It is difficult to find a vehicle in India without some sort of dent, scratch or missing part. As we started our journey to the Himalayan mountain city of Manali, our one hour forty-five minute taxi ride from the Delhi airport (we flew in from Goa) to the bus station is involved in two accidents. Each time, words were exchanged through an open window but each driver just drove away. After the second accident and after several kilometres of listening to a rubbing sound coming from the front end, our taxi driver stopped on the side of the highway and pulled out the piece of front fender that had been rubbing the tire. Later, during our excruciating (seriously too old for this type of travel) fourteen hour bus ride, our Volvo bus driver misjudged a pass on a blind corner and slammed into the side of a cargo truck. We stop for a few minutes while seven men stand outside and chat about whatever. They picked up a few pieces of debris on the road and before we knew it, we were back on the road with remnants of the side mirror dangling from the bus. We concluded car ownership in India would not be for us.
Beautiful, awesome, incredible Manali sits at an elevation of 2050 metres (m) above sea level (Jasper, Alberta is 1062 m and the highest peak in the rocky mountains is Mount Elbert at 4401 m). Manali is nestled in towering peaks and mountains covered in green trees. Its beautiful postcard-perfect setting is enhanced by the crystal clean Beas River, parks exploding with massive cedars, a pedestrian friendly (no vehicles) people-watching street and Tibetan influences around each corner.
We arrived in this gem of a city (population 8100) and it immediately felt like home. We could not believe we were still in India. The road to our accommodations, a forty-five minute walk, followed along the river where birds sang and a pleasantly crisp breeze kept us from overheating.
The city is a fantastic base for everything from camping, hiking, biking, and skiing to chilling or planning your adventures into the Himalayas. We took advantage of most of the options and walked our little buns off, sipped delicious Chai tea (Indians make it the best), people watched, visited with friendly locals, ate delicious homestyle baking from the local German bakery run by Tibetan looking men and we planned our upcoming adventure into the incredible and magical Spiti Valley.
September turned out to be the absolute best time to visit. Tourist numbers were very low, monsoon rains were finished and the apple trees were full of juicy, red delicious apples ready for picking. Our accommodation was located on an apple orchard and tucked between a large creek and towering hills. We never wanted to leave. But with so much to explore, we logged many kilometers and climbed lots of elevation to see as much as we could.
Manali has two main sections.
New Manali has the shopping and pedestrian friendly street called The Mall. It is a fantastic place to watch locals carrying out their daily business. The mixture of Indian and Tibetan cultures and shops was awesome. We often felt an awe like we have never felt before. For instance, Christine purchased three dollar sterling silver earrings in a Tibetan shop. An elderly Monk sat on a stool chatting with two older, wrinkly ladies in the shop which was too small to turn around in. The shop was stuffed full of copper and brass Tibetan items such as singing bowls, jewelry, bracelets and worship artifacts. It was the best three dollar purchase ever; the transaction experience was priceless.
Old Manali, located two kilometres uphill from New Manali, sits between two mountain ranges and a raging river. It is where backpackers like to hang out. A narrow, twisty, steep road between shops and cafes brought us to spectacular stone and timber, earthquake resistant, Himachali-styled homes, cows, cool looking goats, fuzzy friendly dogs and the Manu Maharishi temple. Legend states the ark of Manu, creator of civilization, landed at the location of the temple after the great flood. The walk to the temple was so rewarding, we did it twice during our six days in Manali.
We fell in love with the dogs of Manali. Fuzzy, beautiful, even-tempered and always wanting to hang out with us. We were never far from a cuddle, a pet, a lick or a walking companion. We had many instances of dogs just starting to follow us. On one particular hike to a waterfall, the cutest dog literally just started walking with us. We stopped to look at the view, he stopped. We started to walk again, he walked. He was adorable!
Meanwhile, set amongst towering cedars up a mountain two kilometres from Central Manali sits Hadimba Temple. It was built in 1553 out of wood and stone. The wooden entrance way is intricately carved with representations of gods and animals. Incense burned inside the temple where a large stone used for animal offerings now sits covered in flower petals from visiting pilgrims.
Across the Beas river and two kilometres up, up, up from Manali is a cute little mountain village called Vashisht. An auto rickshaw would have taken us there in half an hour but we opted to walk from our room. Cute and small Shiva and Rama temples sit at the end of the road to Vashisht. If you are brave enough, you can jump into the male (water appeared dirty) or female pools where sulphur-laden piping hot water waited to boil your skin. No change room facilities, visitors just jumped into the pools in their tighty whities, boxers, or whatever they felt like. Male white tourists left the pool looking like freshly boiled lobsters and the female tourists were smart enough to know better.
From the temples and hot springs, a beautiful two kilometre trail ends at Jogini waterfall. As it turned out, our room had a spectacular view of Jogini waterfall in the distance all the time and we didn’t even know it. Our companion dog who joined us for the hike was the true highlight.
We never tired of our forty-five minute walk back to our room in the evening. Our headlamps lit the way, stars shined, the silhouette of baby Himalayas teased us providing a glimpse of what was coming and we were reminded of what a truly incredible planet we live on. Locals smiled from ear to ear and we met some really super friendly people. Mark says to Christine, “you know it’s strange, in one year and eight months of travel and after all the places we have seen, I am the saddest to leave Manali”.
…Mark and Christine
- Tranquil Inn, with full breakfast, and heater – $53 CDN
- 1L water – 20 INR ($0.39 CDN)
- 8 bananas – 40 INR ($0.78 CDN)
- Dinner at hotel, Indian food – 622 INR ($12.20 CDN)
- Chai and baking – 200 INR ($3.92)
- Wood fired pizza and 1 pop – 720 INR ($14.12 CDN)
- Box of dog biscuits – 100 INR ($1.96 CDN)
- 32 Gb Micro SD card (yap, too many photos) – 1100 INR ($19.61 CDN)
- Power adapter – 90 INR ($1.77 CDN)