manali. It was indeed a blissful moment, walking through the undulating stretches and enjoying the cool mountain breeze and to shop for local handicrafts on your own.
DAY 7 :Visit to Rohtang pass / Snow point
- Distance: 50 Kilometers
- Duration: 2 hours
This morning, we had plans to proceed on a day excursion to the Rohtang Pass. Rohtang Pass was the medieval trading route to Lahaul and Spiti. One can enjoy a wide panoramic view of mountains rising far above clouds, which is a sight truly breath-taking. Unfortunately for us, Rohtang Pass was closed due to a late season snowfall and delays in clearing off the snow. Since Rohtang Pass was not open, we had to settle for a visit to the snow point which is around 50 Kilometers from Manali.
Note: We also got to know that private vehicles were not allowed to this point (as Rohtang pass was closed) and we had to hire a a local cab (an Alto) to reach the base camp of the Snow point. From here we hired a ATV (All Terrain Bike) to reach the Snow Point.
After spending an entire day at the Snow point, we had plans to visit the mall road and have a quiet dinner in one of the many pubs that you can find.
DAY 8 : Drive from Manali to Shimla
- Distance: 250 Kilometers
- Duration: 7 hours
After spending a good 3 days at Manali, we were finally heading to our final destination “Shimla”. Shimla is a charming hill station, which derives its name from “Goddess Shyamla”, avatar of Goddess Kali. Shimla can be visited any time of the year. Summers are warm with cool and pleasant evenings while winters are usually bone
After a long drive through the picturesque mountains, the plan was to reach Shimla by around 4PM. We had booked our rooms at “Hotel Combermere” at the Mall road.
DAY 9 : Explore Shimla and visit Kufri
Morning, we depart for a half-day excursion to Kufri, famous for its trekking and hiking
trails. Adventure seekers, especially in winters, travel to Kufri to enjoy skiing and
tobogganing on its snow-covered slopes. You can also visit Indira Tourist Park from
where you enjoy a panoramic view of the locations around. You can enjoy a pony or a yak ride around the park (on direct payment basis).
We also planed to have a walk through the thick cedar woods to Mahasu Peak for an amazing view of the mighty Himalayas. Breathtaking views, stunning locales and
tranquil surroundings, is what Kufri hill station is all about. The snow-clad hills of Kufri provide the ideal locale for trying your hand at skiing -this should be tried at least once, during your visit. Since we were travelling in April, we did not expect us doing any of these activities apart from the pony ride and trekking.
Note: We did not really enjoy our visit to Kufri during the summers. The slopes were bone dry, dusty and we ended up clinging onto the poor ponies to avoid falling down the slopes. I will not recommend Kufri if you are visiting during Summers.
Post lunch, the plan was to return to Shimla and visit one of the many pubs at Mall road. We also wanted to explore the local markets by visiting Mall Road.
DAY 10 : Drive from Shimla to Delhi
- Distance: 350 Kilometers
- Duration: 7 hours
Finally, after an adventure packed 10 days, we had to bid farewell to the Scenic Himachal Pradesh. Plan was to start our drive from Shimla at around 6 AM, so that we could reach Delhi by evening.
We stayed back for couple of days in Delhi with my friend and explored the wonderful city before flying back to Bangalore. This trip was a perfect blend of nature’s beauty and spiritual divinity. It also gave me an opportunity to fulfill my childhood dream of driving through the challenging Himalayan roads. Something tells me, that I will be back on these roads many more times in the future!!
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