I consider Manali, in Himachal Pradesh, my second home. And it isn’t just me, but everyone who lives in Delhi. Manali’s close proximity to the capital, and other big towns like Chandigarh, makes it a favourable holiday destination, particularly during summers, when the heat in Indian cities becomes unbearably harsh and people fancy a quick escape.
Other than Indian tourist, Manali has also long attracted the hippies of the West, particularly if we talk about Vashishth (the town next to Manali), which can also otherwise be perceived as the GOA for hippies in the north of India. It might have had something to do with the world famous elusive and guarded Malana cream from the nearby town of Malana, or perhaps something else. But whatever, the reason Manali is one of North India’s top tourist attractions.
Things To Do In Manali
From enjoying the views of the Beas to experiencing therapeutic hot springs in Vasisht, to driving to Solang Valley and rolling down the hills – there’s enough to do in and around Manali. And speaking of the highlights, here are some…
Stroll Along The Mall Road: Though after a few visits the Mall Road (the main shopping street in Manali) seems more like a tourist trap and less like an attraction, for the first timers, it indeed remains a worthy highlight for first timers. Here you may find all the Nepalese shops in the world selling yak wool blankets and ponchos, cute hats and gloves, and adorable coin purses. And if that doesn’t catch you fancy, you can get some fake North Face backpacks and hiking boots. Just keep in mind they aren’t worth what the guys say they are worth.
Explore The Nature Park: Around half a kilometre from the Mall road lies an oasis of greenery & a real treat for nature enthusiasts. The park is full of tall Deodar trees, a wildlife reserve, and an ideal place to spot Himachal’s state bird, Manual Pheasant. There’s a small entry fee though, which around two years ago when I visited the park, was 10 Rupees.
Rent A Bike And Visit Rohtang Pass: For adventure junkies, and the first timer mountain visitors this should be high on the list. Rent a bike in Manali (1200 Rupees per day for a Bullet and 800 for a Pulsar), wear your heart on your sleeves and ride through the Rohtang Pass with snow on either side and majestic views of the valley.
Adventure Activities: From trekking and paragliding to mountain biking, jeep safaris and rafting, Manali has plenty in its kitty for adventure junkies. Though it’s a different thing that most of them take place either 10-15 km north of Manali, in Solang Valley; or the south, around a town called Jagatsukh. And to save a bit of your money, it’s always better if you head to their respective location. Head north, to Solang Valley for activities like paragliding, zip-lining, quad-biking, and camping. For river rafting, however, head south.
Camping: Camping near Manali can also be a great activity. There are many campsites nearby, but if you ask me, I’d recommend something I know very well. A secluded little land, partitioned by a stream, in the Pir-Panjal range of Himachal. Though in definition it may sound a faraway place, it’s located only 15 mins drive from main Manali, and if you’re coming from New Delhi, you don’t need to go all the way to Manali at all. Here, a little introduction to the campsite.
Relax: Packed full of pine trees and surrounded by snow-capped mountains (including some of India’s highest peaks), Manali is a perfect place for a chilled out vacation. If nothing suits you, and you’re looking for nothing much but relax, then that can be done too. Follow my Where to Stay Guide, and find yourself a peaceful place. Though I’d recommend Vashishth and its native feel.
Where To Stay
From a quick budget option to something more comfortable there is no dearth of accommodation in Manali. But I’d recommend the town of Vashisht (right next to Manali) for its better location, cheaper prices and a peaceful experience. Compared to Manali, Vashisht is a tiny little town, but enough to suit all your needs – from booze to scooter rentals to a German bakery, and in between, a few dozen guest houses and hotels. You can walk the two-kilometre distance to Vashisth (from Manali) or even take an auto-rikshaw that costs 100 Rupees per ride.
During off-season, a nice double-bed room, overlooking the river Beas (as Vashishth sits on a hilltop), costs as low as 300 Rupees. I’ve personally stayed in Vashisht for at least 4 or 5 times, and my first choice, always, is a place called Darma Guesthouse, that charge me between 250 to 500 Rupees depending on what time of the year I visit. You can contact Ramsingh, the caretaker, and ask for availability and prices at +91-9736130375.
Other than Manali, I also recommend Hallan Valley. Hallan (20 minutes drive from Manali towards Kullu, has a great homestay culture. I’ve explored some great options. For one, Anu Homestay in Charanag village is my favourite, and here’s a snapshot from its window…
Where To Eat
Babushka – In Vashishth, lies the hippie corner called Babushka. With solo travellers from around the world, looking for friends, the kind of atmosphere the place gets is friendly. The food is super good too.
Café 1947 – This vintage and traditional Italian café is one of the highlighted and Manali’s first music café in Manali. Relish a meal, read a book, or play your favourite tunes – Cafe 1947 promises a perfect ambience for solo travellers and big groups alike. I’d rate it as my personal favourite.
Casa Bella Vista – Popular for its Spanish and Italian cuisine, Casa Bella Vista guarantees picturesque panoramas of Manali.
Since there’s no rail connection in higher Himalayas, and flying to Manali (the nearest airport is in Bhuntar, 50 kms south of Manali) is perhaps not a great idea, the only and the best way to get there is by road. You can self-drive a car or take a public bus. From New Delhi, there are regular buses run by Himachal Roadways, which can be booked online for approximately 650 Rupees for an ordinary bus, or 1500 for a luxury.
Taking a night bus from Delhi and reaching Manali the following morning is always the best option.
Have you been to Manali? Do you have anything to add? Any places you like and recommend?
My favorite trek near Manali, is also the most uncommon: Read Trekking Near Manali