I booked a self driven car (ones which you can rent after paying a minimal security deposit) for the long Holi weekend. Plan was to start from Gurgaon in the evening after office, reach Chandigarh around midnight and stay there for the night. Early morning, I would drive to Manali all day. So we started around 7PM from Gurgaon and as expected got stuck in Delhi traffic. But once you cross Delhi, the roads are a pleasure to drive on. We managed to reach Chandigarh around 12 midnight.
Early morning we had nice Chhole Bhature and Milk toast in breakfast and started from ‘The City Beautiful: Chandigarh’ for the icy peaks of Manali. For the first 80kms, the roads are plain. After that the madness begins. For around 230kms, I had to drive on the hills. The road on the hills is like a river flowing in a meandrous way tossing us from edge to edge of the seat. I drove for around 100kms after which I needed a break. After eating a little we started again. The aim was to reach Mandi by evening, which is another town on the way, and to have a late lunch there. One irritant on the way is the number of trucks plying on the road. These trucks are mainly carrying the goods for a cement plant in Bilaspur. It gets tiresome sometimes when you overtake a truck and find a queue of trucks, which also have to be overtaken. Once we crossed Bilaspur, their number reduces drastically and I could relax a little.
We reached Mandi in evening around 6PM. From Mandi to Manali, the distance is 110kms but the drive time is 3 hours and 30 minutes. We started from Mandi and then the magic began. It seemed like the nature has finally started unwinding its beauty and awarding us for the all day drive we put in to reach there. All of a sudden, we could see a little stream of river joining us in the journey. But when we saw carefully, it was flowing in the other direction. Few more kms, and a big dam, popularly known as the Pandoh Dam Reservoir, is visible which is potentially containing the flow of the wild river. After that when we drove further up, the little stream got bigger and bigger. It was Beas river, aimlessly wandering between the hills like a beautiful drunk lady, spreading a sweet fragrance all around. On the other side of the road are the hills which have been cut to make these roads and which sometimes express their angst by sending small dusty rocks on the road.
The road is less curvy as compared to the way till Mandi and is very smooth. By the time we reached Kullu, it was dark but we could hear the roaring sound of the Beas river which had accompanied us all the way. Homes on the hills were lit like thousands of stars all around us. After tackling some city traffic, we managed to reach Manali at around 9:15PM. We reached our cozy hotel which is on the outskirts of the city and got ourselves comfortable. The weather was cold and cozy.
Next morning when I woke up and looked outside from the window, I could see two huge lush green mountains side-by-side rising up to the sky as if there was a competition for reaching higher. But the winner was a third mountain which was visible between these two mountains. It was higher and the peaks were completely covered with snow. When I looked around, I saw my hotel board which alongside the hotel name said, ‘ the best view of Rohtang Pass’. It was the Rohtang Pass. Rohtang literally means pile of corpses. The name was given due to the number of people dying trying to pass the pass earlier. I have been to Ladakh before but by flight and have heard about the beautiful Manali-Leh highway. I was able to imagine the beauty which lied beyond that breathtaking peak of snow. But sadly, it was the month of March and we were not able to see the picturesque Pass.
Nevertheless, we had breakfast and started for Solang valley first. When you cross the city and that beautiful bridge over Beas, a road leads you further up in the Himalayas. The way is even more beautiful and green. After few kms, there is a diversion on the road: one leads to Solang valley while the other goes to Rohtang pass. Since the pass was closed, we first went to Solang valley. After parking our car, we trekked a little for around 20 mins and reached a place where there was a Shiv temple, people playing snow sports and a small stream flowing from the mountains. The valley is beautiful with snow-covered peaks all around. When the Sun rays were pouring on the slopes of the mountains, they seemed to shine even whiter. I feel there the colorless color white shows its beauty and majesty. There is a good 2-3 feet thick snow in the valley and you can indulge yourself in the snowball throwing stuff. Believe me it feels great when it hits the right target :)
After spending couple of hours there, we started on the Rohtang road. Since the pass was closed and snow has to be cleared from the roads, the vehicles can only go up to a place called Gulaba. As we drove higher, we could see the eye soothing waterfalls from a distance, at one time 4 at a time were visible. More and more snow was getting accumulated on the road sides as you go up. We reached a spot where there was a little hill on the side, which was not steep. It had a thick ice cover, good for playing and clicking pictures. There were pine trees on the other side of the road, all covered with snow. We spent a good one hour there, appreciating the beauty and then started back. Next morning we had to start back again for Gurgaon, and this time without a halt. But that was not the thing bothering me. It was going back to the noisy, corporate, city life away from the nature which made me a little sad. But overall it was a great trip.
Things to keep in mind:
Manali – The Roadtrip
Places to see: Rohtang Pass, Solang Valley, Hidimba Devi Temple
Manali is the last bastion of the Himachal after which the icy peaks and civilization give their way to the beautiful cold desert called Ladakh. Since I feel the journey is equally important as the destination, I would describe this as a road trip we undertook.