Formerly a trading stop on the salt route to Tibet, the rambunctious bazaar town of Mandi is the gateway to the Kullu Valley and the junction of the main roads from Kullu, Shimla and Dharamsala. It’s no tourist town, and it feels more Punjabi than Himalayan, with a large Sikh community and sticky air reminiscent of the plains. Sprawling around the confluence of the Beas and Suketi Khad rivers, the town is dotted with ancient Shaivite temples – at least 81, according to official figures – and you can have fun tracking them down in the fascinating backstreet bazaars, before heading on to the more serene environment of Rewalsar.
Mandi is centred on a sunken shopping complex called Indira Market, with terraced steps on the north side leading to the Raj Mahal Palace. The bus stand is 500m east of town across the Suketi Khad, a ₹30 autorickshaw ride away.