If you are looking for a retreat in the hills to escape from the soaring temperatures, visit Manali this April.
At the risk of contradicting popular travelogues and websites, I’d say now is probably the best time to explore this crowning hill station of Himachal Pradesh. I have more than one reason to back my seemingly bizarre statement.
First, the extended Vaisakhi-Easter weekend is in the offing (April 13-16). Second, Manali experiences kind of a lull at this time of the year, which means its otherwise touristy streets and dreamy cafes wouldn’t be as crowded as they are known to be. You could also avail decent discounts on your bookings, thanks to the off-season.
Third, with most of the snow gone, you could now go on long scenic hikes in and around the city without much difficulty. And finally, now is the only time when you can do both snow and water sports here.
If you really want to see Manali like it should be seen, explore it on foot. The majesty of the snow-capped hills, the sound of the gurgling Beas and the crispness of the mountain air cannot be felt or heard from inside a moving car. If you want to do it properly, Manali requires at least four days from your busy life.
Here’s a comprehensive itinerary you can adhere to once you are there.
Day 1: Local sightseeing
Keep the first day for taking in the picturesque surroundings. Go to Hidimba Devi Temple. Take a long stroll through the Nature Park, which is essentially a pine-tree forest. It’ll be one of the most peaceful, postcard-perfect walks you’ll ever take.
Do not bother with the Mall Road. It is just like any other, only bigger, more commercial and more crowded. Visit the Club House in the evening. Built for tourists, it has plenty to offer to kids and families. But do not eat here. The food is overpriced and a disappointment.
Do river crossing, though. It is an adventure sport of sorts where you get to cross the Beas suspended on a rope. It is not very risky and is great fun. It should cost Rs 100.
Day 2: Solang Valley, Beas river
In 30 minutes, you will reach Solang Valley from the main town. Rent a bike (Rs 600 for a day). The view while riding uphill is spectacular. You’ll feel compelled to stop at various spots just to click pictures of everything around you. It makes it more convenient if you are on a bike.
Because it has snow, Solang Valley experiences heavy footfall all year round. Rent gum boots after reaching there. They’ll help a great deal. This tourist spot has provision for several snow sports — skiing, sleighing, paragliding, riding an ice scooter and cable car riding.
On your way back, sit near the Beas for a while — play with its cold water, take in the cool mountain air, and reflect.
Day 3: Jogini Falls
The hike to the two Jogini Falls is difficult. You’ll reach the first before you’ll know it but it’ll take about four hours to hike to the second and come back. So make sure you start early in the day. Wear hiking shoes and comfortable clothes. Carry a water bottle, fruits, biscuits and a book if reading by a waterfall is on your bucket list.
Day 4: Cafes of Old Manali
Reserve the last day for café hopping. Old Manali wouldn’t have been half as charming as we know it to be had it not been for its quaint cafes. Do eat at Johnson’s (there are two outlets by this name next to each other. Visit both. You’ll love them), Café 1947, Drifters, and the German bakeries.
You should go with: A friend, someone who enjoys tranquillity. Do not travel alone, especially if you are a girl. Though Himachal is generally safe and the locals are real good people, you cannot say that of the tourists there.
How to get there: Take an overnight bus from Delhi to Manali. They leave every half an hour or so.
Where to stay: You must have stayed at several hotels all these years. Try Zostel this time. It is a backpacker’s paradise.
Things to carry: Woollens, jackets, gloves, earmuffs, woollen cap, umbrella, several pairs of socks, a water bottle, hiking shoes, sunscreen.
Bargain: From local commute to the cost of adventure sports, there is a lot of scope for haggling. Do it.
Prefer government transportation: Every time you can. Reliable or not, it is definitely more accountable.
Get acquainted with the driver. Make small talk.
Research: Read about your destination and your way to and from it. Consult people who’ve already been there. Plan specific activities you’d want to do once you reach. Though footloose, spontaneous trips sound more fun, planning gives confidence and security.
Trust your gut feeling: When you feel something is not right, it most definitely is not.