Writer - Harshit Pandey
Manali - one of the most popular destinations in India is flooded with tourists from around the world. The hill station is full of tourists be it any month of the year. I usually love to travel to places that offer peace and are not usually full of people taking selfies at every spot. However, I visited Manali for the first time in 2014 and it is the only holiday destination that I promised to visit once again during the time when it shows to enjoy the beauty of this place to the fullest.
Manali is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and rivers. The major attraction among which is the distant and superb view of Pir Panjal and Dhaulandhar ranges. Another reason you will find a large number of tourists here is that Manali serves as the gateway to the nomadic lands of Ladakh through the Manali-Leh Highway which crosses Sarchu, Darcha and Keylong. Manali also serves as a starting point of many expeditions and treks to higher Himalayan mountain ranges.
How to reach Manali
Manali is accessible from almost all the capital cities of the adjoining states via buses. The bus is the most reliable way to reach Manali. It is a 14-16 hours bus journey from the national capital of Delhi, from where I started my journey.
The nearest airport to Manali is Bhuntar at a distance of 50km. Air India operates flights between Delhi and Manali, however, the flights are irregular and rates are very high.
The nearest narrow gauge railway station is Jogindernagar at a distance of 135 km. The nearest broad gauge railway stations are Chandigarh and Ambala at a distance of 310 km and 355 km respectively.
After a tiring journey of 14 hours in a semi-sleeper bus, I reached the main bus station on Manali in the morning at around 6. There was a stark contrast in the temperature of Manali and Delhi, something that I have been longing for since long. As soon as I stepped out of the bus, there was a group of hotel owners or brokers who started giving me offers to stay at their hotel. I did not book any hotel in advance and wanted to explore once I reach there. I wanted to stay in New Manali as there were more hotel options.
After a few discussions, I agreed with one person who was offering a duplex room in Old Manali at Rs 1000. The guy took me to the hotel in his car. Earlier, I had stayed in New Manali and I was not sure how Old Manali would be. As you reach Old Manali, you will feel an invisible layer separating the two worlds. The air smells different, people are different and you get a feeling of belonging there. The mountains suddenly seem closer and the streets are lined up with beautiful cafes.
The hotel I was heading to also had a cafe in the front followed by a pavement in the midst of beautiful trees that lead to the hotel building. It was a duplex room. The wooden stairs led to the first floor which was also made of wood and on both sides of the room, the view was breathtaking.
I ordered some breakfast and meanwhile got ready for my first destination which was Manu Temple. As the name suggests, the temple is dedicated to Saint Manu, who is known as creator of the universe according to Hindu mythology. The place is of religious importance due to which people visiting Manali tend to visit the temple for sure. Next was the famous Hadimba Temple, dedicated to the goddess Hadimba of the Indian epic Mahabharat.
After which I headed straight back to the cafe in my hotel promises as I was already tired of the journey and wandering in the Cedar forest of Manali. I had some spaghetti and a few beers and went back to my room for rest. I was sitting outside my room looking at the mesmerizing view until I fell asleep.
I wanted to go to Rohtang but it was closed due to heavy snowfall, which is why I went for the next best thing, i.e Solang Valley. I went to mall road to enquire about the way to visit Solang. Few private cab operators told me it would take Rs 3500 for a two-way cab to Solang Valley. Other cab operators also had nothing better to offer. I asked a random guy outside in the market and he asked me to opt for a city bus. On enquiring at the bus station, I was told that the bus to Solang Valley leaves in every 15 minutes and the fare is Rs 42, this sounded very appealing as it was light on the pocket. I immediately decided to go by bus. The bus journey was tiring as I couldn’t get a seat due to the heavy crowd that boarded the bus immediately as it was parked. It took almost 2 and a half hours to reach the last bus stop of the route.
Solang Valley lies in a picturesque setting and is ideal for camping and adventure sports. I wanted to try paragliding but it was closed due to bad weather. So after Few selfies, maggie and sightseeing, I decided to go back to my hotel as it gets dark in the hills quite early. The bus dropped me at Mall Road from where I had to walk to my hotel. Not too long after I started my walk, it started drizzling. Once I reached the hotel I was drenched and exhausted; so bad that I do not remember when I dozed off.
I woke up late and to my biggest surprise, it was snowing in Manali. I immediately got dressed up and went out to play in the snow. It was my first experience of snowfall and I was unable to control my emotions and got excited to the core. I couldn’t stop myself from video calling my friends and started capturing as many photos as possible. I had plans to go to Jogni falls but I forgot and after getting drenched again I came back to the hotel, it was very cold so I couldn’t go anywhere and roads were also full of sludge or blocked due to heavy snow, So I went to a nearby tiny cafe named Beans and Gone where I was served with walnut coffee and mutton lasagne. The food was unexpectedly delicious. Not many Indian restaurants and cafes cook such delicious lasagne. This is the beauty of Old Manali, you can sit in any cafe there and you will not come out disappointed. The food there is worth every penny.
I realised it would be better to return as there were predictions of even heavier snowfall the next day. This is the thing about snowfalls, you can enjoy it from where you are. Even though travelling, trekking and other expeditions are suspended during and after a snowfall. I tried reaching out to almost every bus operator I found in the Google search. Almost all buses were either full or were not operating. After some amount of effort Finally I got a seat reserved in one of the buses leaving that night. It cost me Rs 2500 for a semi-sleeper seat in an air-conditioned bus but the challenge did not end there as it was an even bigger task to reach the boarding point outside the city so I have to book a cab which arrived at the boarding point exactly at the departure time of the bus, For once I thought that I would not be able to reach on time and miss my bus.
As soon as I sat on my seat, it struck me that my journey had come to an end. It always makes me sad when I have to leave such a wonderful place and return back to the city full of crowd, pollution and roads full of traffic. I had to console myself to believe that experiences are special as we get to live them for a short time. A break we from the mundane lives we live in is what makes them special. I missed a few experiences and had to cut short the trip due to bad weather but I was happy. I want to give a piece of advice to you all. The desire to see it all actually makes you feel dissatisfied with the amazing things you have in front of you. Do everything you are able to, travel as much as humanly possible, also, do not stress at all.