Amidst the Himalayas, kissed by twilight
Lies a majestic little wonderland,
Where clouds look like floating balls of cotton so white
Where the rivers sing lullaby as it touches the sand
Where orchards are laden with fruits in blissful cornucopia
People call it Manali, I call it Utopia.
I am from the mountains, and I have therefore kept Gangtok on the pedestal, my love for my home is unbound and that’s probably the reason why I never really liked any other hill station. I would always compare all aspects of the mountains with my home, Gangtok. For instance, the freezing temperatures of the hill stations would be a joke for me, and all I would say is Gangtok is colder, or I would continuously brag about how clean Gangtok is in terms of other commercialized tourist locations.
However, this time it was different, as I entered this wonderland after a 14hour long drive from Delhi, I instantly fell in love. The scenic road-trip was so breathtaking that I didn’t even bother to take a nap. The beauty of the river Beas flowing next to the road filled me with nostalgia of the route to Gangtok, with River Teesta which also flows just by the side of the road.
I stayed in Old Manali and I liked it more than Manali. Here’s a list of all the things that you can keep in your bucket-list apart from the ones you already have, while visiting this place.
- Stop, stare and capture
The way to Manali is simply so picturesque that you ought to take a few stops, the mountains, their hues, the rivers, the orchards, and the air, everything is magical. Grab that camera and capture as many shots as you can to reminisce this magic later, and when you are done doing that, simply breathe in the fresh air all around you. The view is surely going to mesmerize you.
- Climb on a Hilltop
Trek to the top of the highest point you can climb, depending on your stamina of course, do not exert yourself too much as the air in the mountains is thin and may cause some difficulty in breathing, so choose your highest point accordingly. Spend some lone time there, watch everything around, observe the changing hues of the mountains with distance, listen to your favorite tracks or whatever. The idea is just to relax, let go of the daily chaos of your life and revel in the surreal beauty that this place has to offer.
Every new place has a cuisine to be explored apart from the places to visit. I believe memories have a strange way of building, taste, fragrance, events all get associated with places when you travel. For me I would specifically remember a place for its lip smacking food. Same goes with Manali, there are numerous quaint little cafes, in the town which offer more than just good food. The Lazy Dog Café offers some delectable recipes apart from the drinks and live performances. It could burn a hole in your pocket if you are on a budget, but the food is worth a taste. The People Café is equally alluring, however I settled for the Moondance Café, and all I can say is the food was out of the world, just about the right amalgamation of flavours and perfect cooking.
- Shop till you drop
Beautiful, colourful markets often are one of the main attractions of the hills and you can find some really beautiful and unique things here that you may never find at a shopping mall. Manali has a big market along the length and breadth of the Mall Road, but I loved the market above in Old Manali, which was not really a market, but a line of shops selling stuffs very characteristic to most of the mountains frequented by foreigners. The hippie clothes, harem pants, oversized flannel shirts, woolen ponchos, handicrafts, lots of ‘Rasta’ inspired merchandise and beautiful Hemp bags.
- Go sight seeing
None other than the local cab driver or auto-wallah is your best guide to a hill station, so simply head out. We planned our itinerary carefully covering the basic spots of attraction in and around Manali. We headed to Manu Temple, Hidimba Temple, and Vashisht.
The walk to Manu Temple was short and it is a simple yet beautiful wooden structure which also houses an ancient wooden palanquin which is taken out on a procession in the city during the festival of Dushhera.
The Hidimba temple is a marvelous wooden structure over a cave and has its history linked to Mahabharata. This temple is dedicated to Hidimba, the wife of Bhima.
Vashisht too has a temple dedicated to the sage Vashishta, and has a hot spring inside the temple. Being and aqua phobic person, it was a big deal and a tick mark in my personal bucket-list, when I entered the steaming hot waterbody. It was a both liberating and relaxing experience. Mission accomplished I said with a mental high-five!
Mountain people are the friendliest lot you will ever meet while travelling, therefore interact with the locals, when you go someplace. I met a very sweet auto-wallah while wayfaring across Manali, who answered all my questions related to which movie was shot where? This person showed me every possible place which may have featured in some or the other movie, and lay within the circumference of our route. He also asked me to beware of the roadside hawkers who sell Saffron at throwaway prices, claiming it to be 100% pure.
I also befriended a tailor and two of his employees who sewed some beautiful shirts within no time for me, all customized plus I got a discount and freshly plucked juicy apples. I also got invited to their homes and we exchanged numbers to keep in contact and meet again when in Manali.
Locals are a wonderful way of gathering trivia, additional information which may not feature elsewhere and see the place in a whole different light. Believe me, they help a lot in content curation.
- Fruits and Orchards
These hills are blessed with a variety of fruits which are unbelievably delicious plus the orchards are worth seeing. The fruits mostly found here are Apples of many kinds, Red, Green and Golden, Kiwis, Japani (Persimonn Fruit) and many more. I stopped at a small village called Katrain, on the way to Manali, which had many wide expanses of orchards spread across its length. A few kilometers from Katrain is huge market where all the fruit merchants auction their produce and it is from here that all the fruit supply is catered to in the northern part of the country. Stop by at this beautiful place and buy as many boxes or crates as you like because this is the place where you can find fruits so cheap. I bought a whole carton weighing 5kgs for just Rs 110 and a kilo of Kiwis for Rs 50 only. I did not bargain hard as the people were too sweet and so were the apples!
Well, my trip to Manali was fun filled and one of the best trips I have had in a long time. I wish to go back soon. These are just a few things I could manage to do during my impromptu short trip to this paradise, I may have missed out many other things that are worth trying and experiencing here. Please leave me a comment and I will add it to my bucketlist.
One last request, when you visit this place, leave it beautiful and clean as you found it. Please do not litter, you may loiter though! Keep travelling and keep exploring. Ciao!