For our second day in Manali, which also happened to be Christmas, we had marked Solang Valley and possibly a detour to Gulaba as the places to go. Going any further was not heplful as Rohtang Pass had closed down with the onset of winter. The temperature had dipped further since the day before and we were really anticipating to witness a little snow fall before we packed our bags to leave Manali. Anyways we begun the day again with that surreal setting of breakfast at La Risa, an experience which is bound to with us for years to come.
At a distance of approximately 20 kms Solang Valley is not very far from Manali, a drive of around an hour considering that your vehicle will be be one of the many which would be making its way to this popular destination. We make our way to Manali and instead of taking the small iron bridges into the town we go straight. This road when the weather permits goes to the Rohtang Pass and then further to the ultimate pligrimage of an Indian traveller, Leh. It is probably a trip to this Manali – Leh highway full of mesmerizing landscapes which certifies that you have arrived on the travel circuit in India. We for now will wait to post our pictures boasting of our own trip. A few minutes past the the geriatric iron bridges we came across a check post where it was not the regular papers but the pollution certificates of the vehicles which under scrutiny. A little wait ensued as our driver stood in a queue waiting for his turn. Once we got going after this mini halt we went past numerous bike rental shops showcasing different models of Royal Enfields and some other high end bikes. They were so enticing that for a while a non- enthusiast may also give in. Another thriving business here during this time of the year is that of snow gear on rental. They claim to follow the HP tourism’s approved rates. The deal is that you rent the suit and the boots but have to buy the woolen socks. Each set will cost around 300-400 per person. Three of us got ourselves the gear and proceeded to the valley.
Not surprisingly we were greeted by a hoard of tourists as we approached the point where we were supposed to get off. The road had gradually become choc a block with vehicles which were inching ahead slowly. Finally we arrived at a point where we thought that it would be convenient to get out of the vehicle without too much of a walk required. The place was so typical of any tourist spot in India, totally crowded and on the verge of giving way because of the sheer number of people who had converged here, full of chaotic energy. Vendors try to sell you adventure activities with every step you take forward but that was not in our plan so we ignored them. We figured it was a considerable climb up to the vantage point. Walking was definitely not on the cards. Our options were either taking horses on hire or an ATV. We went with the latter which will cost you 1000/- for a two seater and 1500/- for a three seater. This we had realized only after we got onto the first one. Since we were actually 2 and a half ourselves so it was was not really a comfortable drive with a driver also on the vehicle. A mini tragedy happened on the way. While we were squeezing and balancing on the bumpy ride our daughter lost one of her snow boots and then we got stuck in a jam. We had to get down midway and somehow I made it up carrying my daughter all the way up, a reminder of how I really needed to work on my fitness as it took the stuffing out of me.
The effort was definitely worth it as we got a beautiful view to savour. Our gaze was fixed at the beautiful snow laden mountains across the valley. We sat down at a stall from where we could continue doing that while enjoying some some tea and maggi, a breather for me after my power run. It was also a few minutes amidst an amalgamation of nature’s majesty and human madness. One absolutely calm while the other was continuously frantic. While the humans were amazed I don’t really know what would have been nature’s thought then. Were we welcome guests or unwanted encroachers. Perhaps that depends on how we behave and which is not always ideal. We also wondered how would it have felt here without the constant hum of the ATVs, a little more soothing definitely. For now one of these ATVs was our means to get back so had to set aside the thought and looked for our driver. After a little coordination we were able to connect and got going. This time we voluntarily got down midway at a place where we got a great view, space to roam about, play with snow and take some really wonderful pics of ours.
So after a good few hours in Solang we headed back. The plan to Gulaba was dropped and we decided to return to the comforts of LA Ri Sa. On the way we stopped at Fat Plate Cafe, a place we had been noticing while we travelled between Manali and our resort. It was a beautifully done place with a sprawling garden, definitely a lovely place to have you meal. And what a meal it was , almost gave you the feel of home cooked food freshly made. However it was the sumptuous cake which left us salivating for more. If you are in Manali please do go there.
Soon we were back in our pretty resort. It was Christmas live music and bonfire was planned. So we capped off the day with a very surreal experience where you sat out on a cold starry night which mildly lit the mountains, listening to some really good music. It was amazing and humbling at the same time. The singer took our requests and sang late into the night filling that small nook in the mountains with beautiful melodies. This himachali folk song which he sung that day has stayed with me.
In the end we all cut a small cake and brought curtains on this lovely experience. A memorable Christmas for sure.