This Himalayan Foothills tour is designed to offer some of the best riding and natural beauty without taking riders into the extreme environments. Traveling the minor back-roads of Himachal Pradesh's hill country, stunning views will take in. Experience rural life in the mountains and visit historic sites, both original Indian and leftovers of the British Raj. You will also experience a train ride to Shimla and a ride on the famous Kalka-Shimla 'toy train'. Its twisty roads are what will make you thrill!
You will be staying in a clean, decent, and great accommodation available in the area. In some places, you may be staying in comfortable tented camps in addition to luxury huts or hotel rooms. Your accommodation will be on bed and breakfast basis.
Arrive at Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL). From there, you will be escorted aboard an air-conditioned train to Kalka. At Kalka, you will transfer from the mainline onto the historic 'toy train', made famous by Michael Palin's BBC Himalaya series, up to Shimla at an altitude of 2159 meters. This railway, completed in 1897, packs 103 tunnels, 24 bridges, and 18 stations into 96km and is a spectacular feat of colonial engineering. Small steam trains have now given way to diesel engines, but the rolling stock still reeks of antiquity and the experience is of another age.
It is a day to explore the British Raj's biggest, oldest, and most prominent hill-station. You can enjoy walking the mall, picking out the historic sights, visiting Hindu temples, shopping, or simply enjoy eating at many very good restaurants. Views from the higher vantage points of the town should stretch all the way to the mighty snow-capped peaks of the Great Himalaya. In the evening before dinner, you will be given a full briefing on the adventure ahead.
A full day's ride will carry you into the hills of rural Himachal Pradesh. As with every day of this tour, the views will be simply amazing as you wind your way into the mountains. You will pass through the sacred hot-spring town of Tattapani and travel on into the back of beyond. As with nearly all of this tour, there is barely a straight piece of road and the riding is sublime. Your destination, Mandi (870m), is a thriving market town on the banks of the holy Beas River. You will stay at a characterful heritage hotel which was once the local ruler's palace.
From Mandi, you will head east and up along a sweeping highway. Following this blissful road, the huge hills of the Dhauladhar Range soon will come into view, looming ahead of us. Turning off the highway, you will climb steeply, passing through Dharamsala and up to your hotel, set in a small village on a spectacular valley-side. It is located in a few kilometers above McLeod Ganj.
You have the options to visit McLeod Ganj, a town now famous as home to the exiled Dalai Lama and a huge Tibetan community. The town is very cosmopolitan, colorful, packed with shops and eateries and is a wonderful opportunity for photographers. There are also a few colonial relics to explore, including the St. John in the Wilderness Church. If you prefer something more strenuous, local treks of various durations and severity can be arranged with known local guides.
Today you will leave McLeod Ganj and head over remote hills to Chamba. This is an incredible road and an incredible ride as the tarmac ribbons its way steeply upward, with huge drop-offs and vast panoramic views. Although the distance to be covered is relatively small, the twistiness of the road means this is a whole day's ride, with time to take a few cups of chai and stops to admire the scenery.
You will have the morning to explore the backstreets and important temples of this thriving market town. From Chamba, it is only a short yet very pretty ride to the mountain village of Khajjiar. Set beside a tree-fringed meadow, Khajjiar is famous for its holy lake, temples, and beauty. You will be staying a little way outside the village itself, as there is no adequate accommodation. However, you will have time to explore.
Again, you will be in the hills, following small and quiet roads that carve unfeasibly (and sometimes unnervingly) across the steep hillsides. You will pass through deodar forests and many charming villages with their traditional (and fast-vanishing) wooden houses. On reaching Dharamsala, you'll relax at a terrace restaurant and look miles down to the plains as the sun sets.
From Dharamsala, it's back down to the Kangra valley floor at just 615 meters above sea level. You will pass through Kangra Gorge, where you will have views across to Kangra Fort and continue until you hit the steep hill road up to Rewalsar. This small mountain town is sacred to Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs. The colorful tribespeople can be seen circling the lake chanting prayers. Overlooking the lake there are huge statues of Buddha, monasteries, and temples. It is quite a spot.
It is another day riding in the hills on lesser routes. You will head down from Rewalsar and re-cross Mandi before again climbing on a beautiful minor road and riding through the lush mixed forest. You will descend to the main Manali highway (more like an A or B road) and ride up the twisting left bank of the River Beas to Manali.
Manali is the gateway to the high Himalaya, pinned in on three sides by massive mountains and the point from which adventures to Ladakh and beyond will begin. It is also a thriving tourist hub catering to Indian honeymooners, trekkers, skiers, and mountaineers. In the busy markets, you will find goods from China, Tibet, and Kashmir. Good restaurants abound, whether you're looking for Indian, Tibetan, or western fare. In the area, there are several interesting temples, hot springs, and trekking options. You can also take part in other adventure activities.
It is an early start for a long and very curvaceous ride. Leaving Manali, you will follow the open road on the right bank of the Beas, through busy villages and skirt the district capital, Kullu. Soon the route breaks into a huge canyon with the road carved into the cliff-face, with small shrines and waterfalls littering the splendid scenery.
Around 80 kilometers into the ride, you will quit the highway and hit the rural roads again, climbing several forested passes of around 2400 meters’ elevation. Again, as with every riding day, the scenery will be immensely beautiful. You will end the day at a hill-top hotel, set in pine forest, with wonderful vistas all around.
It is a lesser day in terms of distance. However, you will set off early to give time at the other end. More mountains, forest, and sublime roads await as you climb the hills from Chindi over to the magnificent Sutlej Valley, where you will follow the road up to Narkanda. On a good day, the views from here stretch all the way to the Great Himalayan National Park. A short way off the Shimla-Narkanda highway is Chail, another old Himalayan kingdom. You will stay in the old palace, set in wonderful wooded grounds, which is now converted into a hotel.
From the palace hotel at Chail, you will be transported to Shimla for a look around and last minute shopping. Then down the hill to Kalka by train or road, where you will be ushered aboard the air-conditioned night train to Delhi. Here you will be met by a Blazing Trails representative and escorted to the airport for 11:00 flight home.
All the riding on this tour takes place in the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, which covers 21,500 square miles, consists almost entirely of high mountains and their foothills. Himachal Pradesh is one of India's wealthiest states, gleaning its income from agriculture, tourism, and hydroelectric power. Local handicrafts also add to the economy, with woolen shawls and other textiles being the most commonly seen.
Please book your flight to arrive at Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL). Transfer from and to the airport is included. Blazing Trails Tours will pick you up from the airport.