Crowned by the rugged peaks of the western Himalaya, Himachal Pradesh is North India for the thousands of foreign and domestic travellers who come here every year. Few states can match such incredible diversity – rolling foothills, lofty hill stations, madcap traveller towns, serene pine forests, endless apple orchards and the high-altitude deserts of Lahaul and Spiti, cut off from the outside world by snow for six months of the year.
The mystique of the mountains is overpowering. The mighty peaks of the Dhaula Dhar, Pir Panjal and western Himalaya ranges rise above Himachal, providing a setting for a host of adventure activities from treks and rafting to skiing and Buddhist meditation. Tibetan Buddhist culture abounds in the ancient monasteries of Lahaul and Spiti and the bustling traveller centre of McLeod Ganj, home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile.
In the far east of Himachal, Shimla is India’s most popular hill station, and further north is Kinnaur, the eastern gateway to Spiti and an increasingly popular destination for domestic hill tours. In central Himachal, Manali and the Kullu Valley provide a base for hippies, honeymooners and thrill seekers. Across Himachal, the lower hills bristle with castles, forts, temples and palaces.
Manali is the start of the main overland route to Ladakh. Increasingly popular, the Great Himalayan Circuit starts in Kashmir, slices through the mountain valleys of Ladakh, Lahaul and Spiti to Kinnaur and ends with some luxury in Shimla. Even the beaten track is a dirt road between mountain walls – no wonder Himachal is most people’s favourite northern state!