Plenty of memory cards and spare camera batteries are required here- the mainly mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh north of Delhi is blessed with some of India’s most photogenic scenery, as well as friendly, smiling locals, historic towns and villages and more besides. The distances covered in Himachal are never huge, but the landscape is always changing, and there are plenty of subtle differences in the culture and religion as you move around the state. Plenty of time is set aside in this itinerary for walking, be it in small villages or across hill and mountainsides.
Day 1: Arrive Delhi. On arrival in Delhi you will be met and transferred to your hotel. No set programme for the day- time to acclimatise and relax. Overnight in Delhi.
Day 2: A day to explore India’s capital city with a knowledgeable local guide who will explain some of Delhi’s fascinating past and try to make sense, as much as anyone can, of its vibrant and at times chaotic present. Some of the places visited include Raj Ghat, the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, the splendid buildings of New Delhi and Jama Masjid, India’s grandest mosque. Overnight in Delhi.
Day 3: Delhi - AmritsarMorning transfer to Nizamuddin station for first class air-conditioned train to Amritsar. On arrival in Amritsar, you’ll be met and transferred to your hotel. In the afternoon, take the short excursion to the border at Wagah, where Indian and Pakistani troops take part in a daily boarding closing ceremony. The theatre of this event, which approaches melodrama in its intensity, is taken hugely seriously but can also appear rather amusing to the objective bystander. Return to Amritsar for overnight stay.
Day 4: Amritsar - Dharamshala. This morning you will visit the spectacular Golden Temple- the most sacred site in the Sikh religion, before an afternoon drive to Dharamshala and nearby McLeod Ganj, famous as the seat of the Tibetan Government in Exile, and home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Overnight in McLeod Ganj.
Day 5 & 6: Dharamshala.Two full Days to explore the area around Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj - most of the places of interest are within easy walking distance of your accommodation. Stretch your legs with a 90 minute return walk to the peaceful Bagshu waterfall, visit the monastery and home compound of the Dalai Lama at Tsuglagkhang, and wander around the town with its friendly Tibetan population (the cows are friendly too). Additionally you could take a short trek from Dharamshala (in winter from December to February this will be dependent on how much snow has fallen in the hills). Some possibilities include:- Gallu Temple via Naddi and return, 10 km, 4 to 5 hrs; Guna Devi Temple via Ball village- return 20 km, 6 hrs; Strawberry Hill via Dal lake 12 km, 5 hrs; Inderu Nag Temple via Cholla village, 12 km, 5 hrs. Overnight in McLeod Ganj.
Day 7: Dharamshala to Pragpur. Drive down the hills to the Kangra Valley, visiting the majestic fort and Bajdeshwari Devi temple en route. Arrive in Pragpur mid-afternoon and check into the Judge’s Court- a sumptuous heritage hotel overlooking the village. In the late afternoon, walk through the gardens of Judge’s Court into the unique heritage village of Pragpur- this is a rare example in India of an entire community having survived the relentless advance of modernity with its old buildings and neighbourhood atmosphere intact. The village is centred on a large ornamental pond and its cobbled lanes and serene ambience are a delight. Enjoy dinner on the lawn back at your hotel, Overnight in Pragpur.
Day 8: Pragpur. A full day in and around Pragpur and the nearby village of Garli- your hosts at the Judge’s Court will make you feel wonderfully at home and you may choose to spend the day close to the estate. If you want to venture further afield there are plenty of interesting local sights including several small temples as well as the splendid scenery of the surrounding valleys. Overnight in Pragpur.
Day 9: Pragpur to Mandi.After breakfast, depart for Mandi with a stop en route at a Tibetan Buddhist community near Taragarh. On arrival in Mandi, check in your hotel and in the afternoon explore the town of Mandi with its many temples and interesting ‘sunken garden’ central square. Overnight in Mandi.
Day 10: Mandi to Manali. After breakfast, drive 3 hours to Manali arriving late morning. Check into your hotel- our main recommendations here are all historic places with great views to the mountains or onto the neighbouring pine forests. Explore Manali on foot in the afternoon- it is a lovely town which benefits greatly from its main street being closed to vehicle traffic, making it perfect for leisurely walking. One of the main attractions of Manali is the parkland and forest on the edge of town- another great place to walk. Overnight in Manali.
Day 11: Manali - Naggar sightseeing.There is plenty to see around Manali and on the opposite side of the valley along with spectacular views you can take in Naggar castle, the estate and museum of Russian ex-pat painter Nikolai Roerich and hot springs at Vashisht. If the road is open (normallyit closes from mid October to April), you can take a half day drive to the Rothang Pass on the road to Ladakh, through stunning scenery, high mountains and massive water and ice falls. Return to Manali for overnight stay.
Day 12: Manali - Kullu - Banjar Valley. Depart Manali and drive 2 hours back down the valley past Kullu before turning east into the picturesque Banjar Valley, arriving at your accommodation in time for lunch. In the afternoon you can enjoy a spectacular mountain trek, or a more leisurely drive to nearby scenic points. Overnight in the Banjar Valley.
Day 13 : Banjar - Shimla.The theme of stunning scenery and beautiful drives continues with a short, steep ascent to the Jalori Pass, through thick oak and cedar forests, and a more gentle descent on the far side of the pass, eventually joining up with the main road to Shimla. This is a full day drive, reaching Shimla by mid-late afternoon. On arrival at Shimla, check into your hotel and relax. Overnight in Shimla.
Day 14 : Shimla.The only slightly faded Raj-era charm of Shimla and year round pleasant climate makes it a popular destination for honeymooners as well as Delhi residents on weekend breaks. The Mall runs the length of the old town and is something of a social hub as well as a shopping magnet for visitors. Further away from the busy centre, Shimla’s past reveals itself in a series of planned gardens, old churches and historic buildings. You’ll have the whole day today to explore at your own pace. Overnight in Shimla.
Day 15 : Shimla - Kalka - Delhi.A full day adventure by train - to Kalka on the Himalayan Queen, a famous ‘toy train’ which recaptures the romantic past of rail travel, and then from Kalka to Delhi by first-class Shatabdi Express. On arrival in Delhi at 2130 you’ll be met and transferred to your hotel for overnight stay in Delhi (if you prefer to fly back to Delhi, this is also an option)