Visit Manali – the little 8.000 people gem of Himachal Pradesh, a north Indian state at the border of the Himalayas. Jaw-dropping landscapes and the for India often unusual fresh breeze hitting right in there, you’ll easily find yourself early-birding to go explore.
Situated among the rugged mountains of the green Beas valley with their mostly snow-covered tops, the Beas river winding its way along the curvy roads, Manali is a peaceful, picture-perfect base to explore the surrounding area. Popular day trips go up the mountains to Rohtang Pass or the temple city of Manikaran, while there are quite a few sights just in walking distance as well.
I had the pleasure to explore one of my now favorite places of India for a week with the 328 layers of non-suitable clothes I could possibly put on – here’s why I loved it so much!
New Manali, Old Manali, and everything in-between
Manali, at around 2.000 meters altitude, is a relatively easily accessible base for all kinds of national and international tourists. Thus, within 5 to 10 kilometers, you’ll stumble over more guesthouse, hotel and homestay signs than cups of chai you’ll drink while in India. The newer part of Manali is dominated by a market road between the main bus and rickshaw stands, and is lined with touristy restaurants and souvenir shops.
However it’s easy to gain a little distance to all that hustle and bustle. Staying on this side of the river, walking uphill to Old Manali takes around 25 minutes. Admittedly, this area is still very touristic, but the little cafés and more modest building bring across a certain charme. Especially worth to see at sunset! Closeby you’ll also find the Hidimba Devi Forest Temple (see below).
Crossing to the other side of the river, you’ll enjoy stunning views of exactly that, and can walk either in direction of the Vashisht Temple or along more hotels and stores towards the junction of Hamta Pass (see below).
Chasing waterfalls… and all the temples
That there is an abundance of natural phenomena and temples of all sorts, you probably knew anyway. When you visit Manali, these are the nicest ones in the immediate area that can easily be explored by foot!
Vashisht Temple and Jogini Falls
Thirty to forty-five minutes walk will lead you up the hills to the village Vashisht, which mainly consists of one long road lined by small, colorful shops and food stands. One step, you’ll pass a German bakery, the next you find yourself among traditional houses with cows in their yards and women washing clothes. The 4000-years old temple of the same name features traditional wood carvings, and is popular for its hot springs, a bath in which is believed to have a healing effect.
From here, it’s about a three kilometer trek to the Jogini Falls. It leads you along a narrow lane of residential areas, slowly transforming to apple orchids and eventually tall pine trees and water streams. Every now and then, the trees open up to wide views across Beas River and the peaks of Rohtang on your left. After around 30 minutes, you’ll reach the base of the waterfall, with a small temple peacefully integrated into the surrounding nature. To enjoy the full grandeur of the place, climb up the hills another 15 minutes, and have earned a triple serve of dessert later!
The views up from the lookout are worth it, but also quite busy. If you’re feeling more adventurous, instead of following the path towards Jogini Falls crossing the river just after leaving the residential area, hike up the hills to your right. There is a tiny path and you’ll have to fight your way through high grass and bushes, but will be rewarded with great views all to yourself.
Hidimba Devi Forest Temple
Located at the other side of the valley is the Hidimba temple, an almost eerie wooden construction from 1553. It is situated in the middle of a cedar forest and dedicated to Hadimba, attracting pilgrims from all across India. The pagoda-style roof and the wooden doorway are richly carved with figures of gods, animals and dancers, while the inside of the temple has an almost cave-like appearance.
If you want to enter, make sure to take off your shoes, and just follow along what everyone else is doing – you will walk in a line, until it is your turn to bow to the altar, give a little donation (10-20 Rupees is fine), and receive prasad (religious offering of food) and the tilaka (the mostly red mark on the forehead).
Up, up, up – Rohtang and Hamta Pass
50 kilometers from Manali may seem like a stone’s throw, but the 4.000 meters high Rohtang Pass will need at least 3 hours drive. Considering the curves awaiting you, really don’t have any greasy fried bread for breakfast.
And the ride will be yummy enough, considering the vast views over the valley when climbing higher and higher. Regarding the logistics, best handle this directly with your hotel or guesthouse or the Tourist and Information Center, as they can advise you the prices of drivers as well as the permit to visit the Pass (duh, I know). You can also book an online permit here.
If you’re looking for earning another round of desserts, it’s possible to bike your way up to the pass. But honestly, curling up in the car seat and getting lost in the views of rawest nature was an experience in itself (with a sufficient amount of motionsickness pills).
We were on the pass just a day before it started snowing, you can never really know in advance. Just make sure to put on all the layers you have, because the wind does get into every tiniest little hole of your clothes. I found a blanket somewhere on the floor and walked around like a mummy for the rest of the day. If you’re too close turning into a snow(wo)man, locals sell chai, coffee, maggi (noodle soup) and other hot goodness as well.
Meanwhile, Hamta Pass is located a much less nauseating distance from Manali. We started hiking up the hill from the main road. Once you reach a checkpoint, ask the guard to point you the way – there is a tiny path that is in fact a huge shortcut and will lead you past meadows and gardens.
Eventually, you’ll reach the curvy road with conveniently numbered curves to kindly remind you how little progress you make if you plan to walk (even if you can skip some long curves by walking straight uphill). Your best bet – in case you don’t want to invest into a taxi – will be to start walking and try to hitch uphill. We found a truck able to bring the 6 of us up pretty easily, and spend fun evening hiking around with them. Have you options of how you get back down in the dark as well!
If you don’t go up there for sunset, you can as well stay inside your room the entire time.
Manikaran – Temple Town Perched Into The Valley
The picturesque little town, perched deep into the Parvati Valley about 85km from Manali, is a place of pilgrimage for Hindus and Sikhs. Upon approaching the large temple by crossing the roaring Parvati River, you’ll be greeted by the steam continually issuing from the hot springs.
The name Manikaran derives from the Hindu legend of Shiva and Parvati once strolling through the valley – and ended up staying 1.100 years – when Parvati lost one of her earrings. Noone was able to retrieve it, which led to Shiva becoming very angry and causing extreme disturbances and destruction. He only was calmed down by Sheshnag, the God of Snakes, who hissed out a hot spring that helped the earring re-emerge. Today, a bath in the springs is said to have healing powers, e.g. for rheumatism or bronchitis – once it’s cooled with river water. Otherwise, the emerging water is hot enough for the locals to cook their rice in.
Sikhism is one of the youngest major religions, having originated in the Punjab region in the end of 15th century by Guru Nanak. Worldwide, there are around 25 million “Sikh” – meaning disciple or learner – whose fundamental beliefs root in the sacred scripture Guru Grant Sahib, the belief in Karma and rebirth, equality of all human beings, and being of selfless service in order to overcome the ego.
The Temple itself was built in the 17th century and constitutes of three halls as well as some forty rooms for devotees to stay in. Free communal food (“langar”) is offered for visitors. After passing through the temple, you will find yourself in the busy narrow alleys of the town itself, lined with souvenir shops, little stands selling local sweets and fresh lime soda, as well as a lot of smaller and bigger temples hidden around corners. Enjoy a nice stroll and the views of the surrounding mountains, especially from the next bridge crossing the river again. From here, you will reach the major parking lot, and can continue your journey along the picturesque winding roads of the valley.
Friends, if you now still cannot understand what I love about Manali – well, then really all chai is lost on you. I’m stalking flight tickets already to see when I can go back…
Have you been to India? What’s your favorite place? 🙂