There are trips that we keep planning for forever and we never end up going for some reason or the other, until fate decides to intervene creating the perfect opportunity. This was one such trip. A planned trip to Shimla for a friend’s wedding provided the perfect opportunity to visit Old Manali.
An overnight bus ride from New Delhi saw my friend and I arriving at Manali in the morning. Having no idea about the cab rates and being awful hagglers, we took the first cabbie we could converse with. In our defense, we were told by a passerby that the cabbie was giving us the best rate to get to Old Manali from the bus stop, and that is all it took of us to be convinced. After all why would that nice gentleman lie?
Well, we later found out that we got charged 100 bucks more than the usual rate.
We had ourselves booked at Zostel for the night. The plan was to stay for just a night and then head to Shimla but a few minutes there had us convinced that we should extend our stay by one more night. It took us a while to locate the hostel but after asking around we finally got there. Zostel is located on the upper end of Old Manali, fairly close to the Manu Temple, which provides some amazing view.
After freshening up, we decided to explore the town a bit. We walked down the steep road lined with shops and cafes on both sides, a typical sight at any touristy place. We stopped by at Drifters’ Cafe for lunch. It’s a nice cozy place with good food. With the weather being cold, we couldn’t help but order ourselves some ‘good ol’ Old Monk. We tried the local chicken curry and mutton curry with rice, the mutton was delicious, the pieces were just melting in our mouths, it was amazing.
The Nature Park in Manali is located on the main road, on the other side of the Manaslu River, one could easily walk pass by it and miss it, its so “overt” its covert. It’s a beautiful place, lined with dozens of tall deodar trees reaching up to the sky. We spent about an hour exploring the park.
Have you ever walked into a place so quiet and serene that you instinctively feel the urge to abstain from any form of verbal communication? There’s no rule ordering you to keep quiet but its just the atmosphere of the place that makes you silently take in the aura and magic of it all. It was as if we were in nature’s sanctum.
After an hour or so of pure bliss, we decided to head back to Old Manali and park ourselves at one of the cafes.
Rain, View and “Cream”
It had just started drizzling on our way back and by the looks of it all, we needed to find shelter at the earliest.
Cafe Evergreen & Bakery is one of the few cafes in Old Manali which are located right next to the river. It’s an idyllic setting. We found ourselves seated at a table at the far end of the cafe which gave us a good view of the forest, the town on the other side and the river gushing by below us. The rain had started to get heavy and showed no sign of stopping. We ordered ourselves some tea and snacks but not before we got some ‘cream’; so to speak. In case you’re wondering what i’m talking about, this place is famous the world over for a very specific strain, one of the finest.
The downpour lasted a couple of hours and that gave us ample time to enjoy the rain, the view and the cream.
The Misty Mountains
It was twenty past 7 in the evening and the heavy downpour had just stopped and the skies were beginning to clear, signalling us time to get back to our hostel. We had just reached the hostel when I got a glimpse of this view.
Its sights like these that make me want to get out there and see the world more. My sister always said that Mountains make us feel small. I resonate with that. Mountains are daunting, and I think they remind us of our place and the importance of humility. And travelling to places like these show us just that. The village people here respect and honor the mountains and nature. I’m sure there’s a lesson in it we city folks can learn from.
A walk in the woods
The next day we decided we’d hike to Jogni Falls, which is about 7-8 kms away. The trek was scenic. We crossed the famous Manu Temple, dedicated to sage Manu.
Manali is named after the Sanatan Hindu lawgiver Manu. The name Manali is regarded as the derivative of ‘Manu-Alaya’ which literally means ‘the abode of Manu’. Legend has it that sage Manu stepped off his ark in Manali to recreate human life after a great flood had deluged the world.
We crossed a few cafes on the way
before the path led us to the forest. The views were not one to disappoint.
We followed the meandering narrow path as it led us deep into the forest. Parts of the path were still moist from the rain last night, the smell of the fresh earth was still in the air. There’s something about the fragrance of moist earth after rain, the freshness of it is invigorating. Just what we needed.
The greenery did not disappoint us 😉
After a while we came about a clearing that awed us with an amazing view.
Its views like these make me want to be in nature more. The tranquility of it all, it’s priceless.
A few minutes later we arrived at a cabin, which seemed to mark the end of the forest and beginning of the apple orchards.
The cabin, needless to say, looked beautiful and spooky at the same time. Beautiful because of the location and spooky because, well, it’s a goddamn cabin in the woods with no signs of life anywhere. I couldn’t decide which one of the two my mind was trying to convince me of – ‘Cabin in the Woods’ or crossing paths with Beorn. Both of which were not the least bit pleasing to the mind.
The walk through the apple orchards was pleasant, winding down steeply as it connected us to the Shnag Road.
We followed the Shnag Road ,heading up towards Goshal Village. The road to Goshal village from the main road is actually a flight of stairs at the edge of a turn that lead down to the village. The village was lined with houses, some built in the local way with stones and logs of wood and some with concrete with a small stream flowing by, which connected to the river further down and horses grazing in the pasture by the river. It was a picturesque site.
We came across a lady by the stream cleaning her basket of beans. She happily posed for us and smiled every now and then, busy cleaning those beans in the basket. We tried conversing with her but language was a barrier. Nonetheless, her smile and aura were worth spending a few minutes with her.
After crossing a makeshift wooden bridge, we were on to the other side of the river, in the village of Vashisht. On our way up we came across a woman by a shrine and by the looks of it, she seemed to be praying to the Gods, with her arms in front of her chest and fixated on the mountains in front of her. As we walked past by her, she smiled and offered me a juice box, “10 rupees”. I smiled and bought one. As I took a sip, she looked up towards the mountains once again and said “It will probably rain, you should hurry”. I couldn’t help but smile to myself and think, ” she was looking up at the moving clouds and all this time I thought she was praying”
Although our aim was to make it to the top of the Jogni waterfalls, our plans were foiled by the rain and we were only able to make it to the lower part of it. Perhaps, on the next trip I’ll be lucky enough to get to the top.
We waited for the rain to stop at a small store in the nearby village, sipping on tea. One of the surprising and nice things about such small stores/makeshift cafe is how they can cook up something for you really fast. You’d probably be waiting for the exact same dish for more than half an hour at a restaurant in a city. A bowl of Maggi and a few aloo parathas later, we were on our way back to Old Manali.
Rain, Chilled Beer and Friendly Strangers
We spent the evening at Rocky’s cafe. We had spotted it on our hike as we were just leaving Old Manali. It is the last cafe on the Manu Temple road, before the forest trail begins. The rustic looking cafe offers some really nice views.
Sipping on chilled beer in the cold pouring rain and playing the worst game of chess ever, which I won somehow, was a nice way to spend our last evening here. In my conversation with one of the people I met there in the cafe, I found out we shared the same alma mater in Darjeeling. It was a nice conversation. We shared stories from our time in school and the people we knew. A lucky coincidence running into that guy.
I’ve come to realize that travel opens you up as a person no matter where you go or how short the travel is. You learn to let go of your inhibitions, you learn to interact with people. Growing up as in introvert, I had never imagined myself being the type of person who could walk up to someone and strike a conversation. But, the more I traveled, the more comfortable I got with strangers. I read somewhere, “A stranger is just a friend you don’t know/haven’t met yet”. It’s so true.
There’s a certain vibe that every place has and it is very conspicuous as it emanates from just about everything about that place. Old Manali is all about the slow and easy life. It’s a place you escape to, to take a break from the fast city life, from the 9-5 rat race and all the trouble it brings with it. Old Manali is this small Himalayan village of zen. It’s the perfect idyllic mountain getaway. Would love to be back someday. Until then, Thanks for the memories 🙂