Longing for a holiday is nothing new. We want it everyday. But the anticipation of celebrating dream jobs is truly out of the ordinary. After a long time, I felt that I really deserved a holiday. So did the rest of my group (henceforth known as Pinchus). After all, we just finished our MBA. At least that’s what it’s said.#MBAKhatam. The next 2 months will be nothing but sequels to the Manali Winters. Maybe the Rann or the sands of the Thar. The beaches of Goa or the Nariyal Paanis of Alibaug. Who knows. Let us savour the cold of Manali till the next time.
Planning it Out
There were a lot options that we looked at before zeroing in on Manali. This part is particularly important for reasons you will come to know later. Our options included Auli, Nainital – Jim Corbett, Shimla – Dharamsala, Manali – Kasol. Everybody had their own preferences. But one thing that people wanted was common. SNOW. And that would go on to define our trip.
I have been to Manali twice before and this trip kept on giving me flashes of the past. Still the same – Fully commercialized. But this was before my TravelKien days. Since a majority of the group had never been there, we decided on Manali. The allure of snow was a big factor for a lot of them.
The holiday in essence started from New Delhi. But I’ll skip that one for now. Delhi gave me some great sights to behold. It deserves a special mention. (Mumbai is still the best city though :P)
Let’s journey together now…
We were a group of 10. Past experience dictated us that 2 cars are not a viable option. It takes away a lot of charm from the trip itself. We decided to book a traveler. It is a great way to travel in groups of 9 – 15 as the whole gang is bunched up together and you can have loads of fun on the way. Plus it’s much better than cramming yourself in a Qualis or a Xylo. Traveler will typically charge you Rs.16 – Rs.18 depending on the operator for a 10 seater. The rates increase by Rs.2 for adding a bigger traveler. With a minimum of 250 kms/day charge and Rs.300/day for the driver, expect the total cost to be around 33K – 34K for a 6 day journey including the various state taxes and tolls.
Setting our luggage neatly in the trunk, we set out for a night journey leaving Delhi at 7pm. It’s best to journey in the night for long distances. It saves you time to explore your destinations and also your accommodation costs. The distance of 530 kms is covered smoothly in around 15 hours. A personal vehicle might take less time but then again we were the Pinchus. We had to stop for tea on a lot of occasions in honour of the tea outside the mess in the evenings. Plus, the hearty Punjabi dhaba meal that was on my radar for a long time.
TravelKien Tip: The highway is peppered with a lot of dhabas but if you’re in mood for some Butter Chicken you might be disappointed. All the dhabas are Pure Veg. Luckily for us, our driver knew the rare non veg serving dhaba.
The meal definitely did not disappoint. Naans with dollops of butter give me foodgasms at any point of the day. The butter roti from Amritsar I had 6 years ago still teases me in my dreams.
3 tea stops later, we saw the sun shine on the snow covered mountains and their beauty had already left us spellbound. There had been a fresh coat of snow because of a snowfall the previous night. The soft white snow had enveloped the trees and the roofs of the tiny houses on both sides of the winding road. We didn’t feel tired. The journey had just begun. We reached our destination and checked into Manali Continental. Contrary to its name, its not that exotic. The rooms were nice and clean. The ambience was cosy. This being an off – season we got a pretty good deal. It set us back by only Rs.400/person/night.
TravelKien Tip : Check out travel portals such as Cleartrip, Goibibo etc for hotel bookings. You will get some amazing deals.
Let me give you a lowdown of the things to do in Manali. I will share a suggested itinerary at the end of this blog.
- Short Treks
Our hotel had a little board outside which gave us some nice walking trails to explore the old and new of Manali along with the nearby areas. From 6kms to 10kms, there were very good options. Keep in mind that 6kms is very different in a cold region. We started a 6km trek that took us from the hotel to Vashisht Temple.
A small temple that has stood the test of times for 4000 years is an important place for pilgrims. While I suggest you to skip bathing in hot springs, a small prayer at the temple would probably soothe your souls.
Leading on, our trail took us through a lot of narrow lanes on the way to Jogni Falls. This was to be our last stop before joining the highway on our way back to the hotel but we had to cut short the trail as the sun was setting and it would be risky to navigate in the dark. See the photo attached for some more trek options. You can always create your own trail. Manali is full of places to explore!!!
- Hadimba Temple
Almost all blogs and travel websites will tell you to visit this temple. You see, there aren’t a lot of popular places to explore in Manali. So this becomes a tourist destination all the same. Hadimba Temple is very different from the traditional Hindu temples in terms of the architecture. At first glance, you wouldn’t believe it to be a Hindu temple at all.
The roof itself will make you think it to be Chinese structure. The mythological stories associated with it make it a good experience. If you’re religious then this should be on your list. If not, go all the same because you wouldn’t want to be cooped up in the hotel room all day.
Just behind the temple is the Van Vihar where you will see a lot of Deodar trees.
A forest of tall, magnificent trees. A much better alternative to the temple in my opinion for the fact that you can just walk through them and feel like you’re in the Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts.
Walking is one of my favourite things and this provided a great setting. A great place for some picture memories and a leisurely stroll.
- Solang Valley
Snow! Snow! Snow! … People went berserk at seeing snow. For some it was the first time and they surely had a blast making snowmen and throwing snow at each other.
Reality check – Solang Valley is not what you expect it to be. This is not Switzerland. This is India in its truest sense. Masters of packaging a dud (Give those men an MBA!!!). The tourist spot here is a small flat land of snow where hundreds of tourists are crammed. Some of them trying to ski (LOL), some on snow mobiles (Double LOL) and others wandering aimlessly trying to figure out where the hell have they landed themselves onto. I am not being overly critical. This is true. If you’re planning to go to Solang keep in mind these harsh realities.
Skiing is a 20metre patch where you try to just maintain your balance. Being a ski virgin I would have loved to attend Skiing 101 but sadly that’s not the case here. Seeing little local children maneuver downhill was embarrassing. All hopes crashed when all one wanted to do is to learn. Kind of like our education system !!!
Snowmobiles are a farce. You don’t get to drive. Just some to and fro rounds sitting behind a driver. You really would like it better to spend your money elsewhere. A hearty meal perhaps? But for experience sake this might be appreciated by a lot of Indians who yearn to travel abroad but aren’t able to do so.
The good things about Solang Valley – Visit in the summers!!! …You will get to experience adventure sports like Zorbing and Paragliding. Though I have my doubts about the kind of experience you will get.
There is also a cable car ride here. We skipped that as we were saturated with the scenery. For families, this will be where you should put your money.
TravelKien Tip: The dungarees and snow shoes that are offered at 250/person can be skipped if you have adequate clothing. It’s a valley, so you wouldn’t feel too cold.
Next Week – Some more places to see. Food in Manali and Pinchus get up close and personal with you!!!