Despite being one of India’s smaller states, Himachal Pradesh punches well above its weight when it comes to destinations that attract tourists and travelers of all kinds. You can pick up your bags and land anywhere in the state and there’s a good chance you will be blown away by the place’s beauty. Of course, there are some destinations here that are major tourist magnets that see a huge influx of visitors all year through, like the Dharamshala-Mcleodganj stretch. The issue, if you can call it that, is that Dharamshala hogs so much limelight, not undeservingly, that the many other great options available in the Kangra district tend to not get their due share of attention. Here’s a quick coverage, then, of 5 really great things that you can do if you want to drive by Dharamshala-McLedoganj the next time you are here and try out all the other goodies on offer in Kangra.
Photo by Akashdeep83
Revisit mythology – There are several structures in the state that are supposed to have close connections with two of India’s greatest myths, the Mahabharat and the Ramayan. And two of the most prime of those are here in Kangra.
The first is a complex of temples that you just can’t afford to miss, and is surprisingly not as famous as it deserves to be. The Masroor Rock Cut Temple, located about 35 km from Dharamshala, is a rare example of rock-cut architecture, which you will typically see in western and southern India. These temples, dedicated mainly to Ram, Lakshman and Sita, are believed to have been built by the Pandavas from Mahabharat during their exile. The complex includes the temples themselves, which invoke the much larger Angkor Wat of Cambodia in their appearance, along with the small lake in the front that captures their reflection.
Photo by Rakeshkdogra
The other is the exquisite Baijnath Temple, about 50 km from Dharamshala, built in the 13th century at the spot where Ravan from Ramayan is supposed to have been tricked into placing the shivaling he was carrying from Mount Kailash to Lanka. Curiously, out of respect to Ravan, the traditional burning of his effigy that is an integral part of Dussehra celebrations everywhere else in India is not undertaken here.
Relive Kangra’s regal history – Kangra corresponds to the ancient kingdom of Trigarta, and its rulers, the Katochs, claim to be the oldest surviving ruling family of India, if not the world. The veracity of the claim might be contestable, but there’s no doubt that this region has had a rich history of proud royalty that goes back hundreds of years.
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The greatest symbol of this is the Kangra Fort, about 20 km from Dharamshala. Built on a steep rock, at a strategic confluence of two rivers, the earliest version of this structure is supposed to have been constructed in 4th century BCE. Obviously substantial additions were made in slightly more recent times, but what should interest any visitor is its sheer grandeur, despite suffering many sieges and earthquake-damages.
Many other remnants of the ancient kingdom are spread through the district, including the Nurpur and Kotla Forts (the latter not to be confused with the one in Delhi). For the interested history buff, there are many options to explore through this area, made all that easier because of the relatively short distances between the various monuments.
Photo Courtesy Jwalaji.in
Give in to your religious side – Himachal Pradesh is known as Dev Bhumi, or the land of gods, and the large number of temples packed into this small region make it clear why. If you are remotely interested in the many streams of beliefs that make up Hinduism, the state’s offerings should keep you busy through multiple visits. But, even if you are not particularly religious, like me, the beauty of these structures, the vintage of many of these sites or just the stories associated with them should attract you.
The most famous temple, arguably, in Kangra is the magnificent golden domed Jwala Ji temple. Legend says that when parts of Sati’s body fell on earth, the tongue fell here. A flame has been burning at the spot that the tongue hit the ground for thousands of years, and attracts devotees and visitors in massive numbers. The shrine is located about 55 km from Dharamshala.
Photo Courtesy Jaimaakamkashidevi.com
Not far from Kangra fort is the Vajreshwari Devi temple, built at a spot where another of Sati’s body parts is believed to have fell. Other major temples in the district, each with its own set of legends, are Bagla Mukhi temple, Ashapuri temple, Chamunda Devi temple, Bhagsu Nag temple and the really quaint Bathu temples, which are submerged in the Maharana Pratap Sagar reservoir and can be visited only in summer.
Experience the best of nature – With the majestic Dhauladhar range keeping you company through your journey, you can pitch your tent pretty much anywhere in Kangra and forget the pollution and chaos of life from the plains. Even in the midst of these snow-clad mountains, Hanuman ji ka Tiba, or the White Mountain, stands tall at a height of over 5,630 m.
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But, there’s so much more. There’s the above-mentioned Maharana Pratap Sagar reservoir, a major bird sanctuary along the Pong Dam, one of the highest earth-fill dams in India. There’s the high-altitude Kareri Lake, famous for its crystal clear waters, which one has to trek to get to. There’s the Tatwani hot spring, about 35 km from Dharamshala.
And, then, there’s the breathtaking greenery of Palampur. Famous as the ‘tea capital’ of North India, the town is popular for its expansive tea gardens, mild climate and multitude of streams flowing down the mountains.
Test yourself physically – Some of the most popular trekking options in Himachal Pradesh are to be found in Kangra. Apart from multiple routes to the beautiful Kareri Lake, there’s the one-day 10 km trek to Triund (featured photo), a small hill that offers incredible views of the evening sky. Routes of varying difficulty, including the Indrahar Pass and the Minkiani Pass, would interest a wide range of trekkers, from beginners to the absolute pros. It’s a good idea to hire a local guide or a professional trek organizer before you test your mettle against the imposing mountains here though.
Photo Courtesy Ghumakkar.com
With so much to do in the small region of Kangra, there is no reason to get caught in the crowds of Dharamshala the next time you are visiting this lovely state. Keep the town as your base, as it still has no match in the area in terms of accommodation and food options, and try out everything else that the typical tourist would miss out on.
Featured Photo (Triund campsite) by Alok Kumar