Once, not so long ago, there came to be a revolutionary by the name of Flower Power. Flower Power swept the world in a conquering sweep and everyone bowed down to this mighty force. Then Flower Power ascended the land of the gods, the magic land of freedom and thought expansion. They called this land Manali. And for many years, it was his capital, his heartland. Now, many, many years later, this much sought after land, the zenith of the Flower Power revolution and the soul kitchen for the wanderers and thinkers, lovers and artists, and everyone else…you want to know? Boom Shiva!
A painstaking days journey from Delhi on bad creaky buses where you wonder what that nasty smell could be, Manali is and has always been reputed for a hippy haven. But did that stop people from going to Goa or Dharamsala? Ha! One knows better! If you're wondering about getting there, you can either take the straight bus from Delhi (Rs. 300 and above) or you can take the train to Chandigarh and the bus from there (Rs. 185 and above). It's a good 10-12 hour journey so make sure you're well prepared.
Alright…So you reach Kullu and you look at the mountains and go "mmmmm….wonderful." You slowly reach Manali and you go "eeeeee…what on earth is this?" The truth is, Manali (New Manali) is as much a hill/mountain resort as Mussoorie, Ooty, Kodaikanal and any other tourist infested, sickeningly commercial, dirty resort. So don't bother wasting your energy commenting on how the state tourism should do something about it or any other bright ideas that might come to your mind. Do yourself a favor and take an auto to Old Manali (Rs. 20) and then see the drastic change of scenery and heave a relative sigh of relief. The peak season is around May-June to August-September. It's a good time to go if you want to party. If you want to just chill, then October is a good time. The rest of the year there's tons of snow, so if it's skiing that you're hung up on, then Feb-March is good for you.
If you're looking for places to stay, with a shoestring budge (that's what we most righteously believe in…live the poorest you can, and see the thrill there is…after all…you can stay in a five star hotel anywhere!). Alright, there are a number of places in Old Manali which have relatively good budgets. Off season rates go from Rs. 50 to Rs. 100 and season). The most appealing of these places is Mountain Café. A double room downstairs will cost you Rs. 50 a night and upstairs is Rs. 80. They have a fabulous view and an equally breathtaking walk behind it, above the river. Their café is interesting with various psychedelic paintings and black lights and a fireplace with good techno playing. The only drawback is that their menu is a bit steep on the cheap budget. So, if it's really cheap that you're looking for, then Laxmi Dhaba is the place to eat. It's located a little ahead of River Music Café and is an extremely small dhaba where the best things to eat are the Aloo Parathas (Rs. 5) and the Veg. Momos (Rs. 10 per plate). But if you're not so keen on eating like a pauper, then there's the moderately priced Moondance Café, Shiva Café and River Music Café.
Alright fine…you've settled down for your holiday and hmmm..what the hell is there to do? If you're adventurous, you could always take a walk to the Sulphur springs, or up to Apple Country (delightful, I assure you). In Rome, they say, do as the Romans do. Well, if you were to do that in Manali, you would have a blast of a time (realizing that you are actually a lot more religious than you thought and that Shiva is your deity of praise), but you wouldn't actually be doing very much. But if you decide to just chill for sometime, then the places to be are Moondance and River Music Café's. And if you're lucky, then you might even encounter the old man of the town who is just the most delightful old man, charming and full of very nice surprises. The music is trance and the ambience likewise, trippy and very relaxing. The various shops around also offer a very alluring visual extravaganza.
Manali raves have always held extreme fascination for the techno junky. And they have reason to be. Held in the forest or next to the river, these raves are not always easy to find and you can spend hours looking. So the trick is to go to River Music Café and ask the various local people where the party is and they might even take you. All said and done, you'll reach the rave and if not enjoy it, nevertheless trip out on the abundance of stars and the intensity of the mountains at night. But do make sure you have food, warm clothes, matches and a flashlight. Otherwise, you're not going to enjoy it for very long.
If you're feeling brave enough, then you could rent a bike. The ideal place to rent it from it Nirvana Cyber Café situated on the road from Old Manali to New Manali. He has Enfield 350 Cc and 500 Cc for Rs. 250 a day. Now the various places that you could go to are endless. But just a couple that just might tickle you in the right places…Naggar. 25 kms. outside Manali, Naggar used to be the capital. It's an absolutely pure thrill to drive there. 100% speechless and breathtakingly beautiful! One of those rare scenes where no amount of photography will help you remember the feel of what it was like being there. Where you just forget about everything else and marvel at the therapeutic qualities of the mountains.
Naggar is famous for two things. Naggar Castle and Roerich's art. Roerich is a legend in these areas. An artist from Russia, his family and he had settled in Naggar early in the century and his artwork has received endless praise. His house is where his artwork is displayed and also at the folk museum. There is a most charming café on the way to Roerich's house and after Naggar Castle by the name of Manala Café. It's cheap and they have good tea. And the view is ….WOW!
And the other place that you could go to is the Rohtang Pass. There's not much to do at Rohtang except sit and sink into your world without all the cares and worries and 'just be'. Rohtang is around 50 kms. above Manali so do go well stocked with those mittens and socks that your grandmother knitted you.
Manali is the kind of place where you go to do nothing. And doing nothing is absolutely the best thing. Everything there, the shopping, the eating, the people….is part of a whole and Manali is that very charm. A quaint one horse town where even the dogs on the street are very friendly and safe to play with, Manali is the place where you go to unwind, distress and as the hippy theory goes…get in touch with yourself. I never really found out what that phrase meant, but I'm sure everyone understands what it entails. It's serene and imaginatively peaceful. Boom Shiva to that!