Nestled in the Himalayan foothills, Manali is a hill station that is famous for its pristine ambience and carries significant religious importance. Tourists from all walks of life and from various countries flock this hill station in summer as well as in winter. Manali has a lot more to offer than just beautiful views and a scenic environment. It is famous for adventure sports such as mountaineering, paragliding, hiking, skiing and whitewater rafting. Furthermore, this Indian town is ideal for someone who has an inclination towards religion. Numerous Buddhist monasteries and Hindu temples give a divine aura to this place which is near the source of the Beas River. This town also offers many side trips to nearby tourist attractions and is a melting pot for people who enjoy quite treks in this valley. Also called as the Switzerland of India, this town has much to offer to tourists and pilgrims alike.
Getting There :
By Air : Manali is located in the northern corner of the Kullu valley in the state of Himachal Pradesh. The nearest airport is Bhuntar which is a small town located about thirty miles from Manali. Flights are available from Delhi as well as Chandigarh; however the prices are higher as there are fewer passengers and the planes are smaller. It’s advisable not to carry too much luggage if you fly to the place since only a limited amount of baggage is allowed on the airplane. Also be ready for unexpected delays in winter and Monsoon due to the weather conditions.
By road : The town is connected to Delhi, Chandigarh, Dharamsala, and Leh and it takes around eighteen hours to reach Manali from Delhi. Although this is a frugal option, it can be uncomfortable as a complete day is spent in getting there and not recommended for people who are visiting India for the first time. Taxis are also available from Delhi and are a little expensive compared to buses; however make sure that you hire an experienced driver who has visited the hill station before.
By rail : The Town is connected by rail to two major cities; Chandigarh and Ambala Cantonment. However it is better to choose Chandigarh as your starting point since you will have to travel to Ambala first and it takes around ten hours by road from Delhi to Ambala. Traveling by rail in India is one of the best options if you want a comfortable as well as low-priced method of getting anywhere. Make sure that you book your tickets well in advance and choose the air conditioned coach as it not as overcrowded as other coaches.
Once you have reached this beautiful hill station, there are various options for local travel and you can choose among these depending on your budget, the season, and the duration of your stay. Many tourists hire a taxi for getting around the town and the usual charge can be anywhere from INR 1000 to INR 1500 ($20-$30) for a single day. If you are planning a short sojourn then this option is the best as you will not compromise on comfort and enjoy many tourist attractions in a single day. Another option is to hire a bike and the cost is approximately ten to fifteen dollars a day depending on the season. The local Indian government buses are not recommended as they are unreliable and not very frequent. Rickshaws are also another option but they are expensive and a little uncomfortable compared to taxi cabs.
The Rohtang pass is at an altitude of 3979 meters or 13,050 feet from the sea level and offers some breathtaking views. However, this pass is closed during winters because of heavy snow and is cold even in the summer months. The Pass is almost an hour’s drive from the hill station and it can take a complete day for you to reach the place and get back to Manali.
The Hidimba Devi Temple
This temple was built in the 1500’s and carries immense religious importance in Hinduism. This place holds significance in the Mahabharata Epic in which the exiled Pandavas were threatened and attacked by Hidimb who was a Raskhas (demon). A fight ensued between Bheema (one of the Pandavas) and Hidimb was killed in the battle. However, Bheema later married Hidimb’s sister Hidimba giving birth to a great warrior named Ghatotkach who had a pivotal role to play in Mahabharata. The temple is thronged by tourists and visitors and is unique since it is very old and is located in a cave.
Vashist Hot Water Springs
These are medicinal springs that are supposed to have a salubrious effect and are not far away from Manali itself. Located approximately one mile from the town, these springs are equipped with Turkish baths for the convenience of tourists. There are two temples dedicated to saint Vashist and the smaller one has beautiful and elaborate wood carvings. The temple tanks are the underground hot water springs that contain sulfur which gives the water medicinal properties.
There are many Tibetan monasteries in Manali and are worth seeing; some of the famous monasteries include the Thekchoking Gompa which is near ‘the mall’ and was constructed in 1969. The highest concentration of Buddhist monasteries is here in Manali and the Thekchoking Gompa also offers hand woven carpets which bring in some revenue to keep the monastery running. Another famous monastery is the Himalayan Nyingamapa Gompa which is smaller than Thekchoking Gompa but is beautiful, with flowers blooming around the place.
This place is thronged by tourists who are in search of adventure sports and some adrenalin. The valley offers various recreational activities to tingle your adrenal glands and is most visited during winter. Some of the adventure sports that can be enjoyed are skiing, paragliding, skating, and parachuting. However, some of these sports cannot be enjoyed in the summer but you can always go for Zorbing which is a sport in which two people are put inside a giant ball and rolled down a 200 meter hill.
This place is also known for its hot springs and is also a pilgrimage site for Hindus and Sikhs. The place has mythological importance and is a good place only if you are interested in visiting temples and other places of worship.
Old Manali is much more tranquil and peaceful compared to Manali town since the town is filled with honeymooners and families from all over India. It is crowded in the summer and is only good for making travel reservations or shopping. However old Manali is good for people who want the distinctive village atmosphere and charm rather than the hustle and bustle of the town. It is a good place for quiet morning walks and short treks. You can also enjoy the local wine in old Manali which costs around five dollars (American) a bottle.
Since Manali is a tourist attraction, there are numerous hotels ranging from the luxurious to small lodges for short and frugal stays. Some of the best hotels are The Picadily (the mall, city center), Hotel Manali Ashok (left bank aloe, Manali), Ambassador Resort (Sunny side, Chadiyari), and Holiday Inn (Prini, Manali). These are four star hotels that are located in the town; however more luxurious hotels can be found in the suburban areas of Manali.
Manali has a potpourri of delicacies and staple diets to offer and food from many cultures and countries has found its way into the local restaurants and eateries. The local food is similar to Indian food albeit the recipes are different. You can enjoy various Indian cuisines such as the Gujarati ‘Thali’ or even pamper your taste buds with Tibetan delights. The German bakery in Old Manali is one of the melting pots for foreigners and tourists who want fresh palatable baked goods. Apple orchards also dot the scenic landscape and fresh apples can be bought at a very low price. Avoid roadside eateries and seedy hotels if you are visiting India for the first time. However, the In-House restaurants of premium hotels are good places for foreigners who are particular about hygienic gastronomy.
Manali is a safe place for tourists; however caution is advised since this place is also the hub of Marijuana and Hashish smokers who can indulge in the vice since the plant grows like a weed here. Do not accept anything to smoke from a stranger and always keep your baggage sealed and visible. Drug smuggling is not uncommon in Manali and many peddlers come here to transport their contraband to other places in India and all over the world. Moreover, do not venture outside after midnight as it may not be safe since this is a sparsely populated hilly area.