When I was seven, I lived in Manali for a year and a half. My favorite memories from that time are of seeing my first snowfall and getting our first dog. Apart from that, we had only experienced all the usual spots on a tourist’s checklist—the Hadimba temple, Manikaran hot springs and the Rohtang pass. When I got a chance to revisit this place from my childhood, after a gap of 23 years, I naturally jumped at the opportunity!
Going back to this picturesque town was indeed a trip down memory lane. The Mall road in downtown Manali looked bustling as before, but still seemed small—just as I remembered it. I visited my old school—Day Star Academy. The school seemed much smaller than what I remembered (perhaps because I was a lot younger when I was a student there!).
The most special trip down memory lane was reserved for a visit to Span Resorts. This was the hotel property situated on the rocky banks of the River Beas that my father had run earlier and this is where I had lived. But the property had expanded a lot since I last saw it—new deluxe rooms, a therapeutic spa, and now even boasted of a private helipad! I ran into old acquaintances at the hotel and at an idyllic family-run restaurant called Fat Plate. Using ingredients from their in-house garden, the restaurant was a real find for anyone longing for delectable homestyle food and this further added to the nostalgic appeal.
In many ways, I found that despite the fact that two decades had gone by, Manali still managed to retain its untouched serenity—a rare quality not found in most north Indian hill stations. Certainly, there has been change, but it’s mostly positive.
On this trip, I stayed at a newly opened personalized boutique hotel called Urvanshi’s Retreat, which I reached after crossing the Nehru-Kund bridge. Surrounded by towering snow-clad mountains, manicured lawns, and a meandering brook, its wood-paneled interiors have been furnished with solid Victorian furniture and fine textiles. Shanag road in Bipasha valley, where it is located, didn’t exist in 1993 as far as I can remember—or maybe it was, then, a village full of orchards.
Upper Manali, the place where it is located, is undoubtedly the quieter, more peaceful part of town—lined with quaint homestays, bohemian eateries and views.
It was completely undiscovered terrain for me—and so I decided to do a short hike in the evening. I waded through miles of green orchards full of trees laden with big red apples along the banks of my old friend, the Beas river, which looked as pristine and beautiful as before. Magical meadows tucked away from civilization, and gushing streams greeted me along the way, and tiny waterfalls surprised me by springing out of nowhere. I finally reached a vista point ideal for clicking photographs called Bhima Patthar (a huge rock that is believed to have been lifted by Lord Bhima, according to Hindu mythology).
The next day I walked and reached old Manali—another eclectic spot not to miss. Old Manali is filled with dhabas, indie and reggae cafes serving thukpa and trout fish, guesthouses advertising yoga, Tai chi, and reiki sessions, and souvenir shops selling everything from books to stoles. The restaurants sported offbeat names like World Peace, Lost Monk and Babushka, with some even displaying giant posters of Bob Marley. One of the cafes clearly catered to the international palate, serving breakfasts hailing from various countries—American, Spanish, Israeli, Korean and Canadian. I chanced upon an interesting German bakery, which stocked some delicious avocado juice, yak cheese sandwiches, chocolate brownies, apple pie and honey nut cake along with some other treats.
The place reminded me a little of Goa, complete with its culture of hippies riding their motorcycles and the “living like locals” attitude of the visitors who experimented with this lifestyle soaking in the pure, unadulterated lifestyle close to nature. Experiential travel was clearly the buzzword—with foreigners making Manali their home, perhaps to re-connect with themselves, learn a new hobby or skill, or give back to society.
A lot of tourists also come from those backpacking every year in search of adventure sports such as zorbing, ziplining, parachuting and paragliding at Solang Valley. You can hire All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) for snow-biking, or indulge in some skiing, snowboarding and heli-skiing in the picturesque valley.
We decided to do another short hike from just above the Manali-Keylong road at the Vashisht hot springs—known for their sulphuric healing powers for skin and joint ailment upto the breathtaking Jogini Falls. Set against the backdrop of a cluster of small hills, the walk navigates craggy paths along lush greenery comprising majestic pine and deodar trees. The gentle trek had some of the most scenic landscapes I have seen, and it was a breezy half hour before we reached the base of the cascading waterfall. On reaching the base, we paid our visits at the Yogini Mata temple located here, and on the way back, we stopped for a refreshing cup of lemon tea sprinkled with some locally-made honey. On the way out, we sauntered around the nearby market offering a colorful collection of artistic handicrafts, Himachali rugs, Kinnauri shawls, Kullu caps, and Tibetan jewellery. Apple pickle, jams and kesar (Himalayan herb) are also available.
I had never visited these places when I lived here as a child—I realized that even though Manali had evidently changed over the years, its innocent look and feel had not changed—it’s contours and sensibility were still familiar and perhaps, timeless.
How to Reach
By air: The closest airport is at Bhuntar, located about 50 kms away from Manali.
By Train: Chandigarh is the closest station. From there, one can drive to Manali.
By Bus: Manali is well-connected to Delhi and most tourist destinations (Shimla, Kullu, Dharamshala and Leh) by both state-run and private buses.
By Road: Manali can be reached by car too. It is located about 533 kms from Delhi, 309 kms from Chandigarh and 249 kms from Shimla.
Best Season to Visit: April to November
Where to Stay:
Span Resorts and Spa:
John Banon’s Hotel:
Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. You can read all her published work on www.nehakirpal.wordpress.com