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The Kangra region in Himachal Pradesh has become synonymous with Dharamshala-McLeodganj of late. However, this region has much more to offer beyond that. Dharamshala surely is a delightful place but has become too popular, making the streets choke with people and prices soar. It is still possible to enjoy them if you know where to find good deals for your stay. It has great options for those who just want to eat, sleep, party, and relax. But for those who are looking to do more, I am putting together this guide to help you enjoy Kangra better.
As a budget traveller I still prefer to keep searching for means to save money, and get discounts. My usual penchant for extreme budget accommodations and public transport is known to the regular readers. Of late I have been using Cashkaro which gives me cahsbacks for almost all sorts of purchases under the sun. Unlike other sites, I actually get the cash in my account rather than as coupons and so I can spend them on local homestays that you will find in the places mentioned below.
What exactly are the things to do in Kangra?
Kangra offers great views of the outer Himalayas, or to be precise the Dhauladhar Mountains. As expected, it is a great area for trekking. These areas are not very challenging in terms of altitude so these treks can be great for beginners. If you are looking for more adventure activities, you can consider paragliding in Bir-Billing. Kangra also has a special place for the lovers of art and culture. The potter’s village in Andretta comes to mind when someone mentions this and also many inner villages are now exploring more modern art forms. However, the Kangra has a long history with miniature paintings. The Kangra school of miniature paintings is one of the primary schools of Pahari Miniature Paintings.
Also, as you might know already, Tibetan Buddhist exiles have a great presence in the region. Dalai Lama himself resides in McLeodganj and the Tibetan government in exile operates from there too. Apart from Dharamshala, Bir also has a significant Tibetan population.
Another attraction here is the Kangra Tea, which has its own unique flavour just like its counterparts in Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri teas. If you enjoy walking around the lush green tea plantations, reach Palampur.
Kangra train is the least known mountain railway line in India. They start from Pathankot and takes you to Palampur and Jogindernagar. Authorities are now pushing it to make it a UNESCO heritage property just like its other cousins in Shimla and Darjeeling. It moves slowly and you cannot book tickets online for these ones. But the views you get are worth the trouble.
So, what are the other important spots in Kangra apart from Dharamshala and McLeodganj?
- Palampur: Palampur is a nice little town with nice views, colonial bungalows, and lush green tea gardens. The next three destinations are not very far from here. So, you can use it as a base to explore them one by one.
- Bir-Billing: As mentioned already, Bir has a Tibetan settlement and the usual monasteries, fancy restaurants and shops they are known for. Billing is the upper region 14 KM away from Bir. It is basically a high cliff from where paragliders can jump, fly around for a while, and then land on the fields of Bir. All the service providers, guides, and equipment for this purpose are available on the spot. I spent some quality time in Bir last year as you can see from this post.
- Bajinath: Baijnath has an ancient Shiva temple dating back to 13th century. It is a beautiful structure that deserves a visit by all heritage lovers.
- Andretta: Andretta is a small village but it was developed in the 1920s as an artist’s colony by Irish theater artist and environmentalist Norah Richards. Now you can consider learning some pottery or just explore the artistic heritage of the village.
- Kangra: Kangra town lends the name to the entire district. Most people just pass through it but a visit to the majestic Kangra Fort is worth the time.
- Masroor: Masroor Rock Cut Temple Complex costs of a series of monolithic temples. One can call it the Ellora of the Himalayas in that sense but strangely not many people know of it. You will have to set aside a day for it as it needs a diversion from the main route leading towards Dharamsala.
- Barot Valley: The delightful Barot Valley can be reached easily from Jogindernagar, which is the last station of the Kangra Railway. It is a high altitude valley located along the hilly river of the same name. It is divided equally between the Kangra and Kullu district. It has so many delights to offer that I will have to write a separate guide for it someday. Till then you can enjoy my Barot pictures from last summer here.
What are the main trekking routes in Kangra?
The Triund-Indrahara trek is the best-known beginners trek in the region. You can do Triund in a day from McLeodganj or spend the night up there. Tents, food, blankets, and other amenities will be offered by shopkeepers at the top. Going upwards to Indrahara Pass takes more effort, and probably a guide and supplies as you will have to spend a night in the caves en route. You can either come back after topping the pass or cross over to the other side, i.e. the Chamba district. The complete thing will take around 4 days. I have done Triund twice but failed to reach Indrahara due to various issues. In the past, I have written both about the standalone Triund Trek and the unsuccessful Indrahara trek.
Another good trek that can be done in the region is the Kareri Lake trek that can be done n 2-3 days from Dharamsala. I personally have not done it so don’t have any photographs as yet.
The Barot valley also has numerous small favourite around it. It is also possible to cross over to the Kullu side from here through dense mountainous forests. However, these are not very well-marked routes and you will do well to get a local guide to do the same.
How does one reach and travel around Kangra?
As mentioned already, you can surely enjoy the delights of the mountain railway in this region at very negligible costs. Otherwise, they are pretty well connected with the HRTC buses and roads are good enough if you have your own vehicle. For those who are in a hurry, the airport is at Gaggal near Kangra town. It is well connected with Delhi and you can find some useful flight deals below.
What is the best season to visit Kangra?
Kangra can be visited throughout the year. My personal favorite is the post monsoon months but this only my preference. If you love snow, then January and February are the months. Summers are full of colours but be a bit careful in the monsoons as things might get slippery.