Manali happened by chance. I had no intention of going there and no reason to stop when a flat tire changed all that. The year was 2010 and I was on a long road trip from Delhi to Srinagar via Jammu. Till today, I can’t recollect how Manali turned up on my itinerary and the plan altered somewhere after Chandigarh. Being summer, the plains were blazing hot and my car had a flat tire at the foothills. Proper names and locations now completely elude me and somehow I found myself ending up in Manali. I remember that being a very long ride and the memory of being bone exhausted by the time I reached India’s most famous hill-station. I desperately needed to rest and thankfully knew what exactly suited me. Thus, after a brief look around, I decided upon a cottage in a garden right outside Old Manali town.
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Beautiful views of the Beas river on the way to Manali
An old cottage, apple orchards, and Manali slow travel
The property was called Snow Summer View Cottage and though neither it boasted of snow or amazing views at that time, it was a wonderfully relaxing place. At the time of check-in, I mentioned a brief stay and luckily managed to extend it for 10 days. Despite being summer, the cottage was not fully booked and I believe the walking distance from the Old Manali town had something to do with it. Otherwise, it was a very cozy old-fashioned place complete with timber interiors, chintzy drapes, and a very comfortable bed. I had an entire cottage by myself and enjoyed the solitude very much. Meals were served in the garden by the keeper of the property and all around me, fragrant roses grew in abundance. There was no internet connection in that cottage and the outdated tv did not interest me much. So, I spent my days reading, eating, sunbathing in the garden, and wandering about the neighbourhood. The seclusion was a complete delight and I had a lot of sleep debt to catch up on.
Beautiful Manali with its forests, streams, and mountains.
Cannabis, aphrodisiac and other quirks of Manali
I did venture out of Manali twice and even went as far as Rohtang Pass. It was a pleasant excursion, despite having to park my car at Solang Valley to join a group tour to Rohtang Pass. The drive was beautiful and Himachal Pradesh unleashed its magnificent mountain views as we went higher. The scene near or at Rohtang Pass was a put-off and it was crowded, a bit littered and filled with local tourists sweating in ski suits. Why someone would don a smelly dirty much-used ski suit in summer was beyond my comprehension and I watched at the awkward gait of the poor ripped off tourists in amazement. Having said that, I did enjoy a horse ride and hot corn on the cob at the pass, along with the souvenir photo op. Thus my Rohtang Pass trip was quite uneventful, except for the awkward sale pitches of cannabis and local aphrodisiac “shilajit” and I found Solang Valley also to be avoidable. My other excursion, however, was much nicer and I drove around Manali just for people watching.
It gave me great pleasure to drive along the Beas, watch the kayak vendors sit by the road with kayaks by their side, fruit sellers offers seasonal local delights, and lots of handloom workshops offering fluffy Angora rabbits for sale. Being skeptical of how their wool was being extracted, I gave the angoras amiss and shopped for some handmade Kullu textiles instead. Most of the wood and stone antiquated local houses rang with a sharp clickety-clack sound of the looms and weaving was a thriving business there. The winding mountain road which went through Manali had quite a lot of traffic and most of it was contributed by huge herds of goats. Long haired and noisy, the nimble-footed animals bleated in unison as they followed their master and generally were the only reason for traffic jams in the hills at that time. That road was bordered by lots of apple orchards and many gardens sold their fruits from makeshift stalls outside the property. My cottage stood across one and every morning I loved looking at the short, sturdy fruit trees. The trees held small ripening fruits at that time and the industrious caretakers of the orchard had bagged them all for pest management. There were also neat rows of golden paddy fields and the whole combination of pine forests, snow-clad peaks, blue streams and rivers, and golden paddy fields was very beautiful.
Apple picking in Manali is a beautiful experience,
The old vs the new Manali
And then there were the residents of Manali. Either generations-old locals or immigrant from other states, the residents of Manali, man and beast alike, stood out in their photogenic quality. The local old men sported the traditional Kullu hat, which I love and were generally quite open to being photographed. The old Kullu ladies in their traditional colourful headscarf and large nose pins were more sedate and needed a lot of cajoling. The old eyes of Manali never missed anything as they watched the world go by their beloved hometown and sniffed suspiciously at the busy immigrant workers from east India. It was onion harvesting season when I visited Manali and the local warehouse was pungent with their sharp smell. The onions came from across the hills and needed to be sorted before being transported to the plains. This back-breaking labour drew immigrant labourers from other states and they thronged Manali in hordes.
The winding roads around Manali
Manali can never get old
Such are my memories of Manali and as you may notice, I did nothing in particular to enjoy the place. There was no fixed itinerary, no lists of “must do” or “must see” places and a lot of time on my hands. Thus, I have no particular experience of Manali to rave about or something that can be pinpointed as special. What I have though are memories of 10 amazingly relaxing days spent in the lap of nature doing nothing and that is how I discovered the joys of slow travel in Manali. One can say, I relived the happy flower power glory of 80’s Manali days, minus the weed, free sex, and rock and roll. And Manali was still gloriously good. Now that is one place, I would go back in a heartbeat (again and again).
Horse riding in Rohtang
Handloom unit of Manali
Lush green nature of Manali
Rice fields of Manali
A lone cyclist near Rohtang Pass
Beautiful hikes around Manali
Traffic on the road leading to Manali
A lady selling fruits outside an orchard in Manali
Gorgeous drive to Rohtang Pass
Kayak shacks waiting for customers by the Beas river
Paragliding is a popular activity in Manali
An old Himachali lady watches the world go by at Manali