Himachal Pradesh is one of the most popular adventure destinations in India. Its landscape, characterized by hills and valleys, streams and rivers, endears it to visitors both as a romantic and adventurous destination. Those in search of spiritual fulfillment also flock to Himachal, where temples, churches, monasteries and gurudwaras are an essential part of its landscape. Mostly, its the numerous tourist destinations like Shimla, Manali, Dharamsala and Dalhousie, is a kind of place which has something to offer to everybody.
The name Himachal is derived from two words, “Him” and “Alaya”, where the former word means ice or snow while the latter stands for home. Taken together, this makes Himalayas “The Home of Snow”. The climate of Himachal Pradesh is influenced to a large extent by the Himalayas with their huge variations in the elevations of mountains (from 450m to 6500m).
The other name for Himachal, and a much more beloved one, is “Devbhumi”, or, “Land of the Gods”. Nature’s several faces, each as beautiful as the other, can be seen here. Somewhere, you may come across vast stretches of trans-Himalayan desert, while a little further, lush dense deodar forests greet you enthusiastically. Enticing apple orchards exist alongside cultivated terraces, depicting agriculture as the mainstay of the population here. It is again this varied topography that makes it one of the most popular destinations for tourism in India.
The colonial past of Himachal Pradesh
In Shimla, once the summer capital of the British in India, one comes across the colonial past in its architecture and overall ambience. Two examples of these are the neo-Gothic structure of Christ Church and the new Tudor buildings at The Ridge.
The Mall, which has a close resemblance to an English Country’s market place, today bustles with tourists enjoying a leisurely stroll or exploring the various shops and restaurants dotting it. The biggest colonial legacy of Shimla, however, is the narrow-gauge Shimla-Kalka railway which travels from Kalka to Shimla.
Kasauli, situated at almost 1,927m above sea level, is a quaint hill-station in Himachal Pradesh, which once served as an army cantonment for the British. In terms of flora, it is quite similar to many other hill-stations in Himachal Pradesh.
Mountains clothed in dense greenery are gently touched by the passing fog, while snowcapped peaks of Himalayas are present in clear view. Its colonial past is visible today in its gabled houses, Gothic-styled Christ and Baptist churches and The Mall, which is divided into the Upper and Lower Mall. Just like in Shimla, tourists can be seen enjoying a stroll here in the evenings and enjoying themselves.
Various attractions in Himachal Pradesh
The dense forests of Himachal Pradesh are home to various forms of wildlife, most of which can be observed in its nature parks and wildlife sanctuaries. In these nature parks and wildlife sanctuaries of Himachal Pradesh, you will come across various kinds of mammals, reptiles, snakes and birds, all of which succeed in arousing your interest in an equal measure.
The two most popular natural parks are Great Himalayan National Park and Pin Valley National Park.
Great Himalayan National Park
The Great Himalayan National Park is spread across an area of almost 754sq. km, is one of the most popular parks of Himachal Pradesh. Its temperate and alpine forests are home to various amazing wildlife species like brown bear, musk deer, thar, leopard, bharal and snow cock. Trekking and camping are two activities quite popular in this region.
Pin Valley National Park
The Pin Valley National Park is situated in the cold desert Ibex of Spiti Valley. The main attractions in this park are herds of ibex and bharal. However, nothing beats the thrill of coming across a snow leopard, with its distinctive coat and agile movements. It’s often said that visiting this park requires one to possess strong lungs and tough leg muscles, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. However, to visit the Pin Valley National Park, you have to obtain a permit from the concerned authorities.
When it comes to the wildlife sanctuaries in Himachal Pradesh, the two most popular wildlife sanctuaries are Renuka Wildlife Sanctuary and Simbalbara Sanctuary.
Renuka Wildlife Sanctuary
Renuka Wildlife Sanctuary is situated in the lower Himalayan region and is overlooked by the incredibly beautiful Renuka Lake. Here, you come across the unbelievable sight of the majestic “Asiatic Lion”. What makes viewing the lion in the Renuka Wildlife Sanctuary such a delightful experience is the fact that it finds itself in a large enclosure which allows it to display its natural behavior. Apart from the Asiatic Lion, there are other attractions inside the sanctuary such as black bear, barking deer, wild fowl, leopard and goral.
Simbalbara Sanctuary is situated in the Paonta Valley of Sirmour district and is enveloped by the beautiful Sal forests with glassy glades. Its beauty never fails to captivate and amaze onlookers, and it is said, quite rightly, that this is the most beautiful area of the Shiwaliks. The various kinds of wildlife which can be observed are sambhar, goral and chital. You will also come across various walking trails in this sanctuary.
It is not just the fauna of Himachal Pradesh which captures the attention of tourists, its flora does so too equally. The groundcover is mostly defined by a wide variety of wild flowers, ferns and grasses. This includes rare medicinal herbs too. The landscape of Himachal Pradesh also includes vast meadows which are lined by juniper, litchens and other trees.
One of the most beautiful sights you will come across in Himachal is that of rhododendron, which is known to grow to almost 20-25ft. It is quite interesting to know that the rhododendron is also the “state flower of Himachal Pradesh”. Along with flowers, apples are also found abundantly in this lovely hill-state. Indeed, thousands of crores of this fruit annually make it to the market and its right to say that apple constitutes one of the main products of Himachal’s rural-agrarian economy.
Spiritual destinations in Himachal Pradesh
There are several temples, gurudwaras and churches in Himachal Pradesh, and it is also known as a major spiritual destination. Himachal is believed to be the resting place for Lord Shiva along with some of the holiest rivers of India.
Both Hindus and Buddhists pilgrimage sites exist side by side in the state, an example being Kinnaur and Manikaran for Hindus, and Spiti Valley, which is home to various Tibetan settlements, for Buddhists. Some of the famous temples in Himachal Pradesh are Chamunda Devi Temple, Jakhoo Temple, Bajreshwari Devi Temple, Laxmi Narayan Temple and Hadimba Temple.
There are several monasteries too in Himachal Pradesh, and it is quite natural considering the various Tibetan settlements in the region, as well as the Tibetan government-in-exile and its head, Dalai Lama, located at Dharamsala. Some of the monasteries which you should visit during your trip to Himachal Pradesh are Shashur Monastery, Kardang Monastery, Namgyal Monastery, Gemur Monastery and Tabo Monastery.
Churches are one of the major attractions in Himachal Pradesh which should be visited on a trip. Built during the colonial period, they attract tourists with their incredible architecture and the colonial history associated with them. The most popular churches in Himachal are Christ Church (it was also the first proper church of Shimla), St. Michael’s Cathedral, St. Mary’s Church, St. Francis Church, Church of St. John in the Wilderness.
Himachal Pradesh is one of the best places to visit in India and is a gateway to a plethora of experiences. From its spectacular landscape that blends so well with its colonial heritage, everybody is beautiful about Himachal.
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