Manali, one of India’s most popular hill stations, has something on offer for every kind of tourist – families, college students, hippies, nature lovers, adventure junkies and foodies. And to fully exploit this, people head there in carloads in summer. After all, it’s a comfortable night trip from Delhi and takes just about 8 hours to get to from Chandigarh, via a beautiful route, a long stretch of it next to the Beas River. What one might also end up getting in the bargain, thus, are traffic jams, crowded tourist spots, sky-high prices, iffy food, and pollution.
If you are one of those discerning travelers who prefer to breathe in the essence of a place rather than diesel fumes, we have 5 pointers for you on how to enjoy Manali without getting bogged down by the crowds.
- Avoid the Mall Road – Mall roads at Indian hill stations are black holes that suck in every tourist visiting the town. Despite the major repair it has undergone recently, Manali’s Mall Road can be really chaotic at most times. Being a tourist magnet, the goods on offer are truly expensive, and not the best quality. The rush at the eating joints mean that the next customer is staring at you to vacate your table, the service is temperamental and the food risky.
- Have breakfast in Old Manali – Cross the narrow Manaslu River and come to the very different world of Old Manali. Despite home to a couple of temples and the Club House – both major attractions for families – the typical tourist generally avoids rest of the area (it is known for ‘hippies’). Where there are hippies, there is good food. Come here in the morning (after 9/10 am) and enjoy scrumptious, and a very affordable, breakfast at any of the joints, which serve an astonishing range from world cuisine.
Photo by Anuj Kumar Garg
- Take the ropeway at Solang Nala – Solang Nala gets crowded with cars parked over miles during the day, but if you get there by 10 am, you are saved many hassles. Instead of staying in the valley for the adventure sports and the photo-ops, take the lovely ropeway and head to the top. The slightly prohibitive tariff is well worth the view and the relative peace, while hundreds of tourists mill around down below.
- Spend time at the Nature Park – Manali’s Nature Park, situated in the middle of the town, has no adventure or amusement rides, no shops, and no food joints. Which is probably why almost every tourist avoids it. All the better, because if the idea of a vast stretch of sheer greenery, teeming with tall deodar trees, with the only sound being that of the many birds and the river flowing beside it, entices you, spend a few hours here. You can sit down with a book against a rock and lose yourself, or trek all the way through. The only people you will come across will be the occasional local passing through or some lone tourist.
Photo by PabloEvans
- Enjoy lunch al fresco – Manali has a number of high quality restaurants, known for their open-air seating, great food, and relaxed but friendly service. Because many of these are slightly expensive (but not prohibitively so), and often hidden away from the main road, they are generally frequented by local patrons only. One very good example is Johnson’s Café, right next to the Nature Park. Once you have worked up an appetite walking through the park, sit back under the sun, have a pint of beer and enjoy the famous and truly exquisite trout at one of these restaurants.
Though it’s nice in summer too, the best time to visit Manali is from late February to mid-April. It might get a little difficult to drive at some locations because of melting snow, but you can still see the remnants of the whiteness that engulfs the town in colder months. Or you could visit in peak winter, when the town is completely snowed in. Which, if you believe us, is not a bad time to be there either.
Featured Photo by Max Pixel