“If you are faced with a mountain, you have several options. You can climb it and cross to the other side. You can go around it. You can dig under it. You can fly over it. You can blow it up. You can ignore it and pretend it’s not there. You can turn around and go back the way you came. Or you can stay on the mountain and make it your home.” Vera Nazarian
Surrounded by the Himalayas, Old Manali is perhaps the most scenic town of Himachal Pradesh. The gushing waters of the Manaslu river, the gentle view of the distant snow clad mountains, the winding roads bordered by shops selling dream-catchers of different sizes and colors, the smell of freshly baked cookies…they all add up to make this quaint little town the perfect retreat for the hippies in us.
The Journey: New Delhi to Old Manali
We were just back from our incredible Bali vacation when our friends suggested travelling to Manali. It was necessary because recovering from the Bali holiday blues was not an easy task. We had to kill the vacation blues with another vacation. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?
We gave in to the very thought of it and soon, the 5 of us were at Majnu Ka Tilla, fitting our backpacks into the overhead cabin of the Volvo that would take us to Manali. The journey was long and exhausting but we were well-prepared. All except one of us, have been to Manali on numerous occasions.
We started off with the journey at around 9 PM. I took the window seat and tried my best to focus on the almost-full moon that seemed to have taken a bus ride along us. Occasionally, a mosquito would start hovering in front of my eyes and I would spend 5 minutes ordering the mosquito to leave me alone. Boredom makes you do stupid things. I hardly fall asleep when I travel so I usually turn to my phone for some musical company. It was comforting to see the rest of the 4 sleeping peacefully, though for short duration.
The view drastically changes by the time the sun starts shining. Far away from Delhi and closer to the Himalayas. A strange feeling of happiness takes over my mind when I see the Himalayas. They are my idea of redemption. The body starts feeling lighter and the mind is filled with inspiration. Words start flowing and the songs on the playlist sound sweeter than ever.
We reached Manali at around 11 AM and soon, we were off to Old Manali (another 15 minutes from where the bus dropped us).
Our Stay at Hotel Zostel:
We were dropped at Manu Temple Road and soon, we found ourselves walking past corridors, wooden houses and kids playing at the courtyard. We could see cattle staring at us while munching on their lunch. We had left our city lives far behind and this place felt more like the home we had always wanted.
After a few more steps, we took a turn towards our hotel and the white mountains were right in front of us. Holy shit! Is this for real?
You can only imagine how beautiful it looked from where we stood. We booked our stay at Zostel and it was way more beautiful than what the pictures showed us. The location couldn’t get any better.
It is a budget hotel offering private rooms and dorms, with exceptional views. Our check-in process took some time but we were in no rush either. We made ourselves comfortable at the Garden Cafe (open dining area) and decided to go check our rooms only after we had our lunch. Our room was cozy. Our room had a bed, bedside tables, patio, toilet with hot water supply and outdoor furniture. I could sit at the balcony and stare at the magnificent view in my front, all day long. Zostel reminded me of my boarding days and I really loved the place.
Price: We were charged Rs 2000/- approx per night (we visited in February, 2017)
Dorms beds can set you back by Rs 550/- per night
Definitely recommended if you are looking for a budget hotel with an exceptional view of the ice cap peaks. You can book your stay with them from any leading hotel booking website.
Booking the Stay at Old Manali is not an issue since this scenic town is swamped with several luxury and budget hotels offering a grand view.
Day 1 & Day 2 at Old Manali:
Strolling along the narrow and winding streets of Old Manali, checking out woolens and leather jackets at the stores, enjoying every bite of the apple pie at the German Bakery, sipping coffee by the River Manaslu accompanied by two mountain dogs, indulging in intellectually stupid conversations over dinner and drinks at Drifter’s Inn and Cafe- pretty much sums our Day 1 at Old Manali.
The next day, before taking the bus to Delhi, we decided to visit Solang Valley for some activities.
We booked a taxi for the trip to Solang Valley with the help of the staff at Zostel. The drive to Solang Valley is in itself a great experience. The winding road runs beside River Beas offering spectacular view of the surrounding mountains covered in a white blanket of snow.
There are several operators dealing in Adventure Sports Activities at Solang Valley to choose from. Once we were all set with our ski equipment and gears, we headed towards the valley.
Skiing is a popular activity this time of the year (February) due to the abundance of snow. The place was over-crowded and right after we were done with a couple of skiing lessons, we decided to hike to the Solang Ropeway and Ski Centre.
Here, you can opt for Cable Car Ropeway Ride, paragliding etc. We took the 1.3 KM Cable Car Ropeway Ride (for Rs 500/- per head). The view gets better and better with the vertical rise. The ski slopes are marvelous up there and we spent quite a few hours up there. It was so much fun to watch the paragliders fly along the beautiful backdrop the mountains made. We lost track of time and had to hurry to get back to the hotel. We quickly had our lunch and with a heavy heart, bid goodbye to the scenic Old Manali and got into the bus that would bring us back to New Delhi.
2 days are not enough for Old Manali, but if you just have 2 days, Old Manali is always THE BEST DECISION.
Waking up to striking view, sipping down a delicious cup of coffee while the sky hosts the most glamorous sunset, happy people, chill in the air, a quiet street at 7 PM, charming rooms at the hotel and calm ambient music floating from a distant cafe…I wonder what was not to like about our weekend stay at Old Manali.
Best time to visit:
It totally depends on your preference.
For a pleasant summer: March to June
For a pleasant winter: September to mid-December
For snowfall: December end to February
Monsoons can be a bit troublesome as we often read about landslides during that time of the year.
Reaching Old Manali:
It is extremely easy to reach Old Manali.
- Bus: I personally prefer taking a Volvo bus to Manali and hire a taxi/auto-rickshaw to Old Manali as I find it great in terms of comfort and value for money. I use RedBus to book my ticket.
- You can drive your car, book a taxi or hire a self-driven car
- Fly to Bhuntar and then take a taxi to Old Manali
Suggestion:In case you decide to take the Volvo bus to Manali, it is always a great idea to consume or carry medicine for motion sickness as the windows on these buses are fixed.
Pros of Visiting Old Manali in February:
a) You might just get lucky and witness the magical snowfall
b) Lots of snow related activities to choose from
c) Manali is beautiful all around the year but we couldn’t help falling in love with those ice cap peaks during our visit
Cons of Visiting Old Manali in February:
a) Limited dining and shopping options as most of the shops remain closed (we heard it is vacation time for the shop owners)
b) The weather can get really cold and affect your health if you are not prepared (better carry your thermals and woolens).
c) Not many trekking/hiking options due to snowfall
Places to Visit/Things to Do:
There are many options to choose from during your trip to Old Manali depending on the time of your visit. Below are some of the options you might want to explore-
a) Solang Valley (for activities like Paragliding, Skiing etc)
b) Rohtang Pass
c) Manali (for activities like river rafting, horse riding etc)
d) Trek to Jogni Falls, Lama Dugh etc
e) If you like to explore temples and spiritual places, you can visit Hidamba Temple, Manu Temple, Himalaya Nyingmapa Buddhist Temple etc
f) Rent a Royal Enfield and go explore the nearby areas
g) Explore the small cafes and the cozy restaurants (Garman Bakery, Café 1947, Lazy Dog, Drifter’s Café are some of my favorites)
h) Check out the stores for some funky clothes, beads, jewelry, jackets, handmade caps etc.
Do not make your life hectic during your trip. Take out sometime time to just sit and unwind. Do not miss the magical sunsets. Ask your hotel staff for bonfire and laugh your heart out with your friends. Write something beautiful. Take several photographs. Just LIVE out there.
See you all soon,