The mountains have been calling me for years. After having explored a fair bit of Southern India over the last few years, I had been dying to go to the snow-clad mountains of Himachal. So while planning my trip last year, my initial plan was to visit Manali and Dharamshala.
The beautiful images of Dharamshala were still fresh in my mind even after many years. But these days Dharamshala has become a very touristy place. And I was intent on making the most out of this trip. After researching a lot online, I settled on Palampur as an offbeat place to be included in my itinerary. Apparently, Palampur is regarded as a less-explored alternative to the Dharamshala. So I cancelled Dharamshala and added Palampur to my plan.
Drive to Palampur
The drive to Palampur was a long and tiring. Especially since it was the peak summer season. I had expected Palampur to be at least as cool as Manali since it is supposed to be a hill-station. But I realised that we had descended quite a lot. As it turns out, Palampur is actually only at a height of 1250m which is almost half the altitude of Manali. Due to comparatively low altitude, the heat during summer is palpable and although there is enough greenery, it doesn’t quite relieve you of the humidity.
#TravelTip: Ignore the widespread advice given all over internet and avoid going to Palampur in summer.
Estimate your drive time carefully
We started from Manali right at the dawn to avoid as much traffic as possible. We estimated we’d reach Palampur before noon. However, we were late by several hours. During the entire trip, I realized that however safely we estimated, it always took much longer time to reach the destination. This made me learn a valuable lesson about travelling in the mountains, albeit the hard way –
#TravelTip: In the mountains, distance has no correlation to the drive time so plan your itinerary carefully.
For much of the journey, it was a fun drive alongside the Beas river. Some of the stretches were breathtakingly beautiful.
First impressions of Palampur
After the long and hard journey, when we finally reached Palampur, it felt like we had time-travelled back in time.
Palampur felt like a sleepy little town stuck in time from a different era.
It was quiet, peaceful and no-one seemed to be in any sort of hurry. Throughout the trip, I could see many remnants of yesteryear here which are hard to find these days in any modern city. A dusty old PCO booth, for instance, stood quietly at a corner of a shop. If not for the modern-day amenities such as mobile and internet, it’d feel like time itself had stood still here.
Although I had high expectations of this place, the landscape was not as impressive as I had imagined. There are vast tea gardens pretty much all over Palampur. In fact, the entire Kangra valley is known for its tea gardens and its own variety of tea known as the Kangra tea. But in my opinion, the tea landscapes of Munnar and Kodaikanal are far more beautiful.
Our simple stay
During our trips, my wife and I both usually prefer staying in full-fledged hotels; sometimes even expensive ones. But this time, we wanted to experience the authentic feel of the place and hence we chose a simple place from Airbnb. Also, as far as we noticed, there aren’t really any expensive hotels to stay in Palampur. Mostly since it is just a small village and apparently doesn’t have a municipal corporation of its own yet.
Our host was an adorable local family. The place, Shriya homestay, was named after the cute granddaughter of the family.
One of the things which made our trip memorable was the hospitality of our hosts and the beautiful view from our room. It almost felt like we were staying at one of our relatives’ place. We were way late in arriving at the place than planned and had totally forgotten to inform them about our lunch plans. But they were kind enough to ask us on arrival and even prepared lunch for us. Even though it was quite late in the afternoon.
The place was simple but clean with all the required essentials. There were no other guests at that time so we got the entire top floor to ourselves. It had a huge terrace with a beautiful view of the Dhauladhar mountain range. After dinner, we sat with the family and chatted till late at night. Shriya was quite a lively, witty little girl who kept us talking non-stop. If you ever plan to visit Palampur, I’d highly recommend you staying at Mr JC’s house. You can book the place on Airbnb here.
#Traveltip: You can use my referral link here to book your Airbnb stay and avail a discount of up to INR 2200 on bookings of INR 5000 and above
There isn’t much to see around Palampur. You mainly go there just to experience the silence and the mountains. However Mr JC had arranged for a cab, a driver he has known for years, for us to drive to a few local spots. We didn’t have anything planned so we hopped on.
Taragarh palace hotel
We visited this place on the recommendation of our driver. It is an old palace converted into a heritage hotel. We were charged an entry fee of INR 600. You can reimburse the amount as food coupon if you decide to have lunch at the restaurant inside, which unsurprisingly will cost you more than INR 600 any which way. We had a simple daal-rice and paid about Rs. 1000!
We roamed around the place aimlessly. The only thing worth seeing is a small hallway from the main entrance where you can see the photos of the royal family. But apart from that, there is really nothing to see there. Upon enquiring with the office, the hotel manager asked a lady to show us around. She gave us a “detailed” tour of the place, filling us with loads of seemingly unnecessary information such as the depth of the swimming pool and the length of the badminton court!
While the property is undoubtedly nice with lots of greenery and has a royal feel to it, it’s mostly just a hotel. I don’t see the point of visiting this place unless you’re actually staying there.
Sobha Singh Art Gallery
Sardar Sobha Singh was a famous painter from the Kangra region. The art gallery is a popular local attraction, especially among art lovers. This was his home where he spent a lot of his time and created some of his very popular paintings. It is quite a humble place and there isn’t really much to see except the everyday things of Sobha Singh and some of his iconic paintings.
While many paintings of Sobha Singh are very famous, The Kangra bride particularly seems to be quite popular. You’d see it in many places throughout Himachal Pradesh including our homestay.
Apart from these, we went exploring a few other nearby places such as Saurabh Van Vihar and Neugal Cafe on a motorbike, which our host was kind enough to rent us. I enjoyed the drive more than any of the locations. Palampur is a pretty small place with very few places that’d interest any serious traveller.
Other famous local attractions include Baijnath temple and Tashi Jong monastery. Not being of a very religious kind, we preferred to skip those.
Paragliding at Bir Billing
Paragliding at Bir Billing was the biggest highlight of our Palampur trip. If we hadn’t visited there, I think our Palampur trip would have been quite uneventful. It was one of the main reasons for me to plan for Palampur in the first place. After all, Bir is called the Paragliding capital of India.
It was the most thrilling adventure activity that I’ve ever done. It took a lot of travelling, multiple phone calls to vendors, waiting for hours, more travelling to the take-off site, signing an indemnity for the organizers in the event of my death and a couple of thousand bucks. But, in the end, it was all worth the experience.
Should you be visiting Palampur?
As you’d have guessed by now, Palampur is not a place for everyone. Mr JC told us that a lot of foreign tourists who came there usually just enjoyed the view and meditated in their rooms pretty much all day. So, if you’re looking for a peaceful break from the hustle and bustle of the busy city life, you can give this place a try. But if you’re looking for some fun activities and interesting local attractions, you’d probably be disappointed.
Also read: My experience of visting Manali in Summer