It was my third trip – My introduction to Manali was 11 years ago, on a trekking expedition. Second visit 8 years ago for honeymoon and now with my wife Rashi and my 4 year old kid, Kartik (Cheeku). U can say I’m a Manali fan. And what did I do in Manali in these 4 night 5 days trip….? Nothing.

Well, there are so many things to do and places to visit in Manali if you wish to, or do nothing and relax and admire nature at its abundance, like I did this time.

During the last 11 years, I have witnessed many Phases of Manali. Almost everything is changed..Some changes are for good.

For example earlier, reaching Manali was a tiring job (its 580 Kms. from Delhi on road, 14 hours drive), now the roads are better and faster and there are brand new Volvo coaches of both Himachal tourism and private operators, which are very comfortable.

From Delhi one gets Volvo coaches from Chandralok Building, Janpath, where office of Himachal Tourism is located, and also from ISBT, Kashmiri Gate, and Himachal Bhawan, near Mandi House. Now, there are many flights available too till Bhuntar, which is approx 55 kms from Manali and then take a cab to Manali.

While going to Manali, there are many beautiful sights on the way. In early morning the bus reached Bhakhra Dam and the sight is breathtaking. It should not be missed at any cost and from there, you get beautiful views of snow clad mountains while driving along river Beas, which cannot be described in words.

Next time I am thinking of driving by my car, as I love driving. But if you decide to do so, I would suggest a night break at Chandigarh, and then continue mountain drive of almost 6 –8 hours in the day time.

We reached Manali on 31st Oct morning 9.30 and took a cab to The Orchard Greens, a nice and cosy hotel situated 3 kms above Mall Road, in a place called Log Huts Area. We got the booking done in Delhi itself. After breakfast at the hotel, we went to Hadimba Devi Mandir which was built in 1550 A.D.

It has a four-tiered pagoda roof. Famous for its exquisitely carved doorway, Hadimba is dedicated to the goddess-turned-demoness Hadimba, the wife of Bhima. As per the local stories, Bhima killed demon Tandi the brother of Hadimba to marry her. Here, sacrificing is common and one can find fresh blood stains at many places in the temple premises. My son Kartik (referred to his other name Cheeku now on) found Angora Rabbit with a local woman and we clicked many pics with it.

From there, we walked down to the Mall road for evening snacks and dinner; post which we enjoyed golgappas. One thing I love in Manali is many lovely veg, non-veg, Chinese/Tibetan, south Indian, continental restaurants and bakeries. There are many Sher-e-Punjabs, Shan-e- Punjabs and such restaurants providing economical Indian and Chinese meals, and also many restaurants serving Gujrati thali, Bengali cuisine, Andhra Bhojnalayas etc.

We especially enjoyed soups and noodles at Chopsticks, a beautiful restaurant at the Mall. They have a very extensive menu with all kinds of Indian, Tibetan and Chinese and Japanese food, cold beers and a relaxed loungy atmosphere.

We went to Manali to relax, and found a very peaceful and quite place in the heart of Manali – The Nature Park. Walk through the Nature Park was very relaxing and we came across a rich variety of flora and fauna. It’s sprawling acres of greenery nestled amidst the Himalayas. It is dense woodland of Deodar, Kail, Horse chestnut, Walnut and Maple. They have also kept in captivity Monal, some wild birds and Brown bear. Cheeku specially enjoyed watching the bear.

From there, we again had a stroll down to The Mall for lunch and then decided to walk down to Vasisht Temple in Vasisht village which is about 3 kms outside Manali (well we abandoned the idea of walking half way and took an auto).

The place is famous for its sulphurous hot water spring. I did not take a dip in the hot water coz I did not carry extra clothes, but sitting with feet dipped in hot water was quiet relaxing. We saw many folks from other countries in the Vasisht village and also some fine shops of Tibetan and Kashmiri art along with a vast collection of jewellery.

Next day was reserved for Rohtang Pass. One should not miss Rohtang Pass if visiting Manali. Situated on the Kelong-Leh highway, the pass offers a wide spread panorama of mountain scenery. It is closed during snowfall and remains closed for the entire winter season. It is 52 Kms from Manali, situated at an altitude of 13500 Ft. On the way there is a tiny little village called Kothi Located at a distance of 12 kms from Manali,, which is the last inhabited village on the Kelong–Leh highway after Manali It also has a comfortable staying option in the beautiful PWD Rest House, which lies in the middle of a picture-perfect surrounding of the snow-capped peaks and glaciers and a place called Gulaba. Both these places served as midway camping sites for trekkers to Rohtang Pass or Bhrigu Lake, Bhrigu Lake is a frozen lake at an altitude of 14200 ft. in east of Rohtang Pass, and is a site with spectacular views of glaciers and peaks. I am writing this as I have done a 10 day trek from Solang Nala to Bhrigu lake during my first visit to Manali. Nehru Kund, a natural spring of cold water, originates from this lake.

Almost 75 % of the road till Rohtang is in a very bad condition and there are blockades, traffic jams etc. due to repairs and landslides at one or two places. This 52 kms drive is an experience in itself. Drive take 3.5 to 4 hrs from Manali. We hired a Suzuki Alto @ INR 1200 for a day. Bigger vehicles like Tata Sumo or Chevrolet Tavera can also be hired @ INR 1800 for Rohtang trip. On Tuesdays, Rohtang pass is closed due to road repair works.

There are many shops on the way from where one can hire Dangris (boiler suit type overalls) for Rohtang pass. Also gumboots are required. Set of 3 costed us INR 500. These are necessary to keep yourself warm while moving around in / playing in snow. Our driver told that closer you reach to Rohtang pass, these items get expensive and therefore it is advisable that these are hired early (Well I think the driver had some deal with the shop owner else he would have not insisted).

During our earlier trip to Rohtang in the month of December (when I came here on my honeymoon) we found snow in abundance and enjoyed skiing too but this season, there was no snowfall till date and therefore we had to hire ponies to go to a higher place where there was show from the last snowfall. The rate per pony was INR 750/- and we bargained for INR 1100 for 2 ponies (Lallu and Chandrakanta). We also enjoyed tea for an obnoxious INR 10 per cup and Maggi @ INR 50 Per plate !

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at Johnson’s Cafe and Bar and enjoyed delicious Pizza baked in a wooden oven. The restaurant is tastefully decorated with beautiful bar, and fireplace which gives a very warm and cosy feeling. Many foreigners were also there.

We could have visited Manikaran and Kullu next day but decided not to as our purpose of this trip was to relax and therefore again went to nature park. We collected bagful of dry flowers from there and then decided to explore more food joints for lunch and found a cute little German Bakery called Cafe Amigos. We tried walnut cake and chocolate brownie which was excellent. The decor was nice and we found unusual items like Yak Cheese (INR 1000/ kg).

We also tried an Italian Joint called La Purizza.

We then decided to stroll down to Beas river and collect some stones for our aquarium back home, but it was a disappointment as the river was too polluted. There was a potato mandi (wholesale market) right on the bank of river Beas adding to the pollution. I mentioned earlier that I saw changes in Manali. Commercialisation, uncontrolled construction and pollution were not the pleasant ones.

Out of my experience of visiting Manali several times, I will suggest that Manikaran with its hot water springs and white water rafting should not be missed if you love adventure sports, nor should you miss paragliding at Solang Valley, situated 15 kms from Manali. If you are adventurous type, you can get a motorcycle on hire. Rate: INR 500 per day. We witnessed many young people, and couples on bikes at the Rohtang Pass.

A word of caution – In Manali, you will be approached by many people who will try to sell you Shilajit, Kesar or Kasturi. You cannot judge the authenticity of the stuff. And in the market, you will be approached by salesmen to try Chingu. They will tell you funny stories that the Chingu is a quilt kind of thing. It is not for sale. It is for lease. The cost is 7- 9 K; after a period of 21 months, you can return the Chingu at your local city to Kashmir Government emporium and you will get back 9K…! And why so? Because ‘supposedly’ Indian government has banned the furnaces that were earlier used to heat the Chingu stuff to make out shawls from it… 1 Chingu once heated expands to make 5-6 shawls each of which sells for around 20-30K. Now human body is the best furnace in the world as claimed by them! Moreover in order to lure the customers they are offering a lot of free products as gift such as bed sheets, angora shawl, carpet, dress materials etc. After 21 months you return the Chingu but can keep the gifts all for yourself!

Do not pay any attention to them, however attractive the offer looks. They are simply trying to make a Chingu out of you nothing else !! During our honeymoon visit, we bought one such Chingu and when we tried to return it to Kashmir Government emporium in Delhi; they laughed and told us that we were cheated. During this trip, I met a tourist at Vasisht temple, who was a textile engineer and he told us that this Chingu thing is a synthetic fibre, not even woollen. As per his calculations, the entire things, i.e. the Chingu, and all the gift items which are offered with it are not even worth 2.5k for which they are asking 7-9 K

Well, 3rd Nov was our departure day from Manali. My wife Rashi went for an early morning walk to Hadimba temple and attended the morning arti there and came back with Aalu Paranthas she found on a tiny shop near Hadimba (really delicious and 1/4th the price). We decided to explore Log Huts area, where we were staying and saw the actual Log Huts, which are independent luxury huts maintained by HP Tourism Development Corporation. We will definitely try staying there the next time we visit Manali.

Our Volvo started around 5.30 pm and we were in Delhi next morning to find smog here which lasted the whole day.

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