Manali, a picturesque hill station situated at a height of 6308 ft lies at the northern end of Himachal Pradesh and is undoubtedly one of the best Hill stations India has. At a distance of 550 km from the capital city of Delhi, Manali is the most sought out holiday destination for travelers. The snow-clad hill tops and amazing scenic beauty captures every person’s heart and offers an immense yet an extraordinary experience, no matter how many times you visit the place….. For me, it’s my favorite destination to let loose and embrace what life has to offer…along with a calmness that soothes the soul… so last winter’s we set of for a wintry holiday to Manali to celebrate a white Christmas!!
We left Gurgaon at 4 am to avoid the mad traffic at Delhi’s Azadpur Mandi area and soon were on the NH 1. The cold morning breeze helped lift our moods for the long travel ahead! We stopped at ‘Zhilmil’ for breakfast on the Karnal Bypass and after filling up with hot parathas and coffee, we were back on the road without wasting much time.
I had prepared well for the journey and that included a comprehensive list of short cuts to take and the best places to eat on the way!! So those who are travelling by their own car, I’d suggest not to turn right for Chandigarh after Ambala, but rather keep going straight towards the toll gate (8-9 km from Ambala). Just before the Toll Gate(approx: 40 mtrs before the toll)there’s a single road on the right that leads to Banur which is about 30 kms away…after which you hit a red light that’s the Chandigarh Rajpura road…keep moving straight for another 25 kms till you reach the Chandigarh Ropar Highway…the place is Kharar…you now turn left and on the NH21 and drive towards Ropar. This recommended route actually saves 2 hours and the roads are great.
We reached Swargate and stopped for an early lunch at the HPTDC Hotel Hilltop, which offers hygienic food with a relaxing environment offering the hill view. For those who don’t want to stop at Swargate, Visco Resort between Ner Chowk and Mandi on the right hand side is a vegetarian’s delight.
From Swargate-Bilaspur-Sundernagar –Mandi the road is full of twists and turns… till you reach Aut and the Pandoh Dam. Thereon the road condition is good. The Pandoh Dam helps divert water from River Beas to River Sutlej that passes through the heart of Bilaspur and ultimately reaches Pakistan!
I love the massive lake structure that’s surrounded by hills on 3 sides. Once you cross the long tunnel at Aut, you are in the Kullu district and from this point the River Beas flows with you till you reach Manali.
The drive itself is adventurous and has some beautiful stop over’s, that could be made to enjoy the wonderful natural surrounding and the river side. We stopped for snacks near the River Beas for a while before starting off. This area is also famous for adventure sports like trekking, river rafting etc. The road from Kullu to Manali was pretty rough with pit holes and construction work going on, however our spirits were high and we reached our destination by 7 pm.
Our accommodation was at the Army Area- Palchan (11 kms from Manali on the Rohtang road). Palchan is tiny little hamlet surrounded by snow peaked hills all around and offers a breathtaking view of the Rohtang. The green valley surrounding the military area is perfect for capturing the best of the green pastures and the majestic hills.
The evening wind was chilly but none of us ever expected it to turn freezing cold within 2 hours (it was -2 degrees at 8 pm already) and by dinner we were all freezing and were unsure if we would survive the extreme weather and had to seriously rethink on opting out for a hotel soon (it was a transit accommodation so not well equipped). Anyhow, we survived the night and hoped for a better place the next day onwards….
Next morning, we reloaded and rushed back to the Manali town and opted for a hotel that offered great view of the hills, Beas River and the dense forest cover…what more could we ask for!!
The wind was still chilly but the weather was much more bearable than it was at Palchan. We unpacked our bags and headed towards the town for some much needed breakfast. Try Mom’s Kitchen and German Bakery that make some slurp..cious English breakfast…and some lip smacking deserts. Rest of the day we ventured to see the famous Hadimba temple (dedicated to Hadimba, one of the wives of Bhima from the Mahabharata). It’s the same temple where a scene from ‘Roja’ was shot..where the actor gets kidnapped…this fact also attracts a lot of tourists…
Another interesting feature in the temple premise are the Angora Rabbits…these are soft furry rabbits known for their expensive wool. You can click some pictures but will need to pay some amount to do so.
After walking for a while, we opted to go by the river and watch the sunset before returning to the mall road for Dinner.
We needed to be at Rohtang so started at 7-7:30 hoping to miss the long traffic jam midway….
Rohtang pass, the gateway to Lahaul-Spiti lies just 51 kms north of Manali and takes about 3-4 hrs to reach. At a height of 13,050 ft. Rohtang is covered with snow thought the year and closed during the Winter season (weather is quite unpredictable). I recently learnt that ‘Rohtang’ is Tibetan language means house of corpses! Even during the Monsoons, the roads can become slippery and landslides cause the highway to be closed (which can be for a few hours or a whole day). Remember the road to Rohtang remains closed on all Tuesdays between 0900-1800 hrs for carrying out the road widening work that’s in progess.
Kothi is about 4 km from Palchan and the last village before the Chinese Border. The area is surrounded by deep gorge through which the river Beas flows. It’s a must stop for a few minutes just to enjoy the nature’s bounty. You can grab some quick breakfast here as after wards there are no food joints. Further on people can travel upto Gulaba if weather permits to view the snow peaks and the picturesque meadows.
We reached Rohtang by 12, thanks to the traffic jam midway near Marhi (11,500 ft and 39 km form Rohtang Pass). From Marhi to Rohtang the roads are being widened so there will be additional delay. During December the drive to Rohtang may be dangerous and there are many waterfalls on the way that are completely frozen. This leads to slippery roads (very risky to drive on…too). Hire a skilled driver from Manali town for a safer journey. We too opted to leave our Scorpio at the hotel and take an Indica instead (rates vary from 1000-1500/per day). If you are adventures, there are various options to hire a Bike too.
On Rohtang, food options are limited to Maggi, Tea/Coffee or most luckily eggs.. so make sure to carry your own snacks specially if you are travelling with kids.
The view at Rohtang simply takes your breath away…enchanting hills covered with glittering snow and the clear blue sky transfers you to an exotic location beyond the land…Spend time playing on the snow, riding a sled or simply take in the visuals.
Being our last day we planned to visit the Sollang valley to relax and enjoy nature’s beauty.
Sollang is a valley just 15 km from Manali and offers a breathtaking view of the snow-capped mountains, green pastures and some fine ski slopes for the skiers (HPTDC organises ski packages during winters). On other seasons, one may opt for paragliding, Horse riding or taking a trip in the 300 meter Ski lift (fixed rates)to get the best view of the entire valley. Don’t forget to bargain on Horse Rides, Zorbing and Para Gliding. The Manali Mountaineering Institute (MMI) imparts special training in skiing for freshers. Sollang also hosts the annual winter skiing festival.
Again food options are limited to Maggie and chips, so carry your own food and reserve your spot for a quite picnic. We saw a nice spot near the Beas and luckily got some cut wood and build a warm fire…sat there for a few hours and then returned back.
Other places to see in and around Manali:
I have seen them in my many trips to Manali, so writing just brief pointers on the most famous spots….
Vashisth: situated 3 km from the town of Manali, Vashisth is renowned for hot sulphur springs that has medicinal value and has an ancient temple dedicated to the great sage Vashisht and Lord Rama. The Himachal Tourism sulphur baths are just beyond these shrines.
Naggar: was also the capital of Kullu during the 16th Century and has some glorious monuments from that period including the Naggar Castle which is a stone and wood structure build by Raja Sidh Singh over 500 years ago and is now a heritage hotel under the HPTDC. The place is a quick day visit and has a spectacular view of the River Beas of one side and the majestic hills on the other. Soak in the view while having lunch, an experience you’ll never forget. Do visit the various temples near the castle and the house of the famous artist, painter, explorer and archeologist Nicholas Roerich (Oct 9, 1874-Dec 13, 1947).
The house now exhibits his art that depicts the world, the mythic origins, natural beauty, highlighted the spiritual strivings of humanity and of the world. He was a Russian but died in Kullu.
Arjun Gufa: a legendary ancient cave located 15 km from the main town near Prini Village, where Arjuna, one of the Pandavas practiced stringent meditation and attained the powerful Pashupata Ashtra (a powerful weapon used in warfare). On your way to the Arjun caves, you may visit Jagatsukh, a village, which was at one time the capital of Kullu and is famous for a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and Sandhya Gayatri.
Tibetan Monasteries: 2 are located in the town area while one is near to Aleo on the left bank of river Beas. These are recently constructed and worth a visit once.
There is something special about this place that can’t be put down in mere words, something that keeps bringing me back again and again to this beautiful Hill station with captivating hills, green meadows, green deodar forests, silver birch trees, the serene pine forests and the intense Beas …
Distance from Delhi: 550 Km
Travel Time: 12-14 hours with 2-3 breaks in between
Best Time to Visit: Anytime, however to view snow…Late Dec-early March
Driving Directions and Map: http://bit.ly/vq3jL9