The name Manali is derived from “Manu-Alaya” meaning “The abode of Manu”. Sage Vaivasvata Manu is believed to be the savior-recreator of the mankind after the great flood deluged the world. Old Manali village has an ancient temple also dedicated to sage Manu. Manali is often referred to as the “Valley of the Gods”!
Drive to Manali features among the best road trips and is highly recommended in many blogs and travel sites. How could TD afford to miss it!
Day 1: After snoozing the alarm thrice, I got up at 4 am – an hour late than planned. Neha (my better half) was already up and ready. She offered me bed tea in a stern voice. The message was clear. I got ready quickly and we managed to leave home around 5 am. Merely an hour and a half later, it started raining heavily. Hence we decided to take a halt at Pehelwan Dhaba, Murthal at 6:30 am. As the rain kept pouring, we took an extended break and treated ourselves with heavily stuffed Aloo and Paneer parathas, topped up with white creamy butter and served with pickle and curd.
The road was good and the drive was comfortable as we crossed Karnal, Kurukshetra and Chandigarh. But as it happens in our most road trips, GPS once again misguided us around Bharatgarh and led us to rough and narrow roads through several villages. After an unwelcome detour, we managed to find our way back to the highway. TD (that’s me) was driving continuously since 7:30 am and by 1 pm got really hungry. We decided to take lunch break at Swarghat. We gobbled delicious Egg Bhurji, Malai Kofta with Tawa Chapati’s. By 4 pm, we reached Bilaspur where we had pre-booked a Himachal tourism hotel “Lake View” for overnight halt. This place was specifically chosen as it is right next to Sutlej river and offers a great view of the river plateau. View from the room balcony was captivating and we enjoyed watching the serene river and the sunset as we sipped masala tea with pakoras.
The staff at the hotel told us that in the rainy season during July, the river plateau turns into a large lake and people come here for boating. There is a view point as well and a temple just adjacent to the Hotel. We had early dinner that evening and retired to bed soon after.
Day 2: Next morning, we were woken up to the chirping sound of sparrows. We checked-out from the hotel around 9:30 am post breakfast. There is heavy truck traffic on this route but it lightens after crossing Bilaspur and taking the diversion towards Manali. The drive from here gets very scenic, hopping from one mountain to another as one gets beautiful view of Beas river alongside. There are lot of fruit farms on the way. Good part is that one can enter the farms and pick fruits. We bought some Litchis and Mangoes. There are plenty of apple farms also on both side of the road once you cross Kullu.
We reached Kullu around 12 pm. It took us 2 hours to cross Kullu due to city traffic and jams. After crossing Kullu, we took a break to have lunch. We could see lot of adventure camps throughout advertising paragliding and rafting. Kullu is also known for its Paragliding site. After lunch and moving for only few minutes, we could see the first glimpse of the snow clad peaks.
We twice got stuck in jams as local people informed that the road at several places was under repair/construction. This was frustrating as our resort was just 15-20 kms away. We along with few vehicles turned back to an alternate route. As we reached the spot, we saw that the route was quite risky as it involved crossing the river through a very old and narrow bridge suspended in the air and only supported at the end. The passengers were being offloaded before crossing the bridge to reduce the weight. Another local suggested us to go back to Kullu and take a proper bridge to cross the valley to other side and take NH29 to reach Manali. But this meant crossing the entire jam again which would take an hour, cross Kullu which would take another 1-2 hours, then take new route to Manali and cross back the entire Manali to reach our resort. All this seemed to take 5-6 hours. Hence, we decided to head back and moved thereafter slowly for next 1.5 hours to cross the jam. We were exhausted due to the stressful drive by now. We finally reached our Riverside cottage hotel at 6:45 pm. Cottage was surrounded by valley with Beas river flowing just across the road. Also, there was a hot water spring adjacent to the river. Snow peaks were partially visible from the cottage as well.
Day 3: Next day we had breakfast and then went for Paragliding. I had called for a taxi as I did not wish to drive but wanted to enjoy the site seeing. While Neha waited at the landing site, I was taken to the takeoff site 2000 feets above. I enjoyed the 10 min flight as the view of the snow laden mountains all around with Beas river flowing down was truly mesmerizing.
After Paragliding, we went to a place called Picnic spot resort. We crossed the river using a small rope way to reach this place. We had lunch here. The resort has some activities like Quad biking and Hot air balloon. While returning to our hotel, we went to Knoi falls – A unknown and hidden gem. The fall is a part of private property and hence not publicized much. We were surprised to know that the property belonged to none other than our Taxi driver named Vijay. Vijay told us that he owns several apple farms around the fall as well and will invest in future to turn the private property to a tourist spot. He told us that driving taxi is just a job he does in the off season as he likes meeting new people. We did a short trek to reach the waterfall. We enjoyed the privacy and privilege of experiencing this virgin beautiful place. We were served Maggie and Tea and enjoyed the place thoroughly. We came back to our hotel around 5 pm.
Day 4: Manali is known for bad traffic jams and hence we had decided not to visit places in the main city. Next day, we visited Naggar castle and Jana falls. The view from the castle is breathtaking and we spent about an hour here. There are quite a few restaurants serving local cuisine around Naggar castle. We enjoyed the local cuisine including Tibetan Pasta.
After the lunch, we headed towards Jana Falls. Distance was 12 kms but the drive was quite uphill and steep. Also the last 2 kms was extremely rough and narrow. There were occasions when only one vehicle could pass at a time and hence we had to drive back in reverse few times. We reached Jana falls around 4 pm. We did not find the fall that great. There were restaurants which had placed dining tables on the foot of the falls in the water which was spoiling the view. We did a small trek up as Neha wanted to do the Zipline. Neha enjoyed the Zipline as she crossed the deep valley and the fall. We left from the fall at 5 pm and reached back our cottage around 6 pm. We decided to spend some time near the hot spring and clicked pics on the swinging wooden bridge over the Beas river. We had an early dinner at 8 pm as we wanted to sleep early.
Day 5: We got up at 3 am next morning as we had to leave for Rohtang pass. The taxi arrived at 4 am sharp. Reaching Rohtang pass is a race as everybody wants to reach the Gulaba barrier as early as possible to avoid traffic jams. We saw the local taxi drivers driving very rash inspite of the uphill and steep curvey roads. I was sitting on the front seat and trust me, this ride to Rohtang pass was an adventure in itself. We reached Gulaba barrier around 5:15 am and noticed that there were around 200 vehicles already ahead of us. The barrier was 500 meters away from us and was supposed to open at 6 am. We got out and clicked snaps of the awesome view around. We could see several small water falls and snow peaks all around. We crossed the barrier and stopped for breakfast at Madhi around 9 am. By 10 am we were at the Rohtang pass. We spent around 1.5 hours playing and sliding in the snow. We got some photos clicked by a professional photographer. The weather here changes every 5-10 min from cloudy to clear to windy. We decided to leave around 11:30 am.
On the way back we could see the Sagoo fall from a distance. We also stopped by to click pics of beautiful Rala falls. On the way back we saw a massive 4 kms long jam, around 800 vehicles waiting for entry at the barrier. We realized that it was a wise decision to leave early morning for Rohtang pass. We were back to our Cottage by 4 pm and spent rest of the day relaxing and soaking in the beauty of the valley.
Day 6: Next day we got up at 3 am. It was raining already. We got ready quickly and left at 4 am for our long drive back home. It was drizzling in the valley and we could see heavy lightning. We could hear the loud sound of the river gushing and the water level had risen due to rain. The first 3 hours drive was amazing, zipping thru the roads without traffic complemented by the beautiful weather. The stretch between Aut and Mandi is awesome for driving lovers. We could see lot of waterfalls which had formed due to the Rains. We reached Bilaspur in 4 hours around 8 am and stopped for breakfast. The same stretch to Manali had taken us 10 hours earlier. Our decision to leave early morning helped. By 11 am, we crossed Kiratpur and were back on the planes. We reached home at around 5 pm.
A lot changed as we drove for the last 14 hours covering 571 kms. From 16 degrees to 41 degrees Celsius, From green mountains and rivers to concrete jungle and flyovers, From awesome friendly people of Himachal to not so of Gurgaon. We just loved this roadtrip and Himachal.
While we came back safely, we got to know that the heavy rains had caused same landslides. This led to road blocks and hour long jams around Mandi and Kullu. Some news also mentioned that road to Rohtang pass had developed cracks at multiple places and the entry was stopped. Because of all this, all 1200 hotels and guesthouses in a stretch of 40 kms around Kullu and Manali were 100% occupied, tourists who checked out of hotels or did not have prior reservations got stranded and had to sleep in their vehicles overnight.
On looking back, we thought this journey of ours was well scripted as everything fell in place for us during the trip and we also reached back home safely. Can’t thank the Valley of the Gods more!