In early March I made the long trip up to the North Western Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, home of the vast mountain range known as the Himalayas to a little village called Manali in the Kullu Valley, with a population of around 8000 people.
After 15 hours on a LOCAL bus (think: cramped plastic seats that don’t move, leaking windows and feeling every. single. bump), we arrived tired, hungry and rather sore in a little village nestled around 2000m up in the Himalayas. Upon embarking from the bus I glimpsed for the first time the Himalayas. I was immediately left breath taken, my mouth gaping in awe as I stood shivering in what snapchat showed me to be -2 degrees celsius looking at the snow capped mountains (which looked like a scene worthy of a postcard). Looking up towards the Himalayas one can’t help but feel mildly inconsequential in the grand scheme of the world….
After finally drawing my eyes away from the Himalayas for enough time to get into a maxi taxi, we arrived at our lodgings for the weekend – Compass Cottage in Old Manali. With a view of the Himalayas from your bedroom balcony, a large, comfy bed filled with more than enough blankets to keep you warm and most importantly hot water this place is well worth the cheap price we paid (Roughly 300 rupees for two nights). Although I would recommend eating out as waiting over an hour for a parantha after a 15 hour bus ride and no food does horrors to ones stomach. It is likely if one were to stay in peak season (June-July) the prices may rise slightly. If you stay here, make sure you chat to the owner who is one of the most interesting people I’ve met here in India – he travels to East India for a few months every year to work in peace keeping and is currently planning a booked called “Travel Ugly” where he gives ideas for weird and whacky places to travel such as the village with living bridges and Jatinga, the place where birds go to commit suicide.
Having googled the weather beforehand and seeing it was a balmy 8 degrees celsius during the days , I ran to all my friends imploring them to let me borrow clothes (I had packed for the heat of either Punjab or Rajasthan) and armed with 3 jumpers, 1 thick rain coat, 2 scarfs and thermals I was ready to take on the freezing cold. To my surprise, during the day the sun shone brightly and it was so warm you could’ve walked around in t-shirt and been fine. On our last day it stormed and rained and while the temperature dropped it was rather nice to sit and watch the rain falling on the mountains from a far and watch it move towards us.
Where to eat
Around 50% of Old Manali was closed as it was out of peak season and as I unfortunately ended up a little sick from the bus ride I didn’t get to try as many places as I would’ve liked. I struck gold in the one place I did try (and subsequently went back three times, successfully eating breakfast, lunch and dinner there) and would highly recommend it, although there is a bit of a wait. I think that’s just how they do things in the mountains though – time moves slower, and no one seems to care. Anyway, back to the restaurant – the Blue Elephant Cafe. Their steamed vegetarian momos (Tibetan style dumplings) and fresh pineapple juice were the stand out for me. Along with these they have an assortment of fresh salads, hummus and falafel, Tibetan noodles, Indian cuisine and pizza. The food was tasty, albeit very garlicky (I am not complaining, bring on the garlic breath), fresh and the place was very hygienic.
What to do
Manali is the home to many beautiful and very well-hidden treks (It took us almost half an hour to start the trek and even when we started we weren’t sure if we were even doing the right trek, make sure you get the number of your hotel so you can call them for instructions if you get lost). Some advice that may or may not be from experience: DO NOT go on a trek if you’ve thrown up and not eaten anything the day before because you will feel like collapsing and throwing up, you will try and carry on for an hour not wanting to be a burden on your companions until you can’t and have to turn back around and go back alone. You might also get lost and end up having to slide down the mountain on your bum, ending up 500m from where you started in the middle of a barbed wire gated area.
Manali is also home to a Hindu temple from which you can see a view of the river running through the village, and if you manage to get there not right before a storm is brewing you can climb further up the mountain on a mini trek.
We planned to do a number of things, and upon arrival found most of them weren’t open because it wasn’t peak season. Here is that list:
- Take a dip in the hot springs – This was open but given it’s high up in the mountains and was next to a frozen waterfall I didn’t fancy what would happen when I exited the spring. Probably would’ve frozen to death.
- Zorbing – I can think of nothing more fun than rolling down a hill in a plastic ball
- Rock climbing