Himachal Pradesh is one of the popular tourist destinations in India. Snow-laden mountains, verdant valleys, laidback vibe, scenic hamlets, a plethora of trekking trails and abundant natural beauty, all contribute to the charm of this Abode of Snow. Add to that, the state also boasts an extensive road network and other modes of transportation so that travellers can get around easily. Here’s our guide to the different ways of travelling to and getting around Himachal Pradesh.
Himachal Pradesh has three domestic airports – Kullu-Manali Airport in Bhuntar, Dharamsala Airport (also, known as Kangra Airport) in Gaggal near Kangra, and Shimla Airport in Jubberhatti, approx. 13.6 miles from Shimla. These airports are well-connected with major cities in India via regular flights (with stops) by Air India. There are many private cabs/taxis operating at these airports, so reaching your destination won’t be a hassle.
Point to note: During winter, several flights do not operate due to harsh weather conditions.
Because of the rugged mountainous terrain, building up new railway lines in Himachal is hard, hence only some areas have rail connectivity. The Kangra Valley Railway is the major railway line that serves Himachal. It runs from Pathankot (Punjab) to Jogindernagar (Himachal). You can take a flight or drive up to Punjab, and then take a train from Pathankot, which takes approximately eight hours to reach Himachal Pradesh.
The easiest and scenic way to reach Shimla, capital of Himachal Pradesh, is by taking the Kalka-Shimla Toy Train. Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this tourist train service connects Kalka (Haryana) and Shimla (Himachal). It runs for nearly 60 miles, passing through 18 railway stations, 864 bridges, 102 tunnels and 900 curves. With changing landscapes encompassing mountains, picturesque valleys, lush forests of pine and oak, and misty meadows, the journey is breathtaking. It takes approximately six hours to reach Shimla. Along the way, you will pass through some stunning destinations. Some of the major passenger points are Dharampur, Solan, Kandaghat, Tara Devi, Barog, Salogra, Totu, and Summerhill – in that order.
The trains operating on Kalka-Shimla route include: Shivalik Deluxe Express that can accommodate 120 passengers, Rail Motor Car has the capacity of 14 passengers; Himalayan Queen, Shimla Express and Shimla Kalka Passenger are the standard train services. Two special heritage carriages also operate on the Kalka-Shimla route: Shivalik Queen Tourist Coach and Shivalik Palace Tourist Coach. These special carriages operate on selected dates only from March until September. In the high season, particularly summer months (April-June), due to the heavy tourist influx, two special holiday trains run on this route.
You can make reservations online on the Indian Railway official website, or at the Indian Railway booking counter. It is advisable that you book your tickets ahead of time, especially if you’re travelling during a holiday period.
Road is perhaps the best and the most efficient way of travelling to Himachal Pradesh. The state is well connected to the major cities via road. Moreover, because of erratic flight schedules to Himachal Pradesh, travellers often prefer taking a cab/bus ride instead of flying.
One of the best routes to reach Himachal via road is from Delhi. You can take a bus or hire a cab from Delhi. However, it is advisable to travel by day, as Himachal roads can be notoriously challenging in some places. Otherwise, they are well laid out.
Point to note: Some of the roads remain closed during monsoon and winter due to landslides and snowfall. So, plan your vacation accordingly.
Travelling by bus is cheaper and perfect for travellers on a tight budget. Buses are the major form of public transportation, and there is an extensive network of them operating in and around the state. The Himachal Tourism and Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) run a fleet of government buses from Delhi and neighbouring cities to Himachal, including AC Sleeper, Volvo AC, Volvo AC Sleeper, AC Seater, Non-AC Seater and Non-AC Sleeper. Most of the buses ply between Delhi and Shimla, Manali, Kullu and Khajjiar on a regular basis. As Himachal has mountainous terrain, expect to have a bumpy bus ride.
How to book HPTDC bus: You can book a bus ticket through the online bus reservation system, and the booking can be made up to 12 hours before the departure time.
If you prefer driving yourself to Himachal Pradesh, there are eight national highways and 19 state highways, thus making travel via road smooth, easy and quick.
The extensive and well-laid road network in the state makes the intercity travel easy and comfortable. To travel within Himachal with the least expense, take local public transportation – local buses, auto rickshaws, shared shuttles and taxis – you can choose the mode as per your need, budget and personal comfort requirements. Auto rickshaws are available across the state, but they generally have their specific area in which they operate and do not go beyond their zone.
Though buses aren’t the first choice of many, but to travel within Himachal, this is an ideal and cost-effective option to travel one place to another. In fact, the local buses are one of the best ways to see the small hamlets and towns along the way that you might have missed otherwise. The Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) is a state-run bus service that offers intra-city and inner city buses within the state, even in the remote areas. At present, these buses operate in the following areas of Himachal – Shimla, Kangra, Dharamshala, Mandi, Manali, Kullu, Palampur and Chamba. These buses run at regular intervals and are affordable. HRTC bus tickets can be booked 30 days in advance at counters or online. Also, the HPTDC offers buses for local sightseeing tours. There are also shared jeeps operating from Manali to Lahaul and Spiti.
You can even opt for a taxi if you’re travelling with a group, otherwise it may prove to be expensive.