The Valley of Gods, Parvati Valley
Demetrius D’Souza tells us why Manali is the perfect hippie hideaway if you need to get out of the city…
A fter hearing of the journeys of numerous friends, I finally made my way to Manali this May, accompanied by three close companions. Situated at approximately 520kms from Delhi along the Beas River, Manali is a popular hill station in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh. Its cedar forests, snow covered peaks, countless streams and waterfalls evoke a great sense of peace.
A summer vacation in Manali entails being surrounded by throngs of Indian tourists and honeymooners. Upon arrival, we observed that the main market area was extremely crowded and so decided to go up to Old Manali; a stretch of steep road along a Beastributary, to seek out peace in this less crowded hippie haven.
The route, although barely 3km long, took us almost forty minutes by cab. We realised that the hordes of tourists meant constant traffic jams on the heavily stressed, narrow network of Manali roads.
Once there, we scouted for a while and after some negotiation got a large, well maintained and neatly decorated room for `600 a night at the Oakland guesthouse. This was the start of a memorable and eventful stay at a place that is synonymous with ganja and hippies.
Over the course of our stay in Manali, we experienced an array of food. The main market area has a host of Indian restaurants, where every cuisine from South Indian to Delhi chaat, Indian Chinese and of course North Indian thalis are available. At almost every location, bottled apple juice, a result of the local apple orchards, is the staple drink.
In Old Manali however, the line up of eateries are tuned more to the foreign tourists. Shesh Besh, a popular “chill spot,” run by its foreign and local owners together, is definitely a must visit. Apart from a fairly priced wide range of Italian, Israeli and Indian cuisine, we experienced a great percussion gig there. The Dylan’s Cafe, where the owner prepares a great range of coffee, is another nice place where you can grab breakfast. Numerous other cafes line the streets of Old Manali waiting to be explored.
After the first night we decided to rent bikes (an Enfield 350 will cost you `600 per day), which we recommend because it means saving a lot on travel in and around Manali. The cedar forest, surrounding the Hadimba temple is a busy tourist spot, where elderly locals shoved a white, furry ball at us. I soon realised this was a rabbit which they charged us to click photos with. We also visited the Vashisht temple, located 3km from Manali, another busy spot known for its main attraction, the sulphur hot water springs. Further north of Manali, we came across the Solang valley, the snow-free hub for recreational sports such as paragliding, zorbing, horse-riding, all-terrain-vehicle and more.
The highlight of our trip however was a 50km bike ride to the Rothang pass. Most people usually hire a large car for the journey, but we decided to test our mettle and ride there. We left at 5am, as it is best to tackle the rugged ghats before the ice begins to melt. We stopped at various eateries and picturesque spots on the way for some gorgeous photo-ops. The ride to Marhi (around 16km short of Rothang) was fairly easy. But beyond that the narrow, sludge filled, treacherous roads made the ride not only eventful, but also an adventurous experience.
Frequently getting stuck in the muck, the pillion riders would have to jump off and start pushing the bikes. On reaching the pass, we discovered that it was similar to Solang but at a much higher altitude. However, being snow covered, snowmobiles, sledges, inflated tyres (to slide on) and yaks (to ride on) were the sports gear of choice. After munching on the Rothang staple — Maggi noodles and omelette, we rode back to Manali.
We stayed in Manali for all of three days and apart from bustling crowds and glutes-numbing traffic jams; Manali truly is a great hill station. If you are adventurous enough, it will live up to its epithet The Valley of the Gods.
If you do end up going to the Fringe, here’s a list of must do’s for the budget backpacker:
Getting there: You can reach Manali by taking one of the many private bus services from Delhi. It is a 13 hour journey and costs `1,000. Alternatively, you can fly to Bhuntar (the nearest airport, 50km away) and take the local buses/taxis to Manali.
What to carry: Apart from travel, you should carry approximately `1,500 a day. And if you’re travelling post October, don’t forget to pack gloves and thermals!
MUST take a bike trip from Manali to Rohtang pass.
Photo Courtesy - Shruti Datar