Nestled between picturesque mountains, at the banks of the Ravi river, is the small town called Chamba. Under the influence of the Ravi, with higher peaks surrounding, Chamba was named by King Rajesh Sahil after his daughter Champavati. Bound by Jammu and Kashmir on the west and north-west side, Ladhakh and Lahaul on the north-east and east, Kangra on the south east and Punjab, the Chamba district is home to about 50000 people.
Chamba is linked to various major cities like Delhi, Shimla and Chandigarh. One can always drive from Shimla to Chamba. Another option is to take a train from Delhi to Pathankot, from where the town can be reached via car in around 4 hours. It is about 470 km away from Manali and around 230 km away from Jammu.
The actual town on Chamba is on top of a mountain, between even higher peaks. Further down the mountain and near the base, running parallel to the river, is the small town of Sultanpur, also considered a part of Chamba. The centre of the town is a huge, grassy terraced land called the Chowgan. The Chowgan is where everyone meets in the evenings, and where social get-togethers and sports events are held. Bordering the Chowgan on two sides is a growing market, where one not only finds great chat, there are shops selling items of every description. There are fish vendors, meat vendors, silver shops, electrical appliance stores, tiny cafes, clothes stores, sabzi mandis and various painting and handicraft shops. The town is also famous for its Pahari paintings. From the market one can clearly see the renowned Laxmi Narayan temple atop a peak, a must visit for everyone. It’s simple structure and beauty attract all tourists. There is also a famous Chamunda Devi temple, built by Raja Umed Singh and is the only wooden temple with a gabled roof. The town in the evenings makes for a mystical sight, with soft lights and colourfully dressed people. The charm of this town was amply used by Subhash Ghai in his film, Taal.
The town of Sultanpur, situated at the base of the mountains, in the valley, also makes for a great visit. One can sit by the river, simply listening to its roar, or visit the open rice fields. The houses are open and some even grow their own vegetables. The town is surrounded by mountains on all sides, and on a clear day, one can even see snow capped mountains far away near the horizon.
There are small schools, with open courtyards where children are always playing, quite like a scene from a movie. There is even a palace called the Rang Mahal, named for it colourful structure. The small palace of the local royal family is filled with relics and pictures and makes for a refreshing visit.
The best time to visit Chamba is during the months of March to June, during the summer. The weather in summer is cool and comfortable. However, for those who live in hot climates, winter would be an unforgettable experience. With light snowfall, the town looks like the perfect postcard.
Surrounding Chamba are three great places for tourists: Khajjiar, Dalhousie and Bharmaur. Khajjiar is a flat grassy plateau, where people can indulge in horse riding and even go for hot air balloon rides. One can easily drive down to it. With great flat grounds, it is ideal for a picnic and even has a couple of resorts where one gets to eat great food. Men and women carrying cameras and an assortment of the local dresses and heavy silver jewellery roam around, dressing up tourists and taking their pictures for a small fee. The greenery is refreshing, and there is even a small lake than one can sit by. It is an ideal place for relaxed Sunday with family or friends.
Dalhousie is a small hillstation about three hours drive away from Chamba, just near the Dalaudhar region. It has a mix of cultures, with the bhangra dancing and singing of the Punjabis who often come to the region and the quiet and restful nature of the Pahadis. It is famous for unusual handicrafts and miniature paintings sold there. There are various shops selling beautifully crafted jewellery specific to the region. There are three mall roads in Dalhousie, which are long lanes that were initially made for carriages and horses that are always teeming with activity. Dalhousie is a unique hill station, and few leave Chamba without having visited it for at least a whole day.
Bharmaur is a town 70km away from Chamba. One should go by car, for the drive is beautiful, with delightful waterfalls and beautiful flora. One can even catch a glimpse of the famous Mount Kailash, the abode of the Lord Shiva, on their way to Bharmaur. Bharmaur has various temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and the Nandi Bull. The architecture of these temples is simple and beautiful. The drive and the temples make Bharmau a must visit.
The town of Chamba is an ideal place for an escape from the fast paced city life. Though most people would not term it as an idea holiday destination, Chamba has a charm of its own. One gets involved in the town and its life almost as if it were their own. It does not have any fancy tourist resorts, or adventure sports, but anyone who goes there feels calm and relaxed, and very much at home. For anyone who likes the idea of quiet holidays, with walks in the evening, aloo chat in the markets and the serenity of a town, all cozily existing in the middle of beautiful mountains, Chamba is the place to be.