October 27, 2006

The Ultimate Guide to Manali

After spending the last few days, and a huge number of hours in the bug, I'm back from Manali, a small little town in the Kulu Valley, on the banks of the Beas.

Delhi - Chandigarh - Manali

I left Delhi on Monday, and took a state transport bus, which took me as far as Chandigarh. The 250 km drive was covered in about 5 long hours. After a short run up to Dhillon's place, we were back at ISBT in Sector 17 to catch our bus to Manali. We caught the bus at 8:30 pm and reached Manali at 6:00 am in the morning, out of which we spend atleast two hours sitting and having tea, while bloody driver rested.

Booking a room and a cab

It was cold, though active morning in Manali, where the bus, is chased by about 50 men, as soon as it enters the city limits. There is visible friction on the ground, and as soon as the bus stops, all of it comes inside. Before people can get down the bus, the agents fill up the place. Each of them seems to be looking for a 'capple' (couple), and they fight bitterly for each one that is lost. After a long ten minutes we managed to get down from the bus, and light up.

In another 20 minutes, we booked up a place in some 'Hotel Pawan' at the end of the Mall Road for Rs 250 a day, and a cab to take us around for Rs 1000 a day. However, if you're looking for cheap accommodation, you can get a room in a dormitory for Rs 75 a day, or if you're looking for someplace nice, then try Beas, which costs around Rs 600 a day. Regarding the cab, you'd be better off if you don't take one from the Hotel, rather walk down to the Union and catch one. The costs would be Rs 1000 to take you to Rohtang La (Rohtang Pass) and Rs 400 for local sight seeing, which really isn't much. If you're interested, you can also rent bikes, mostly Enfield and Yamaha for around Rs 300 for 8 hours.

Anyways, we reached Manali early in the morning, got ourselves a room and a cab, had breakfast at the duplicate shier-e-Pujab (there was another Sher-e-Punjab which said that they were the original one and did not have any branches. By the way there was another Shan-e-punjab too, but let's leave that) and then set off for Rohtang. We also got some 'mink' coats in between (which cost around Rs 100 for the trip). It was more 'yak' I guess, but we preferred to call it 'mink'. Anyways, the coats were warm, and the shoes couldn't get wet, so they were a formidable pair in the snow.

Rohtang Pass

After about two and a half hours we got to Rohtang Pass, where we didn't get to see any snowfall, but did enjoy some snow there. It's easy to get dead tired in the snow, especially if you're smoking, and so we did. People around us were busy throwing snow at each other, a majority was stuck in a traffic jam, (yes, there are a lot of them), but interestingly, some were skiing. It was a shameful sort of a skiing if you ask me. Parents were pushing their kids around, who would move like half a foot, and then jump around with ecstasy. Pure filth.

On the way back, we thought about paragliding, but when we heard they were charging Rs 700 for a minute, we got out fast. Anyways, if you are interested, you could try the other paragliding place on the way to Roerich museum. They charge Rs 1500 for a flight of about 20 minutes, but you have to book one day in advance.

Place to Drink

After coming back to our room, we decided to go out for a drink. Dhillon had read about Moondance on some blog, so we decided to check it out. We got there at 7 and it looked like it had been closed for months. That was when we came to know that most of the places shut down when there was no business (ie from November to May). Anyways, the only other place we know about was Cafe Shiva. We later found out that it was a creaky old place, which served disgusting Lasagne. So early in the night, we were done with dinner and started walking back the dark lanes of manali. That was when I remembered about the only decent place we had seen on the way, where drinks were served.

In the same lane as hotel pinewood, there is an amazing hotel, which has a terrific pub, by any standards. The place is called 'Caverna' something. The pub has an warm fireplace, a host of drinks to choose from and a pool table, definitely worth spending all your evenings in.

For the record, there is also Khyber on the main crossing, but the service sucked there.

Charas Finally

That was the end of day one. Day two started with Charas :) It's worth the first few puffs atleast. I found atleast two places to get it, basically you can ask just about anybody to tell you where to get it. Incase you need my directions, go here. After that we started on the local sight seeing tour. The only thing of note was the Roerich museum, one great man I had never heard of. He gave lectures, painted, read loads and books and knew all the important people of his time, including Pandit Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Yuri Gargarin and a lot of others I can't recall. They don't let you smoke in there, so we got out real fast, but it would have been great if you like that kind of stuff.

Smoking on the Beas

Anyways, that evening, we sent the car back, rented an Enfield and trekked down to the Beas. The water was cold and the wind was chilly, and there we sat and smoked everything we had. hah. It's not just beautiful, it's cold, and it's comforting. And when the lights start fading, it starts getting a little scary, but still retains all it's beauty. If you ask me, those were the best two hours in Manali.

From then on, there wasn't much to look upto. If you're on a bike, do drive on the road beyond Moondance and Cafe Shiva, and remember me on the way back.

Way Back

We left the next morning, got into a state transport bus, which took 10 hours to get to Chandigarh. The journey was all the more painful in the day, when we realized that it took us 8 hours to leave the Himalayas. Anyways, we had chicken at Tejal Singh's and things started looking better. Though we just crashed for the night after that. Finally, I caught a bus to Delhi early in the morning, and got back here in one-piece, waiting eagerly for the trip to Nanital next week.