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This 15-day trip across north India will not only take you to noted attractions and along routes with breathtaking views but will also test your physical endurance. This incredible journey is dotted with numerous high-altitude passes, and with every destination you visit, the scenery will change - from the bustling and green vistas of Shimla and Manali, you will drive right into the stark, barren and monotone colours of Leh and back to rolling greens and vibrant flowers of Kashmir and Srinagar.
The captivating capital, Delhi, is a delight to explore, with historical treasures and cosmopolitan hubs rubbing shoulders with each other. If you arrived in the later hours of the day, grab a delicious meal at any of the eateries in the popular Connaught Place. Don't forget to enjoy a night drive to India Gate, where you can get stunning photos. The iconic archway of India looks spectacular bathed in soft golden light against the inky blue of the night sky.
For a memorable kick-start to your adventure, opt for the night train from New Delhi to Kalka and then take the early morning toy train to Shimla.
The erstwhile summer capital of British officials in India, Shimla enjoys a strategic position against the backdrop of the mighty Himalayan ranges. Its cool and pleasant weather during summer and snow-sports (skiing, trekking and paragliding) during winter make Shimla an ideal destination all year round. The charm of this hill station is accentuated by the presence of British-era lodges, colonial bungalows and European-designed houses.
The narrow gauge running between Kalka and Shimla is a UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed railway line. It is popularly called the toy train. Enjoy the picturesque sights on the way as you traverse the scenic route.
Six trains run between Kalka and Shimla daily. On December 2019, Indian Railways introduced the Him Darshan Express train in the route with a seating capacity of 100 passengers and all visadome coaches.
The five-hour train ride passes through 103 tunnels, takes 917 curves and crosses 988 bridges, rendering it one of the most scenic journeys you will take during this trip.
Literally the heart and soul of Shimla, the Mall is a seven-km-long pedestrian street resembling an English Home’s Country market. The landmark Christ Church, built in the Neo-Gothic style of architecture, is located on one end of the Mall Road.
The Mall is located near Lakkar Bazar, a market area known for local handicraft. The Mall Road runs along the iconic Ridge, an open space that is the centre of culture and a permanent venue for events and celebrations.
Shop for woollen garments, shawls, jewellery and even antique pieces from the Mall, or take a horse ride at the Ridge. While you explore the Mall, keep an eye out for such noted buildings as the Gaiety Theatre, Town Hall, a red-brick mansion called Bantony, which was the erstwhile home of the Maharaja of Sirmaur, and the post office.
Start your day on a fresh note with a trip to Jakhu Hill, the highest peak in Shimla. It is where the Jahkhu Temple, dedicated to Lord Hanumana, is situated. According to mythology, this is where the lord stopped for a while on his way to collect the sanjeevani booti for Lord Lakshmana (characters from the Hindu epic, Ramayana).
The hill can be reached via a cable car that travels to the top of the mountain. If you’d prefer to walk, there is a steep yet scenic hiking path that starts from near the church.
The 108-foot-tall idol of Lord Hanumana that is housed in the temple premises.
Situated at Observatory Hill, the lodge is also known as the Rashtrapati Nilayam or President's House as it serves as a summer retreat for the Indian President. It is surrounded by manicured gardens.
It is closed on Mondays. On other days, every 45 minutes, a small group departs from the ticket booth for a 20-minute-tour of three rooms that display historic photographs.
The architecture of the building that draws influences from the English Renaissance period and the stunning three-storey entrance hall (which serves as the exit) built in Burmese teak.
One of the most revered and visited sites in Shimla, this shrine is dedicated to Lord Hanumana.
Unlike many temples in Shimla, there are no legends or mythologies associated with this religious site. It is said to have been established by Baba Neeb Karori Maharaj, a religious figure, in 1950.
Take in the panoramic views of Shimla from its spacious courtyard.
Transfer to Manali. Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) run buses from Shimla to Manali.
About 7.5 hours
Sitting pretty by the Beas river, Manali is a much sought-after destination for nature lovers, adventure seekers and those looking for serenity. Nestled in the Himalayas and steeped in mythology, this hill station boasts vast floral meadows, rolling hills, apple orchards, gushing streams, snow-capped peaks, high-altitude passes and Buddhist monasteries - making it an experience of a lifetime.
One of the most popular and revered sites in Manali, the Hadimba Temple, also called the Dhoongri Temple, is protected as a Monument of National Importance. Built in 1553 by Maharaja Bahadur Singh, the then king of Kullu, it is dedicated to Goddess Hadimba, the wife of Bhima, a character from the Hindu epic Mahabharata.
While the wooden doorway of the temple bears intricate carvings of figures and designs resembling deities, animals, leaves and scenes depicting episodes of Lord Krishna’s life, there are no idols in the inner sanctum.
Explore the surrounding deodar forest and visit the sacred tree, which is believed to represent Ghatothkach, the son of Bhima, located in the temple complex. Take pictures with snow-white fluffy angoora rabbits and yaks here.
Touted as the heart of Manali, the Mall Road is a vibrant street lined with restaurants and shops selling souvenir objects, garments, woollens and local handicraft
The Mall Road includes smaller retail areas like Hong Kong Market, Thai Market, Dragon Shopping Complex, Lama Underground, Shangri La Shopping Complex and Snow Lion Underground Market.
Shop for good quality Kullu and Kashmiri shawls here. You can sharpen your bargaining skills here
Start your day early and take a two-hour drive to this high-altitude pass. One of the most scenic passes in the state, it serves as the summer gateway to Lahaul-Spiti.
The pass remains closed between November and May due to heavy snowfall. Access to the pass is regulated by the government so diesel vehicles require special permits from the District Administration of Kullu to visit. You can apply for online permits at www.rohtangpermits.nic.in
Enjoy such activities as paragliding, skiing and trekking here. You can also visit Jogini Falls and Nehru Kund, located nearby.
This quaint village is said to be named after Vashishtha, one of the most revered Hindu sages. It is known for its temples, sulphur springs and traditional thatched-roof houses.
A paved path connects this village to the Manali market. The village can be reached via a paved path from the Manali Market too. Vashisht Temple, the pride and joy of this village, is said to be over 4,000 years old.
This village is the best vantage point for breathtaking views of River Beas and Old Manali
Situated on the left bank of River Beas at the northern end of the Kullu Valley, Jagatsukh is a pretty yet bustling village. According to local lore, this village, considered to be one of the biggest in the Kullu Valley, served as the first capital of the state.
Jagatsukh serves as a perfect starting point for treks to the base camp of Deo Tibba.
Visit one of the several orchards here and offer prayers at the shikara-style shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Sandhya Gayatri.
Less than an hour’s-drive from Manali, Naggar is an ancient town that was once the headquarters of the state before the capital was shifted to Sultanpur (Kullu). It boasts a historic castle, temples and a folk art museum.
The eponymous and well-conserved Naggar Castle is over 500 years old. Originally built as a royal residence by Raja Sidh Singh around 1500 AD, the castle was turned into a courthouse in 1846 by the British and ultimately a heritage hotel in 1976.
Explore the castle’s displays that include beautiful wood carvings, ancient metal crafts and awe-inspiring architecture.
Housing as many as 350 species of flora and 800 species of fauna, including the endangered ones, the Great Himalayan National Park is a world in itself, not to mention a must-visit site for nature lovers.
It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to fauna like snow leopard, Himalayan tahr, musk deer. etc.
The serene alpine pastures of the park are ideal for camping and trekking.
Return to Manali and transfer to Leh. HPTDC runs buses from Malai to Leh. If you plan to drive, keep in mind that there are no petrol pumps between Tanda (near Manali) and Karu (near Leh). On the way, you will also cross the famous Gata Loops, a series of 21 sharp hairpin bends.
13 hours (approximately)
A picturesque town located in the valley of the upper Indus river, Leh is surrounded by the lofty peaks of the Ladakh Range, which is an extension of the mighty Karakoram range. A haven for adventure sports, Leh boasts pretty lakes, peaceful yet noted monasteries and sprawling orchards. Once the capital of the kingdom of Ladakh, today Leh is one of the crowning glories of tourism in north India.
Acquaint yourself with the vibrant colours of the town at this bustling market place. Known for pashmina shawls, woollen garments, colourful Buddhist Thangka (scroll) paintings and souvenir products, this market is a delightful experience.
Thangka paintings have both aesthetic value and are useful during meditation. It is said that, in the past, these were used by monks to impart knowledge.
Shop for such products as Buddhist masks, decorated and embellished prayer wheels, Tibetan choktse tables and trinkets.
Once the summer capital of Ladakh, the Shey Palace and Monastery is in ruins today yet continues to attract tourists with its impressive facade, the three storey-high copper statue of Buddha Shakyamuni and the numerous Buddhist chortens that it houses in its compounds.
The Druk Padma Karpo School, made famous in the Bollywood movie '3 Idiots', lies at a stone’s throw distance. Solar-powered and passively-heated with eco-friendly dry washrooms, this is worth a visit. The students here study the local language Bothi, English, and Hindi, along with science, creative arts, sports, social studies and such skills as teamwork and problem-solving through co-curricular activities. Patrons of this school include the Dalai Lama, American actor Richard Gere and the Viscount and Viscountess Cowdray.
When you visit the school, bring something for the children like sweets or stationery.
Head next to the Stok Palace, about 20 minutes away. Located on the banks of River Indus, this three-storey building is the summer residence of the royal family of Ladakh.
The palace was built by King Tsepal Namgyal, the ruler of Ladakh, whose palace in Leh was invaded by Dogra forces.
The displays at the palace museum that include imperial thangka paintings, perak jewellery pieces adorned with turquoise and lapis lazuli and the queen's ancient turquoise and gold yub-jhur (turquoise-encrusted headpiece) and a 16th-century Afghan sword that is bent into a knot.
Kick start your day with some peace and tranquillity at the Shanti Stupa. The white edifice of this stupa stands in stark contrast to the craggy and lofty mountains that surround it.
According to local lore, this stupa was constructed by Japanese monks between 1983 and 1991 to mark the completion of 2,500 years of the Buddhist religion.
See the stunning murals of Lord Buddha and circumambulate the stupa while chanting mantras. The balcony of the stupa’s tower offers astounding views of the surrounding scenery.
Make your way to Alchi Monastery, stopping at Magnetic Hill to experience a gravity-defying phenomenon. The highlight of the Alchi village, this beautiful monastery (or gompa) is the largest of its kind, constructed by Lotsava Ringchen Zangpo, a noted translator.
This monastery is said to have been built by artists - painters, carvers and sculptors - from the Kashmir Valley brought by Lotsava Ringchen Zangpo.
Visit the numerous shrines and temples, namely Buddha Vairocana Lhakhang, Lotsava Lhakhang, Jamyang Lhakhang (Manjusri temple) and Sumtsag Lhakhang
Touted to be the highest motorable pass, Khardungla tests a visitors endurance and physical stamina. Maintained by the Indian Army to supply goods to the Siachen Glacier, it is one of the most coveted destinations for seasoned cyclist and adventure bikers and is almost always covered in a blanket of snow.
Because of its height at 18,380 ft, visitors experience dizziness, altitude sickness and breathing difficulties. A small medical hut near the site offers emergency oxygen.
Take pictures against the board that mentions the height of the pass.
Drive to Pangong Tso, stopping by the charming Tangtse Gompa that houses the revered 'talking statue' of Kyoba Rimpoche on the way. Straddling the Indo-Chinese border, this picturesque lake is considered to be one of the highest brackish water lake, lying at an elevation of 14,270 ft. Juxtaposed against monotone rugged mountains, this strip of electric blue with varying shades is a sight for sore eyes.
Inner-line permits are required to visit the lake. Your local guide will help you with this.
Visit the famous point where the climax of the film 3 Idiots was shot. The iconic yellow scooter used in the scene is stationed there.
Return to Leh and transfer to Kargil the following day. You can choose to stop by the famous Lamayuru Monastery that falls on the way. Also keep an eye out for the 30-ft-high statue of Lord Buddha called Future Buddha or Mulbekh Chamba, carved into a rock edifice right before you enter Kargil. This statue of Lord Buddha bears Saivite symbolism and refers to the Buddhist belief that the fifth Buddha will be a Maitreya (in the series of 1,000 Buddhas) who will visit the world. The Fotu la (pass) lies (almost) midway between Leh and Kargil.
5 hours (approximately)
Kargil has gone down in history as the site of the great war of 1999 but that, in no way, takes away the natural beauty and historic significance of this district. One of the first things you’ll notice as you drive into Kargil is the change in landscape - from stark, intimidating and barren scenery with monotonous brown mountains and almost no shade of green in Leh to a lush, vibrant and scenic terrain.
Drive up to Drass and visit the War Memorial. Built by the Indian Army to commemorate the success of Operation Vijay and the martyrs of the Kargil War, this building in pink sandstone is located on the foothills of the Tololing Hill. The sight of the name of the numerous soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the country on the Memorial Wall, the photographs displaying the courage and valour of the jawans and the huge national flag swaying in the wind will evoke a sense of patriotism.
Entry to the memorial is free but you will be asked to provide identification proof and make an entry in a register.
Visit the war gallery that showcases photographs and Pakistani weapons that were seized during the war. Stop at the Amar Jawan Jyoti - the eternal flame dedicated to the fallen soldiers. The Veer Bhumi with memorial stones dedicated to martyrs deserves a visit.
Return to Kargil for the night and set off for Sonmarg the next morning. On the way, you’ll cross the Zojila, a high mountain pass.
4 hours (approximately)
A ideal stop for nature lovers, Sonmarg is a popular hill station for camping and is known for its verdant valleys and snowy peaks. Sonmarg also serves as the base camp for the Amarnath Yatra. Also known as the Meadow of Gold, Sonmarg serves as the gateway to Ladakh and is home to the picturesque Vishansar Lake, which freezes over completely during winter. Sonmarg, however, can be accessed only during the summer months as it experiences heavy snowfall with high risks of avalanches during winter.
This is the site where a mountain river whose water is red meets the mighty River Indus. Surrounded by picturesque meadows, it is a perfect spot for picnics.
According to the local Baltic community that resides here, the water has healing properties. In fact, during the weekend, it is visited by hoards of tourists who come to take a dip here.
While you’re in Sonmarg, you can either opt for skiing on an ice scooter ride at the Thajiwas Glacier or go river rafting at Shutkari Bridge.
Head on to Srinagar that evening.
2 hours (approximately)
Nestled high in the lofty Himalayas surrounded by snow-capped peaks and dotted with rolling hills, lush valleys, glistening lakes and strewn with Mughal-era gardens and chinar-lined roads, it is not difficult to understand why Srinagar is often hailed as a paradise on earth. The flavourful Kashmiri cuisine and the numerous apple and walnut orchards add to the charm of this city.
The most iconic attraction of Srinagar and the setting for countless Bollywood films, the gleaming waters of the Dal Lake is truly a sight to behold and a shikara (narrow wooden boats resembling the gondolas of Venice) ride here is an experience not to be mi
Intricately-decorated wooden houseboats are available between Dalgate and Gagribal that come in all price ranges and can be rented for the night.
Keep an eye out for the many shikaras selling flowers and vegetables. Visit the Char Chinar Island in the Dal.
The largest Mughal garden in the Kashmir valley, Shalimar Bagh is located close to the Dal Lake. Constructed by Mughal emperor Jehangir (Jahangir) for his wife Noor Jahan, it also served as the ruler’s summer abode.
The arched niches or 'chini khanas' located behind the garden waterfalls that now hold flower pots were lighted with oil lamps at night for a fairy-tale-like appearance.
If you wish to continue exploring nature, visit the famous Tulip Garden located about six kilometres away.
A must-visit site in Srinagar, this is the final resting place of the mother of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin (1421 AD to 1474 AD), one of Kashmir’s famous rulers. One of the finest architectural works of the 15th century, this five-domed brick structure is often claimed to bear resemblance to the style of the Byzantine em
The tomb stands on the plinth of an old Buddhist temple and is best viewed from the new Zaina Kadal (bridge).
Visit the famous Hazratbal Mosque on your way to the Badshah Tomb from Shalimar Bagh.
Cocooned by the lofty Pir Panjal range and perched on the lap of the towering Apharwat peak, Gulmarg is another slice of heaven on earth with vast stretches of green meadows carpeted with multi-hued flowers that pose a stark contrast to the snow-clad mountains in the backdrop.
Gulmarg transforms into a snow adventurer’s haven during winter. Its snow-covered slopes become the hub of such snow sports as snowboarding, heli-skiing (skiing down a mountain after being taken up by a helicopter) and off-piste skiing (skiing on unconventional ski runs), among others.
Experience the Gulmarg Gondola - the second-highest cable car ride in the world and the only way to access Gulmarg.