Himachal Pradesh is defined more than anything by the mighty Himalaya, towering over its northern periphery with implacable dominance, both feared and revered by the state's sparse population. The mountains have long attracted nature lovers, climbers and trekkers, while in recent years a number of more adrenalin-inducing sports have also come to prominence. Manali has become a centre for adventurous activities: from heli-skiing to rafting, mountain biking to paragliding and horse riding, there's a huge range on offer. The arrival of the Tibetans after the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959 has added attractions of an altogether more mellow manner. Dharamshala, home to his Holiness the Dalai Lama, has become a mecca for those after more spiritual pursuits; many come to follow courses in yoga, meditation, Buddhism, or to learn about the Tibetan cause.
Some of the state's finest mountain views can be seen from Dalhousie, a popular hill station during the Raj and today a quaint if anachronistic reminder of how the British used to build their homes. Himachal's other Raj relic, and its capital city, Shimla, is part quaint English village, part traffic, touts and mayhem. Arriving via the 'toy train' from Kalka is by far the best way and the scenery is almost painfully picturesque. Although most people come to Himachal to see the mountains, the plains also have much to offer. Kangra Valley is especially pretty, with charming villages connected by quiet, windy roads. Those in search of more rugged adventures should head for Kinnaur, Spiti and Lahaul, accessible only in the summer when the snow melts on the higher passes, meaning they can be crossed by road, giving access to the barren but spectacular scenery beyond. This area also forms the start of the incomparable Manali-Leh road, the highway from Himachal to Ladakh and one of the world's best road trips.
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