After two years of social distancing, the world seems to have adapted to the 'new normal' efficiently enough for travel to resume. Where international travel to Europe's exotic locales or the Americas is still clouded with health advisories and restrictions, domestic travel is ready to restart and regain its pre-pandemic momentum.
Noting India's successful vaccination drives and considerable common knowledge about the basic norms of sanitization throughout the country, the upcoming summer vacations present exciting travel prospects!
Before exploring domestic travel options, it is important to note why most Indian schools shut down for the summer break. The reason is the temperatures that soar to an unbearable level, at which point it's almost criminal to expect children to commute and study in classrooms.
This premise leads to the natural outcome of travellers picking cooler locales (within India) to take off to during this long break. Given their naturally cooler climatic conditions, high-altitude areas naturally become the most viable and attractive option for summer holidays.
The Indian terrain is blessed with multiple high-altitude or mountainous destinations, both in the north and the south. But today's discussion is all about the one mountain trail in the north that has put India on the international wanderlust map - the trail up to Leh, Ladakh’s largest and arguably most scenic destination.
We begin our journey from the foothills of Himachal Pradesh…
First Stop: Kasauli
A short two-hour drive from the nearest airport in Chandigarh is the scenic hill station of Kasauli. With perennially cool climate, Kasauli offers a much-needed respite from the harsh summers for North Indians who are looking for an extended weekend getaway.
We recommend a short two-day stay in Kasauli before moving to your next destination. You can visit its famous Tibetan market and sample some delicious local cuisine during your stay. You can also visit popular tourist points like Gurkha Fort, Christ Church, and Monkey Point (the town's highest point).
Second Stop: Shimla
At a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Kasauli, you have the town christened "the Queen of the Hills", Shimla. The capital of Himachal Pradesh and one of India's most popular hill stations, Shimla is home to several tourist delights. From ice skating to religious pilgrimages, this town has it all. Ideally, we would recommend a four-day stay here, but seeing that we have six places to cover, Shimla can be seen in three days too. But whilst here, remember to indulge in horse rides and ice-cream cones on the mall road!
A quick 30 minutes drive away from Shimla is the small hill town of Kufri. An especially great adventure for all children is the famous toy train connecting Shimla and Kufri, which promises to give you the most picturesque sites of the great Himalayas.
Third stop: Kullu
At a higher altitude, six and a half hours away from Shimla, with lower temperatures, lies the hill town of Kullu. Kullu is an adrenaline chaser's paradise, largely known for its adventure sports and hiking trails. A one day-haul in Kullu is sufficient and the main reason we even take a day’s break there (apart from indulging in the adventure sports!) is that the drive ahead to Manali gets a little more difficult and rough.
Fourth stop: Manali
An hour or so away from Kullu is Manali- easily one of the most well-known tourist destinations domestically and internationally! Tiny cafes dot the streets whilst music pours through every corner of this pretty hill station.
A total fun-fest, Manali has plenty to offer to its guests. From delicious delicacy restaurants to mesmerizingly beautiful sights and an array of adventure sports, Manali has something for every age group! Split into two parts (the old and new Manali); you need a minimum of three days to see this town to truly enjoy it!
Also, if you happen to visit Manali during winters, its world-renown music fest is absolutely un-miss-able.
Fifth and final Stop: Leh
The eleven and a half-hour drive from Manali to Leh is one of the most beautiful and scenic drives in the world. Though one can easily take a flight to Leh directly, most choose to land in Manali and drive down to Leh just to take in the breathtaking view of the 'Roof of India'- the Himalayas. On the way, one crosses spell-bindingly beautiful sites like the Tanglang La and Lachungla Pass along with the Magnetic Hill, all of which are day trips from Leh.
The serene waters of the Pangong Lake have mesmerized many travellers and beckoned them back to Leh time and again. The Shanti Stupa here, too, receives many visitors during the tourist season. With plenty to do, we recommend a minimum of four days in Leh. Other popular attractions include the Sand Dunes Leisure Park, Markha Valley, Spituk Monastery and the Confluence of Indus and Zanskar rivers.
The hill stations mentioned above are only a few that dot the foothills of the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Other fun and considerably shorter trails include the Jim-Corbett National Park-Nainital-Binsar and the Dehradun-Mussoorie-Rishikesh trails. All of which are equally fun and offer a cool sanctuary away from the heat. Since Shimla to Leh is a longer trail, we suggest covering it over approximately 10 days. The other trails are relatively shorter and can be easily covered within a week too. So be mindful of the number of days you have in hand before booking your trip!
Which trail is next on your travel wish list? Do tell us. We might have an itinerary handy for you!