Run to the hills
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
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 embody the Mughal fascination with water bodies, sprawling lawns and decorative plants. Spread over 100 acres, 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
Drive 20 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-covered valley next to the rivulet Kaushalya.
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 Colonel's Shan-e-Angar, 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.
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 are 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 9000 per couple per night and is a good bet if you're looking for a place to stay.
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 305 per person one way). If you number six, take the Shivalik Palace Tourist Coach (RA-4), which costs Rs 4970 (Kalka-Shimla) Rs 3,495 (Shimla-Kalka) and Rs 8465 both ways for the whole party, inclusive of a night's stay in Shimla.