Like every other passionate, hitch-hike thirsty and overexcited 20-something student, I too wanted to just go – with no knowledge about the journey or the destination. While most people search for ‘offbeat destinations in India’ online – I was lucky enough to come across one such place by the recommendation of a friend. Perhaps this is the way it should be. Otherwise it wouldn’t really be offbeat, would it? We went for a week-long workshop to Palampur, Himachal Pradesh.
Well, the exact location of the place would be a small village called Kandbari in Dhraman, en route Baijnath from Palampur, Himachal Pradesh. This was the first time both of us were to travel alone. But before the journey, we were able to get in touch with a couple of participants of the workshop and majority of the participants from Delhi decided to travel by bus. And that was one of the best decisions made. Nearly 10-15 of us met in the bus. The drive from Delhi to Dhraman was nearly 10 hours (overnight), so it is good to have company. The Himachal Pradesh Roadways deluxe bus by which we went there was comfortable enough. The view after 6AM was beautiful as we neared the hills. The first sight of the hills here is sure to make you feel how beautiful India is indeed. The only word that describes the place is ‘breath taking’. The campus in itself is quite simple and standard, but the surrounding makes it amazing. Cradled in the laps of the Dhauladhar Hills with the sound of the nearby stream constantly ringing in my ears, the quiet environment and the cool wind – after a crazy month at college, what more could have we demanded?
I was never a morning person, but the place made me one. There was a small river (stream) flowing 10 minutes away from the campus. Waking up at 6:30 AM for a walk by that river was absolutely worth it. The water so clear and the air so cool, it was a refreshing experience. With a little difficulty, you could find a nice rock to sit on and look at the water. You’d never get bored. In my five day stay, I was able to go down to the stream thrice! And it never disappointed me.
You must realize that Dhraman, Palampur or any other place in a 10 km radius is a perfect escape getaway into nature’s lap. There are no luxury hotels, no fancy restaurants, no upper end markets. All you will get are simple rooms, even simpler food and a local market (only at Palampur) with no local specialties. It is a paradise for nature lovers and a nightmare for adventure junkies.
Determined to look at tourist spots – even if they did not exist – we decided to the visit Tashi Jong Monastry. One could take a local bus towards Baijnath which will drop you in the middle of the route following which is an easy 20 minute walk towards the monastery. So after a lot of travelling early in the morning made us wonder whether we’d be happy with the results. But believe us, it was truly a wonderful experience. We hadn’t been to any monastery before, so this was our first experience. The bonus was the fact that there was an annual festival going on there. Festivities were in the air and the vibe could be felt all through the monastery.
Tashi Jong boasts of being the first smoke free village in the country and is spic and span. The people are very friendly and good to talk to. There are a number or two small eating places near the monastery run by the locals who are happy to help anytime. We even managed to spend some time with some young monks who were very camera-frenzied. What chirpy souls!
Talking of Palampur, it can be reached by buses which are quite frequent (they pass by every 20-30 minutes). Palampur is nothing like a main stream hill station. It feels like another place in itself – nothing even remotely close to the fast paced life of a typical Indian city. The people are laid back, the market place is extremely simple, there are hardly any street lights, there is no specialty, no mall road.
There are quite a few restaurants and bakeries that offer simple food. The market is closed on Monday and the fact that even the locals failed to point that out to us on our journey to the market made us realize how confined the town is to itself.
If you wish to shop some souvenirs you could stop by at the state tourism emporiums that sell decent textile handicrafts. A Café Coffee Day is one of the only national food chains present. So if you’re looking for excellent restaurant food, you might be disappointed. Neugal café which gets its name from the Neugal Khand nearby, is the one eatery every local swears by. Very simple by Delhi standards, it offers Indian, Chinese and continental food. This is one of the few attractions in Palampur.
On the way to the café you can find tea gardens on both sides of the road. Well, Palampur is the lesser known tea capital of northwest India and is famous for Kangra tea. So do try out the Kangra tea if you happen to be in Palampur.
Areas near Palampur are beautiful and absolute paradise for hill lovers. Clean fresh air and an inviting weather, one can spend time doing absolutely nothing here.
There are a couple of more tourist spots that one could check out. Andretta Pottery – small gallery perfect for foreigners – is one such place. The Taragarh Palace owned by the royal family of the erstwhile Princely state of Jammu & Kashmir is a heritage property in Palampur which boasts of scenic views of the hills. The palace has a restaurant as well. Entry into the place requires reservation in advance. If you ask the locals, they could direct you to a couple of temples in the hills. The Baijnath Temple, 45 minutes from Palampur is a famous stone cut temple in Baijnath. Be sure to take a local with you, lest you lose your way in the hills. Else nothing, grab a sweet spot to go with tea/coffee and enjoy the beauty of a fading sun over the hills or simply be enchanted by the shimmering stars that take over the night sky.
If visiting Palampur, a good option would be to combine the trip with a visit to nearby places like Dharamshala, McLeod Ganj, Bir or similar.
This article has been contributed by Deeksha Tandon and Arushi Aggarwal.