Took an unexpected break last week, went to Manali and Shimla. Had to suffer a number of glitches, but had a great time despite all that.
I visited Manali when I was around four years old, so I hardly remembered any of it this time. My companions were my mum and my two massis. We got off to a bad start at the airport itself. The thing is, we’d booked our tickets to Kulu on the Kingfisher website, and by default landed on the terminal for Kingfisher. We were queued up to get our boarding passes at about 8:10 am when the kind lady at the counter told us we have Deccan tickets. That’s coz of the merger between the two airlines, yada yada but nothing was mentioned on the damned website. And now the big problem was that Deccan was on a different terminal and we had about 25 mins to get our boarding passes, get the security check done and board the flight. We were like three damsels in distress. Thankfully the Kingfisher ground staff coordinated with the Deccan guys and rushed us to the other terminal and we caught our flight 5 mins before takeoff. Whew!
We reached Kulu in a little over an hour’s time. We had practically the whole day to ourselves so we took a taxi and went to Manikaran, about 2 hours from Kulu. The weather was warm and comfortable and the long drive felt refreshing. Manikaran is really an awesome place. It’s amazing to see this naturally hot cave, where we just sat and sort of took a sauna. Then we saw a natural hot spring. The water was boiling hot and these guys were actually cooking rice in it. I was amazed. We visited the temple and Gurudwara and had yummy langar there.
After that we took off to Manali, and the drive was beautiful, with the roads lined with a mix of orange and green trees, and snow clad mountains at the horizon. We stopped for a lil while by River Parvati and soaked our feet in it’s ice cold waters. Felt soooo good!
We reached Manali in the evening, sometime around six. Our lodge was closer to the Mall, at a place called Aleo. It was next to the Mountaineering Institute and right in the middle of a forest. Absolutely gorgeous. It’s a place called Chandertal run by a couple who take care of you like grandparents fuss over their kids. The lady was so warm and always used to send us these extraordinary jams and jellies and pickles and absolutely yummy food. It was almost like a home away from home.
We stayed in Manali for three days. During this stay we visited all the possible temples- Vashisht, Manu, Hadimba and the Buddhist monastery. Hadimba was superb. It was in the middle of a beautiful forest and so calm and peaceful. Never felt like leaving that place.
We also went to Rohtang Pass and Solang Valley. It was super fun to play in the snow at Rohtang, though we had to wade through tons of slush to get to the top. The view from there…I can’t even begin to explain how it was. You have to be there to believe it. Oh and I also got a chance to do paragliding at Solang. What a thrill!!! I felt like an eagle in the sky, just floating about aimlessly. Felt absolutely at peace.
The underside was that my massi and I got separated from my mum and my other massi at Rohtang and wasted time frantically trying to locate each other. Apparently my mum had made announcements for me, as there was no network on the cellphones. And at Solang while I was floating in the air, my mum almost got run over by a mad horse. Thankfully, no one got hurt.
On our last day in Manali we visited Naggar. The Roerich Art Gallery and the Naggar Castle. Roerich was a Russian artist settled in India. His son, Svetoslav, was also a painter and had married actress Devika Rani. Her portrait was unimaginably mesmerizing and we couldn’t help collect some of his works as souvenirs. The Naggar castle had history of it’s own. It once belonged to the King of Kulu, who sold it to the Brits for-hold your breath- a gun. Bloody psycho. It was handed down to many other kings and finally it was given to the government and converted to a hotel. Too bad. The wooden carvings on the doors and verandas were exquisite. There was also a little museum in the basement with some interesting sculptures recrafted for our benefit.
During our stay, we also discovered that Manali has some pretty amazing eating joints. These are basically set up by foreigners who have married the locals and settled there for obvious reasons. (For the ignorant ones, read: hash). We ate at a place called Pizza Olive that had a-ma-zing Italian food. Then there was a restaurant at the Mall called Chopsticks where we had delicious Chinese food along with some plum wine (Himachal has excellent fruit wines). There was also a Johnson’s Café which was slightly on the higher side, but claimed to have the best trout in town. And we also picked up goodies from a couple of German bakeries.
We spent the remainder of the week in the Shimla, celebrating my grandfather’s birthday and just generally chilling. On our way back yesterday, since crises was the game of the season, we were blessed with yet another one. Mum had booked tickets for the two of us in the 5:30 pm Shatabdi from Kalka. We boarded the train well in time. At 5:15 this staff guy checks our tickets and casually informs us that our tickets are in fact for the next day. Ten minutes before the train was to start, my dear mom gets a panic attack. Somehow we talk to the TT and he tells us we have to buy tickets on board and pay double the fare. So lots of monetary loss, but we made it home safe and sound and in good time.
So like I said in the beginning, barring a few technical glitches, we managed to have a wonderful time. The scenic beauty of Manali was really admirable. I’m glad that I got to make it to this breathtaking land again- and this time I won’t forget any of it.