Scenic Himachal

19th Mar 2019
Photo of Scenic Himachal by Nilesh Phadtare
Day 1

And the Journey Begins... On the night of 19th March 2019, I started my SOLO trip to Himachal Pradesh. Before we go into details, let me share my plan in brief. My plan was to visit Kangra (Kangada in Hindi), Bir-Billing, Dharamshala-Mcleodganj and Amritsar. On 19th March morning, I landed at Chandigarh Airport and directly headed to Sector 43 ISBT by city bus ( Chandigarh City Corporation runs frequent bus service to and from ISBT 43, 17 and airport). ISBT Sector 43 is major hub for all the buses to Himachal Pradesh. I boarded to Kangra bus at 9 a.m from ISBT 43. Though the road does not pass through hilly terrain, it took around 7 hrs to reach Kangra due to road construction activities.

Enroute to Kangra, one can feel varying geographical features of Himalaya (From plains to Shivalik heights and magnificent Daulandhar range) and scenic beauty of Himachal. As I said earlier, I reached at Kangra at 4 pm. Kangra is famous for ancient temples and Kangra Fort. After checked-in to hotel, I immediately started for Brajeshwari Temple which was at walk-able distance from my hotel ( I was staying at hotel near Kangra Civil Hospital, Kangra Bus stand is 1 km away from temple). Brajeshwari Temple is an ancient temple and has historical importance. This temple was raided and destroyed by Gazanavi invadors during medieval times and rebuilt by Kangra rulers. Temple complex consists of Main Brajeshwari Temple and other deity temples. After a Brajeshwari Temple visit, I went to Chamunda Temple which is on Palampur-Dharamshala route (This was time filler as it was 5 pm and there was nothing on my check list). Chamunda is 30 km from Kangra and there are frequent bus to Chamunda from Kangra bus stand (I must mention, Himachal Pradesh has very good public-private bus transport service which makes travel convenient and reduces travel cost for many solo travellers). Chamunda Temple is Goddess Durga temple and also falls under Shaktipeetha of Himachal. At 9 pm, I returned to Kangra. This was my end of Day 1. (Most of the Himachal towns close around 8 pm, though hotels are open till 10 pm, so if you want to explore towns, markets, it is better to start around 6 pm. )

Day 2

On the next day morning, I visited Kangra fort and Museum. Kangra Fort is hill fort situated at isolated hill at the confluence of Banganga and Majhi river, surrounded by deep georges and high mountains. Glimpse of fort can be viewed at the entry of Kangra town and feel its mightiness. This fort is situated at the outskirt of Kangra village (about 2 km). Travellers can take bus or auto to fort which will drop you at the gates of fort (I took auto which charged me Rs. 100 one way). Currently Fort is maintained by ASI and charges Rs. 20/person. Although the fort is devastated (by 1905 earthquake), you can still visualise old glory of fort. There is Laxmi-Narayana Temple, Rishabh Deva Temple, Ranjit Singh Gate inside fort which are easily visible. At the top of fort, there are ruins of palace and observation buruj. From here, one can have picturesque view of entire Kangra Valley including surrounding georges, river confluence and foothill villages. Next to fort entry gate, there is Maharaja Sansar Chand Katoch Museum which showcases old history of kangra and royal family through royal exhibits (There two museum one belongs to ASI and lies in fort walls and other is at a distant. There are navigation signs which will guide you to museum ). Museum also provides audio guide, which narrates exhibits, which helps visitor to understand historical aspect of it . In my opinion, 3 hours are more than enough to visit fort including museum, as I personally spent 2.5 hrs there. After returning to Kangra town, I boarded to Baijnath bus. (If time permits, one can spend 1 to 2 hours at Kangra market )

Baijnath is famous for Lord Shiva Temple. (My bus route was Kangra-Palampur-Baijnath). Though it is 70 km from Kangra, it took 3 hrs to bus to reach Baijnath. Baijnath Temple is walk away distance from bus stand. It is one of the famous pilgrimage site in Himachal. Another notable point is , you can have first view of High mountains (and Dhauladhar range ) here. I spent around 1 hour at temple and surroundings. My next destination was Bir-Billing, which is on the route of Palampur-Baijnath-Joginder Nagar. I took bus to Joginder Nagar which dropped me at Bir road (road junction). This is 35 km distance from Baijnath. Before we go into the details let me add some travel suggestions here. Bir is 35 km away from Baijnath and easily reachable by bus. There are direct buses from Baijnath/ Palampur to bir (Beed in hindi. This is very confusing. I skipped 2 buses due to confusion between Bir and Beed. Basically both are same.) So, Either take direct bus to Bir/Beed and get off at Chaugan (Square/Chauk) / Bir village itself depending on your stay, OR take bus to Joginder Nagar, disembark at Bir Road junction, take a cab (Rs 300) which will drop you at your destination hotel.

I reached to Bir around 6 pm & did check-in at Zostel. After tea-snacks, I started exploring Bir and walked down all the way to Chougan square. On the way, There are two monasteries which are accessible to public till 7 pm. There are good hotels in bir which offer Indian, Tibetan food (again 10 pm closing time).

Day 3

Bir- Billing is famous international paragliding site which is considered as one of the best in the world. I had pre-booking with HP Paragling ( which charged me 2500 including video. There are many vendors which offer aerosports at bir, you can choose any one, all will drive you to billing, which is launch site and land at bir landing site, so vendor makes no difference.

On next day morning (21st March), I was taken to billing early morning (around 9 am) by paragliding team, as I had chosen Morning 9 am slot. Most of the paragliding happens during morning session beginning from 9 am. (Yes, off course, there are different slots as well. to my knowledge second one was at 10.30 am ). They started gathering participants around 8 am and by the 9.30 am, we all were at Billing launching site. Basically, Paragliding is air dependent activity and para glider need to wait for wind flow. This activity, starting from launching to landing takes around 20-25 min. As mine was tandom paragliding, my instructor was handling parachute and I was just enjoying view. This was amazing, unforgettable experience. You can enjoy scenic view of Dhauladhar (Bir-Billing is actually situated in Dhauladhar range). This picturesque valley gives you insight of Himalayan beauty.

From Bir, I got back to Chougan Square, took a bus to Dharamshala. This is memorable journey, as you have Himalaya on your right with tea gardens at its foothills and plains on your left. Its very hard to forget this scenic natural beauty.

When I reached Dharamshala at 4 pm, it was almost closed due to Holi festival. On the way to Dharamshala, I got off at Collectorate square, which is nearest bus stop to Dharamshala Cricket Stadium and War Memorial. Please do visit to Dharamshala War Memorial and Museum, which is fine collection of military history. HPCA ground is 15 min walking distance from memorial. It is open to public with entry fee Rs 50. It is picturesque cricket stadium located on the edge of valley, with Scenic Himalaya in the background. Visitors can actually visit visitor's gallery in the stadium. Around 6 pm, I actually reached to Dharamshala Market road. Basically there is nothing much to do in Dharamshala except war memorial, HPCA and monasteries and Kangra Museum (This is stretched list). As I time filler, I visited near by tea garden and goddess temple. You can have walk on Market road during evening (as I had) to explore dharamshala market (off course nothing special about it, only time filler ). Kangra Museum lies on Market road but it closes at 5 PM (why ?), so you can get a chance to visit if are lucky enough !!!! Finally, I retired to bed after 7 KM walk. (hussh...)

Day 4

On 22nd March morning I actually began my Dharamshala-Mcleodganj trip. Basically, McLeod Ganj is suburb of Dharamshala and 7 km away from dharamshala. Mcleodganj has many tourists places such as HH Dalai Lama Temple, Bhagsu Nag Temple and water fall, St. John in the Wilderness, Dal lake and Nadi view point. I rented a bike at McLeod ganj (Rs. 650 including petrol), off course one can explore McLeodGanj by walking. To begin with, I first visited to HH Dalai Lama Temple. This is basically monastery also known as Tsuglagkhang complex. Visitors can visit temple located within complex which is open to all. This complex also house Tibetan Museum which displays Tibetan history and freedom struggle. From here, I rode to Bhagsu nath Temple which 3km away from mcleodganj. Bhagsu nath is lord Shiva temple and sacred deity of Gorkha Rifles which was initially stationed at dharamshala cantonment (Forsyth ganj). Just behind the temple, there Bhagsu water fall, which is clearly visible from temple itself, but you need to climb a hill (approx 20 min). I spent there around 30 min. Climb few more steps and you will be at Shiva Cafe. This is ideal place for hangout. You should try out pasta or pizza at Shiva Cafe. Its awesome and delicious !!! if its raining, Maggie has no alternative, just unforgettable taste. But what makes Shiva cafe so special is its rock music and unbeatable scenic view.I spent around 1 hour there before heading to St John church. St.John in the Wilderness is a century old church,built in 1852, located 2 km away from McLeodganj. One can easily walk down to church as well (30 min), but in my case it was matter of 5 min as I was riding a bike. Adjacent to church, there is memorial of Lord Elgin who was Governor General of India during British era. From here you can head towards Dal lake and Naddi view point (I skipped it as lake was dried up).

Here McLeodganj checklist was completed (There is nothing much to do) , so I went to Dharamshala again (thanks to bike and shorter Jogiwara road), to visit Gyuto Monastery and Norbulingka Institute. Basically, these institutes fall outside the dharamshala ( 7 km , near Sidhbari), I went there only because of time availability. I returned to McLeodganj around 6 pm and started roaming around. McLeodganj market is very good to explore as there are various tibetan and indian shops of art and handicraft. It took around 2.5 hours just to explore whole market and off course it was worthful.

Day 5

Next morning I had a plan to one day trek to Triund. Triund is place in high Himalayas (Dhauladhar) and trek starts from Dharamkot (Gallu Devi Temple). This is perfect place for trekking and trails offering amazing view of Mcleodganj and Dhouladhar range. There are two types of trek for Triund. First one is long 2 days trek which includes camping at Triund with amazing view of Snow covered plateau surrounded by snow peaks. This trek starts around 2 pm from Galu temple and group returns next day afternoon. Another one is One day trek which need to be started before 11 am (There is police registration at Galu temple) . One day trek finishes at Magic View Cafe located at in between Triund and base point, all the one day hikers need to start descending post afternoon (I heard this from one of the trekker ). So , I chose one day trek. You need to rent a cab from McLeodganj itself as no two wheeler is allowed to Gallu Temple (due to difficult terrain). So I rented a car with Rs 400 charge one way. Unfortunately I could not able to complete trek as police prohibited us to go further due to heavy snow falls. I could manage to ascend 2 km from base point before policemen forced us to return, but off course Himalaya will not disappoint you. From the Galu temple, there is another hilly trek which ends at waterfall. Although this trek is not as difficult as Triund, one can still enjoy Himalayan hiking. I will not go into much details , instead I would recommend to have personal experience !!!! 14 km walk completely exhausted me and I did nothing that day except aimless wondering in McLeodGanj market.(Believe me, its really fun after such extensive walk). This was my last day at Mcleodganj. Last point to mention, You should try pizza at Hotel Mcllo in McLeodganj (Just different experience).

Day 6

Sunday, 23rd March was full of travel. I started early morning to Amritsar via Jwalamukhi and Jalandhar (very strange). There are direct buses from dharamshala to Jwalamukhi via Kangra. Jwalamukhi is famous Shaktipeeth, famous for Flame shrines. This is very crowded pilgrimage and would take around 2 to 3 hours for darshan, so plan accordingly. Here after, I spent next 5 hours in full pack bus to Jalandhar. I boarded bus to Jalandhar which dropped me at Amritsar bypass around 8.30 pm. (I will not advice to opt for this route as bus frequency is not guaranteed on this route as there was only single direct bus to Jalandhar/ Hoshiarpur at 4 pm from Kangra. Instead Dharamshala-Pathankot-Amritsar has very good frequency ) . Finally, I reached to Amritsar at 10 pm. This was end of my bus day. There are lot of hotels near Amritsar bus station, preferable to solo travellers (Golden temple is near by ).

Day 7

Next day morning , I visited golden temple complex. You will always find huge queue for darshan, so plan accordingly as it can take 2 to 3 hours during peak hours. (Mandir opens at 4 am and closes at 10 pm). So, I decided to have darshan at night, post Wagha-Attari ceremony. Finally I began with Jallianwala Bagh, which is adjacent to golden temple (lies in same Temple complex area). Jallianwala bagh has Shaheed Memorial. It recreates memories of Massacre of Jallianwala. There are shaheed kua (Martyrs Well), bullets marks and actual firing point marked which offer detail insights of Jallianwala atrocities. Outside the Jallianwala bagh, there are many agents/rickshaw walas, who will drop you at Wagha-Atari border.

These rickshaw walas run shared service to/from border post. before I narrate my experience, let me give you brief idea about ceremony. Wagha-Atari retreat ceremony takes place every day at 4.30 pm, so you have to be there on/before 3.00 pm, to have front seats. So, you need to start before 2.00 pm from Amritsar (Border post is 35 km from Amritsar ). Another point to remember is, no electronic devices, bags are allowed inside stadium, so visitors have to keep their belongings in the privately run store room (They charge Rs 100 for locker and 50 without locker.) So carry minimal luggage (Water bottle and cap must) before leaving for Atari Border. You can enquire same to Rickshaw drivers who will guide you. Rickshaw will drop you near dropping point which is 1 km away from actual post, so plan accordingly. Finally, 3 pm is a target if you wish to have good view.

Back to my story, I started very early due to Auto driver offered us other temple visits (Durgiana and Vaisho devi Temple ) with minimal cost (usually they charge Rs 150/person round way to border post). Fortunately, I reached there before 3 pm, due to which I got front seat. (There is security checking before entering into the stadium). Before starting of actual flag ceremony, there are dance and music shows performed by visitors themselves (Off course under the supervision of BSF ). Around 4.45 pm, military (to be precise BSF) ceremony begins and next 45 min are absolutely SPEECHLESS, COLOURFUL, OUTSTANDING, SPECTACULAR, EPITOME OF NATIONAL PRIDE.

Thats' it. No more words !!!

After returning from border post, I went to Golden temple for Darshan. I joined queue at 7.30 pm and had darshan within 2 hours. To my view, once you join the queue just forget about queue and timing, just feel the spirituality, holiness of Harmandir Sahib. Believe me, you will forget yourself once you enter darbar and surrender yourself to Waheguru. On the first floor, there is Holy Shri Guru Granth Sahib. There is Dharshan passage outside the mandir, where I spent next 1 hour. What a peace of mind !! Later on sat on lake shore, to have night view. Night view of Temple is really amazing and unforgettable. The golden temple looks very attractive in the lights during nights.

Day 8

Next day morning (25th March), I again had a darshan at Temple and went to visit Partition Museum. This museum is near to heritage walk and few minutes away from golden temple. This is unique museum dedicated to partition and its experiences. One must visit this museum to understand partition and its consequences thoroughly. This museum almost took 3 hours to visit its each and every gallery. Here my Amritsar trip ended. Around 4 pm, started my return journey to Chandigarh which ended by 9 pm.

Day 9

Due to limited time, I could not able to explore Chandigarh (I wish, I could.). Next day morning ( 28th March), I boarded a flight to my home town.

Suggestions :

1. Start your trip from Bir, if possible. Avoid Dharamshala-McleodGanj on Festive days (On Holi, it was closed).

2. Dharamshala -McleodGanj can be covered within 2 days ( 1 night stay) unless you are planning for trekking. For Triund Trek, start early (1 day trek - 11 am at gallu temple and 2 day trek -2 pm reporting) . Please enquire about weather before leaving for trekking.

3. Instead of Kangra-Jalandhar-Amritsar route, Dharamshala-Pathankot-Amritsar route is more convenient and has good connectivity.

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