Road Trip to Manali: a travelogue

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Manali, a resort town nestled in the mighty Himalayas, is one of the most famous hill stations in India. It is located in Pir Panjal and Dhualadhar range in Himachal Pradesh. As a travel destination, Manali is on everyone’s list – friends group, couples, family trip or even solo. Along with Manali, you can visit Kullu, Kasol, and Manikaran – the Kullu Valley (often referred to as the ‘Valley of the Gods’). You can also plan to go to Dharamshala also known as The Little Lhasa which is just 8 hours away. In March 2019, I decided to go on a road trip to Manali with my friends. This year (2019) snowfall was comparatively heavier, making it a bit risky; but we wanted to enjoy in the snow so we decided to go ahead with our plan.

My Road trip to Manali

himalayas
A road trip to Manali will offer you tonnes of stunning views

Journey begins..

We booked a car for our trip, packed some winter clothes and just hit the road from Chandigarh. We decided to take the route Chandigarh- Rupnagar- Barmana- Mandi- Kullu- Manali via NH 205 and NH 3 – about 310 km. Google maps estimated around 9-10 hours to reach Manali.

After getting on our car from the Elante mall, we started our journey around 9 pm. Just outside the city, we stopped to have dinner in a dhaba (highway-side restaurants in India). We had roti, dal makhani and tadka. The thing I love most about dhabas is the food, no matter what you order you can always trust that it would be good.

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So, with a filled stomach and full fuel-tank, the journey started. As it was night we could see mostly the buses, heavy trucks on the road. The road can be pretty scary too, sharp turns, deep cliffs but our driver had a good handle over the car and we just dozed off on the rear seat.

Around 6 am in the morning when we woke up and saw the amazing view Manali had to offer. It was very foggy, we could barely see anything. The sunlight was leaking through the fog, it felt magical. As we ascended higher we could see snow on the roads, roofs of the houses and bikes

Road Trip to Manali

We had booked our stay in old Manali. It was freaking zero degrees – freshening up didn’t feel like an option ;-). We were very tired from the long journey so we just dozed off again under the cozy blankets.

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Exploring the town and local-culture

We woke up after a good nap and went on foot to explore the famous Mall road of Manali. Breakfast was yummy instant-noodles and a soothing cup of tea.

The market area in Mall road was swarming with crowd. People bargaining with the vendors, shop keepers calling out people to their stalls, the place was very lively. The handmade painting on the wood with nameplates was a new thing to see. And the jackets, sweaters were so affordable you couldn’t resist buying them.

After exploring the market we went to the monastery present just next to the Mall road, the beautiful Buddha statue, the Tibetan flags were a treat to the eye. There was also a Tibetan museum nearby.

We then thought of calling up our cab driver for some local sightseeing. Our first stop was the Hidimba temple. It was nestled within beautiful pine trees. We saw and photographs with a furry rabbit for just Rs 20. We also tried on traditional pahadi costumes, with all flowers in basket and Jewellery . It was an interesting experience.

hadimba temple manali
Hidimba temple

Next, we headed to Manu temple and Vashisht hot springs. It was freezing outside but the hot water was still flowing – such is the wonders of nature.

Having heard a lot about cafes of Manali, we decided to go to the Lazy Dog Cafe (after a lot of ‘googling’, obviously!). The place was as beautiful as it was in the pictures, the rooftop was starry, the bar was amazing and the staff were very hospitable. Since the month of March is not peak-season in Manali, it was less crowded. We enjoyed the ambiance, good food, and cocktails. We left the cafe around midnight.

Lazy Dog Cafe
Food and ambiance at Lazy Dog Cafe was wonderful

We had hoped to see snowfall but we were not in luck!

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Few snowy adventures

Continuing on our road trip, next in line was Rohtang pass. To our utter disappointment, we found that due to heavy snowfalls the roads were closed. 🙁

So we decided to go to Solang valley – the adventure hub of Manali. It took around two hours to reach there. The view of the Himalayas was mesmerizing. The snow-peaked mountains, the sunlight leaking through them and the long chain of pine trees looked no less than a painting.

solang
Solang is full of snowy adventures

On the way, we stopped to rent some snow-wear. The dresses were really funny and the snow-boots even funnier. We were very worried about looking like jokers on snow, but the biggest compensation was everyone was dressed like this.

There are many activities in the valley like zorbing, snow scooter, cable car ropeway, skiing, and the famous paragliding. The total package would cost you around Rs. 3000 but you can also choose to do individual ones.

We had a lot of fun throwing snowballs at each other, falling while trying to ski, riding the snow-scooter was hell scary. Although we spent hours on the snow, it felt like time had passed in a jiffy!.

snow wear
Although the snow-wear was funny, but I stared linking it 🙂

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Some useful information about Manali

How to reach

By Air

The closest airport is Bhuntar, which is just 50 km away. You can get taxis and buses to Manali from here.

By Train

The nearest railway station is Una railway station (250 km). From there you have to go by bus for reaching Manali.

By Road

Manali is easily accessible from all major cities like Chandigarh, Delhi and Amritsar. Overnight buses are your best option, giving you time to explore during the day.

Manali also serves as a starting point for Leh-Manali bike trips – one of the most EPIC road trips ever. You can even take buses via the Manali-Keylong route.

Best time to visit Manali

April to June is the best time for a road trip to Manali. When the entire country is burning in the heat of summers, this place is still cool and the weather is pleasant. Monsoons should be avoided as the chances of landslides are high. The winters are harsh, so people who love the cold weather should visit during this time. Heavy winter clothes should be packed if going during December and January.

manali landscape

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Places to eat in Manali

Here are few of the places that I would suggest:

  1. Rose Garden ( Rs 1000 for two)
  2. Johnson’s cafe (Rs 1200 for two)
  3. Casa Belle Vista( Rs 800 for two)
  4. Drifter’s cafe (Rs 800 for two)
  5. Chopsticks (Rs 800 for two)

In the end…

A road trip to Manali is one of the most beautiful road trips you will ever come across. It cost us around Rs. 10,000 for a 3-day trip. It can be a lot less if you use public transport like buses. Overall I would definitely recommend Manali as a long-weekend-outing!

Road Trip to Manali (India)
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This guest post has been authored by Shalini Garnaik. She shares her travel stories, hacks, and tips for the road in her blog – eager2travel. You can find a detailed itinerary of the places she has been to. She has been traveling with a full-time job for the past two years, and loves to share her experiences, how to plan a trip on a tight budget.

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