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48 Hours in Chamba
Twists and turns lead travelers to Chamba along a scenic road which hugs Ravi River’s natural progression through forest-covered Himalayan mountains. Because of its position in a valley surrounded by rocky peaks on all sides, Chamba has little place to expand. The city appears as if it’s toppling over as buildings jockey for position up and down every inch of land fit for building. Narrow roads with too few places to park add to an already congested downtown area filled with the town’s best options for shopping and dining. In an effort to ease this congestion, motorized traffic is forced into a one-way pattern around the inner loop with results similar to cows heading to slaughter. A missed turn leaves drivers no option than to circle around the entire heart of Chamba, a mistake that can take far too long to correct.
First things first, you’ll want to find a hotel room. Given Chamba is a little off the beaten tourist path, the choices in hotels fall short from some of the more well-known hill station locations of Himachal Pradesh. An HPTDC hotel lies near the entrance of town. It’s clean and comfortable interior combined with ample parking is a popular choice for residents of the area, especially during wedding season. If you have even a hint of visiting Chamba during Mid-September through October, book a room well in advance as wedding parties overtake this modest size hotel.
For a second option with relatively easy access to town plus parking, head directly for the Hotel Aroma Palace. Tucked behind the main road, a bevy of rooms on several floors offer choice views of the Chamba in all budget levels. Even the most reasonable rooms provide all the comforts of home.
Chamba’s charm isn’t immediately noticed as the calamity of the city shocks new arrivals. It takes a good day to get your running shoes in this crowded, lackluster city with a personality that shows only after spending some time exploring the sights. Don’t come looking for a gastric epiphany during your stay. Chamba’s restaurants are dingy at best. Instead, experience a buffet of tastes near the chaugan where chaat vendors serve up only the most popular Indian foods for rock bottom prices. Come early to eat in peace or wander over closer to 7 P.M. when the locals come out en mass to enjoy the evenings.
Staying in touch with friends and family back home isn’t hard in Chamba. Numerous STD/ISD phones can be found in the market. Internet cafes are also easily found however speed and equipment offered varies wildly. The best deal in town is along the inner road leading to Bhuri Singh Museum.
Two days is ample time to complete a tour of Chamba unless rafting or trekking is on your agenda. River rafting is a relatively new adventure sport for this area, thanks to the successful draw of tourists to the Beas River rafting tours near Manali-Kullu. Numerous trekking trails through the Chamba Valley toward Mcleodganj and Manali begin near Chamba, which is really what brings foreign tourists to this more obscure area of North India.
What to See and Do in Chamba
Easily the main attraction of Chamba, the chaugan is a large grassy field used for sports, festivals, picnics and evening strolls. British occupants used it as a polo and cricket ground. Today, you can always find someone, from kids to adults, no matter what time of day, enjoying the great expanse located next to the heart of Chamba.
Hari Rai Temple
A visit to Hari Rai Temple takes tourists past the fire brigade, the chaugan, and finally to the eyesore called Gandhi Gate. Ravi River, which is believed to have once flowed as high as the base of the temple, is just a short walk away down a steep hill.
Chamunda Devi Temple
With commanding views of the city and mountainous vista, this temple was only accessible by steps many years ago. Sunrise and sunset are terrific times to enjoy worship.
Laxmi Narayan Temple
Shikhara style temples dating back to the 10th Century, 6 in total, will captivate those who visit. Hand-carved stone stacked directly above inner shrines is capped by wooden umbrellas for a unique architectural style only seen in northern Himachal Pradesh.
You’ll only need 10 minutes or less to experience what’s left of Chamba’s only Christian church. Scottish architecture clashes with neighboring homes and businesses, a homage to the Church of Scotland which occupied this building for decades.
Bhuri Singh Museum
A little pre-visit reading will greatly enhance what museum guests see inside Bhuri Singh Museum. Two floors of local and regional treasures from paintings, weapons, to clothing, are displayed behind glass cases. Although the staff doesn’t speak much English, nearly every sign is written for Hindi and English readers. The real treasures are old photographs depicting Chamba in it’s earlier years when the town oozed charm and character.
Crumbling walls shadowed by overgrown trees aren’t the best reasons to pay a visit to what was once the royal residence of Chamba. What is worth taking note are the local artisans who occupy the former palace rooms. Painters, weavers, and carvers work in relative silence as visitors shop below from a handful of shops equally as run down as the palace.
Chamba’s marketplace is a hodge-podge of the daily basics of vegetables and plastic cups set against modern electronics. An endless stream of people watching is worth a sit wherever you can find a free space. Stroll through the hillside alleys for a look inside smaller shops next to residential homes and offices.