Once upon a time there was a lovely little village called Manali. It was far away in the hills and only a few adventurous nature lovers went to admire the greenery and the snow peaks and a few amongst those few went to Rohtang Pass. People who stayed in Manali spoke of how soothing the sound of the Beas was at night which could be heard even from far away.
All that is gone now. The peaks remain, though not sure for how long. The way the mountains are being accosted to create four-lane highways (and unending tunnels) the peaks might decide to retire from human view horrified at the prospect of the human hammer.
Of course, the said highway is a necessity. For the speciality of Manali is its traffic. Be prepared to spend half of your tour sitting quietly and (im)patiently in/on your vehicle thanking all the gods that Facebook was invented. Traffic may be slow but internet traffic is fast. The hill factor does not really matter. Manali is, after all, the playground of the rich and famous.
The other prominent feature of old M town is the crowd. People from everywhere – from Ankara to Addis Ababa, from Zaka to Zagreb – can be seen roaming around. The entire population of Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Northern Uttar Pradesh come to Manali during weekends. During the major vacations the quest for Alu Posto dominates. Vehicles are everywhere throughout the year. Big cars, small cars, SUVs, MUVs, Volvo buses, luxury cars, small traveller buses, trucks, bikes, autos, mountain bikes –everything you can imagine (helicopters too) you would find here.
Now for a bit of wisdom – unless you are devoutly devout stay away from most of the local sightseeing. There are two similar temples dedicated to the sages Manu and Vashishth in very dissimilar places. They are decent. Both are in the local architectural style. But none of them are too grand or deeply historical or aesthetically glamorous – definitely not worth waiting in traffic snarls for long periods.
But then again, mythology tells us that this is where Manu disembarked and re-established humanity after the flood. And the town’s name Manali supposedly comes from the name “Manu Alaya” or the ‘abode of Manu’. So, a visit to the Manu temple cannot be entirely ruled out.
A kilometre down from the temple is British Old Manali. There are some great eateries here. Do stop and grab a bite.
Don’t even go to the Club House. They take money from you to let you look at shops. If you are hell bent on going there admire it from the outside.
The inside is rather a tragedy. One carom board, one pool/billiards room and approximately eight places to sit and a whole bunch of shops are there. Sorry, I almost forgot, there is a mechanical bull (I bull you not) and some games if you are feeling juvenile. The only place worth visiting in Manali is the Hadimba Temple (sometimes spelt Hidimba).
Again, it is not quite the best place on the planet but it has this authentic feeling of mythology. There is a primal quality to it. Hidden in a fast disappearing pine forest (on one side is the log huts area where you can host a contest to find even one log hut) this temple gives you a sense of an ancient self. Unfortunately, we were accompanied by a crowd of selfie-seeking men and women of all ages. Phones and sticks and pouts dominated.
Rohtang is thrilling. Rather the journey to Rohtang is quite something.
But then again Rohtang is infested with men and women who, for the sake of few Facebook likes, insist on risking pneumonia.
The antics on the snow are incredible. To give one example, there was this full grown man trying to swim in the snow. And he had a director with a phone who suggested further possibilities. Somehow, this lady’s directions reminded me of Tarantino. There were an amazing number of people on the snow.
The Beas temple is an igloo-like structure. It has a hazy idol and flowing water that can be seen through a square hole in the ground. Even in the darkness I saw a full-grown man taking a selfie with the idol!
The market/chowk/mall is not a bad place. It has a number of interesting shops. The vicinity of a German Bakery makes it even more interesting. Of course, if you want good Bengali (or otherwise) non-vegetarian food, the Himalayan Nyinmapa Buddhist Monastery has a canteen run by someone allegedly from Midnapore. I have been to awesome monasteries, small monasteries, really old monasteries and brand-new monasteries – but such an in-campus eatery managed to surprise me a great deal.
If you want your time well spent go to Naggar. In fact, if you can, stay at the Naggar Castle. It is a quaint little castle, built in the typical Himachal architecture, now turned into a hotel. Run by the Himachal Government Tourism, it is not as expensive as you might think.
The Castle gives you a fantastic view of the Kullu Valley.
They still allow people to visit for a nominal charge.
Once you have completed looking at the castle go uphill and visit the Roerich collection. I will be forever indebted to Goldie, our driver, for taking us there.
This is a fascinating place. Knowing about Nicholas Roerich was quite something. His paintings and his collection are worth looking at. His house is brilliant (the selfie-seekers were very much present and were fairly irritated by our curiosity in boring things such as signboards with detailed history and antique furniture and such stuff. We simply ignored them). In fact, if you ever find yourself in Manali, don’t stay there. Just go to the Hadimba Temple. Rohtang is a must, and will give you a taste of the traffic. If you want an expensive Ropeway ride or Paragliding go to Solang valley.
But don’t miss Naggar. If you are like me, I am sure you will love the calm quietness of this little place overlooking brilliant peaks and the Kullu Valley.
Life is far too fast and hectic. We all need to pause, to think, and to refresh. And we all need to pause to think, and pause to think to refresh. Naggar allows such a pause. Manali is too frantic.