Narkanda was once a small staging post along the old Hindustan Tibet Road that led from the plains, past the town of Shimla to the Tibetan border. Today, this small town is famous for its wide views, forests and as a destination for a quiet holiday. The area has forests of fir and spruce, with a smattering of maple, aspen and cedar trees. Narkanda has skiing slopes that include basic downhill and slalom runs; this is still a centre for skiing in winter and courses are conducted by Himachal Tourism and by a couple of local private operators. At 3136 meters (10,288 feet), the peak of Hatu (Hattu), above Narkanda, is amongst the highest in the mid-Himalaya. Apart from providing an interesting hike trail, the peak is connected by a motorable road that climbs through woods of cedar and spruce and undulating meadows where sheep and horses graze. Its heights unfold a magnificent vista of snow peaks and valleys. Ahead lie the Greater Himalaya and a host of ‘almost-legendary’ peaks - the Kinner Kailash, Shrikhand and the Kullu ranges. The valley of the river Satluj, embroidered by the highway, has a rich fabric of woods and villages. Hatu’s flanks hold stretches of apple orchards and acres of wild flowers. The top is crowned by a temple dedicated to the goddess, Hateshwari.
The small town of Narkanda owed its initial importance to the construction of the Hindustan Tibet Road. Styled ‘The Great Hindostan Thibet Road’, this road connected the Gangetic plains from the town of Kalka to the Tibetan border. It was Governor-General of India, Lord Dalhousie (1848 - 1856) who ordered work to begin on this in June 1850. Various reasons are cited for the initiation of the road. The system of ‘begari’ prevalent in the hills, where unpaid labourers were pressed into service - including for the transport of timber and files to Shimla - is said to have upset the Governor-General so deeply that he wanted to improve the track these men trudged. It is also believed that Lord Dalhousie wanted to create trade ties with Tibet – and this is felt to be the real reason for building the road. Narkanda was an important staging post on this road and was the highest point between Shimla and the valley of the river Satluj. From this point on, till it began rising again, the road was largely downhill.
The second impetus of growth came in the first half of the twentieth century, when apple production began in Kotgarh-Thanedar belt a few kilometres from Narkanda.