3 must-visit hill stations in Himachal Pradesh
Visiting Kasauli is like spending the summer with your grandparents. It’s hard to resist the soothing pleasure of visiting old stone churches and listening to the warble of birds while walking along endless forest pathways. Being a cantonment town, with minimal private construction, the tiny hill station of Kasauli looks very much like it must have a hundred years ago. You don’t have to venture far from your hotel to reach a forested mountain road with only birdsong for the company and a magnificent view around the corner.
The cobble-stoned lane winding through its main market, and the cheerful, if ageing bungalows with sloping roofs and flowers blooming effortlessly in their gardens, all seem to belong to another time. The best way of enjoying Kasauli is to just give in to the all-pervading nostalgia. Walk, don’t drive; don’t turn on the TV, gather over a carrom board instead. Rediscover the pleasures of doing very little, very slowly.
Lush deodar forests, the highest cricket ground in the world and a palace hotel are Chail’s top draws. The solitude simply adds to its quaint charm. Chail was always meant to be, quite literally, anti-Shimla. Bhupinder Singh, the larger-than-life Maharaja of Patiala (1900–38), transformed this tiny village into a summer capital for himself when he was apparently banned from Shimla after trying to elope with the British Viceroy’s daughter. Given the maharaja’s vivid personality, there may well be some truth to the story. His imprint is all too evident – in the palace and on the cricket grounds of the Military School. Chail may not have the colonial architecture of Shimla, but it has its own magic: of dense chir (pine) and deodar forests, of mesmerising views, bird watching at dawn and dazzling stars at night.
North India’s blue-chip hill station, Shimla is alive with the buzz of restaurants, cafes and splendid Raj architecture. Think hill station and you’ll think Shimla. The British established many mountain retreats for their heat-sapped officers, but Shimla was special. In 1864, it was declared the summer capital of British India and viceroys and Maharajas built their mansions here. Gothic churches and grand public buildings completed the historic charm. Regrettably today, as the capital of Himachal Pradesh and a favourite holiday spot for North India, Shimla has seen feverish building activity. Still, for all its crowds and construction, Shimla’s beauty hasn’t faded.