Chapter 2: Mountain Town – Manali

Day 2: Scouting for Travel Agents & Town Tour

Manali is roughly 2000 m above sea level and the undulating roads do put a strain on your legs and lungs, especially if you’ve come from the city. To add to your breathing troubles, the emissions from diesel vehicles have significantly added to the pollution levels of this bustling mountain town. From the bus stop , we paid a rick 50 INR to reach our hotel . Sadly, our hotel was nothing like we expected it to be. Another reason why you should always read traveller reviews before booking your hotel online. Fortunately, we had made a booking for two days only. It was 12:00 p.m. when we reached our hotel and check-in wasn’t till 2:00 p.m. So we completed check-in formalities and had a small meal at a local shop. The Thukpa (traditional noodles in soup) and omelette was simply divine. Incidentally, the old lady/chef was from Leh and had come here before winter and was waiting for the roads to open to head back home. After taking some rest in our room, we headed to the main market area to scout for travel agents and decide the next leg of our trip. We spoke to two travel agents before we came across a travel agent in the main market. Unlike most travel agents, the proprietor of the travel company was a level headed person who customized our trip according to our specifications. I almost wished the roads to Spiti were open. But fortunately (in hindsight), the roads to Leh had  opened a week earlier. So the weather had made the decision for us. You can choose to do ‘The Trans-Himalayan Safari’ either by sharing a SUV with a group of 8 people or by yourself. We decided to hire the car for ourselves, with a driver of course, to ensure we could make stops at free will. The cost of a one way trip is about 17,000 INR and is rather steep in comparison to the shared trip which starts at approximately 2,000 INR per head. A city trip in Manali costs about 800 INR for an individual car. We pre-booked plane tickets from Leh to Delhi, as we were scheduled to take the Rajdhani back to Mumbai. The only disadvantage of buying plane tickets during off-season is the steep price. We spent the rest of the day scouting for hotels and enjoying a much needed leg massage.

Day 3: Exploring Touristy Places in Manali

The next morning we set out to explore local sights. Our first stop was Hadimba Temple. Set across a backdrop of towering pine trees, the temple is dedicated to  Goddess Hadimba. After paying obeisance to the deity, you could choose to pose for photographs with a yak or mountain rabbit. As cute as they were, we skipped the mindless charade and chose to spend few quite moments under the forest cover. Our next stop was a local town club – ideal for travellers accompanied by families. Instead of indulging in games, we shopped for woollens. We proceeded to the quaint streets of old Manali. The architecture of the houses of old Manali take you back in time and it might be perfectly all right to slowdown and  enjoy a quite walk here. After visiting another temple here, we continued our tour and headed to the Vashisht Hot Springs. We gave the ritual of bathing in the springs a miss and instead headed to the World Café. The view from the rooftop terrace restaurant is not one to be missed. With an array of world cuisines to choose from and a panoramic view of the coniferous valley , World Café proved to be a fitting end to the regular touristy sightseeing we were subjected to. If you’re spending more days in Manali, you could choose to visit Nagar and Solang Valley or trying trekking in one of the many nearby mountain ranges.

Day 4: Preparing for the Journey

In the morning we shifted to a new hotel which had a better view of the mountains and a bigger room for a cheaper price. We  went to the travel agent to make the payment and grab a bite to eat. On the advice of the agent, we bought some bread for sandwiches and bottles of water from Manali itself. Three days are sufficient to acclimatize to the mountains and it’s preferable to get rest prior to your trip. After battling anxiety and sleepless nights for three nights in a row, it was finally time to face my fear the next day.

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