We arose very early in the morning and braced ourselves for the longest road trip of our adventure in Himachal Pradesh. To avoid the heavy build-up of traffic in Shimla, we figured it would be wise to leave the town at 6am. Sanjay was already waiting for us at the foot of the lift, where he dropped us off a day earlier. He laughed it off when hubby told him that Google Maps estimated the second leg of our journey from Shimla to Manali to be just 6 hours and 49 minutes. With his 10-year driving experience in the hilly Himachal Pradesh, he gave us an estimate of at least 8 hours.
Driving through the Himalayan mountains offered us a breathtaking sight of the misty valleys beneath. The chilly morning breeze was truly refreshing to the soul. One of the advantages of being driven in a car, especially on the front passenger seat where hubby was, is to be able to enjoy the unobstructed view of the sceneries and to shoot all the stunning photos.
Fortunate for us, the roads were still clear up to about 8am and that was when we took the opportunity to drive as far and as fast as possible, with the hope of arriving in Manali before sunset. It was hard to tell if it would rain and cause a landslide like the day before or if there was going to be a bad traffic along the way. Those were the risks we weren’t willing to take.
Upon our descent into the small town of Barmana, we made our way across Sutlej River. From then on, our drive was pretty smooth within the valley and the temperature had by then risen to 30°C. Shortly before arriving at Sundernagar, we were slowed down tremendously by a 5-km-long construction that was supposed to transform that stretch of the road into a national highway in months to come.
It was a relief when we arrived at Mandi 4 hours later, which meant that we had at least accomplished half of our journey to Manali. Mandi is in fact a sizeable town, located where two rivers (Suketi Khad River and Beas River) meet. Our initial plan was to have brunch in Mandi, but Sanjay offered to bring us to a nice restaurant along Beas River, somewhere further away from Mandi. Once again, we were delayed by a landslide that happened the night before, but it wasn’t long before we finally passed it. We then had a simple brunch at Beas View Guest House & Bhojanalaya that overlooked the Beas River, and spent half an hour there enjoying its spectacular view.
We continued on with our journey across Pandoh Dam, which created the Pandoh Lake on Beas River. Shortly beyond Sanjay stopped by the Hanogi Mata Temple to perform a short prayer, we chanced upon a fascinating suspension bridge across Beas River – Hanogi Footbridge. So, we decided to check it out – couldn’t stop taking selfies and wefies on the bridge.
Thereafter, the road was just meandering along the bank of Beas River until we entered Aut Tunnel, a 3-km-long tunnel that leads northward toward Kullu. Beyond the tunnel, certain stretches of the road along Beas River are exceedingly treacherous and a simple mistake can cause your vehicle to plunge into the ravine beneath. Just the thought of driving through those stretches again sent chills down my spine.
What appeared after these challenging stretches were the unending picturesque sceneries that awaited us. We drove past several towns, namely Bajaura, Bhuntar and Kullu before finally arriving at Manali around 2pm, which was our ultimate destination for that day. By the way, Kullu is famous for its shawls but we weren’t particularly searching for them so we didn’t stop by any its shops.
To maximise our time on that same day, we diverted to Naggar Castle only after arriving at Manali as Sanjay had missed a turn across Beas River earlier. That took us an extra hour to arrive at the castle through the mountainous Kullu-Naggar-Manali Road. This castle, a magnificent historical edifice, was the residence of Raja Sidh Singh of Kullu in the 15th century and in recent years, it was converted into a heritage hotel. The entrance fee was only ₹30 (RM1.80). From the castle atop the forested hill, you will get one of the best views of Kullu Valley.
After the castle, we made our way back to Manali. This was when we noticed lots of apple trees as well as stalls selling apples by the roadside. Only then did Sanjay inform us that Manali is indeed famous for its apples, both green and red. One particular tent by a brook that was brimming with apples caught our attention and needless to say, we ended up choosing and bargaining with the workers. They were actually packing the apples in boxes for export.
Having purchased our apples, we headed towards HighlandPark Manali, the hotel which hubby booked from Expedia for RM343.62 per room inclusive of taxes, of course with a 10% discount code (MAYBMYHOLIDAY). It is located 10 minutes away from Manali town by the Beas River (to satisfy hubby’s fascination for staying next to a river) and only accessible through a suspension bridge. By then, the rain had started pouring down. What shocked us was Sanjay’s skill in driving across that narrow bridge – mark of a truly competent driver!
That wet evening, we had dinner at the hotel instead of driving out again. As expected, our Indian meal was slightly pricey for portions that were smaller than what we had in Shimla. Then we retired early that evening, having travelled on the road for almost half a day. It rained cats and dogs that night.
The next day, we woke up to a cold, beautiful morning and wasted no time in exploring the paradisiacal park within the hotel compound. It was just so heavenly to sit by the Beas and savour the sound of its water rushing over the rocks – simply indescribable. This was actually meant to be the highlight of our stay in Manali. There was no need to rush anywhere that morning. As the following day was the Indian Independence Day, we stayed on in Manali for another day just to avoid being caught in the traffic gridlock.
Breakfast that morning was the most sumptuous ever, as we could order anything on the menu regardless of amount. This arrangement was made to replace the buffet that was supposed to come with our rooms, which made perfect sense considering the low occupancy at that time.
It was just so heavenly to sit by the Beas and savour the sound of its water rushing over the rocks
After the feast, we took a 20-minute drive up north towards Solang Valley – famous for its ski slopes and resorts. It would definitely be more fun to be here during winter when the slopes are white, nonetheless we still decided to take the ropeway all the way up, which has a beautiful park at the summit of the hill. Each ticket was priced at ₹600 (RM37) and the entire ride took about 5 minutes. At the hilltop, you’ll get a perfect view of the Himalayas and Solang Valley, as far as the eyes can see.
Part of our itinerary was to hike up Friendship Peak, but we had to abandon it since the road northward beyond that point was closed due to the Rohtang Tunnel project (another 17-minute drive). From Solang Valley, we drove back to Old Manali where Manu Temple is located. This temple’s architecture is somewhat different from most Hindu temples we are used to seeing and it’s peculiar to Manali. The road leading to the temple was one of the narrowest two-way-traffic roads I’ve ever seen. Once again, Sanjay demonstrated his skills with excellence. Besides the temple, walking through Old Manali itself was a unique experience to be able to see the local people living in traditional ways.
We then proceeded to Mall Road, which is the centre of activities in Manali. We spent about 2 hours walking through the entire town and stopping by a couple of shops to look for some local merchandise. If you’re looking for shawls, pashmina, cashmere, silk, etc. this place will surely satisfy your needs. On top of that, you can also practise your bargaining skills with the merchants. We ended our outing in Manali with an early dinner at a Punjabi restaurant before heading back to the hotel. River trout is a popular fish in Manali and it happened to be served at this restaurant.
The final unofficial activity in our itinerary was to dip in Beas River. As soon as we reached the hotel, we quickly changed and took the small path down to the river. My goodness, the water was frigid! We would have gotten hypothermia had we dipped into it. We ended up just sitting on the rocks and taking a couple of photos. Truly heavenly!
Our 2-day stay in Manali was probably the most memorable among all our pitstops in Himachal Pradesh. The next morning, we left Manali at 7am for the next leg of our adventure – Palampur, which was supposed to be the second longest road trip in our itinerary.
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