An Underappreciated Beauty
Himachal Pradesh is known to be the “snow-laden province”, the “land of gods and goddesses”, and a million other grandiose things. But it is also much more than that. Himachal Pradesh is constantly reduced to its great heights, its untouchable sceneries, and its breathtaking mountaintops, but it comes with a plethora of beautiful human experiences that are more common to us than we realize. And yet, there is still something about these experiences that exude a charm specific to only Himachal Pradesh. Here is a list of specialties of Himachal Pradesh. Festivals While the low population may make it seem otherwise, Himachal is in no dearth of celebration and festivities. A tourist favorite, the Pori festival graces the month of July with high energy and festivity. Pilgrims from all over the country chime in together with chants and prayers, while orbiting around the gallery of the famous Trilok Nath Temple in Udaipur, Himachal Pradesh. A highlight of the festival that goes beyond the singing and dancing, is the ceremony involving a horse without a rider, which is led in a procession, to represent being ridden by the Lord himself. The horse is later ridden by the local ruler, which then signals the continuation of the festivities. Another festival that is considered to be a cultural landmine is the Halda festival, which is generally celebrated in Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh. Lasting nearly two days, the festival can be considered Himachal’s own version of Diwali. Adorned with lights, the city sits around warm bonfires and enjoys stunning dance performances, and offers their food and devotion to the deity Shiksar Apa, the Goddess of Wealth. Essentially, the Halda festival is their celebration of the New Year, and is celebrated in the chill air of January. It offers a lifetime of memories and unique sights, and is an experience that should not be missed. Culture An underappreciated aspect of Himachal Pradesh is its culture and its history. There is a lot of sophistication and nuance to be explored within their culture, which can especially be seen in their value of art and art history. Their art has bloomed from cultural strain and religious beliefs. This is on display in the Thangka paintings, which can be found in northeastern states as well, that display various scenes from Buddha’s life, as well as morals that can be learned from His story. These paintings are prepared on silk or linen canvases, giving them a unique quality. Ancient murals adorn the state, depicting not only devotion to different deities, but also artistic brilliance. People spend their daily lives around these colourful paintings, unaware of their allure. The apex of Himachal’s cultural appreciation comes from the Museum of Himachal Culture and Folk Art, founded in 1998. Located near the famed Hidimba Devi, the small museum boasts a collection of models portraying forts, houses, temples, as well as cultural elements such as traditional clothes, instruments, and more. People and Language As many know, the official language of Himachal Pradesh is Hindi and like many other northern Indian states it is used for official and educational purposes. However, what shouldn’t be erased is the many, many Pahari variations that are spoken in different parts of the state. There exist many tribes as well, with their own cultures and histories that are rarely spoken of. The Gujjar tribe (western Himachal Pradesh) are nomadic, moving from region to region with their cattle herds. They also move from the hills to the plains in the summer. The Lahauli tribe, who are well-known for their Halda festival, are also traditional fairs, colourful clothing, and jewelry. Another prevalent tribe is the Kinnauri tribe, known to be the successors of the Kinners of the Vedic times. Each of these tribes speaks their own variations of Hindi, such as Kinnauri and Lahul Lohar. Cuisine Alongside exquisite culture comes exquisite cuisine! Himachal Pradesh thrives in its local cuisine, in the sense that its delicacies are accessible to all, and are best served with a native’s flair. The Dham, which is essentially rajma (kidney beans), moong dal (green lentils), and curd with rice, is known by most tourists, and is mastered and remastered by locals in nearly every festival which, according to them, would be incomplete without Dham. An underappreciated delicacy would be the lasode, which is a seasonal glue berry, special to very few Indian states. The berry is seasoned with chilli and other spices regularly used by Himachal natives, giving it just the right mix of sour and spicy. For non-vegetarians, a local side dish that is often a worthy accompaniment to mutton, is Siddhu. This is made from wheat flour, in a painstaking process that is worth every flavourful bite, at the end. For those with a sweet tooth, Babru is a go-to. A regional variation of the famous poori, babru is made of wheat flour, which is then stuffed with black gram dal, resulting in a lip-smacking dish. Places to Visit Himachal Pradesh has an extraordinary air of devotion, simply because of the presence of so many temples. The famed Sankat Mochan temple, used from simple prayers to elaborate weddings, is one devoted to Lord Hanuman, and has grown from a small shrine to a three-storied building. Another prominent temple is the Naina Devi temple, dedicated to the goddess Durga, which is said to have been the exact spot where she was cut into fifty pieces by Lord Vishnu, to pacify Lord Shiva. The Jakhoo Temple is a unique temple situated at the height of 8000 ft. above sea level. Experiencing this temple would involve trekking nearly 2500 ft., as well as viewing the intricate, 108 ft. tall Lord Hanuman statue beside it. Legend says that this temple was commissioned by Sage Yaaku, who helped Lord Hanuman himself find the Sanjeevni herb. Himachal Pradesh also offers scenic, transformative train rides, that bring you the most gorgeous views with just one look out the window. An example of this is the Kalka-Shimla toy train, which was constructed in 1903, that provides a five hour-long journey across Himachal Pradesh, with 20 stops. And of course, trekking is something that can not go without being mentioned in conversations about Himachal Pradesh. The 9000 ft. trek of Kheer Ganga in Kasol is a must-do, with its views of the frothy Kheer Ganga river amidst the mountains. Another water body amongst mountains that might catch your attention, the Prashar Lake, which requires a trek of 2 days, displaying the Dhauladhar, Pir Panjal, and Kinnaur mountain ranges. Judging by the aforementioned festivities, treks, food, and more, the best time to visit this beautiful state would be during the first half of the year, encompassing the late winter and early summer. The months between January and June will allow you to experience the festivities as well as weather that is not as harsh, and pleasant enough for trekking. While Himachal Pradesh has a lot to offer in terms of its aesthetic and its beauty, to many, it is a site of retreat from the world weighing down on them. It is where one can bask in its cultural, culinary, and historic glory, while blowing off steam, and healing.