Where the Beas River chuckles merrily down the gorges, and the snowy peaks of the mountains reach their fingers to meet the sky: that’s what Manali is, in one sentence. Though of course, many would argue that Manali has lost its charm due to no control over tourism inflow (including me) for me, it is still one of the highlights in the Indian Himalayans.
Manali is a go-to vacation spot for not only adventure seekers but leisure seekers, honeymooners, as well as budget travelers. It has temples, hot springs, one of world’s highest mountain passes, a rich culture and adventure sports like paragliding, skiing, and river rafting — all under a 50km radius. So if you’re planning a vacation, Manali can — no matter what your travel needs are — be your next holiday destination.
Plan your holiday in Manali with this ideal Manali Travel Guide:
Weather In Manali
Although Manali is packed year-round with tourists, it is wise to get an idea of what to expect from the weather there, because at 2050m above the sea level nature plays a dominant role. So whether it’s monsoon or winter or hot summer, in Manali be assured that it’s going to be pretty intense.
The best time to visit Manali, however, is the Indian summer season that typically starts from mid-March and stays until the end of June. Then skip the monsoon months of July and August, before you can visit Manali again until the end of November. December, January, and February are the months when winter hit Manali hard with the temperature dipping below the freezing point for most of the time of the day — making it hard for many to even survive, forget the enjoyment.
But if you’re into Snowboarding or Skiing, winter may just be the best time for you to visit Manali. There are many places in less than 20km distance from Manali for you to learn Skiing. Hamta Valley, located at less than 15km from Manali, for example, is considered to be one of the best places to learn backcountry snowboarding in the Himalayas.
Manali Local Attractions & Day Trips
Located in Old Manali, the Hadimba temple is certainly a no miss when you are in Manali. If you’re into temples, you’re going to like its vibe, if not, you’re going to like and appreciate its placement. Surrounded by towering groves of Deodar trees, Hadimba temple offers an oasis of tranquility. The architecture resembles that of Japanese with its pagoda shaped roof and shingles. If you’re staying in the main Manali, it’s possible to walk all the way to the Hadimba temple which takes about half an hour, if walking at a good speed. Due to increasing traffic, it may take almost the same amount of time in a taxi too.
Vashisht Hot Water Spring
At 2.5 km from the main town of Manali lies the picturesque town of Vashisth and another highlight why many people choose Manali as their holiday destination — a natural hot-spring that is believed to have medicinal and healing properties. It is possible to bathe in the natural spring (for men and women both) but because of increasing popularity and with it the increasing crowd, the best time to visit is early morning around 6. A short walk away, lies the quieter Manu Temple which presents a stunning vantage point to witness the view of the valley with Beas River flowing merrily through it.
Museum of Himachal Culture & Folk Art
Located on Hadimba Devi Temple road, the Himachal Museum of culture and fold art was originally constructed to preserve and restore the local art in the region. It is here that you can witness models of ancient temples, houses, and forts, in addition to stone vessels, utensils and other daily use items that local families in the region used. A visit to this museum helps the visitor gain a closer look at the evolution and growth of the local Himachali populace.
A spectacular destination and one of the highest mountain passes in the world, Rohtang Pass, at nearly 4,000m above the sea level, offers tourists an exclusive opportunity to experience snow all round year. The slopes of Rohtang Pass moreover provide an opportunity to try skiing and/or tubing. The pass remains blocked in winter due to the heavy snowfall but remains open throughout the summer and monsoon season (say, between May and November). Rohtang Pass is located at almost 50km from Manali and it’s possible to visit and spend a few hours there enjoying the snow on a day trip from Manali. Regular taxis from Manali to Rohtang Pass and back can cost anywhere between 3000 to 7000 Rupees depending upon the type of taxi and how busy the days are. Please note that Rohtang Pass remains closed for tourists every Tuesday.
Nestled amidst spectacular greenery at the distance of 10km from Manali, Pandoh dam is truly worth visiting for the views it offers. If you’re into birdwatching, you can even spot some exotic migratory species taking refuge in the reservoir here. The chaste beauty of this place is moreover worth mentioning.
Situated at a distance of 6km from Manali towards Leh, Nehru Kund is a fresh cold water spring. Named so after India’s first Prime Minister, Nehru Kund is a very beautiful and picturesque destination to travel to. One can spend a day picnicking and lazying around, or exploring the nearby jungle and discovering their own trekking route.
Hamta Valley, home to the popular Hamta Pass trek, is another highlight to explore when you’re in Manali. To get there, just drive to the town of Prini (located 3km from Manali towards Kullu on Old Kullu-Manali highway) and take a detour — the picturesque Hamta Valley has already begun to keep you awestruck with its beauty.
The Snow Point in Hamta Valley is the closest of all snow points from Manali, which remains open throughout the year offering tourists an ideal location to try snow activities during the winter season when Rohtang Pass remains closed. During summer, Hamta Valley offers a great escape for those who want to explore (and moreover stay) at quieter corners of Manali region. It is possible to drive all the way to the snow point in Hamta Valley, from Manali, which is located at about 20km from Manali main town. One can moreover stay in a village in Hamta Valley called ‘Sethan’.
Perhaps one of the smallest valleys to explore, Hallan Valley comprises of no more than a dozen villages on its either side and stretches for about 6 km with a connected motorable road, before coming to an end. The valley offers a real local Himachali experience offering a few accommodation options too for those who want to stay there. A day trip to Hallan Valley is a great way to escape the crowded Manali.
Another offbeat, unheard-of place to visit in under 20km distance from Manali is Fojal Valley. Situated almost halfway between Manali and Kullu, Fojal Valley is also a very small valley comprising of no more than a dozen small villages. Speaking of its positioning, Fojal Valley runs almost parallel to Kullu Valley from near the town of Patlikuhl. To get there, you need to take a detour from the town of Dhobi (about 3 or 4 km from Patlikuhl). When you’re in Fojal, you get an impression of being time-transported into the golden age of 70s or 80s offering people a setting where they would want to come to relax, forget their busy life behind, and spend a few nights unwinding and just being in the moment.
Local Tourist Markets In Manali
Manali’s Mall Road is the heart and soul of Manali and your answer to all shopping needs. It is a perfect place to pick up some souvenirs and handicrafts like Tibetan shawls, rugs and woolen caps among other things. One can also taste and sample local cuisines and catch the pulse of Manali. The best time to visit Mall Road is in the evening when the place is abuzz with family tourists, backpackers, and locals.
As the name suggests, the Tibetan market is where you will find everything Tibetan. It’s a better alternative to Manali’s Mall Road if you’re looking for adventure products like backpacks and trekking shoes, or local Tibetan handicrafts including shawls, prayer wheels, and Buddhist paintings.
Old Manali Market
If shopping on crowded streets is not your thing and you like a more westernized and hippy setting, then hit the market in Old Manali and walk on its cobblestone streets to experience a completely different side of Manali. Though there isn’t a very big difference in the kind of products you may find in Old Manali’s market and the Mall Road, the ambiance both provide is vaguely different.
Adventure Activities In Manali
For all the thrill seekers and adventurers, Manali is one of the best destinations that offers a myriad of adventure trekking options. There are at least 10 treks that start from a radius of 30km from Manali, including the popular Chandrakhani Pass, Bhrigu Lake, Patalsu Peak, Beas Kund, Hamta Pass, Deo Tibba and Friendship Peak, with some of them taking you to as high as 4500m above the sea level. Most of these treks take at least three days to complete and require you to take a local guide and proper trekking equipment.
Those who are into a higher level of thrill and adventure should give river rafting a try. The currents of Beas River is always abundant and perennial, making rafting in Manali area even more exciting than in many other places. The stunning mountain ranges flanking the Beas River present an idea view to enjoy while you fill your heart with adrenaline and adventure. There are at least hundreds of operators that organize river rafting in the region, so a little bargaining is always possible. Just drive past the town of Jagatsukh (about 15km from Manali, towards Kullu) and you will find an operator looking for customers at every 10 steps. Just choose a spot that catches your fancy and enjoy river rafting for as less as 500 Rupees per person.
Adventure Activities in Solang Valley
Solang Valley is a year-round magnet for adventure seekers of all types, be it paragliding, zorbing or zip-lining. During winter, Solang Valley offers skiing and snowboarding as the adventure sport. Those who are not into extreme adventure sports can, however, try ATV riding and a ride in the chair-lift. The valley, moreover, offers beautiful meadows to click pictures and have a fun time together with family and friends. It’s possible to visit Solang Valley and try a few adventure sports on a day trip from Manali. Readily available taxis usually take between 1500 to 4000 Rupees for a return journey from Manali, basis on the group size and the time of the year.
Skiing and Snowboarding in Hamta Valley
At nearly 3200 m above sea level and a 45 min drive from Manali, Sethan village in Hamta Valley offers beautiful views of the towering Dhauladhar ranges. A town inhabited by Tibetan settlement, Sethan is also an ideal place for snow activities like skiing, snow trekking, and sledding, among others, during the winter months of December, January and February. Unlike other places, like Auli or Gulmarg or Solang Valley, in Hamta Valley you don’t have a luxury of chair-car but that means finding less crowd and having the entire ski slope to yourself. If you’re a learner who doesn’t mind walking a little uphill before sliding down, Hamta Valley is the best place to learn ski or snowboard.
Where To Stay In Manali
If you had asked me this question about 5 years ago (when I had first visited Manali) I would have named Vashishth, Old Manali or somewhere near Mall Road in Manali if you wanted to stay in the city centre. But now, with increasing popularity, all those areas have become so crowded, that it’s not possible to enjoy the tranquillity of the mountains there. Still, if you want to stay closer to the main town of Manali, I can recommend staying somewhere in Old Manali or Vashishth, both of which are located at a half an hour walk from Manali bus station or a 10 min auto rickshaw ride. Manali main town also has enough accommodation option but it’s just too crowded for me to be recommending at all.
If you’re, however, looking for a peaceful locale I can suggest Hamta Valley without a second thought. It’s moreover in Hamta Valley (after being familiar with Manali area like the back of my hand) that I started my first hospitality venture, an adventure camping site in Manali with the name of FootlooseCamps, because of the beauty and easy accessibility of the place.
Food: Food in Manali can cost 150-400 Rupees per person in a good restaurant/cafe. If you’re a budget backpacker, however, it’s not hard to find a full meal for less than 120 Rupees for a person. Manali Mall Road has some of the most expensive restaurants that I often avoid. You can find something similar to eat in a restaurant just as good in Old Manali or Vashishth for much cheaper than in Manali Mall Road.
Accommodation: Manali Mall Road has some of the most expensive hotels costing as much as 5000 Rupees per night during season time. In Old Manali and Vashishth, you can find a room under 1000 Rupees during season time, and much cheaper when there are fewer tourists around. If you want something cheaper than that and much quieter, look for accommodation in Hamta Valley, Hallan Valley or Naggar.
Transportation: There is actually no basic fare for taxis and auto-rickshaws in Manali. They ask for a price they like depending upon the demand so don’t forget to bargain anytime you need to hire a taxi or an auto-rickshaw. For budget travelers, public buses are the best way to get around.
Further Reading: Offbeat Places Near Manali