In the cold months, troche hill stations provide the warmth and hospitality that most of us are always seeking. Despite the nuisances snow causes to lifestyles mountain folks welcome it and those lucky visitors who get to experience a snow fall treasure it for their lives. In the cold dewy air those heavenly cotton petals falling slowly and accumulating into a white sheet engulfing the scape and the habitation change the whole scenario into a dream sequence. Winter in the mountain also does things to you, ask the cheeks get rosier, sick the girls prettier and the whiskey dearer.
The sun’s warmth fades slowly, the temperature hovers around the freezing point and a silence descends over the landscape. Honeymooners walk arm in arm enjoying the closeness of their spouses into the cold and bonding them for life. The air is fresh and dewy. Evenings spent around a crackling bonfire imbibed with hot brandies leave lingering memories. A clear winter night sky could surprise you for one may have never seen such a crowded Milky Way. Urban arc lights may fashion a world of glamour but the simplicity of starlight can melt stone hearts.
The mornings can be equally dramatic. Icicles, those hanging pieces of ice carved in the freezing nights are one of the marvels of winter. The deep blue sky of a bright day and the warmth of the new sun could get you drunk on the elements. With the haze that normally hangs over the horizon not there in the winters, the distant blue mountains, sprinkled with browns, greens and the witness of snow are like a surrealistic painting by the master artist.
The cold also draws out the finest woolens in ones collection. The showrooms display the best available for the season. Cardigans, sweaters, coats, jackets, scarf’s, caps, warm socks and gloves are all there on display.
Shimla: Capital of the Himalayan state
Shimla is a year around destination. Well connected by road, the hill-station also has an air-link with an airport at Jubbarhatti that supports small aircraft. At considerable costs the British had laid a railway line to Shimla, which is still operational.
Jakhoo temple, Viceregal Lodge, Christ and Catholic church, Ice skating rink, Mall road and other important landmarks remain popular and form part of any tourists itinerary. Film shooting units seeking colonial or snow scenario settings can be seen in action.
The fascinating rare sport for India, ice-skating is very popular here. Enthusiasts brave cold mornings and chilly evenings to get to the rink. For Shimla it’s a way of life. Once at the rink, the thrill of effortlessly gliding over a layer of ice simply drives the cold away. Scenes from the rink have found their way into films.
A good winter with enough snow turns slopes of Mahasu peak at Kufri (13 Km from Shimla) into a skiing zone. Climatic changes have reduced snow falls over the last decade, which on the ground last for an even shorter duration. Due to less snow if skiing at Kufri is not possible , skiers head for Narkanda (65 Km from Shimla) which has a good north facing ski slope. Branch of the mountaineering institute and private operators initiates tourists and learners into techniques of skiing. Skiing equipment with enough boarding and lodging facilities are available at Narkanda.
Other places with sufficient infrastructure to take in tourists and provide activity to keep the winter visitor occupied are Manali-Solang, Dharamshala-Macloed-Ganj and Dhalousie-Khajjiar.
Manali: Gateway to Lahaul Valley
Nestling in the shade of a primeval forest on the banks of Beas river Manali remains a popular summer and winter destination. Terrace fields together with trim orchards charmingly blend into the woodland and the ostentation of pinnacles and ridges around give the place a rugged grandeur setting. The Kullu valley is well connected by road and regular Delhi-Kullu flights provide access to the area with the airport at Bhuntar near Kullu.
The goddess Hadimba temple, a Tibetan monastery, Manu temple and Vashist temple are popular pilgrimage centers. Manali is also the base for conducting the exotic heli-skiing operation.
Solang (13 Km from Manali) in Kullu valley is the most popular skiing resort of Himachal. The heavy snowfall that occurs over Rohtang pass and peaks around are a delight for any ski enthusiast. The slopes of Solang are a favourite venue for holding national skiing competitions and the Mountaineering Institute Manali conducts regular training camps. Bungee sledging at Solang is an indigenously developed fun sport. One can also take a ride on snow scooters here.
Dharamshala: The Abode of HH Dalai Lama
Dharamshala and Mcloedganj in the Dhauladhar range make an excellent vantage point for viewing the vast expanse of Kangra valley. Dharamsala, the district headquarters of Kangra, has good boarding and lodging facilities available and can be a good base camp to explore the area.
McLeodganj (9 Km from Dharamsala) often called the ‘little Lhasa’ is best known for housing the Tibetan government in exile, for the residence of His holiness the Dalai Lama and a famed Namgyal monastery. The little bazaar is filled with a variety of Tibetan artifacts. These range from metal and stone ware to traditional jackets from exquisite thanka paintings to woolens and from rugs to footwear. It is possible to pick up a variety of books on Tibet, its religion and culture, as well as cassettes of Tibetan music. Tibetan medicine and healing also attracts many people.
Church of St. John in the Wilderness, Dal lake, Bhagsunath and Triund are other places of interest around Dharamsala-McLeodganj. The snowline starts at Ilaqua, which is five Km from Triund (17 Km from Dharamsala). It forms the base of several trek routes and in winters the slopes turn into skiing grounds.
Dhalousie – Khajjiar: Enchanting Chamba
Dhalousie in Chamba district is famous for the four churches of St. Andrew’s church, St. Patrick’s Church, St Francis’ church and St. John church. It is another township founded by the British that still holds a variety of colonial architecture. A temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu called the Laxmi Narayan is also located here.
The Khajjiar glade is an hour’s drive from Dalhousie. Enclosed by mighty deodars forests of the Kalatop wildlife sanctuary, the glen here is about five kilometers in circumference and ideal for mountain solitude seekers. An old temple here houses images of Khajji Nag – the serpent of Khajjiar, and five life size statues of the Pandava brothers.
And if you are little adventurous, do not like conventional tourist places, Barot and Parashar are two must visit destinations for you.