Run to the hills

Take advantage of Chandigarh's location near of some of the most magnificent mountains of the world, and head out

The toy train that runs from Kalka in Haryana to Shimla in Himachal Pradesh

Spectacular: the toy train from Kalka to Shimla © AFP

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A compact, planned city, Chandigarh allows you to pack in all the must-see places in a day. Once you're done with the Sukhna Lake, the Government Museum and Art Gallery in Sector 10, Nek Chand's Rock Garden, the Rose Garden and the Open Hand Monument, head out to the hills. Chandigarh is tantalisingly located in the foothills of the Shivaliks, part of the magnificent Himalayas. No matter if you have a few hours to spare or a couple of nights, here's where you should be heading.

Yadavindra Gardens, Pinjore
Sight-seeing, day-trip
The Yadavindra Gardens of Pinjore (also known as Pinjore Gardens; entry fee: Rs 20, open 7am-10pm) are 20km from Chandigarh along National Highway 21. They encapsulate the Mughal fascination with water bodies, sprawling lawns and decorative plants. Spread over 100acres, the gardens - said to be have been designed by Nawab Fadai Khan, a foster brother of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb - include several palaces, a mini zoo and mango orchards. After sunset, the garden comes to life under lights.

Timber Trail Resort, Parwanoo
Rest and relaxation, day-trip or overnighter
Twenty minutes from Pinjore (35km, along NH21) and you're in Parwanoo. At just over 1500m, this is where the uphill climb begins, so stopping here may seem a bit anticlimactic when the whole of the Himalayas lie ahead. But the Timber Trail Resort makes for a fine wayside halt, complete with a cable car (accessible only between 9am and 5pm) that will whisk you away from the fumes of trucks and buses to its 1.6-acre property, nestled in a pine tree-covered valley next to the rivulet Kaushalya.

Dharampur
Food, day-trip
Another 20 minutes on the road from Parwanoo, and you're in Dharampur (50km from Chandigarh along NH21). The place buzzes with eateries. We recommend Giani Da Dhaba, a large, clean and well-kept eating hall that somehow manages to seat every newcomer despite its perpetually busy look, and Shan-e-Himachal, also known as Colonel Da Dhaba, run by a retired army officer. Though Shan is smaller than Giani's, the food is comparable in both taste and quality. If you're easy with Indian food and not too hung up on hygiene, you can't go wrong with a meal in either place. The food is fresh and hot and always available when you need it.

Kasauli
Two-day trip
Forty minutes uphill from Dharampur (64km from Chandigarh along NH21, turn left at the Dharampur turn-off) brings you to Kasauli, a small Raj-era town. At 1928 metres, Kasauli is an idyllic hill station, with streets wrapped in romantic fog and shaded by elderly, gigantic pine trees and Himalayan oak horse chestnuts. There's plenty of short excursions you could undertake from here - walk to Monkey Point or drive to the Gorkha Fort in Sabathu, or the cantonment town of Dagshai, or even the Lawrence School in Sanawar. You could also choose to do nothing at all, and just lie back with a book in the sun - but don't forget your woollies, it get cold here even if the sun's out. Baikunth Resorts, away from the town proper, has rooms from Rs 7150 per couple per night and is a good bet if you're looking for a place to stay.

The cable car up to the Timber Trail Heights resort, Parwanoo, March 26, 2010

The cable car at Timber Trail Resort © Getty Images

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The toy train
Of the two narrow gauge rail tracks in Himachal Pradesh, the one connecting Kalka to Shimla has found itself a place on UNESCO's world heritage list. Over 100 years old, the route has also been described in the Guinness Book of Rail Facts and Feats as "the greatest narrow gauge engineering feat in India". On the 96km journey from Kalka in Panchkula to Shimla, the capital of the hill state, the train passes through 103 tunnels and goes across more than 900 bridges set in picture-perfect scenery. If you have a thing for trains, this is one ride you shouldn't miss.

Hop on the Shivalik Deluxe Express. If you're travelling as part of a group of 14 or 18, hire the deluxe rail motor car, which has a transparent fiberglass roof (fares: Rs 307 per person one way). If you number six, take the Shivalik Palace Tourist Coach (RA-4), which costs Rs 4790 (Kalka-Shimla) and Rs 8285 (Shimla-Kalka) for the whole party, inclusive of a night's stay in Shimla.

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Where to

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Must Do

Sukhna Lake  

Go for a walk around Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh's pride and joy. The picturesque 3km-long, man-made lake gives you an insight into the city's rhythms. Pick up a snack from the adjoining eatery and join the city's health-conscious in a brisk walk - or the other way around.

Tips for Travellers

Winter is in its tail-end during February and March but sometimes it can last longer, or unleash a cold wave before bowing out. So carry a warm jacket, a cap and a shawl while in the city.

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