The hill state of Himachal Pradesh, sandwiched between Punjab and Tibet, encapsulates the verdant Himalayan foothills. Walking trails meander through orchard valleys and subtropical forests, leading us to deep gorges, pretty villages, roaring rivers and pine forests.
The mountain air is crisp and cool and the panoramic vistas of this once inaccessible area overlook a favourite summer retreat from the days of the Raj, whose legacy of colonial mansions, churches and remarkable railways sits comfortably alongside monasteries and temples.
From Delhi, we take the train into the state of Punjab, to Amritsar. We visit the Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine, with the chance to experience first light prayers. The ceremonial sunset Retreat at Wagha Border, one of the very few land crossing points on the 2,000 mile border between Pakistan and India, is a fascinating ritual.
We move on, using 4x4 vehicles, to Dharamshala, home of the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan Government for over three decades. The Tibetan influence here is strong. Dharamshala is the starting point for our foray into the Himalayan foothills. It is also the beginning of tea country. We will stop at a tea plantation and see how things are done.
From both Manali (2,050m), located at the head of the Kullu Valley, and the hill station of Shimla (2,000m), once the summer capital of the British Colonial Raj, we’ll walk in the surrounding hill country and experience Himachal Pradesh at its most idyllic, with its panoramic landscapes, snow capped peaks, tranquil villages, raging rivers, fruit orchards and terraced fields. From Manali we intend to drive up to the Rohtang Pass. At nearly 4,000m this will be the highest point we reach on this holiday.
An exhilarating train ride on the narrow gauge railway from Shimla to Kalka offers an old world charm as it gently snakes through the countryside. From Kalka we return to Delhi by train for a final visit before we depart for home.