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Shimla
Best time to visit - January,February,March,April,May,June,October,November,December
Once known as Shyamala, synonymous with Goddess Kali, Shimla has been a summer retreat long before India even gained independence. This famous hill station similarly has a lot of places and things to see untouched by time. For instance, take a vintage joy ride from Kalka station to Shimla in a charming toy train that will take you through towering Deodars, hills and villages. Shimla truly comes alive during winters when a blanket of snow covers it all over making every nook and corner gleam and glisten. One such place is the ice skating rink (natural ice) near Lakkar Bazaar that opens from November to December. More winter sports include skiing, which can be enjoyed 21 km from Shimla in Kufri. Adventure activities such as rafting at Tattapani or a trek to Shali Tibba and Pabbar Valley are also worthwhile experiences. If you are fond of haunted stories and interested in having your own spooky adventure, you'll love Shimla. A lot of people including the renowned Rudyard Kippling (in 'My Own True Ghost Story) have written various eerie stories set around Shimla. A place known most for giving many people the jeepers-creepers is the Charleville Mansion. Another time travelling portal is the antique bookstore, Marina Brothers, located on Mall Road, which is truly a reader and collector's paradise. There are many luxury and budget hotels here, meaning you'll never fall short of options. Popular places to eat include Wake & Bake, Ashiana, Cecil and Minchy's that serve commendable Indian and multi-cuisine dishes and delicious gourmet food.
Chandigarh
Best time to visit - August,September,October,November
Chandigarh is India's first planned city, quite distinct from the rest of the country and considerably better organized. It is the capital of both Haryana and Punjab, but the city itself is not part of either state, being a union territory, i.e. administered directly by the central government. It was one of the early planned cities in post-independence India and is internationally known for its architecture and urban design. Chandigarh has various visitor attractions including theme gardens within the city. Some notable sites are Sukhna Lake, Rock Garden, Rose Garden, Parrot Bird Sanctuary Chandigarh, and Leisure Valley. Chandigarh as a perfect city with regards to its cultural growth, modernisation and architecture. Rose Garden is home to over 1,500 varieties of rose and the Garden of Fragrance is perfect for those mind-refreshing walks. Chandigarh has a bustling food scene, home to every cuisine you can think of right from Mediterranean (Kelong, Virgin Courtyard) to Thai (Tao- Bar & Lounge). Some popular places for Punjabi dishes are Punjab Grill and Sher-e-Punjab. Chandigarh is also close to many hill stations such as Solan, Kasauli, Shoghi and Naldehra.
Amritsar
Best time to visit - January,February,March,October,November,December
Amritsar has made a huge contribution to Indian history and is the holiest hub for Sikhs. The name of the city, which means the pool of nectar, is derived from the pool that surrounds the Golden Temple. Though the city is quite congested, it has an air of spirituality and a heart to it. The stunning complex of the Golden Temple, with the Central Sikh Museum, will surround you with a spiritual energy that is hard to shake off. The gurdwara is located at the nucleus of the lake, which glitters like gold after the sun goes down. At every corner you’ll find devotees who have volunteered for either cooking or cleaning the premise. Eat a free meal at the dining hall and make sure you don’t waste any food. The Jallianwala Bagh, from the pages of history, comes to life here. The complex, where around 1500 people were massacred, still has bullet marks all over it. A peek into the well, inside which hundreds jumped to save their lives, is sure to leave you feeling uncomfortable. An hour away from the city is the Wagah Border, where the gates divide Pakistan and India. An evening parade, held before sunset every day, is an experience worth savouring. Amritsar remains incomplete without the lassi with heaps of malai, available almost everywhere. There are endless options to stay in the city but if you want to splurge, consider the Green Acres Haveli and Country Inn Hotels and Resorts.
Lahore
Best time to visit - January,February,September,October,November,December
Lahore is the intellectual and cultural capital of Pakistan and a journey to this bustling city will remain with you for a long time. From Lahore Fort to the Khizri or the Sheranwala Gate, there is so much to see and do here and it isn't just another run-of-the-mill city in a country. History, architecture, art and music envelop the city and everywhere you go, there is a story to unravel. You will also have an opportunity to experience exhilarating Qawaali sessions and a tryst with Sufism. Do spend time at one of the city's many rejuvenating gardens and a day exploring the many historical sites that the city is home to. If you happen to be here on a Thursday, a visit to Wagah border is unmissable. The intensity of the profound ceremony is so deep that it'll demand another visit from you! There is lots for shopaholics here as well, including Anarkali bazaar and the Pace and Fortress Stadium Market. If you have a little space in your itinerary, you can also squeeze in a visit to the largest museum in Pakistan, the Lahore Museum. With a collection of rare art, objects and paintings including the Fasting Buddha of Gandhara. There is plenty to choose from if you are looking for a decent place to stay including luxury hotels and budget accommodations.
Jammu
Best time to visit - January,February,March,October,November,December
Jammu is one of the fastest developing cities in northern India. Its Vaishno Devi Temple, which is one of the holiest places for Hindus, sees millions of devotees every year. The city also has many more Hindu temples that are believed to be of significant religious importance, such as Peer Kho Cave and Panchbhaktar temple to worship Lord Shiva. If you are fond of shopping, Jammu has a number of markets offering shoppers a variety of options. Bahu Fort is another must-visit for its magnificent architecture and overwhelming views of the mountains in the distance. The Bagh-e-Bahu Garden is beautiful at spring time, and even more so because the dazzling river Tawi surrounds it. The garden will take you back to the Mughal era with its lush green surroundings and historic aura. Don't forget to enjoy a meal of kalhadi kulcha at any of the popular dhabas in Jammu!
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