While cleaning my hard drive, came out a travelogue written a year ago but never published. So, thought of posting it here.
Since the time of our wedding, my wife always wanted to go to Manali. Reasons are actually not very clear (because of its popularity among honeymooners?!). When we checked out few travel websites, we really liked the landscapes of Manali. Being warned about the maddening crowds, I always wanted to avoid the trip. Whenever my wife pressed about it, I would give her an online tour and that’s end of story.
During last winter when I was in Italy, I tried skiing at Livigno Ski resort (Alps) and loved skiing. Because of time and budget constrains, I could not stay there longer. Imagining Manali as Indian Skiers paradise, I have been planning to go to Manali since then and improve my skiing.
When I told my wife that we are going Manali soon and asked her to plan, she asked whether it was an online tour or a real one.
God knew about my on-going financial crisis and arranged someone to gift us 2N-3D stay. When the Travelport (gift voucher is of that company) asked us where we wanted to go, our immediate reply was Manali. After 4 or 5 telephone calls from our end, Travelport sent us hotel voucher just 10 days ahead of our travel day 20th March, 2009.
After doing a bit of research on www, we figured out that Raj Travels and Swagatam Holidays run Volvo bus services from Delhi to Manali. I chose Raj Travels for its professionalism, punctuality (know of it in another sectors) and cheaper fares (one way fare of Rs.785+ for raj and Rs. 840 for Swagatam). You can book tickets online at http://www.raj.travel or www.swagatamholidays.com. Book early to get front side seats.
I left office early on the D-day and reached Janpath just before the bus departure time (1730 hrs). To my surprise, the bus started one hour late. When I complained about non-working of leg rest, the attendant offered me a seat in the last row (how courteous!) and I politely said ‘no, thanks… it is ok here’.
Coming to their professionalism, they did not mind stopping and asking passengers waiting on highway, if they were to go on the way bus was going. And attendant made sure no seat went vacant. The blanket my wife got was torn and cleanliness of bus as such was not good.
It was a long day for me and dozed off as the bus started and woke up to have dinner at a dhaba on highway (do not remember the name). Food was good, but quantity was less.
I woke up early morning and got to see few wonderful landscapes on the way right from Mandi. I was excited about reaching Manali, seeing snow capped mountains and most importantly skiing for 2 days.
We reached Manali at almost 1000 hrs (1.5 hours late) and we were welcomed by taxi and auto drivers who were promising very good hotel deals. Auto guys finally asked for Rs. 100 and Taxi guys Rs. 200 to drop us at hotel. I took an auto from the main road, who charged us Rs. 60 for 3 kilometers.
Lesson 1 for us: Like any tourist place, this is also a place of bargain!
The auto driver explained us that the previous night it rained, brought some snow along with and we were lucky to see so much snow.
We checked into Snow Valley Resort (sort of budget hotel located in very good locality next to Log Huts). Check-in experience was not that good!
When we entered the room, we checked out the view from our hotel and it is pretty impressive. Room was spacious, but carpet and bath towels needed replacement. My wife was thoughtful enough to being our own towels. The room was not having central heating facility and we had to use a tower heater to heat the room.
After having breakfast (Rs.150 for 2), we left for skiing center. When enquired about the ski resort, the hotel guy told us that it was then at Gulaba. It was already 1130 hrs and the in half an hour we were there.
On the way, we saw lot of stalls renting gum boots, ski suits and ski equipment. It was not so cold. We did not hire any ski suits as we came prepared for even chillier weathers.
We got to see really beautiful snow capped mountains. When we reached Gulaba (20 KM from Manali), we were approached by a guy who explained us that there was no ski resort and in winter months one could find it at solang valley. I was totally disappointed. But my wife was excited to see snow all around.
That same guy promised us that he would take us uphill on a horse to a place where there was lot of snow and it was possible to ski.
There were also skiing trainers who were offering skiing lessons for a fee of Rs.800 per couple (no time limit). But the horse guy hinted us that we could get a better deal when we reach the actual skiing site uphill.
We agreed to pay Rs.150 per person for horse riding. It was our first horse riding and we were excited about it. As we ascend the hill, we saw lot of people playing with ice and skiing on thin mud colored snow. We just wondered, if they call it lean season, how would it be during summers.
As promised, the horse guy took us to a place that is covered by lot of snow. But it was not suitable for skiing. There two skiing trainers who were waiting for customers approached us and offered their services at Rs.600 per couple. I offered them Rs.300 (including equipment rentals), if they could find us a beginner’s slope. After about half an hour, those guys returned smiling and took us 200 meters further uphill and for next one hour we spent skiing.
I was very wrong about imagining Manali as Indian skier’s paradise (considering this is the 3rd week of March). May be, I should checkout AULI sometime.
I could not enjoy skiing for the trainers are not qualified. They neither know how to set the weight on the ski nor how to control speed on slopes. But, my wife enjoyed every moment for that was her first experience with skiing and snow.
We took some snaps and tried a hand at making snow man and left it half finished.
It was already 3 PM and we weren’t feeling hungry. There are no good restaurants around and we planned to skip lunch and substitute with Kurkure and Mountain-Dew to balance the calories intake!
Our next destination was Solang Valley. This valley serves as skiing slope in winter and paragliding slope in winter. By the time we reach there, many of enthusiasts were trying paragliding. We bargained for Rs.1000 per couple (Rs.1800 was quoted) for paragliding from the top of the hill. By the time we covered half the distance, we was tired and opted for paragliding starting from there.
The flight lasted for exactly 1 minute and we were excited. We could have been happier, if the flight lasted longer. (The next day we were informed by a local that there is a place called HALAN from where long flight paragliding is done (generally more than half an hour). And is charged anywhere from 1500 to 3000 per flight.
Your paragliding is shot by videographers and photographers. If you wish you can buy the CDs (Rs.200 per video and no bargain… don’t know about photos).
We reached our hotel and after relaxing for sometime, left for mall road to have dinner.
We ate at Sher-e-Panjab and food was sumptuous (location of hand wash was not good). Service was satisfactory, but not good! We ordered Paneer Pasanda, Chicken Tandoori, Veg. Pulao, Butter Nan (We decided to break the recently set diet rules).
It was already chilly and the mercury started dipping further. We took an auto to reach our hotel (Fare: Rs.40 for 2.5 km uphill) and warm room welcomed us (We played irresponsible and kept the heater on when we went out).
That was happy ending of day 1.
We woke up by 7 o’ clock and discussed the activities for the day. My wife wanted to visit Kullu and I tried to explain that there was nothing in Kullu. And you know who wins!
Instead of doing a local sightseeing at Kullu, we decided to do river rafting.
As we were not well informed (unfortunately no clear information is available in any of travel websites) and we faced the situations like looking for experienced and qualified skiing trainers in wrong place, we decided to take help of any travel agent dealing with adventure sports.
On the way to have breakfast at the mall road, we took phone number of a travel agent (Mr. Vivek of Himalan Out Travel. M: 09816003035) from a hoarding and called him to enquire about river rafting. He explained that it was beginning of season and good option (to have reasonable rapids for that season) would be from Pirdi (4 km from Kullu) and we zeroed in on that. We bargained for Rs.1000 per couple for 14 KM stretch. There is also option to go for just 7 KM. But this stretch was of River Beas only and would not form big rapids during March month. However, after it is joined by River Parvati, the rapids are strong.
We had breakfast and took a bus that goes to Kullu by the west bank route (Naggar Road) through interior hilly area. The bus started off very slow and we were not happy about that. As we proceeded, we started enjoying the journey. We got to see wonderful views of valley, mountains and hilly area rural life.
On the bus we met a local wearing The North Face jacket, explained us about long flight paragliding at Halan, rock climbing on the west bank, recent shifting of cultivating paddy to growing apple orchards. He also explained that it snowed least this season (almost equivalent to not snowing) and Rohtang pass is expected to open by mid of April. He also explained that nothing you get from the mall road is not from Manali region. Not even apples (for that season).
My wife was fascinated by women carry everything (including their children) on their backs.
The bumpy journey lasted for 2 hr 15 min. and we took an auto (Fare: Rs.40) to reach Pirdi (river rafting site).
Just to check whether I got a good deal on river rafting, I enquired and that guy at rafting booking counter was not willing to go for anything less than Rs.1400).
Mr. Billu came to receive us and showed us the raft café. The Raft is Himachal Tourism’s café and is beautifully built. We had omelets (yummy … yummy) and enjoyed the view while we waited for the raft to come.
Mr. Bittu was our pilot and claimed that he just returned from a week long shooting of river rafting scene for Vivek Oberai’s film at Manikaran (not a usual site for river rafting).
We were given our lifebuoys and were very excited to go. The first kilometer was very normal and there were no rapids… but from there every half kilometer we got to feel moderately strong rapids. After River Parvati joined River Beas, it formed strong rapids every now and then. Every time cold water touched us, we cried like children and there was one huge rapid where I felt if our raft was actually crossing the rapid!
Surprisingly I was not tired after rowing for longer time. We totally wet ourselves by the time we finished rafting. I helped my wife in collecting the stones at the finish point, where a team was waiting to take raft and us back to the location, where the raft started.
We decided to duck under the raft (on the truck) while we were being transported back.
There is an excellent facility to change the wet cloths nearer the raft café. As we did not bring anything to change, we decided to sun dry ourselves.
We took a bus directly to Manali from Pirdi and we were back in Manali by 6PM. We went straight to hotel and rested and watched ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun?’ till dinner time.
We went to restaurant at Hotel and experience was lousy. Interior was not good. Food and service were equally bad!
We packed our bags and checked out from the hotel early morning.
We hired a taxi and went for local sightseeing. We covered the regular stuff like Hadimba Temple and Tibetan Monastery.
As our bus was scheduled to leave at 6PM, we thought of utilizing the time to do some rock climbing and rappelling. A call to Himalan-Out-Travel and half an hour wait, we were ready to leave for our first rappelling experience. The guide took us to the west bank and a trainer greeted us with the equipment and safety gear. The trainer explained us the basics of mountaineering and safety procedures before starting our first session with rock climbing. Though it was tough climbing the rocks when we started, we improved with time and practice. We finished a 10mt rock climbing and coming down with ease (a great achievement for us being non-athletes).
Next stage was rappelling. Task was to climb maintain to reach a steep rock (around 50 mt high) and reach the ground level using a rope.
After reaching the top of the rock, my brave wife volunteered to go first and she did fine! After a great level of assurance from trainer and constant encouragement from my wife, I lowered myself from the rock at last! Once I dropped few meters, fear was taken over by confidence and excitement. Tried some swings midair and it was fun! Lot easier than climbing rocks! Trainer suggested we should try it again, but we were too tired to climb the mountain again! We thanked the guide and trainer and left for the bus stand!
Good weather, Great Landscapes, Adventure and Fun makes trip to Manali a memorable one!