Anytime you travel to the mountains it is the first morning which always gives you that simultaneous sense of awe and calm as you wake up to wonderful views all around, far away from your daily conundrums. The feeling therefore was no different when we woke up on our first day at the La Ri Sa Mountain Resort near Manali.
We were glad that we had chosen La Ri Sa as our choice of accommodation as it was a beautiful resort. Hills with lush green conifers were all around the resort and among them out in the distance there some snow laden peaks who were starting to glow with the rising sun. Small houses with vibrant colours peppered the hill on the other side. You could take a full circle and there was something to marvel at.
Not surprisingly we were amazed, refreshed and thrilled all at the same time. It was quite early and still almost freezing outside but a childlike zeal had taken over to admire this wonderful setting we found ourselves in. Therefore our early morning vigil continued for sometime and after that we were eager to step out and explore the town of Manali. After a lovely hot breakfast which was served out in the open with the surreal views all around we were set to go.
Our resort was around ten kilometers from Manali town so it took us almost half an hour to reach there. As we had started our drive the snow-clad peaks which we could only peek at from our resort became more clear and expansive with every turn, a breathtaking range of the snow clad mountains which towered over the human settlements below, glowing in the bright morning sun with a perfectly blue sky above.
Just before entering the limits of the New Manali town at a check post we paid an entry tax of Rs.300 for our vehicle which was valid for a week so the receipt was carefully kept intact. New Manali as the phrase suggests is the new settlement which has mushroomed on the other side of the River Beas. On the way we came across an array of resorts on either side of the road. From budget to pure luxury there was something for every kind of traveler. Very soon we had crossed a small bridge on a tributary of Beas and in a few minutes we were driving parallel to Beas. On the other side the river was the old town of Manali nestled in this beautiful valley decorated by towering trees of Deodar. Two parallel iron bridges on which at a time only one vehicle was supposed to cross were the only means to get in or out of the town from where we stood. This very clear instruction was although not being adhered to as the vehicles queued up bumper to bumper to cross these old iron structures.
It was the weekend before Christmas and not surprisingly the tourists had swarmed in and so the shorter route to the Mall Road was closed. Instead of taking a long detour which would take a considerable time on the choked road we got out of our cab and walked it up. Manali’s Mall Road was lively and colourful where the locals and the outsiders came together forming an interesting milieu. While the invigorated outsiders were enthusiastically exploring the place the locals knew that this was their time to make merry as the tourism peaks. It was quite vibrant and energetic. There were obviously a few who were just carrying on with their routine chores.
We wanted to go to the Hadimba Temple which is one of the most famous tourist sites in Manali . Someone told us that it was around 2 km from Mall Road so we had decided to take our chance and walk all the way. Just as we had started our walk to the temple from the Mall Road we came across Amigos German Bakery. The temptation was too strong to resist and so we walked in his cute little place housed in a basement. Soon we had ordered for ourselves a cheese cake which looked very enticing in their display, one of their mouth-watering chocolate cakes and some coffee. There is definitely something about the bakeries in mountains, the cakes and pastries just taste so divine . We had loved every bit of what we got and with a yearning for more we had said Adios to Amigos.
After having treated ourselves with delicious dessert by Amigos we resumed our slow walk up to the Hadimba Temple on the narrow roads of Old Manali totally clogged up with the tourists cabs which had flooded the town. However after walking for a few minutes the road started climbing up a hill and going up the slope became a little tedious as we took turns to carry our daughter. Finally after walking for about 15-20 minutes we had given up. Luckily we got an auto-rickshaw at that very moment which agreed to drop us to the temple. Once comfortably seated in the auto we started going up a steep road and a few hair pin bends later we were there at the temple. It definitely was not a road where we could have walked. The decision to quit our hike and hail the auto-rickshaw was definitely a good one.
Hadimba Temple dedicated to Hidimba the wife of Bhim is one of main attractions within Manali. Our mythology says that this is where Hidimba meditated and prayed for a warrior who would come and get her rid of her brother Hidimb. Ultimately Bhim would visit the place when Pandavas were on exile and killed Hidimba’s brother after which she married Bhim. In 16th century Raja Bahadur Singh had got a temple constructed here with a very unique three-layered design. Apart from this interesting myth it is the location which immediately gets you spellbound. The temple is right in mid of a Deodar forest and would be an absolutely tranquil place were it not for curiosity of the tourists.
Just behind the temple there was Dhungri Van Vihar where we took a stroll amidst the tall Deodar trees. There is a very nominal fee per person to enter the forest. The forest was so dense that the sun rays were only filtering in. We got hold of a photographer who took a few shots of ours in this beautiful natural abode. Amidst the tall trees there also was a huge rock where Hidimba was supposed to have originally meditated. Purely for the raw beauty of this Deodar forest this place was worth coming.
We left Hadimba Temple full with joy of exploring a pretty little spot which has stitched together natural beauty and a story which is etched in our human mythology. In the meantime our cab had taken the whole detour and had arrived at the temple. So we drove to Manu Temple, another famous old temple in the old town. Once we crossed the Manaslu river the Manu Temple road started with its series of Cafes which is another reason why you might come to this part of the town .
A short meandering climb on the Manu Temple Road brought us to a narrow lane on which temple is located. We walked it up from there. Manu Temple also has an interesting story attached. As the name suggests this temple is dedicated to the sage Manu who in our mythology is supposed to be the creator and lawmaker of the world, Apparently when world was deluged by the great floods or “Pralaya” King Manu, who had been warned in advance by the Matasya Avatar of Lord Vishnu about the deluge, had taken seven other sages on a large boat which finally came and perched in the mountains on this spot. Here he is supposed to have mediated and led to a fresh genesis of the world after destruction.
Manali in fact is named after Manu, original name of the place being Manu Aalaya which then over the millennia has evolved into what it is known as now. The temple itself is built like a beautiful pagoda style with the local Kath Kuni method of building in which layers of wood are sandwiched between stones. When you stand on the edge of the temple you get a clear view of the marvelous mountains clothed in snow. This was a mini marvel and another lesson in our own mythology.
I should mention as a word of caution about the numerous outlets which were supposedly selling Kashmiri handloom products on the narrow lane which led to the temple. All of them were aggressively trying to lure us in to have a look at their products which would fetch them some incentive points. So we did enter one of them to quell our curiosity after coming out of the temple. What followed was an out of the world marketing pitch for Sparu (supposedly a very rare breed of sheep) wool blanket. The shopkeeper asked us to listen to the full story and the scheme he had to offer first before we could ask any queries. So we listened for a good 15-20 minutes and fully enjoyed it. However it was when he started explaining the scheme it started to sound a little unbelievable. Apparently the Sparu blankets cannot be sold and they were only offering to lease it to us for a limited time so that the wool is fully matured for it to be used further. They offered around 5 gifts with one main Sparu blanket which we were supposed to return after 21 month or 5 years. On return of the blanket we were promised refund of around 70% of money with two more gifts for our loyalty. Frankly we could not fathom the entire process so without really judging we thought that moving on was better instead of dipping into our pockets.
Once we were back on the Manu temple road we ditched our vehicle midway to enjoy a walk down this narrow road flanked by numerous cute little cafeterias. Initially our plan was to eat at the 1947 Cafe about which we had read in some other blogs but unfortunately we did not get space over there. The fact that it was popular was quite evident when I went in to check for seats. So we had then walked back to a small place called Raymond’s Cafe which we had spotted during our walk to settle down for a late afternoon supper.
We ordered ourselves some hot coffee as it was already getting chilly, pasta and a pizza. It was complemented by some chocolate cake. It was a small cafe so everything was put up for preparation after we had placed the order. So quite obviously it took some time but it gave us an opportunity to sit, relax and just soak in the serenity of this part of the town. The temperature had started to dip quite quickly and therefore we absolutely loved our food when it did come. Fresh, hot and worth all the wait.
So this is this is how our day one in Manali toen would come to an end and we drove back to the comforts of La Ri Sa. More about remaining two days to come !