We started in the afternoon around 1 pm as we had already planned to break journey for the night and were in no hurry . The national highway is dotted with tolls, hotels, restaurants and comfortable hotels. We drove down to Chandigarh , took the road to Manali and slowly the mountain range emerged much to our delight. It started getting colder and we stopped for the night at a mountain side hotel between Sundarnagar and Mandi, a prudent decision indeed.
After breakfast we started the ascend , driving in the mountains during the night could be hazardous and we would also miss the beautiful scenery fruit orchards and the tiny colorful hamlets dotting the road. The pine scented fresh air and the natural beauty of the Kullu valley raised our spirits and we admired the snow clad mountains in the far off ranges and the mighty Beas river flowing alongside.There are many adventure sports camps all along the road offering para gliding , white water rafting, trekking etc.
As we drove higher the Beas river became narrower and stony , several smaller streams and waterfalls merged into the river.The hair pin bends and the changing scenery and the small hospitable cafes offering refreshments kept tiredness at bay.We criss-crossed the river many times , the bridges are narrow and the traffic is regulated by allowing one side traffic at a time. We had plenty of time' to stand and stare' at the awesome scenery and nobody minded the delay.
After more hill driving the 3.8 km long Aut tunnel loomed ahead , situated on the Chandigarh Manali highway, it is the gateway to Kullu- Manali region and unavoidable . The dimly lit tunnel seemed never ending, shadowy , musty, lacking fresh air circulation ,the fumes of the slow moving trucks and speeding buses contributed to the mustiness.It was comforting to see highway staff hard at maintenance work in the lengthy tunnel. One is aware of driving through the the massive mountain range, an engineering marvel no doubt but it is a relief to see the sunlight and breathe in the fresh air again .Hopefully better lighting and ventilation will improve its ambiance and appearance.
The beautiful scenery and pine tree clad mountains topped with snow like huge ice-cream cones welcomed us and the river Beas gurgled alongside like a trusted friend ! But placards warned tourists not to venture into the seeming harmless river as water levels could rise anytime due to melting glaciers in the upper regions.
Manali is a small hill town retaining its rustic charm on the banks of the river Beas , there are many hotels in various price range and Tibetan cafes offering authentic cuisine . the Mall road has shops selling local as well as branded merchandise.The town has a bustling market dominated with Kashmiri goods , surprisingly Kullu shawls etc were in short supply.We were lucky to see snow and also witness snowfall during our short trip.
After a light snack we rested in the afternoon , it started drizzling but hope of witnessing a snowfall kept us happy. The light rain did not deter people from roaming in the bazaar, with or without umbrellas enjoying the nippy weather.
Our wish was granted and late at night we saw a fair share of snowfall . It was indeed magical to see snow flakes falling all around !Morning saw a different scene as the mountains were lavishly covered with fresh snow and looked awesome in the bright sunlight.
We could not visit the famous Rohtang Pass which is about 51 km away from Manali as it was closed for public in winters. It is the gateway to beautiful Lahaul and Spiti valley and Ladakh , folklore says that this pass was used by traders long ago , the famed Silk route from China ! A permit is required as it is under our army /military due to its strategic location.
We were told to visit Solang valley , about 14 kms from the city where para gliding and other adventure sports are held . We reached Solang valley and it started drizzling and snowing again, it was indeed a great and nobody minded getting wet. Tiny shops offered gumboots ,heavy coats and winter apparel on rent.Small cafes did roaring business selling noodles, tea and Tibetan delicacies.Though small the Solang valley offers a variety on entertainment including a rope-way , yak , pony rides and even sking !
The bad weather forced us to cut short our day trip and we could not enjoy the rope-way. Public amenities were closed as it is not the regular tourist season but still the car parking was full and the place was crowded. The constant drizzle and the walk on the slippery fresh snow is unforgettable, steaming cups of tea , momos and omnipresent noodles kept our energy levels high. It is a memorable experience to have steaming cups of tea at a roadside stall in the backdrop of snow ladden pine trees and boulders , come rain , hail or snow ! Afternoon was spent in shopping and admiring the beautiful temple, thankfully no vehicles are allowed on the mall road.
There are many tourist spots around Manali , we did not have the time to visit the famous waterfalls, temples and other places.We returned the next day , back home to Delhi , refreshed and invigorated from our short weekend trip with beautiful memories.