Himachal Pradesh is an Indian state which offers something for everyone. Whether you are inclined towards nature, religion, adventure, food- there is something to suit all inclinations. And if there is any one place in Himachal Pradesh that typifies the experiences that this state quintessentially has to offer, it is the town of Manali. Situated in the heart of the Himalayas, Manali offers the most holistic Himachali experience.
The place is popular with honeymooners as well as adventure, motor and nature enthusiasts. Manali is also a much visited place on the hippie circuit inIndia. Because of its adaptability to every tourist taste, tourists arrive in hordes every season. Tourism being the main source of income, most places in the state have been discovered. Manali is probably the most explored and exploited by tourists. It has almost become unfashionable to visit Manali these days because of the sheer over exposure of the place. However, Manali, is still a travel destination that can enthrall, entice and excite. The sheer beauty of the place, the mere vastness of the Himalayan expanse drowns the crowd.
I have been to Manali 3 times. The first time being as a part of a college trip, the second- our honeymoon. This time around, Manali was the base point for our Leh road journey and were there for 2-3 days. I am combining my experiences from all 3 visits to describe, share and recommend some places which made an impression on me in all the visits.
The main town of Manali is very much like the typical Indian ‘hill-station’. It has a mall road selling similar looking items. I am not a fan of crowded places, but mall roads in hilly areas have a different appeal. It’s a melting pot of tourists. A converging point for all people. Fifteen minutes of strolling along Mall road can you a flavour of the sheer variance in the kinds of tourists that throng Manali.
The local eateries provide a variety of cuisines that cater to even the fussiest of travelers. The variety of food available in Manali is a gastronomical’s delight. From parathas to pizzas, aaloo gobhi to aglio olio, momo’s to madrasi kaapi, mall road has it all! Definitely worth your evening saunter. Large boards keep urging you to try ‘fried ice cream!’ Basically scoops of ice cream coated with batter, and fried in hot oil for just a few seconds. I would like to call them Ice cream bondas or pakodas. But the street is crowded and how! Though its actually fun to just observe the place, when it starts reminding you of Dadar market, its best to grab something to eat, pick some memorabilia and move away from the place!
Situated 8-10 kms away from the Mall road, Vashisht is mostly visited by tourists for its temple and hot water springs. The temple is dedicated to sage Vashisht and has religious significance among Hindus. However, scores of people trying to jostle up for photographs and the poorly maintained hot water springs, rob the place of the peace it could have provided to the spiritual soul.
This area stands atop a hillock. Vashisht was a hot spot during the hippie era and still has remnants of it. Previously popular on the backpacker circuit, Vashisht has also emerged as a preferred area of stay in Manali for young Indians. This is also my personal favourite area in Manali to stay and eat. Vashisht boasts of the some of the best German Bakeries in Manali, serving the freshest of breads and muffins. Most of the hotels here face the valley, offering gorgeous views all day long.
We stayed at Hotel Bhrigu this time. Clean rooms with the biggest balconies in town. The staff is well informed and helpful. It has
probably the best restaurant in Vashisht- Basho restaurant.A popular trend with the restaurants in the area is to showcase movies in the evenings in the restaurants through a projector. And the choice of the movies playing is just right!Hollywood, classics, Oscar winners, Classic Indian cinema and even European/Iranian cinema- a movie buffs paradise! You can even request for a movie. As most evenings in the mountains are chilling, I am a huge fan of this concept. It’s a unique experience to snuggle up and watch a movie indoors, while treating your taste buds to some piping hot food. The food at Basho is particularly good. From Indian to Continental to Chinese, I have tasted it all- and I find it faultless.
We had only 2 days in Manali this time around, before we commenced our Leh journey and having visited the place earlier, we restricted ourselves to visiting a few places and keep the focus on relaxing and well, eating! 😀 So we lazed around in Vashisht, explored restaurants in Old Manali and rode around on the roads and finalized our Leh journey details in those 2 days.
Shared below is an account of some places explored in my previous visit to Manali and surrounding areas.
The gorgeous Solang valley, 15 km away from the main town area is home to exciting activities. The place boasts of lush green valley in summer, turning into a snow clad paradise in the winter, making it one of the preferred destinations for skiing. In the summer months, the valley offers activities such as paragliding, snow-scooter rides and the newly popular-Zorbing. Zorbing is strictly for the thick skinned and definitely not recommended to claustrophobic individuals. But easily one of the most adrenalin- laden activities which are on offer. This is a place which gets even the biggest lazy bums to get up and try out some activities.
Hadimba temple in Manali main town is dedicated to the local deity and set amidst tall coniferous trees. The temple was originally a place for animal sacrifices and it reminds you of it in its architecture and layout. Some may find the place a tad bit too spooky in the evenings. However, it’s a quaint and quiet temple which is rare in India and hence does deserve a visit. The temple surroundings provide excellent views of the town, which makes it even more worth the visit. I had once visited the temple after sunset and the setting was spooky to say the least! I think amongst my visits there, I was praying the most then!
Old Manali is quite similar to Vashisht- although it has a more pronounced hippie flavour. Shops selling less of souveniers and more of ‘Om’ T shirts, ragged pyjamas, bandanas, beaded jewellery. The insides of these shops can cause momentary confusion of being in a flea market in Goa. The many royal enfields here often cause a traffic jam in the narrow roads of Old Manali. Old Manali has some good restaurants and places to shop. It also has the Manu temple-however, strictly for the religious individuals. Old Manali is really a place to just ride along, explore restaurants and experience Manali like the way it would have been in the 70s (!!).
Naggar, situated 22 km from Manali has a quaint castle built on a hill top, with representative local architecture. The castle now has a restaurant dishing out world cuisines. It also offers comfortable rooms for tourists who would like a castle like experience. For day trippers from Manali, the place is worth travelling for some raja-style lunch or dinner or just a few snaps. I particularly like the ride to Naggar. There are some Himachali houses en route, painted in the prettiest of colours- pink,purple,yellow,green with equally colorful potted plants and flowers! Looks like a vibrant painting.
For the slightly more adventurous and ones who truly appreciate the journey and not so much the destination, a drive/ride upto Jana falls (50-60 km from Manali) is recommended. A bike ride to this place does it full justice. Jana falls are charming although not as massive. It is situated on top of a hill, the journey to which is thrilling. There are very small villages with miniscule population. For almost 20 minutes climb towards the falls, you are alone with nature. Truly heavenly!
At the falls, there isn’t much to do so, except take some rest under the shadytrees. There is only one dhaba beneath the falls offering lip smacking local food- lingri ki subzi, rajma, kadhi-chawal and some tangy chutneys. Do take a well deserved nap if you have driven/ridden to the place. This trip will provide you with a very local and unadulterated experience.
A trip to Rohtang pass figures in the must-dos of every itinerary of every type of a traveler to Manali. Rohtang pass is a 2-3 hour drive from Manali. Rohtang pass can be reached during the summer months only as the road is closed for all of the winter months. It is advisable to use a 4 wheel drive to reach the pass in nay season as the road is bumpy and treacherous. As the road is narrow and ALL tourists in Manali do visit Rohtang, its advisable to start as early as 6 am to reach Rohtang before the hoards of tourists arrive. Ice-sliding, skiing, yak rides are some activities you can indulge in to keep yourself from getting numb in the cold. With all the escapades, one is bound to get hungry! And an unassuming plate of bhajiyas/ maggi noodles with a cup of piping hot soup/ chai-coffee simply taste divine.
I have experienced the good and bad of Rohtang. The 2009 visit showed me what a pleasure Rohtang can be- with not many people, perfect layers of ice and activities that kept me merrily occupied, shifting focus from the cold. This time it was a pain indeed- with a 7 hour traffic jam on slushy roads! So do say a little prayer before going towards Rohtang!
To wander in Manali and the nearby areas, one can easily rent a bike or a car. However, cabs are also easily available. For visits to Rohtang, hiring a SUV is strongly recommended. The locals will be more than willing to help you out with transport recommendations.
Looking for accommodation through search engines will lead to an information overload. Its better to first identify what excites you about Manali; what would you like to wake up to every morning, before making accommodation decisions.
Manali is like Goa for me. Both the places are utterly special. There is a sense of comfort, familiarity and belongingness. As the sea is to Goa, the river Beas is for Manali. It will serve to be your shadow during your entire stay in Manali. If the river isn’t following you, its probably your fault!
I have experienced Manali in the summer, the rains and just before the onset of winters. I look forward to experiencing it in the thick of winter too, sometime soon. I hear its even lovelier then. Till then, here are my 5 favourite things in Manali.
The ride to Jana falls for a local meal and a snooze beneath the fall
Screaming my lungs out in a Zorbing ball at Solang
The movie-cum-dinner experience at Vashisht
Riding through the roads around Manali, gawking at the pretty houses
The Mall road milieu