The journey to Manali may be a little tedious but nothing extraordinary. We started from home at 4.00 pm from Gurgaon for Vidhan Sabha metro station. Chhavi, my neighbor, her daughter and I were traveling to Manali from Delhi. I usually book tickets on Manali Mail but I could not get any tickets this time. So, I went with Indo-Canadian.
When we reached Majnu ka Tila, one of the pickup points in Delhi, there were at least 10 Indo-Canadian buses. My ticket mentioned a time but no bus number. No one picked up the phone on the number provided in the email. The people in the first Indo-Canadian bus coolly told us, “Your bus has already left.” I have traveled way too many times on this route to pay them any attention. But that is how the supposedly premium bus service operators deal with you.
We walked a little ahead and one Indo-Canadian bus agreed that we could board it. What I figured out is that there are many buses of the same company leaving one after the other. You could board any bus that you could muscle in.
Once we were inside the bus, the air-conditioning was a welcome relief from the Delhi heat. The kids settled down next to each-other. They had a gala time till they could keep their eyes open. Once they were sleepy they wanted to go back to their own seats next to their mothers!
We had a late dinner at Rajpura at 11.30 pm. Chhavi and I had half an Avomine, the anti-nausea medicine after it. After that we slept for the most of the journey. We reached Chandigarh in the dead of the night. The people boarding said the bus was 2 hours late by now. Even though I was sleepy, I realized that the bus kept standing at their Chandigarh office for a long time. That did not auger well for an early arrival at Manali.
When I woke up next, at 6.30 am, the bus was moving next to the beautiful Beas River. That made me hopeful. But when we went through the Aut Tunnel in the next few minutes, my heart sank. That meant we were still a long way from Manali.
We still made reasonable time. But just before entering Manali we hit a traffic jam. Chhavi was already restless. She kept telling me she was hungry because she had a packet of chips with her that my neighbor bought. I was a bit scared as she has vomited in the past after eating chips in journeys. So I told her she can’t eat chips.
About half a kilometer before the private bus stand we decided to get out as walking would be faster than just sitting in the traffic jam. I have always been able to get an auto in the past after walking a short distance. There was so much traffic all around, even walking was a pain. There was not a vacant auto in sight. In the end we walked all the way to mall road and the main bus stand. The kids walked eating chips, I gave in after all.
We got into a local bus to Jagatsukh, which is at a distance of 6 km. I was thinking that we would be soon home now. It was past 1.00 pm. We didn’t get any breakfast. But there was a huge traffic jam to get out of Manali as well. It took us more than 40 minutes to get out of the jam and get on the way to Jagatsukh.
In those 40 minutes the kids were truly downcast and restless. There were six foreigners sitting in the same bus going to Naggar. But once the bus was out of the jam after like forever, the driver accelerated and for the kids it became a joy ride! The foreigners would get equally surprised by the twist and turns of the bus!
The person sitting next to the kids asked about their vacation plan. They happily chimed about their trekking plans.
Once I reached Ramakant ji’s home, all my tiredness vanished after seeing his apple tree and the mighty Dhaulahdar beyond it. If everything goes according to the plan we are heading out on a kiddies trek tomorrow!
Manali is a picturesque small town in the Kullu Valley, in the Indian state of Himanchal Pradesh. It attracts a lot of Indian and foreign tourists, particularly in the summer months. I visited Manali in June 2005 because it is on the way to Ladakh. When rest of the India is buckling under heat wave, Manali is cool and pleasant and therein lays its charm.
There is a rail link from Delhi to a place called Jogindernagar and after that, one has to travel 92 km by bus to reach Manali. We tried this in the year 2002, while trying to reach Bhunter. The train runs on narrow gage. But in summer months, they are horribly crowded. It also moves only by divine intervention. I remember we abandoned the train at Kangra and continued by bus.
By bus, Manali is 16 hours from Delhi. Both government and private operators offer bus services. Government buses are cheap but slightly uncomfortable. Private buses (2X2) are more costly and the seats recline but many of them are in bad shape. Only the Volvo Goldline AC buses look in proper shape but they cost twice the amount of the non AC 2X2 private buses.
Manali is full of hotels of all size and shape. As soon as the bus stops at Manali, brokers of all kind descend upon the travelers. One can take their help to find a hotel or walk in any that strikes your fancy and ask for a room. The places that we stayed at are nothing to write home about.
There are many things to do at Manali but we have sampled only a few. Here are some of the attractions that we visited.
Hidimba is a character out of the famous epic Mahabharata and there is a temple devoted to her. One can take a taxi to the place but one can as easily walk up there. The way is through pine forest and as you come near the temple, you will find people trying to sell all kind of things. I remember an opportunity to get photographed with a Yak or wear a python around my neck! I declined both. The temple in itself is a curious wood building adorned with animal horns and is worth a visit. Remember you are required to remove your shoes to visit Hindu temples.
The Gadhan Thekchoking Gompa: Situated right in the middle of the city is this peaceful Buddhist architecture. It has the ‘wheels of life’ all around it and beautiful paintings and statue of Lord Buddha inside. One can voluntarily donate some money (even small amounts as Rupees 5 are welcome) that is used for maintaining the Gompa. I enjoyed this serene and beautiful place.
The main market in Manali is situated along The Mall Road. It gets crowded in the evenings in the summer months. One can buy shawls, Kullu caps, shirts or other stuff in this area. I found that prices here are lower than Ladakh. There are many eating joints along this road and one can try these places. Many hotels are also on this road. The busiest part of the town where one can take a stroll but it will not be leisurely. It could be more enjoyable in the off-season months.
Paragliding, river rafting, trekking routes and many other things can be tried in Manali but I have no personal experience of it.
The Rohtang Pass (a little more than 50 km from Manali) lies on the way to Leh. When we had started for Leh at 2 am and when we reached there an hour later, the place was bewitching. As far as the eye could see, there was snow and silence. I passed through it again while coming back from Leh. This time it was 11.00 am in the morning and as far as the eye could see there were vehicles parked all over the place and temporary tents selling food have sprung up everywhere.
What I do not like about Manali: The place is too crowded for words in the summer months and it makes it impossible to do anything leisurely.
The second thing that completely put me off Manali is the amount of litter strewn everywhere. For this I have to blame us only, the Indian tourists. We Indians take a lot of pride in keeping our houses spotlessly clean but when it comes to streets, we litter with glee. How many times you will see people sitting in a swank car eating potato chips. A little while later the empty packet of chips will be thrown in the beautiful surroundings without a thought. Imagine what will happen to a place that attracts throngs of people? It becomes dirty like anything and yet people will keep on throwing things without a thought. This was the biggest put off for me in Manali.
Those who are trying to go on trekking routes from Manali have to visit it. So, do the people who want to go to beautiful Leh or Lahul and Spiti. There is no avoiding Manali for them. And they will have to go in season only as the routes to other places are open only during those months.
I started my India travel blog, Travel Tales from India in 2005. In 2016 I realized Travel Tales from India and Abroad better reflected my writings. I love to walk and ride in metros around the world. I have not been everywhere, I am not even close, but it is on my list. I also quite my job as a professor in 2015, it was a happening year! I did a Ph.D. from IIT Kanpur ages ago!
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