Mountains come alive
With its breathtaking beauty of colossal mountains, coniferous forests, rivers and lakes, Himachal has always been a favourite destination for me. Despite the fact that I had passed Manali several times, the picturesque town had never been explored at leisure.
So on a recent visit, I set aside a couple of days exclusively to feel and experience the sights around Manali.
As I arrived here after a good 14-hour overnight bus ride from Delhi, the pitter patter of a mild drizzle seemed welcome. Refreshed after a shower and breakfast, I found that the weather too had improved with mild sunshine seeping in through the clouds. A stroll along the mall road was the best way to get the feel of the place. Though not crowded, the few tourists wandering around without a hurry, the line of shops, eateries and the local men in colourful Himachali caps filled up the scenario. But higher up, the vistas were different, with towering mountains, snow-capped peaks and steep slopes of pine woods in every direction.
The fast flowing River Beas that runs along the town adds up to the charm. And if you need more calm and quiet, there is not one but three nature parks well within the town. Drifting into the nearest one, which also houses a variety of birds of Himachal, I was at one with nature. The cool, shaded path swerved away into a forest of tall deodars with their heady aroma filling the air. The greenery cooled the eyes and the caressing breeze relaxed me. As for the birds, the vibrantly-coloured monal pheasant and the western tragopan, apart from many other Himalayan species, could be discerned, but the congested cages prevented their freedom.
Manali is also a valley of the gods, if the number of ancient and rare temples that we get to see here is any indication. In fact, the name of the town itself is derived from Manualaya, meaning the abode of Manu, the sage who is believed to have created the world after a huge deluge. Located in the old town of Manali is a primitive temple built with stones and wood on a high platform.
Tracing back my steps, a little deviation brought me to the village of Dhungri to visit the temple of Hidimba, the wife of legendary Bhima. With four tiers of pyramidal roofs and wooden balconies, it is quite attractive. The images of several deities and patterns carved into wood make it more artistic. The birthplace of Ghatodgaj, son of Hidimba, is also nearby.
The afternoon saw me visit a Buddhist monastery of Nyingmapa faith right in the middle of the town. It is a complex with colourful chorten and pagoda with the main temple having the golden statue of Sakyamuni Buddha.
On the second day, I planned to see the nature spots. Solang Valley is a tourist spot at an elevation of 8,500 feet, 10 km northwest of Manali. This is where tourists and adventurers throng in winters to enjoy the snow and skiing. But the carpet of green found here at this time also makes for a scenic location. Visitors can enjoy paragliding, horse riding or strolling around. To enjoy aerial views going up the recently introduced ropeway is the best thing to do.
Sightseeing in Manali is never complete without a visit to the famed Rohtang Pass, rising to 13,051 feet. Devoid of snow, it was more easier to climb. With a brief stop at the Vashist hot water springs, the journey went up through forests and clouds literally while the lush green landscape was lined with white streaks of innumerable waterfalls. The view at Rohtang was heavenly with deep valleys and green mountains capped with fluffy clouds. Having soaked in the beauty of these wonderful spots, it was time to leave Manali.