Magical Manali

, Cover Story

The best part about being in Manali is enjoying the view from the top, “where the earth meets the sky” – barren mountains, clear blue sky, the wind and the quietness

As far as hill getaways are concerned, Manali is on the been-there-done-that list of everyone. But then, isn’t that for the average tourist? For the true traveller, Manali will offer you something new every time you visit it. Take the breathtaking views, for instance. The apple orchards against the snow-capped peaks will never look the same twice. There will perhaps be a rainbow added.

One of the most beautiful hill stations in India, Manali not only has many steep valleys but also daunting snow-capped peaks. The arduous 12-hour drive from Delhi across hilly terrains is both exciting as well as back-breaking to say the least. But in the end, it really is worth it! At the tip of the Kullu Valley, about 2,100 feet above the sea level on the banks of the Beas river, Manali offers much more than just the breathtaking natural scenery.

Spoilt for Choice

Manali offers something for everyone – adventure sports, mountaineering and trekking, pilgrimage sights and natural beauty (especially the apple, plum and cherry orchards). It is also an important Hindu pilgrimage site with several temples and places of interest. In fact, the origins of Manali, as per Hindu mythology are in the origins of life itself.

Manali means “Manu-Alaya” meaning “the abode of Manu” the Hindu sage with the same name. Legend has it that sage Manu stepped off his ark in Manali to recreate human life after the great flood in this place of breathtaking natural beauty. It was in the mountains in Manali that life truly began. Old Manali village has an ancient temple dedicated to Rishi Manu. Today, this legendary cradle of civilisation is a prime holiday destination. There are high mountains shrouded by silent snows and deep boulder strewn gorges. There are thick forests, filled with cool breezes and bird songs. There are fields of wild flowers, small picturesque hamlets and fruit laden orchards. And all these offer you a plethora of choices when in Manali.

Heritage High

Just about 50 kms from Manali is Rohtang Pass, a delightful and picturesque route where the traditional Himachali cottages dotting the mountains are a sight to behold. The best part about being in Manali is enjoying the view from the top, “where the earth meets the sky” – barren mountains, clear blue sky, the wind and the quietness. Time does freeze at that spot. But the real treasures of Manali are in its quaint heritage-style structures. While you may come across a few historic homes built during the British Raj and preserved by some families, it is heartening to note a few other properties that have followed the traditional ‘Kath Khuni’ style of construction.

Prominent among these is Shivadya, a unique resort that focuses on the principles of sustainable tourism and is inspired by the local architecture of the Himalayan region. The resort is entirely built of wood, stones and mud, just as the traditional houses in Himachal, based on the Kath Kuni style of building popular in the Kullu region. In fact, it draws heavily from the Naggar Castle and the Tripura Sundari temples – and it has become a tradition for people with the passage of time to come and appreciate the nuances present within these architectural marvels.

The Hidimba Devi Temple (where the demon-wife of the mighty Pandava Bheem is the presiding deity) is a superb example of Himachali architecture. Built in 1553, this superbly crafted four tiered pagoda roof temple is famous for its exquisitely carved doorway. One of Manali’s main attractions, Vashishth is a place of utmost luxury where you can enjoy a relaxing bath in the water of hot sulphur springs of Himachal Pradesh. These baths are renowned for their medicinal qualities.

Adrenal in Rush

Manali is a heaven for wellness seekers and adrenaline junkies. With Manali as your base, you can experience different kinds of adventures. Snowy peaks, gravelly cliff sides and rolling greens – Manali has something to offer to trekkers as well. Being strapped to an inflated boat and being hurled through a frothy cold river might not seem like a family activity but river rafting through Grade II and III rapids on the Beas, near Manali, has enormous potential for family bonding! It’s safe and exciting at the same time. You strap in at Pirdi (40 km from Manali) and move towards Jhiri, moving along the river for 14 kms for about 45 minutes.

For quieter ways, you can go kayaking at Pandoh Dam, or try river crossing suspended on a harness over the white waters. You may also try canoeing in the waters of Vashisht. Manali is a hotspot where you can even do short courses in paragliding for a week or more. It’s pretty safe — just ensure you sign up with operators who are registered with the tourism department. You must try paragliding in Marhi and Solang Nala.

The main reason for the popularity of Manali is the snow. During the months of September till March, snow will greet you at your hotel doorstep and during the months of April till August, Rohtang will leave you captivated with its panoramic views.

The principal slopes of the Solang Valley offer amateur skiers an opportunity to perfect the craft. It is also the venue for the Alpine Premier League, which invites ski contestants from across the world. Similarly, the English introduced trout in the Beas and today the Tirthan Valley and the river are chock-full and perfect spots for angling. If you are a first-timer definitely take a guide and don’t forget to pick up the day-long fishing permits that allow you a generous catch of six trout a day across almost 45 kms of water.

Getting There

The airport at Bhuntar is 50 kms from Manali where taxis and buses are available. The closest broad gauge rail heads are Chandigarh (310kms) and Ambala (355 kms). By road the distance from Delhi via Mandi is 585 kms, and from Shimla the distance is 270 kms. From Shimla, Chandigarh and Delhi, Himachal Tourism plies luxury buses to Manali. But be cautious as the roads are being constructed right now and a road journey to the hills is not for the faint-hearted!

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