Friday evening…rucksack… packed snacks and a Bisleri bottle. Yes! It is a weekend getaway. An hour of snuggling through the crowd at ISBT Kashmere Gate, we got two tickets for Manali, the queen of Himachal. By the time I was on the bus seat I felt I had burnt few calories on the treadmill and the highway motel reminded my taste buds that I needed some edible morsel. We crossed Karnal and the bus stopped for twenty minutes at a dhaba near Kurukshetra. You know when you are hungry even dry Tandoori Roti and Dal seems ambrosial down one’s throat. The journey began.
The night crossed in the bus amidst chaos at halts, bio-breaks and ticking of the clock. I opened my eyes to the sunshine through the dusty window pane and the shadowy distant hills mesmerized me. We had entered Himachal. Manali is at an altitude of 6,398 feet and it is on the Kullu valley. The bus sped across little wooden cottages and smoky hills of Mandi. The bus turned right from Mandi bazaar and the restless Beas accompanied us on our left. Its gorgeous white currents and gigantic brown boulders reminded me of our trekking days at the Chanderkhani Base military camp and an adrenaline rush hit me right at the centre of my heart like a Tequila kick!
We checked inn into Hotel Sher-e-Punjab on the mall road. Dusk was setting in and it started drizzling. The pine trees swayed their heads and we entered the nature study park opposite the main mall. My mom, a more adventurous soul than me, was eager to drink the Rhododendron juice there but I somehow resisted this curiosity to experiment with my system. Rather, I walked half a mile in search of fresh fried Trout fish that the local boys were served at joints, but to my dismay it wasn’t the right time to get a good catch. There were crowds on the Beas side doing river crossing. Tourist attractions in Manali increased after militancy in Kashmir has made the ‘paradise on earth’ a terror spot. There are little shanty like stalls by the rugged riverside that sell Maggi and boiled eggs, and with stalls of balloons and noisy tourists with colourful mufflers, this place looks like a mini fair for a couple of hours every day. Back to the mall in the evening, we walked downhill to Manu Temple and the Tibetan Monastery. The famous colourful printed cloth pieces hung from the walls whispered an ecstatic mysticism into our ears.
Our drive to Rohtang Pass got cancelled due to heavy rains at four o’ clock next morning but nothing can stop a traveler’s feet. We instead made an instant plan to go to Solang Valley and no rain seemed much of an obstruction. The road to Solang was beautiful; nature was at its best with waterfalls and the winding hilly turns and foggy ridges. Solang Valley welcomed us with parachutes and rope ways. Faraway the sunlight added a touch of gold to the snow capped peaks. The shepherds walked lazily with the grazing cattle and the tourists flocked around coffee stalls. Some enthusiastic youngsters were trying their hand at river rafting and the more daring hearts opted for mountain biking. Back from Solang, we paid a visit to the famous Harimba Temple. And yes! We bought dry fruits; they are cheaper in the hills, unlikely to the pocket pinch they cause in Delhi.
The way to busy office life in Delhi neared and sitting in the Volvo, with a heavy heart, I looked outside and bid a goodbye to one of the best destinations I have travelled to…Magnificent Manali!