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The Highlights of Travelling Himachal Pradesh

This is a travel guide for backpacking Himachal Pradesh in North India. Complete with all of the information you would need to plan your trip; including when to go to Himachal Pradesh, how to get there, and things to do.


Wild cannabis in the Parvati Valley
Wild cannabis in the Parvati Valley
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CONTENTS




 


Why go to Himachal Pradesh?


Himachal Pradesh, otherwise known as 'The Province of the Snow-laden Mountains' is one of India's northernmost states, in the Western Himalayas, sharing a border with Tibet.


This destination was Joe's choice, as he was keen to see the mountains and be in the heartland of the landrace cannabis that grows natively here (FYI he's more of a botanist than a stoner).


This linked up nicely with my desire to attend a 10-day Vipassana meditation course in Dharamshala, to find out how that ended rather disastrously check out my post on that here.



 


When to go to Himachal Pradesh


The summer season is May, June, and July, which brings the best weather but also the crowds.


Monsoon peaks in July and August and then eases off come September.


In my opinion, September is the best month if you don't mind the occasional downpour. Days are warm, nights are chilly, so do bring a fleece!


Winter starts to creep in around in November, for those more interested in winter sports.



 

FOR TRAVEL INSURANCE for India I suggest browsing Travel Supermarket and choosing a cheap policy with a high Defaqto rating.


 


How to get to Himachal Pradesh


We took a flight from London Heathrow to New Delhi with Virgin Atlantic - which cost approximately £400 for a one-way ticket. This price has jumped a lot since before the pandemic, and we definitely felt the squeeze.


I always compare prices on Skyscanner - and then click through and book directly with the airline, no third parties people! If something goes wrong you will be tossed back and forth between the airline and the agent with nobody taking responsibility.


Trust me I have lived and learned on this one.



Views whilst hiking to the village of Shilah
Views whilst hiking to the village of Shilah

 

The Highlights of Travelling Himachal Pradesh


ONE DAY IN NEW DELHI


Our first stop when travelling to Himachal Pradesh was New Delhi. With all of the intentions of exploring the city, and visiting the Chandni Chowk and the Jama Masjid, we actually did nothing. This being my 5th trip to India I assumed I was seasoned enough to handle the city, but alas I was not.


The heat, hassle, and constant misinformation meant Joe and I only managed a rather expensive Biryani and a day in our hotel room.


We stayed in the neighbourhood of Paharganj, thinking we would be amidst the action, but it was actually a bit of a dive. The only plus side is that we were within walking distance of the railway station.


I have heard there are some trendy neighbourhoods in the South of the city, and perhaps if you have a contact in New Delhi who can show you around, then give it a go.


For me, the smog, traffic, and lack of hospitality were enough to send me packing with my tail between my legs.


From New Delhi, we took a train to Amritsar, a little bonus stop in Punjab on our trip around Himachal Pradesh. To find out how that went down, check out my post on things to do in incredible Amritsar.



 


New Delhi to Himachal Pradesh


To begin travelling to Himachal Pradesh, you can take a night bus from New Delhi to Dharamshala.


Previously you would have needed an Indian bank card to book a bus ticket, and I have always put my faith in Redbus - but now you can now use a booking platform called 12goAsia which allows you to book Indian buses with a foreign card, but they do charge quite a hefty commission.


Travel agents are another good option for booking buses to Himachal Pradesh, and you could expect to pay a service fee of 100-200rs (check the price on Redbus first so that you have an idea of the ticket price.)


To find a route from A to B I use an excellent resource called Rome2Rio, it's so handy to compare routes by speed and cost. It's not 100% accurate as it doesn't always consider local buses, but it's still very useful in most cases.


A night bus from Delhi to Dharamshala will cost approximately 800rs. This will be an AC semi-sleeper, as sleepers are not allowed in the state of Himachal Pradesh. I think this is due to how tricky the roads are.



 

FOR TRAVEL INSURANCE for India I suggest browsing Travel Supermarket and choosing a cheap policy with a high Defaqto rating.


 


The Highlights of Travelling Himachal Pradesh


Dharamshala - Mcleodganj - Dharamkot


Your night bus should have dropped you at the main bus stand of Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh's winter capital. Most people flock straight to Mcleodganj, a town about 20 minutes drive further north, and home to the 14th Dalai Lama and his very impressive complex.


Following the 1959 Tibetan uprising there was a huge influx of Tibetan refugees who followed the 14th Dalai Lama to India. The Indian government gave them a home here in Mcleodganj, and the Dalai Lama's presence attracts a lot of visitors. Apparently, his talks are very impressive and free of charge. You can check his schedule here.



Tibetan peace flags blowing in the wind in Himachal Pradesh
Tibetan peace flags in Himachal Pradesh
 

Not sure what to pack for your trip to India? Check out the I Dream of Mangoes article:



 

Everything you need to know about Dharamkot


Dharamkot is a beautiful little 'hippie village' in the mountain, with NO ROAD, Hoorah! This means lots of hills and steps, but so worth it to have a break from car horns. There are many Israeli tourists, and therefore Israeli food is on the menu, as well as Tibetan and Indian cuisine.


There's a main pathway through the village with lovely cafes and a few shops. All of the clothes are made from hemp and reasonably priced, with no hassle from the vendors.


Check out my quick post on The best places to eat in Dharamkot.



YOGA in Dharamkot


Apart from chilling in cafes, there are a couple of nice yoga schools, I found the most authentic to be Universal Yoga Centre. The schedule on the website is not entirely accurate so it's worth messaging Vijay to check the class timings. I paid 350rs for a 2-hour Ashtanga class, there was a slight language barrier but the class was great.



HIKING in Dharamkot


Our favourite activity around Dharamkot was walking. There are several hiking trails in the area, which could keep you busy for about 5 days.



Hikes around Dharamkot in order of easier - more difficult:

1. Bhagsu Waterfall - The busiest trail, but perfect for a first-day jaunt to get you used to all of the hills and steps in and around the village. 1 hour each way.


2. Naddi Village and Dal Lake - This trail starts in upper Dharamkot (make a left at the top of the hill). It begins through a very quiet and beautiful forest, with tonnes of exotic birds, and is mostly flat. Watch out for the leeches! We had a few try and burrow into our trainers. 2 hours each way.



The hike to Naddi Village
The hike to Naddi Village

3. Gallu Waterfall - This was our favourite hike. Again starting from upper Dharamkot (but this time go straight ahead). This trail was a little up and down and a bit tricky at times. You can swim in the waterfall, so be prepared to use some Ice-Man Hof breathing techniques as this is glacier water! 2.5 hours each way.



A girl taking in the view on the Gallu waterfall hike
Taking in the view on the Gallu waterfall hike


4. Triund - Start from Upper Dharamkot and this time turn right. The path is very clearly marked but very steep in some places. The views were stunning, but do be careful in the rain. We had gotten used to short downpours, so we struggled through the rain, which in the end lasted for 4 hours.


On our way back down, about 5 makeshift waterfalls had erupted into the path, and we had to wade through them underneath the cascade. Slippery rocks and dodgy footwear meant it was really sketchy at points. 4 hours each way.

There are plenty of signs around to help you find the start of the trek, otherwise, Google Maps is pretty spot-on. The second two treks have tea and snack stalls along the way, they charge more than the market price here which is understandable, someone has to feed the poor donkeys who have to carry the bloody stuff up the hills.


***TOP TIP: Always check the market price (MRP) on items that you purchase in shops, this prevents vendors from taking advantage of you by charging inflated prices.***


The dogs in this area are super friendly, and will often tag along for your hikes (sometimes for the whole 8 hours!) They seem to just enjoy the company, and we enjoyed theirs!



Street dogs following a man in a black t-shirt on a hike in Himachal Pradesh
All the dogs followed us

MEDITATION in Dharamkot


The village of Dharamkot is also home to both Vipassana and Tushita meditation centres. Vipassana offers 10-day courses in a secular style, be warned that they are very intense, you can check out their schedule and apply two months in advance for a course. Read about my experience at the Vipassana Meditation Centre if you dare.


I heard the Tushita Meditation Centre has a much gentler approach, they also offer 10-day meditation courses (and shorter courses) based on the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism.


 

Next Stop: Manali


After 5 lovely days in Dharamkot, we headed to our second stop when travelling around Himachal Pradesh: Manali. We took a taxi to the main bus stand in Dharamshala and took a bus from there.


We decided to go for a local bus this time, which does not need to be booked ahead of time. This cost 500rs and departed at 7am, taking 11 hours to reach Manali. Normally I would tackle this journey length with a night bus (which is available at roughly double the cost) but we had heard the roads were very bad and didn’t want to be tossed around all night while trying to sleep.

Sit towards the back! The door slams constantly and it’s very loud, which gets grating after the first few hours. Apart from constant slamming, local buses are very entertaining and lively! The driver and his conductor work so well together on the dodgy mountain roads, through a variety of whistle signals, which is great to watch.


Of course, the accompanying Bollywood music blaring and open windows meant we reached Manali with headaches and very dirty faces.



 


Old Manali vs New Manali


The difference between New Manali and Old Manali is stark. Old Manali is way, way nicer.


I would say the ONLY perk of New Manali is that there are more street food options. Apart from that, it’s very commercial and rammed with people, steer well clear. We stayed here for one night and money was stolen from our hotel room, likely by the hotel staff. (It’s called Royal View Cottage so beware.)


Old Manali is up a very steep hill, with lots of cute cafes, live music, and tourist information shops to arrange treks and tours. It would take 30 minutes to walk up the hill from New Manali, or 300rs in an auto. It rained torrentially the entire time we were there so we mostly just hung out.



 


Things we did in Manali


TREKKING AND HOT SPRINGS in Manali


One day we walked to Vashisht (1 hour) which has hot springs, although as usual the men's section is out in the open and the women's is enclosed in what felt like a tomb.


From here you can trek to Vashisht waterfall quite easily, the loop takes about 3 hours in total from Old Manali. The trail is surrounded by apple orchards and farmsteads, and if you're lucky a shaggy dog or two will keep you company along the way.



SPITI VALLEY


If the weather was better we would have liked to venture to Spiti Valley and camp out under the stars, or drive up the incredible road to Rohtang Pass.



A NOTE ON WEED


Cannabis grows wild everywhere, it's technically illegal to cultivate, but rolling Charas (hash) is the only income for a lot of villagers here. So don't pluck any yourself, and if you see locals harvesting it, don’t take any photos.


EXTREME SPORTS


There were a lot of other adventure activities advertised around the town, like paragliding and white water rafting, but we didn't really fancy the look of them.



FOOD in Manali


There are tonnes of great eateries in Old Manali, my favourite was the 'India Chaat House' for a casual bite. We didn't ever order from the menu, the owner just brought us out plates of dishes he thought we should try. Everything was delicious.



The River Beas in Manali
The River Beas in Manali

 

Final Stop: Parvati Valley


AVOID KASOL & MALANA!


After spending 4 nights in Manali we took a local bus to the Parvati Valley, which has a well-deserved reputation for its high-quality Charas, with several of its villages being transformed into backpacker hangouts, notably Kasol.


This valley is also on the 'Hummus Trail', another Israeli hotspot, and is growing increasingly popular year after year. Joe had his heart set on visiting the village of Malana, where supposedly the world's finest cannabis is grown.



PARVATI'S LAP


We decided to stay at Parvati's Lap, a guesthouse about 10km past Kasol nestled up behind the small village of Lapas. We intended to just use this place as a base whilst we explored the valley, but as it turned out that wouldn't be so easy...


After jumping off the bus at Manikaran we arranged for a 4x4 to pick us up (through our guesthouse) to take us to Lapas Village. This cost 800rs, which again seemed steep, but after trundling up the gravel 'road' I quickly understood why. I considered leaving my bags in the car and walking up the most precarious bits, there were some very hairy moments.


From Lapas village it’s a 40-minute climb to Parvati's Lap. A porter can carry two backpacks with a max. weight of 50kg, which will cost 250rs. Even without our bags it was tough going, there was a lot of wheezing and sweat.


I was really impressed by the porters trotting up and down that hill several times a day with 50kg loads, especially when I was struggling with my own body weight.


When we finally reached Parvati's lap we were exhausted. Too exhausted to appreciate the scenery. But after a rest and a jug of water (straight from the glaciers of the Himalayas), we looked around us. The place is really stunning. Mountain peaks and dense pine forests, apple trees abundant and Kites soaring above us.


Is this a dream?


As for the guesthouse, it's all made from natural materials; hemp and cow dung. No detail has been overlooked., including the glass-panelled conservatory for star gazing. The fluffy mountain dogs flopped about majestically. We have really scored here.


The chill out room at Parvati's Lap
The chill out room at Parvati's Lap

It’s a stoner's world, so get used to the slow pace (dinner took 2 hours to come most nights, though I did appreciate everything made from scratch). Lapas has no shops or cafes, so the alternative to eating at the guesthouse is a 2-hour walk to the next village, followed by 2 very steep hours back up.



TREKKING in the Parvati Valley


Aside from chilling and star gazing there are some serious treks in the area, for which you would definitely need a guide. We heard many horror stories of people going missing and never being found.


Some say bears, some say hypothermia, and one person indicated black magic and organ harvesting but I would take that with a pinch of salt. So yeah, GET A GUIDE.


However.. there are two treks you can manage without a guide:


  • Shilah Village - Walk to Parvati Central, follow the small footpath down to the Parvati River, cross the bridge and climb up the other side. 5 hours total, do not attempt it in the dark.


  • Kheerganga - This is the most popular trek in the area. Flag down a local bus on the main road and take it to Barshaini; the last stop. (20rs, 40 minutes). From here Kheerganga is clearly signposted - it's 11km each way from the base.



After being in Parvati's lap we decided against visiting Malana, we had found what we were looking for, and Joe was very happy spending 5 days with weed geeks smoking Charas from an Italian stone chillum.


If you would like to visit Malana, be prepared for some very strange rules. You can't stay there, you will have to hike in and out, and you can't touch the locals. Money needs to be exchanged via the floor or another surface, this is because the villagers think they are of a supreme race descended from Alexander the Great and need to keep themselves pure from outsiders. We didn't go, so I won't comment further.


 


Back to New Delhi


From Kasol


From Kasol Village you can get a night bus to Delhi, which we didn’t realise initially - which is why we made the gruelling journey back to Manali for our night bus to New Delhi. I always use rome2rio to work out the A to Bs, but it’s not always accurate in the off-beaten places.



From Manali


In Manali, there is a local bus stand in the middle of town, on Mall Road, which is really easy to navigate. The private bus stand is 1.5km further down on the main road in a dusty field. It was so hard to find our bus in the dark, and honestly a bit scary.


We used an agent in Manali to book our ticket this time, with Zing bus, who send you the license plate number. Joe had to individually check all the bus plates in the dark, whilst I stood with the bags trying to look as mean and mad as possible so nobody would talk to me. Needless to say, we found our bus and a mere 12 hours later we were at Kashmiri gate in New Delhi ready for our next leg.



 



How long to spend travelling Himachal Pradesh


3 weeks is a solid amount of time to spend travelling to Himachal Pradesh.


Lots of people talk about going to Shimla, the British winter capital, and if you’re into British architecture; yeah fine. We decided to stay in the valley for longer instead. Here's why...


The last of the snow on the mountain top in Parvati Valley
Parvati Valley Views
 


So those are the highlights of travelling to Himachal Pradesh!


If you enjoyed the read, please consider subscribing to my blog where I post articles every 1-2 weeks about mine and Joe's current travels.


Any questions? Please do get in touch! If you are looking for help with planning a trip to India read my post on everything you need to know before you go!


Happy Travels

xxx



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Disclosure:
I Dream of Mangoes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. That being said, I only link to products I use and love.

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