Welcome to part 2 of the India Saga! The first post covered the majority of our time in Leh with lots of details on the Markha Valley trek (read here). This post will continue on from the last post, covering our last day in Leh and the 4-day itinerary in Manali.
Manali is stunning and exceptionally chilled out, I’d recommend it if you’ve been struggling with the intensity of India elsewhere.
This was the oddest part of my time in India. It started with the worst bus journey of my life before I Couchsurfed with undoubtedly the oddest man I’ve ever met; all in 5 days.
Day 1: Leaving Leh
Having just finished the Markha Valley trek, we weren’t feeling up to doing much exploring. That said, we did want to try and climb up to Shanti Stupa, a Buddhist monument that looks down over the town centre. There’s a road leading to it but we tried a shortcut by walking directly up the hill; it didn’t end well.
The rest of the day was spent buying souvenirs (there are abundant cheap shirts and Pashmina scarves here) and getting the bus tickets to Manali.
There are three options regarding buses to Manali: a direct minibus in 17 hours, a 2 day tourist bus with an 77overnight stop in Keylong (only in summer), or take local buses (one to Keylong then one to Manali)
The 2 day bus is advertised at all the hostels and is really easy to book. You can book at any of the hostels you’re staying, or go direct to the office in the town centre to avoid paying commission.
Understandably, the tourist bus costs the most (around 2900INR) but this includes staying at Keylong in a tent and meals. The direct minibus should cost 1800INR but I had to pay 2250INR because we could not find the office to book and had to pay commission. The local buses cost about 700INR in total; but the bus system in Leh is chaotic and I wasn’t up to sorting out midnight accommodation in Keylong.
We opted for the direct minibus as the next day was my birthday, so I didn’t want to get the 2 day bus and spend the whole day on it. The bus predictably leaves from a bus terminal but, as it was a new bus schedule, hardly anyone knew the bus I was talking about. We spent an hour trying to find it.
The bus leaves in the evening and should get to Manali by mid-day. We were lumped at the back and immediately the people in front reclined, crushing my legs, and an odd mix of Dance and Hindi music started blasting out the speakers.
The journey out of Leh was stunning, you can watch the sunset over the mountains as you start to climb up to the Rohtang Pass (~4000m). The driver was clearly a Grand Theft Auto fan and weaved along tiny paths, hugging the mountain, doing the occasional emergency brake when he encountered someone coming in the opposite direction.
After coming to the realisation that I no longer had any control over my life (much easier once it got too dark to see the edge), I fell into a nihilistic slumber.
I woke up a few hours later to find my stomach gurgling. Everyone had warned me that, when you go to India, you’re going to get diarrhoea at some point. Just my luck that it was at the start of a 17-hour journey. I went back to sleep.
My stomach woke me up again and I immediately leant out the window (over Yash’s passed out body) and vomited. This continued for several hours, the whole time I was concentrating on not defecating, before an Israeli traveller gave me an anti-emetic/sedative.
Day 2: Old Manali and Vashisht baths
Eloquent suggestion: If you don’t like poop maybe skip this day
I woke up at around 4am to hear a crash and find we weren’t moving. A landslide had happened ahead of us and completely blocked off the road. I started vomiting again.
The Indian army showed up en masse to start removing the debris (there was a surprising backlog of traffic for 4am) and I took the opportunity to have a cheeky poop. I slipped out the minibus and started scouting out where to go.
An official-looking guy shouted at me to get inside the minivan and I held up the toilet paper. He looked at me incredulously and said you can’t poo here. I ran off to the edge of the path, where it steeply dropped into the valley, and slid down it about 20m before setting myself up.
When you go to altitude, barometric pressure drops, causing the air to expand. This also happens in your gut and makes you need to fart. If you don’t fart it will make you burp and eventually vomit. What I thought was diarrhoea was just expanding gas.
Long story short, my 21st will always be the time my farts echoed through the valley whilst the Indian army and everyone else watched. Once I made my way back up to the road Yash admitted he’d been farting constantly the whole night. Moral of the story: don’t hold in your gas on high-altitude bus trips.
We arrived in Manali at around 1pm (there’s a mini border cross when you cross state into Himchal Pradesh but it’s not complex) and stayed in Old Manali- one of the two spots for backpackers alongside Vashisht.
Manali in the summer is a temperate climate, the green mountainous regions reminded me of hiking in Europe. However this area is a hippy haven because, in contrast to Europe, cannabis grows abundantly here. Everyone is smoking it, and everyone is selling it (don’t buy it from guys trying to offer you samples- they’ll charge you loads after you’ve finished).
There isn’t much to see in Old Manali aside from some temples and the nature park next to the river (don’t try to cross it)- it’s ideal for relaxation. Once you’ve had your fill head over to Vashisht to try out the baths there. A tuktuk costs 100-150INR or its a 45 minute walk.
If you’ve been to baths in Budapest or Japan then these baths will disappoint. It’s one pool and the water is naturally heated with a strong sulphur smell. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting experience going there.
The water is boiling and going in is a masculinity contest. If you jump straight in without preparation then you’re in for a shock. I spent a lazy hour steadily putting my legs in deeper whilst watching people scald themselves from jumping in.
Day 3: Canyoning and Jolgini waterfalls
Like I mentioned, old Manali and Vashisht are slow-paced and made for relaxing. However, the surrounding area is stunning so make sure to explore the outdoors; there are loads of adventure sports companies about.
We opted to go canyoning with Himalayan Yeti Adventure which is basically abseiling down waterfalls. It was a lot of fun if you aren’t scared of heights and is, like everything in India, relatively cheap.
We’d organised to spend the rest of our time in Manali Couchsurfing with a local guy, Chotu Baba. He took us on a short walk from Vashisht to see Jolgini Waterfall. The waterfall itself is impressive and the backdrop of the valley is stunning; it’s definitely worth checking out.
Chotu seemed to be something of a dealer in Vashisht, everyone knew him and would grab some weed. I’m not sure how it can be a profitable business when your product grows everywhere for free but he seemed to make it work, despite constantly being high.
That night he taught us how to make Mutter Paneer (like a pea and paneer curry) in one of the grimiest kitchens I’ve seen, whilst also washing the vegetables with dirty water. It was delicious but pretty spicy; my body started to prep itself for the inevitable.
I went to check out the toilet situation in advance to find out it was a classical hole in the ground, and there was no place for toilet paper. I was going to have to learn to use my left hand.
Day 4: Exploring Kullu
As I mentioned, the scenery of Manali is stunning and there are some amazing multi-day hikes on offer, but after Markha Valley we were trekked out.
Chotu wanted to show us his favourite temple so we got a bus to Kullu to do a short hike to Bijli Mahadev temple. It was supposed to take about 1.5 hours to get there but several road accidents pushed the time up to near 4 hours.
The walk to the temple is short and very pleasant- about 3km. The path winds through trees and is reminiscent of walking in an English forest.
We reached the top and Chotu immediately Face-Timed an elderly yoga lady who’d stayed over the night before. She started swooning over how romantic this gesture was and, in retrospect, the whole day might have just been an elaborate booty call.
As nice as Kullu was, the time taken to get there was excessive, and we spent more time travelling than actually doing anything. There are loads of walks and hikes much nearer to Manali. I’d ask around at your hostel or one of the adventure companies for a suggested route instead.
Day 5- Heading to Delhi
Chotu started our morning off with some omelette, subtly loaded with green chillies, before we lounged about in one of the many cafes serving chai.
If you’re in Manali to chill out then spend a day hopping between chai cafes and German bakeries; it’s hard to go wrong and some of the cafes have stunning views.
Up to now, we’d been using the Vashisht baths to shower but we permanently stank of sulphur. We decided to make our way to some more of the surrounding waterfalls and sacrificed warm water to not stink of eggs.
As it was our last day we wandered around New Manali whilst Chotu sorted our bus ticket to Delhi. Having learnt out lesson, we splashed out on a bus with reclining seats, for 1700INR, and set off in the evening. If I’d known how intense Delhi was going to be, I would have spent my whole time in Manali relaxing.
Thoughts on Manali
When I first arrived in Manali I thought it was just a spot for stoners to smoke cheap weed. As true as that is, it’s also a great base to try out some adventure sports and do some hikes in a lush green valley.
If you’re heading south to Delhi and Rajahstan then take this as an opportunity to relax in the mountains before descending into urban carnage. Alternatively, if you’re heading further north then use this as a pit stop to acclimatise to the altitude.
Enjoying the blog?
I hope this was a fun read. It was a bit less structured than previous posts but, if you ever head to Manali, I hope it’s helpful.
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