Shimla and Manali are two of the most iconic tourist destinations in the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Both Manali and Shimla are incredibly scenic, thanks to the mighty Himalayas, which provide stunning picturesque backdrops and keep the temperatures low throughout the year too.
To make your trip really worthwhile, here are a few must do's to experience.
Shimla is the state capital and holds the status of being one of India's most popular hill destinations. The city displays a fine balance between natural beauty and urban development.
Travel on the Kalka-Shimla Railway
If you decide to tinker with your itinerary and reach Shimla via the internationally famous Kalka-Shimla Railway, chances are that you might have the best experience of the entire trip before even reaching Shimla. Dramatic Himalayan views, coupled with the mountainous route make for an offbeat approach to Shimla. Constructed in 1898, the Kalka-Shimla Railway has been recognized as a heritage site by both the Himachal Pradesh State Government and UNESCO. Important stops along the way include the towns of Barog, Dharampur, Summerhill, and Solan.
Stunning British Architecture
It is a well-known fact that Shimla is best enjoyed on foot, and on your strolls through town, you will discover a whole host of buildings that were constructed during the British colonial period. The grandiose British architecture in the town dates back to the early 19th century, when the British made Shimla their summer capital. Christ Church and Viceroy Lodge are not examples examples of Tudor Revival and neo-Gothic architectural styles.
The View from Jakhoo Hill
Jakhoo Hill is located at a distance of 2 km. from Shimla, and at an altitude of 8,000 ft. above sea level, is the highest peak of the region. Once you reach the top, be prepared to lose yourself in the spectacular panoramic views of Shimla, the Shivalik ranges, and the nearby town of Sanjauli. Jakhoo Hill is also noted for the Jakhoo temple, a temple dedicated to Hindu deity Lord Hanuman. At a height of 108 feet, the temple's idol of Lord Hanuman is the world's largest. The temple is best visited during the festival of Dushera. The high monkey population in the area may be a nuisance. Be careful.
Get Away From the Hustle and Bustle
For the traveler that seeks complete peace, Shimla might not be the perfect destination. However, the nearby hill town of Chail certainly is. Situated at an altitude of 7,380 ft., Chail boasts a fairly large list in terms of attractions but at the same time, is rarely overcrowded. At the very top of that list would be its famous cricket ground. Used as a polo ground as well, its height of 8, 018 ft. makes it the world's highest cricket ground. The Chail Palace and Chail Sanctuary draw plenty of tourist attention too. And in case you miss Shimla, look out for majestic evening views of the town, along with the towns of Kasauli and Solan.
The hill town of Manali is nestled toward the north of the Kullu Valley, and in the last decade or so, has become a favorite among adventure enthusiasts, backpackers, and casual tourists alike.
Sports and Adventure
While Manali gets its fair share of casual tourists through the year, the town is also a gateway for a large number of adventure enthusiasts engaging in activities like paragliding, skiing, and trekking. One of the top destinations for extreme sports in India, Solang Valley, lies quite close to Manali and offers opportunities for a number of sports throughout the year. Winter sports like skiing are replaced by summer sports such as zorbing in May, when the region's snow melts. The recently introduced cable car ropeway offers an excellent way of getting to the valley's summit.
Explore an Ancient Trade Route
The Lahaul and Spiti Valleys, lying to the north of the Kullu Valley, can now be accessed by vehicles via the Rohtang Pass. But hundreds of years ago, merchants and traders had to make their way across on foot. It was a treacherous route, and several men perished due to natural calamities like blizzards and snowstorms. The mountain pass marks a change in not just terrain, but culture as well, with the Kullu Valley being predominately Hindu, and the Lahaul and Spiti Valleys being majorly Buddhist. While the Kullu Valley remains primarily green and humid throughout the year, the Lahaul and Spiti Valleys are more arid.
Rohtang Pass is a must however, taking a few precautions can ensure a safe journey. The pass' high altitude of 13,051 ft. may inflict serious bouts of altitude sickness. While people with existing medical conditions are advised to consult their doctors before traveling to Rohtang Pass, travelers should carry appropriate medication. You should have plenty of warm clothing too. In winter, the pass remains inaccessible and even summer months can be quite cold at the summit.
National Parks and Sanctuaries
Nature lovers are regular visitors to Manali, particularly for the Great Himalayan National Park. With altitudes ranged between 4,921 ft. and 19,685 ft., the national park is renamed for its wide range of flora and fauna. Established in 1984, it was granted the recognition of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014.
The Manali Sanctuary is yet another landmark that is barely 2 km. from the main town, and features lush green Deodar, Horse chestnut, Kail, Maple, and Walnut forests. It is home to a fair number of animals and birds like brown bear, deer, leopard, and monal as well.
Hindu temples such as Hadimba Temple and Maa Sharvari Temple portray the religious side of Manali and nearby regions. Hadimba Temple is known for its scenic setting, being surrounded by a lush green forest, Dhungri Van Vihar, full of cedar trees.