Located in the colorful and culturally rich union territory of Punjab, Amritsar is one of India’s most prominent cities. It is home to India’s most revered Sikh shrine, the Harminder Sahib also called the Golden Temple. Amritsar holds both historical and mythological significance for Indians. It was one of the most important cirties during the Indian freedom struggle and witnessed the brutal massacre of Jallianwala Bagh. Amritsar was established in the 16th century by Guru Ramdas, the fourth guru of the Sikhs. It happens to be the seat of the highest temporal authority of Sikhs called the Akal Takht. Hindus also feel a strong association with Amritsar as Sita is believed to have spent a considerable amount of time at Valmiki ashram located at Ram tirth nearby. Amritsar, being home to the Golden Temple, attracts a large number of visitors all year round. However, it is not just the temples and historical places inside Amritsar that are worth visiting. Amritsar is surrounded by several amazing getaways which are worth a visit. From religious pilgrim centers to lovely mountains with scenic views, these getaways have something for all kinds of visitors. Here are some excellent weekend getaways from Amritsar that should absolutely not be missed.
Dharamsala located in the Kangra valley is set amidst the stunning Dhualadhar range. It offers some of the most picturesque views in north east India. Dharmasala is divided into two parts – Upper Dharamsala and Lower Dharamsala. Lower Dharamsala is where most of the government offices, schools and hospitals are located. It is also home to the beautiful HPCA cricket stadium. Upper Dharamsala nown more popularly as Mcleod Ganj is the seat of Tibetan spiritual leader His Holyness The Dalai Lama. It is also one of north India’s biggest tourist attractions. With some amazing cafes and restaurants overlooking astonishing mountain views and a wide variety of tourists from all across the globe, Mcleod Ganj is a melting pot of cultures and a great place to meet new people and make new friends.
Distance from Amritsar: 208 km (approximately 4 hours and 10 minutes)
Best time to go: Dharamsala can be visited all year round. The winters here are extremely cold though. So the best time to visit Dharamsala is from March to June. Summers in Dahramsala are extremely pleasant and perfect for sight-seeing. When the rest of the country suffers with scorching heat, Dharamsala serves as a relieving getaway.
Where to stay: Dharamsala has several accommodation options for all budgets. Hotel Eagles Nest (contact: +91-92184-02822) is perhaps the most expensive hotel here with rooms costing anywhere between Rs 3,000 to Rs 6500 per night. There are several mid-range hotels that offer facilities like heated water, internet and in-house restaurant. Rooms in these hotels cost between Rs 1,000 to Rs 3,000. Some options worth considering are Hotel Bhagsu (contact: +91-1772860601) that offers rooms for Rs 1200 to Rs 2800, Hotel Tibet (contact: +91-1892-221426) with rooms costing between Rs 900 and Rs 1200 and Zambala Guest House (contact: +91-1892-221121) where the tariff is between Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000. Dharamsala has abundant options for budget accommodation as it is thronged by backpackers every year. Rooms in these hotels go out for Rs 200 to Rs 500 (sometimes lesser). Some options worth considering are Om Hotel (contact: +91-1892-221313), Ekant Lodge (contact: +91-98168-19228) and Green Hotel (contact:+91-1892-221200).
Sight-seeing: Dharamsala is full of scenic as well as cultural delights when it comes to tourist places of interest. The Bhagsunag waterfall is famous among nature lovers and is just an hour’s trek from Mcleod Ganj. If you are into art and culture, you must visit the Norbulingka institute which is home to the Losell Doll museum. Namgyal monastery, which is the Dalai Lama’s temple, is The Naam art gallery is another great place to learn about Tibetan history. For nature lovers, the 3-hour trek to Triund is the best thing to do in Dharamsala as it takes you through some spectacular views even before you reach the top. You can rent out a tent at Triund and spend the night under a billion stars. The landscape changes you see from morning to evening to night at Triund are just breathtaking to say the least.
Tips to keep in mind: If you plan to spend the night at Triund, make sure you carry warm clothes with you. It becomes extremely cold at night.
Delhi is India’s capital and also one of the most vibrant places to visit in the country. Delhi is the only city in India where you can see an amazing contrast of modern high-rise buildings and age-old historic structures that have been preserved so well. On the one hand you have offices and industries running the economy and politics of the nation and on the other, you have pubs, restaurants, monuments and tourist attractions that attract visitors from all across the globe. Delhi’s colourful lifestyle and zestful pace of life makes it a fine city to visit. From the moment you land here, you can feel the vibe of a city which has been destroyed and re-created several times thorugh history and has stood the test of time. In a lot of ways, Delhi is the best window you can get to the country named India.
Distance from Amritsar: 450 km (approximately 7 hours by road)
Best time to go: It is best to avoid Delhi during summers as they are extremely harsh. Delhi’s winter too is quite extreme but can be dealt with if you are wearing the right clothes. Therefore, the best time to visit Delhi is October to March. This is when you can easily get all the sight-seeing done.
Where to stay: Delhi has several accommodation options ranging from luxury to budget. If you are near Aerocity metro station, your best choice for a luxurious stay is The JW Marriot (011 4521 2121). It has rooms starting at around Rs 13000 a night. Vivanta by Taj (011 6600 3000) in Dwarka is another good option with rooms starting at around Rs 7000. There are more lavish places to stay in Delhi like The Oberoi, The Leela Palace and The Lodhi. The Pahar Ganj area near Delhi railway station is full of budget accommodation options. You ust need to pick one based on your convenience and choice of hygiene level.
Sightseeing: There are few places in India which will give you so many options for sight-seeing as Delhi. You will be spoilt for choice as Delhi has everything from historical monuments to busy markets, temples and mosques to hep pubs and clubs. You can start with the famous Red fort which is one of India’s most popular monuments. The lively market of Chandni chowk is just nearby and you can get a taste of Delhi’s street delicacies here. You will also witness one of the busiest bazaars of India in action. You can then head to the huge and magnificent Akshradham temple. The boat tour here is a must for anyone who is interested in India’s history and culture. You can also enjoy the colourful light and sound show at Akshardham temple. The Jama masjid, which is the oldest mosque in India, is another must-visit tourist attraction in Delhi. And how can you miss the huge Qutub minar minaret? The entire complex is like a walk down history. Finally, you can hang out at Connought place or Hauz Khas village, both of which are full of hip-and-happening pubs and clubs.
Tips to keep in mind: The Delhi metro is the best means of inter-city transport here. Do not waste time and money in cabs and auto-rickshaws.
Shimla has earned the reputation of one of the most visited hill stations of India. It is perhaps the most famous holiday destination for families as it is known for its pleasant weather and abundant options for a comfortable vacation. Shimla was the summer capital of India in the pre-Independence era. One might argue that Shimla has become very commercial and crowded and no longer has the same charm. However, when you are there, the snow, weather and the ambiance makes you escape your busy city routine and that makes the trip totally worth it. Shimla is surrounded by pine and deodar forests and provides absolutely marvellous views of the hills. It is a big hit with kids and one of the best options in India for a family vacation.
Distance from Amritsar: 336 km (approximately 7 hours and 20 minutes by road)
Best time to go: Shimla was the summer capital of the British in India as it was one of the most pleasant getaways from the scorching summer heat. Even now, Shimla provides a great relief from the summer heat in most parts of India. So, the best time to visit Shimla is from March to May. Shimla receives a good amount of rainfall during the monsoon so sight-seeing is not possible around this time. During winter, it snows in Shimla which can be an interesting experience for some. However, be advised that temperatures drop down to as low as 7 °C during winters.
Where to stay: Shimla being one of India’s most popular holiday spots has a large number of accommodation options for all kinds of budgets. For those looking for a luxurious stay, two of the best options are Radisson Hotel (0177 265 9012) with rooms starting at Rs 11, 200 and The Oberoi Cecil (0177 280 4848) where rooms are slightly more expensive beginning at around Rs 14,000 a night. The Honeymoon Inn (0177 262 4967) is a good mid-range hotel with rooms beginning at around Rs 5,000. Aapo Aap homestay is a good choice for backpackers and budget travellers with rooms starting at around Rs 2,000.
Sightseeing: Shimla has a good variety of options for tourists interested in sight-seeing. The most prominent place to visit in Shimla is the magnificent Viceregal lodge. Mall Road and The Ridge are popular streets where all the action happens. The Jakhoo temple is popular with those with a religious bent. Annadale and Chadwick falls are fantastic picnic spots amidst natural beauty.
Tips to keep in mind: Shimla is surrounded by some other beautiful hill stations like Chail and Mashobra. You should consider clubbing these up in your Shimla itinerary.
Himachal Pradesh is full of picturesque hill stations which make amazing holiday destinations for families, couples as well as solo backpackers. One such hill station located amidst a splendid backdrop is Dalhousie. It is situated at a height of 6,000 to 9,000 feet and is surrounded by beautiful snow-capped peaks. Dalhousie covers over five hills and is spread across 14 sq km. It has many Victorian style buildings and also gets its name from its founder, Lord Dalhousie. Once a popular resort for British military officials to escape the summer heat of the plains, Dalhousie now serves the same purpose for Indians looking for a getaway to escape the scorching heat during summer. It is abundant in natural beauty and the pleasant weather is the cherry on the cake.
Distance from Amritsar: 204 km (approximately 4 hours and 15 minutes)
Best time to go: Dalhousie is best used as an escape during summer. The best time to visit Dalhousie is from April to November. The winters here starting post November are too harsh and it is best to avoid visiting it with kids during this time.
Where to stay: There are many guest houses, homestays and resorts in Dalhousie which provide a comfortable stay. Dalhousie is a major holiday attraction in Himachal Pradesh and therefore hotels here have all amenities one would need during a vacation. Hotel Megha View is a good budget option with rooms starting under Rs 1000. The Alps resort (0189 924 0781) is a good mid-range option with rooms starting at Rs 2000. If you’re looking for a more lavish stay, you can try the JK Clarks Exotica (1800 102 9998) with rooms starting at Rs 4900.
Sightseeing: The Pancha Puls is a scenic holiday spot near Dalhousie which is worth a visit. The perennial spring named Subhash Baoli after India’s freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose is another popular attraction here. Bose is bleived to have lived here for 7 months and taken a liking to the medicating water of the spring. If you like trekking, you must check out Dainkund which is Dalhousie’s highest peak. There is a popular temple and an air force base atop the hill. And then of course, there is Khajjiar which is just a few kilometres away from Dalhousie and makes for a fantastic holiday spot in itself.
Tips to keep in mind: The Punjabi dhabas at Subhash chowk serve delicious food and give you a real taste of this region. The Dainkund peak is a must-visit for anyone who likes nature. The view of Khajjiar Lake from atop flanked by beautiful deodar trees and colorful flowers is a visual you would like to take back with you after your Dalhousie vacation is over.
Khajjiar is one of the most beautiful yet rather unexplored hill stations of north India. Khajjiar bears tremendous tropical resemblance to Switzerland. Located at a height of 6500 feet, Khajjiar is full of vast green meadows and dense pine and deodar forests surrounded by snow-clad peaks. Khajjiar’s scenic beauty and mesmerizing weather is what make it such a desirable holiday destination. If you like trekking, then Khajjiar is your paradise as it serves as the starting point for some beautiful treks in Himachal Pradesh. Trekking is the best way to explore Khajjiar and its peripheries. Khajjiar is also home to some temples which date back to the 12th century.
Distance from Amritsar: 224 km (approximately 5 hours and 10 minutes)
Best time to go: Khajjiar is a great getaway from Amritsar and most other places in India during summer. The pleasant weather here makes it an ideal place to escape the scorching heat. The best time to visit Khajjiar is March to October. The winters here can be very extreme and therefore are not the best for sight-seeing and holidaying with kids. However, during summer, there are few places in the country that can be as amazing as the hill station of Khajjiar.
Where to stay: There are not many luxurious accommodation options in Khajjiar. You will find several budget and mid-range places along the Khajjiar-Chamba road. The Himachal Pradesh Tourism resort is an ideal place to stay. Almost all the hotels here offer stunning panoramic views of the breathtaking landscape around. One of the finest options is Aamod resort (098731 59470) which is atop a mountain ridge and offers international dining and also a spa. It costs around Rs 6000 per night. Hotel Megha View (098169 34020) is a good budget option with rooms starting at around Rs 1000.
Sightseeing: Khajjiar is the starting point for treks to beautiful surrounding places like Chamba, Dalhousie and Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary among others. Zorbing, which involves rolling downhill from inside a plastic ‘zorb’, is a thrilling and popular activity in this part of India. In Khajjair, zorbing is available during April and May. The nearby Kalatop Wildlife Sanctuary is an absolute must-visit for nature and wildlife lovers and heaven for wildlife photographers. Those interested in religion should pay a visit to the Khajjiar Naga temple, which is believed to be the most sacred shrine here.
Tips to keep in mind: Most locals in Khajjiar speak Hindi and Himachali, English not so much.
If you ask any Indian about his/her holiday bucket list, Manali would be on it. Arguably India’s most popular holiday destination and a preferred hill station during summers, Manali is a great getaway from Amritsar even though it takes almost half a day by road. Not only does Manali offer magnificent views of the surrounding mountains, it is also known for the amazing adventure sports activities it offers. Manali has a mountaineering institute which organizes several trekking, skiing and mountaineering courses and activities. Other activities one can indulge in at Manali include rock climbing, rappelling, ice climbing, snowboarding and ski touring. Manali also serves as the base for some of the most thrilling treks in north India. Most of these treks are one day journeys like the ones to the Lamadugh Meadows, Solang Valley and the Koshla-Tree line. Manali also offers a fantastic river rafting opportunity and is renowned as one of the safest places in India for white water rafting thanks to the availability of high quality rafts and experienced crew. Another popular adventure sport in Manali is paragliding with visitors from all across the country flocking this region to give it a try. The Rohtang Pass and Solang valley are the best places for paragliding. Angling tours too are organized in the Tirthan and Sainj rivers. The Himachal Pradesh fisheries department organizes an angling tournament in April and September. With so many beautiful places and activities, it is quite obvious why Manali is one of the most happening getaways from Amritsar.
Distance from Amritsar: 400 km (approximately 9 hours)
Best time to go: Manali is another summer getaway in north India and probably the most famous one. The best time to visit Manali is from April to November when the weather is pleasant and you can move around quite easily without snow causing road blocks. Winter in Manali is quite extreme and is not a good time for family vacations.
Where to stay: Manali is a huge holiday destination in India. With the kind of popularity it enjoys, it is natural that tourism here is booming and has led to a large number of accommodation options ranging from luxury hotels to mid-range resorts as well as budget homestays. Victory Resorts (097366 66610) is a good option for a mid-range stay in Manali with rooms starting at Rs 2500. Hotel Silmog Gardern (01902 252 862) is also a good budget choice with rooms at Rs 800 per night. The Orchard Greens (01902 252 444) is a fantastic elegant building located in the Log Huts area offering rooms at Rs 2400 per night. On the slightly expensive side is Quality Inn & Suites River Country Resort (01902 252 660) offers great amenities and wonderful views with rooms at around Rs 6500
Sightseeing: Manali has some lovely sight-seeing options like the picturesque Solang Valley and the beautiful Jogini falls which are located amidst nature and make for great picnic spots. Then there is Rohtang pass nearby which is the hub for adventure. The Hadimba temple and Bijli Mahadev temple attract many visitors on account of its stunning location and beautiful stone carving. The Manali wildlife sanctuary is a must-visit for wildlife lovers to get a sneak peek into the wildlife of this region. The Pin Valley National Park and Bhrigu lake are a hit with backpackers. The Pandom Dam on the Beas river is another place worth visiting for its beautiful location .
Tips to keep in mind: Mall road in Manali is a great place to try out some local street food. Rohtang pass which is 53 km from Manali is also the gateway to Lahaul and Spiti which are awesome holiday spots themselves.
One of the most popular and frequented pilgrim centers of India and perhaps also the toughest to reach, Vaishno Devi is an amazing getaway from Amritsar. After a visit to the Golden temple, a trip to Vaishno Devi will make your religious holiday feel complete. Vaishno Devi is one of the most sacred places for Hindus in India and is the second most visited pilgrim center of the country. More than 8 million pilgrims visit Vaishno Devi annually. The main sanctum is situated 5300 feet above sea level on the hills of the Trikuta mountain range. It is located around 48 km away from Jammu city. The main idol here is in the form of stone structures called pindies which represent goddesses Saraswati, Kali and Lakshmi respectively. These structures are believed to symbolize the creative, preservative and destructive characters of the Mother. It is not just the main sanctum that makes the trip to Vaishno Devi worth it. The entire route from the base to the top takes you through some stunning views of picturesque mountain landscapes. There are 12 “view points” enroute to the top from where you can see panoramic views of the countryside.
Distance from Amritsar: 268 km (approximately 4 hours and 45 minutes)
Best time to go: Vaishno Devi shrine remains open for pilgrims throughout the year. However, the weather is not always favourable. The best time to visit Vaishno Devi is March to October when the weather is pleasantly cool.
Where to stay: Several accommodation options like private hotels, budget hotels, cheap dharamshalas and tourist accommodations are available in Katra for Vaishno Devi visitors. Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board offers tourist facitlites like rooms for rent to pilgrims, but it is only available to those who book in advance. Other accommodation options for all budgets are available in Jammu. A couple of options are Vaishnavi Dham and Saraswati Dham near the railway station. katra too has some good choices like Niharika Yatri Niwas and Shakti Bhawan near the bus depot. For pilgrims who can make do with basic facilities, Trikuta Bhawan near the second Yatra counter at Katra has 700 beds.
Sightseeing: The main attraction at Vaishno Devi is obviously the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine. Just a little ahead of this shrine is another famous temple called the Bhairavnath temple. One of the pit stops on your way to the shrine is the Ardh Kumari cave which is where you can pay your respects. Another such pit stop is the Deva Mai temple. Once you have visited the main shrine, do pay a visit to the amazing Shiv Khori caves nearby.
Tips to keep in mind: Do try the delicious rajma rice at the restaurants run by the Vaishno Devi temple trust.
Located in the northernmost state of India, Jammu is one of the most pleasant getaways from Amritsar. It is the largest city and the capital of Jammu and Kashmir. It serves as the gateway to the sacred Vaishno Devi pilgrimage, India’s second most visited shrine which is located just 64 km away from Jammu. Other prominent temples like Raghunath temple and Ranbireshwar temple are also located nearby. It is believed that Jammu was established in the 14th century BC. Legend has it that a king spotted a lion and a deer drinking water at the same place and ordered a palace to be built at that spot. The city was then built around this spot. Excavation in the Akhnoor area near Jammu has revealed that Jammu was part of the Indus valley civilization. Jammu has seen a lot of rulers throughout history – from the Mughals to the Sikhs to the British before joining India after partition.
Distance from Amritsar: 217 km (approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes)
Best time to go: Jammucan be visited all year round. However, the winters can get quite cold here. So, the best time to visit Jammu is March to October when the weather is pleasant and apt for sight-seeing as well as walking around.
Where to stay: Jammu has a number of accommodation options for all kinds of budgets. Hotel Jammu Ashok (074288 22220) is a good budget option with rooms starting at Rs 2500. The Fortune Inn Riviera (0191 256 1415) is great for a comfortable stay with rooms starting at Rs 6500.
Sightseeing: Jammu mainly serves as the gateway to the Vaishno Devi shrine which is the most popular tourist spot in this part of India. You can visit the Amar mahal palace here to catch a glimpse of stunning architecture. It is also a museum which displays the rich Jammu heritage. The Ranbireshwar and Mahamaya temples are popular amongst pilgrims and those with a religious inclination. The Surinsar lake is perfect for a calm and serene getaway. The Bagh-e-bahu garden is a good picnic spot but beware of the menace of monkeys here. Another place of interest is the Dogra Art museum which displays a collection of over 8000 objects of historical and cultural importance.
Tips to keep in mind: Do try the fast food at Residency Road and Vir Marg as they offer some lip-smacking delicacies. You must try the Sund panjeeri and patisa.