We were super excited about our trip to Manali so we left Delhi around midnight on a Friday night. It was a holiday weekend and we were hoping to miss traffic, but we didn’t. Instead it took us five hours to get out of Delhi! Finally the roads cleared somewhere around daybreak and we welcomed the clearing air, blue skies and quaint villages, along with the first dawn of our nine day vacation. We drove through the cute towns of Mandi and Kullu where we stopped at a fruit stand for some fresh apples. I eventually took my turn at the wheel so Kirti could take some much deserved rest before navigating the steep winding roads of the Himalaya Mountains. Finally, 18.5 hours later, we arrived in Manali. Little did we know that Manali is a little town full of big surprises.
Independence Day ceremony
We checked into our hotel, White Meadows, somewhere around 9:00 PM. Feeling exhausted and road weary we settled into a well deserved night in luxury. The next day was India’s Independence Day. One of the country’s traditions is to stand at attention during a flag raising ceremony so we joined a host of other hotel guests and staffs to participate. After that we sat on a swing in the beautiful hotel gardens before heading out to enjoy the town.
The first thing that caught my attention in Manali is the shopping! Wow! The beautiful and unique handicrafts available made it hard to decide what to buy. From quality leather goods to amazing antiques, I recognized the opportunity to purchase such products was probably a once in a lifetime event and wasted no time. We bought things from Kashmir and Nepal, as well as other parts of India. Each shop keeper showed such pride in their work and gleamed with genuine happiness at our interest in their goods.It was a fun morning and soon some of these handicrafts will be available for my friends and family to enjoy. Watch my Facebook page for more information.
Early in the afternoon we took a rest at an interesting family run dhaba. A dhaba is what they call a budget cafe in India and we found a quiet but colorful one with outdoor seating. It didn’t take long for the server to offer us some hashish dumplings along with the usual menu. Shortly after that I noticed that the weeds growing beside the washroom really were weed! I began to like the place even more! After several drinks and some delicious food we decided to go check out the forest park in the heart of downtown.
The park was huge and peaceful. Giant pine trees lined the rain swollen Beas River and birds of all kinds were gleefully singing their songs. We sat and enjoyed the beauty for a while before heading into old Manali and checking into a cheaper place for the night. Along the way we stopped and watched a snake charmer work his magic. Before long I was entertaining myself and a small crowd by holding two Cobras and another smaller snake. I found myself enchanted by their dancing and elusiveness. Kirti watched in horror but managed to take some good pics of the experience.
Our hotel for the night was a simple little place called Drifters Inn and Cafe. We payed about 1200 rupees or $20 USD for the night. Inside the cafe they had hooka for us to smoke and board games, so we relaxed while I taught Kirti how to play Battleship. He’s a quick learner because he beat me two games in a row!!
No Cash in the ATMs
Our intention was to leave early the next morning for Chandratal. Unfortunately after trying about ten different ATM machines, all of which were out of cash, we realized we would have to wait until we could withdraw some money. Imagine a tourist town on a holiday weekend being out of cash! It would be unbelievable in the states, but it’s just a common hassle in India. The next day we headed back down into the village and watched in fascination as mountain people took their cows and sheep for a morning walk. I found the idea of walking your domestic livestock entertaining! The ATMs were still out of cash, but that’s when I remembered I had about $80 USD, so we found a small shop that exchanged it for us and saved our ass!
The next morning we would be heading up to an elevation of 14,000 feet, through Rhotang pass and to one of the most remote destinations in all of India! Follow my next blog for the details of an experience I will never forget!!!!