Taking a break and travelling during the last week of the year is becoming a ritual for us, so while I still complete my account of last year’s journey made to Coorg and Ooty I have thought of being a little more agile in writing about our year ending sojourn to Manali and Kasol bidding farewell to 2018.
We had planned the trip well in advance hence we had been looking forward to it for quite sometime. When the day came the excitement, of getting back on road and being among the majestic Himalayas again, was quite palpable. We had wanted a holiday which was a little biased towards luxury and relaxation therefore everything from our choices of accommodation, travel and duration of stay were done accordingly. As planned the cab, we had booked for our 9 days of travel, had reported on 22nd Dec morning. Our plan was to leave for Chandigarh around 10.00 in the morning and having accounted for a travel time of around 5-6 hours we anticipated a chilled out evening in the city where we also had an overnight stay booked at Hotel Mount View. This however did not go exactly to plan. First, we ourselves got a little late in leaving Gurgaon and then we were treated with the wonderful Delhi traffic in which we struggled for almost 3 hours. It was almost 2.00 pm by the time we came out of the city limits. Once we got through the testing city traffic we hoped that what remained of our road trip would be a little easier but that hope quickly faded away due to the fact that the Delhi – Chandigarh highway was getting renovated creating even more holdup en-route. It was also the beginning of a long Christmas weekend so the road was also a little busier than usual. Just before we entered the city of Chandigarh there was another huge delay at Zirakpur and we finally managed to check in at our hotel by 8.00 pm, almost 8 hours since we left Gurgaon. The food was the only salvaging point on an otherwise very frustrating day on the road. For our lunch we had stopped at Mannat Dhaba at Murthal for the customary “Parathas” which you ought to have if you are driving down the Delhi – Chandigarh highway. Then after a long drive to Chandigarh we were looking for a peppy pick me up food after checking in our hotel. The in room dining menu was quite standard so I took a stroll to the complex which was just across the road and I came across this fast food joint called Fire N Grill, definitely the best piece of exploration for the day as their rolls and burgers were really awesome. So with a filling and satisfying dinner we had retired for an early morning start for Manali next day.
The day 2 of our itinerary i.e the 23rd of December was all about reaching La Ri Sa Mountain resort near Manali where we had planned to spend next four nights. This resort is situated in a small village called Haripur just off the Kullu – Naggar- Manali road, about 10 km before Manali. We had factored that our drive from Chandigarh to Manali would take us anywhere between 8-9 hours so we had hit the road early by 7.30 am, wanting to be cosily settled in our resort before sun set. It was a chilly winter morning in the countryside with dense fog which had come down on some stretches of the road. It was how winter wasa few years back when your only worry was how to fend off the chill while you enjoyed everything else it brought along with it. However nowadays if you are a resident of NCR that is the least of your concerns because it’s not the fresh dewdrops but an alarming cloud of dust which greets you every day. Anyways we enjoyed the fresh misty morning while we were there driving through it.We had taken the route through Roopnagar, the other alternative is to go via Pinjore and enter Himachal at Nalagarh. An early start meant that we got very light traffic and soon we had entered the hilly terrains of Himachal after crossing the entry check post at Swarghat. Just like any drive in the mountains the view started getting a little more magnificent with every kilometer we travelled. Since it was going to be a long drive across multiple hills till we reached Manali we were set for some good panoramic views for next few hours. We although were not climbing straight up a hill with regular hair pin bends. Every now and then you would get a stretch like that where you would go up a notch in terms of the altitude and then again hit a plateau. During the first of the many such climbs you could see the waters of the River Sutlej cupped amidst the numerous hill ranges all around. While the sight was typically beautiful like what you get in foothills of Himalayas this was however a busy road for sure with a lot of commercial transportation as well. There were probably as many trucks on the road as the tourist vehicles. On this highway we were also going to cross some of the major urban centers of the state of Himachal so the immediate foreground full of construction and urban waste was at times a little jarring and didn’t exactly go with the charm of driving in the hills. But luckily that feeling of serenity and calm which the mountains bring kept coming back every time we left a town behind. We took our first stop at a small restaurant called Tiger Hill Top just before Bilaspur. We asked the cook/caretaker for some parathas which were freshly made for us, a throwback to an old traditional Dhaba. It is needless to say that we absolutely loved hot and soft parathas we were served with a hearty filling. We then crossed Bilaspur and the cement hub of Barmana. A few kilometers further down the road we got to see the emerald-green waters of Sutlej again as it flew in the valley along the road for a while. This was definitely the first bit of inspiration for us to stop and take a few photographs.
We crossed a bridge over Sutlej in a few minutes and as we navigated up the beautiful mountains Sundernagar was next major town which we crossed. The architecture in these towns seemed to have lost their original character with nothing really typical to look at. The monotony of too much commercialization was sadly on display. We were now reaching Mandi almost a 100 Kms from Chandigarh and for the first time River Beas showed up on this long road trip. It was going to be a perpetual companion on our drive till Manali. For a few kilometers after Manali the river stayed a little away from the road but it was after we crossed a reservoir on Beas at Pandoh that the river really started flowing adjacent to the road. There was a good vantage point at one of the bends just after we had crossed the river where quite a few cars had also stopped. It had a good view of the river as it emerged from the horizon with tall Himalayan peaks in the backdrop. You could also spot a snow laden peak amongst them if you looked carefully. There were obviously stalls selling tea and maggi which had our attention as well.
As mentioned the beautiful Beas then became a permanent feature along the road presenting a picture perfect view as its clear water gushed through the valley surrounded by lush green hills. As we started reaching Kullu the river rafting camps started flanking the road. For the first time the tall coniferous trees started appearing in the hills and finally the raw beauty of Himalayas was taking over totally. The mountains in the background kept growing more prominent with the River Beas providing a scenic foreground. We cross a bridge at Kullu right at the confluence of Beas and Parvati and then by-pass this last of the major towns before we reached our destination.
It was our final stretch on the Kullu- Naggar – Manali which really brought alive the feeling of being in the mountains. There were dense coniferous forest on one side and snow laden peaks on other. We crossed small Himalayan hamlets one after the other with more traditional architecture akin to the topography here and a stark contrast from what we had witnessed earlier. The narrow road meandered through with apple orchards on either side, which would be in full bloom in a few months. We finally reached La Ri Sa by 5.30 pm and it was everything we had hoped for, a beautiful property amidst an orchard nestled in the beautiful valley, with a view of the snow laden peaks of Pir Panjal range. As we checked in our very comfortable room the sun had set for the day so we let down our anchor in anticipation of three good days to be spent in Manali.
So that was about our drive to Manali last week .
Wish you all a very Happy New Year !