Friday, September 10, 2010

Monsoon Trip to Manali

After having created a great deal of hype in the office and at home of going to Leh even after the disaster had struck I finally had to call it off in the last moment much to the relief of many but to a great personal disappointment. Our trip to Leh was planned well in advance and the preparation was also in full swing. Even though we knew that Leh was battered after the cloud burst in first week of August, 2010 we were expecting to get some positive news before our planned departure day(3rd Sept). But there was no positive signs till the last moment and finally we had to call off the trip. However as the leaves were already applied and cancelling them off was not a good idea we started scouting for probable places (Shimla, Jaisalmer, Manali…)where we may now visit we finally chose Manali.
Day 1 (5th September 2010):
I love driving very early morning when there is no one  in the road and its easy to cross cities so we started our move around 2 AM in the morning but just as we reached the Delhi border go struck in a Jam caused by some accident, finally able to continue our move after an hour. As expected the rest of the drive was smooth and we sailed across Panipat, Ambala and Bye passing Chandigarh made our way through panchkula where we started to see rough roads all damaged in rains. Just as I was thinking this was worse there was something even more challenging waiting for us ahead. Due to the continuous rains the road ahead had been washed away by a seasonal river and the river was crossing right between the road.

There were some Truck and Jeeps waiting in both ends not sure whether they should take the risk of crossing the river or wait. I could see from the motorcyclist who were trying to cross how deep the water was and the force of the river was also too much. Since waiting here was not one of the option. We took the lead of trying to cross which although felt heroic at that time but now realize how stupid it would have been if we had been washed away or if the engine stopped in midway.  With Adrenaline pumping and taking guidance from my instincts I kept to the left side of the road where the water was just gushing out back into deep nowhere. When we were right in the middle at times it seemed as though it was too much for the car to take and it might just stop midway and would have been a nightmare to us and funny scene to those waiting truck drivers who certainly would have felt “Were we stupid to be waiting in the shores”. But luckily after a few minutes we were on the other side of the road. No sooner did we cross giving inspiration to the larger vehicles they followed us.
Only after crossing we realized what we had done.. As we could see the trucks and jeeps struggling their way through the water which almost was till 3/4 of their large tyre and can imagine our small car could have been half way inside this river when we were  crossing the same. I could already see adventure written all over in this trip. Later on I came to know that this place was Nalagarh (Aptly named I guess). With the sense of achievement in our hearts we continued this journey towards Manali. The road now starts winding and climbing and we could feel the increase in altitude by feel of pressure in the ear building up by a peek at the sides where in we could see the valley in one side going deeper with every few meter or road travelled. Already in early mornings now we could feel the need for a cup of tea.
We reached a place called Swarghat which looked like a tiny village in the mountains and just as the road side shop keeper started making tea it started with a drizzle and converted into a rainfall. What else could one ask for in such a superb whether a hot sip of Chai… After this the road keeps on winding Gaining/loosing altitude as we proceed further till Mandi where we take the turn towards Kullu. The road towards Kullu is nice and mostly has the river Beas on one side throughout the journey.  You could enjoy the great view on both sides of the river. As we all know its not the destination that matters in a trip but the journey itself.
The way to Kullu is very scenic with some great views along side river Beas. On the way you could see a waterfall. Tourist usually stop to take some snaps in this place. Next comes a 2 Km long tunnel crossing which we reach the Kullu Valley via Bhunter. The Kullu Manali airport is in Bhunter and this is where the roads to Kullu/Manali and Manikaran splits. Once you reach Kullu which is roughly 7 Kms from Bhunter, there are two ways from Kullu to Manali on either side of Beas. We took the Highway which we soon realized was in bad shape as repairing work was in full swing. The Trip on this road was a spine breaker with pot holes and rough rodes till the last mile to Manali.
Reaching Manali roughly at 4 PM we were on the look for a nice hotel which would have some great view. The government hotel rooms were not so well kept and stink of moisture due to the continuous rains.  Since this was of-season the first thought was to look out for bigger names (Holiday Inn, Sterling Resort) which would be available in discounted rates. We checked out the rooms of Holiday Inn and Sterling but the rooms with good views were already booked and the ones available were not so nice.
We came across this nice hotel (Hotel Lords Residency) on one side of Beas.  The gentleman at the reception was kind enough to show all the available rooms and the best part was it was available in almost 50% discounted rates. The hotel was scantily occupied and we also came to know that it was just renovated a few months before which we could see from the new furnishings, LCD TV and clean bathrooms. The room was some kind of Large suite with large glass windows in two sides providing a great view of Beas in one side and mountains in the other. Being tired after almost a 12 hour drive we chose to retire for the day. The plan for next day was to check if visiting Rohtang(Pass) was possible and do local site seeing.
Day 2 (6th September 2010):
We came to know from the Hotel staff that road to Rohtang was badly damaged and there was no snow fall to see over there but if we still were interested we could rent a cab rather than go in our car with low ground clearance. Still confused we decided to do the local site seeing first before finalizing Rohtang. Among the places to visit locally are Hidimba Temple, Manu Temple, Vashisht Temple.
Hidimba Devi Temple
Almost hidden by giant deodars on the outskirts of the village Dungri stands this wooden temple dedicated to goddess Hidimba.  This temple is supposed to be build around 1553 by Raja Bahadur Singh. Manali is a famous spot for honeymooners and around the temple you could find peddlers urging you to buy Saffron(believed it will enhance the color of the baby if consumed by pregnant women) , Shilajit(very well-known for its aphrodisiacal properties in both men and women).  During winters this temple is mostly covered with snow.  People here are very particular about Photography of their deity and it is not welcome. So think twice before you compose your shot.
You can get dressed up in traditional dress available here for rent (50 – 100 bucks) Also around the temple you could find Yaks or large white rabbits available to take a photograph with them for some money.
Manu Temple
Manu Temple has remained as one of the primary Manali tourist attractions, since times immemorial. It is believed to be the place where sage Manu meditated after stepping on earth. Manali has a distinct historical background that is appealing to most people who visit the pilgrim spot. According to Hindu mythology, Manu sage is the divine creator of the human race in the world. It was in this region that the sage dwelt and meditated. Whenever you visit Manali, make sure to see the temple too.
The Mall Road
The Mall road is a great hit during the Honeymoon season when you could see mostly newly wed couples who come out for a stroll. The mall has shops that are mostly eateries, or sell Shawls. The hand made shawls are mostly from the nearby villages made of Lambs wool, Yak wool, Pashmina or   Angora (Rabbit hair). If you really wish to get some souvenir make sure that you land in genuine shops (Bhuttico). Also beware of cheats who try to Sell Chingu (Google for details).
Day 3 (7th September 2010)
Vashisht Temple
The Vashisht temple is yet another must see place when you visit Manali. This places houses the famous hot sulphur spring known for its healing power. The Hindu sage Vashisht is said to have prayed in this location for 1000 years.  The path to this temple is a steep ride and then a breath taking walk for the last 500 mts.
The temple is a beauty to watch and do not miss to take a bath in this sacred hot water spring. You can buy towels in the nearby shop for a hefty price in case you forgot to take yours.
You could again find people trying to lure you to buy or see/hear about chingu here. its best that you ignored them and keep walking.

After giving much thought we finally decided to drop Rohtang /Solang Valley during this trip. We vacated the room and started on our way back to Delhi. But we already started to feel how short this trip till now has been considering the amount of effort it had consumed till now. Unable to make our mind we continued our drive back to Kullu now via Naggar. This road was far better than the highway and had apple trees on the both the side of the road. All the way we could see people carrying basket full of apples ready to be sorted and boxed.  We stopped at one such place where apples were being packed in boxes and asked how much for a few kilos as we did not want a whole box, the person out there said they would not be able to sell in fewer quantities as he had nothing to weigh but he was kind enough to hand us over 5 big apples (atleast 2 Kilos) for free. Upon having a bite we realized the difference, These fresh apples were so juicy and tasty unlike the ones we used to buy in the cities.
In a spur of thought we decided not to return back directly but to continue our journey and to reach McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala.
(… To be continued)
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