Saturday, November 1, 2008

Where on earth!

This Post is my dedication to the spectacular beauty of Manali and Rohtang Pass. It was my first long distance trip with Navin and I am so happy that the we decided to go to one of the most amazing places in India. It has been more than a year that we visited Manali but when I recall or look at the pictures from the trip, I can still feel the freshness in the air and enjoy the stillness of time.
I could never imagine what a true 'Himalaya ki Godh main' experience would be. It is like nature has uplifted you to an entirely new space where you get a chance to witness God's craftsmanship. Manali is rightly called the 'Valley of the Gods'.

We took an overnight bus from Delhi to reach Manali early morning. Manali bus stand is right in the middle of the city; you get the feel of a small town. A look around and you will see tons of autos, small restaurants, travel agencies, small and big hotels, souvenir stores, open chai (tea) shops, shawl shops and of course many many tourists. Yes! Tourism is a major source of income here.

After a long, bumpy, tiring bus ride, it was a pleasure to enjoy the spectacular view from our hotel room. Long pine trees everywhere with snow peaked mountains in the background enveloped by wide open sky! The scotching heat of the month of May in Delhi was already faded far behind. Another interesting thing I should mention were the apple trees! I had never seen apple trees in my life. And in Manali you can see them everywhere. And lots of big red roses too! Beautiful.

(Click on the pics to view enlarged photo)

We decided to go around the city for the rest of the day. There are quite a lot of tourist attractions within walkable distance.

One of the big attractions was the 'Hadimba' temple; famous for the exquisite wooden carvings. Hadimba is the wife of the Pandava brothers Bhim and is the local deity. We were lucky to get to attend the festival at the temple which happens every year in May. I remember we were standing outside the temple and were very hungry; there were no restaurants close by. Suddenly we see a line forming outside a small hut-like room for Prasad. You can see Navin standing in queue for the Prasad :) We both thanked God for the perfect timing! Really.
There are a lot of buddhist temples to visit too. Infact you get to see a lot of buddhist monks and sages everywhere you go. I remember we took an auto to visit these places. The auto driver said that you guys go around and come back in 1/2 hr. When we came back the driver went missing. Navin sat in the auto took a ride in it! Or may be he was just posing in that pic!
One thing we learned from Day 1 was don't fall for the innocent looking locals sitting outside temples renting Manali traditional dresses or more specifically the ladies holding the giant Angora rabbits. You have to pay 10 bucks to click a picture of the rabbit! We had just reached the Hadimba temple and I saw a cute rabbit sitting on a table. My quick reaction was... 'Ah such a cute rabbit...let me touch it'. A lady came by and put it in my hands. I was so happy on the sweet gesture! Navin pulled the camera out for a quick pic and the lady demanded 10 bucks! 10 bucks is not a huge amount but we felt cheated. But nevertheless I was happy to hold a huge rabbit in my hands. But let me tell you; they are not so clean creatures and give a not so pleasant odour. Besides the Angora rabbits are so big yet so delicate like a huge ball of fur.

And oh yeh! We took the 'must take' picture in the traditional Manali dress. An old lady was renting the dress. These folks tell different price to everyone. There were another couple who had just rented the dress from the lady. Navin started talking to the guy. The old lady thought that we were checking the price of the rental dress with the other guy and was very furious. Hehe. Anyhow, we did get to know price the guy paid!
Another interesting place to visit was the Vashist hot water Natural Sulplur springs. Vashist is supposedly a holy sage with some relation to Lord Rama. There is a small Rama temple and a Vashist temple near the Springs. The Vashist temple is a rest area for many Sadhus who keep moving around. I was very amazed to see the natural hot water springs. Again, something new for me to experience. There is a small place where the hot spring water flows and a bathroom like structure is constructed around it. There are separate areas for gents and ladies. You will be surprised by how hot the water is; it is almost unbearable to put your feet in it.

Solang Valley is another big attraction near the city. It reminded me of the song 'Dil Deewana' from the film 'Maine Pyaar Kiya'. The valley is very scenic with huge open area covered with green grass and overlooking the snow covered mountains in the background. The valley is always crowded with visitors to enjoy the para-gliding. We were too scared to try any of that! It is more like a fair event with balloon sellers, many chai/food stalls around the valley. Oh yeh, and how can we forget the guy selling Shilajit. There are these people going around who sell some ayurvedic medicine called Shilajit. There was this one guy who kept following us wherever we went; no matter how hard we tried to dodge him. That guy kept pointing out Navin's spectacles and said that he has the best medicine in the world which can cure the eyes. He used to say "Aap paise mat dijiye. Bas humara naam aur pata likhke rakhiye. Wapas jane par paise bhej dejiye". Navin was very annoyed with the guy and would have blasted him off if he showed up one more time.

River Beas originates in Manali and the spot is called the Beas Kund. Beauty of Manali is enhanced with the river Beas flowing across the city. Navin tried his hands on river crossing too across the river Beas at the Solang Valley resort. There are a few funny videos too which I should upload :)
One day we did a 14 Km river rafting along river Beas. The water was freezing cold! And the trainer tried his best to make sure I was soaked in water by the end of the 'cold adventure'. Navin, trainer and me - just the three of us on the raft! My teeth chatter when I think of the freezing water come rushing to wet us. Besides the water I enjoyed every moment on the raft. The rivers flows along huge mountains on one side and the local roads on the other side with people bending over the fence to have a look at you. The mountains are a spectacular view; it is very rocky with rocks in the shape of huge pebbles.

The roads in Manali are narrow and rocky. There is a small bridge over the river Beas which you need to cross to go anywhere outside the city. Only one vehicle is allowed to pass over it at a time. With no traffic police, it is worth seeing how vehicle owners make their way over the bridge.

The best part of the trip was arriving; we had been waiting to start our journey to the 'Rohtang Pass'. In winters the roads to the pass are closed and open only around mid of May every year. We were lucky to make it just in time. It took almost 1 1/2 to 2 hrs to reach the top in a van but the view was just breath taking. It was a bumpy ride with lots of twists and turns along the road. There are tons of scenic points all along the road. As you go higher up, I could feel the air getting thinner and colder.

This is the view we get all along the way. Look all around and all you see are the snow covered mountains, hidden behind the clouds; giving you a feeling of comfort and happiness that there is some place on mother earth where nature does all the talking and not humans. You realize how small and fake humans are before the mightiness of real and pure existence. The calmness in the place forces you to stay in the present; you can hear your heart beat; makes you listen to your breath. You can smell the freshness in the air. The trip up above was very fulfilling.

As we moved along, we could see many small areas between mountains where people had set up small tea/snacks shops. People were enjoying skiing and snowmobiling too. We decided to go further ahead as far as the roads were open.

It was getting colder as we moved up the mountain. It gave a feel of what the soldiers at the Ind-Pak border may be going through specially in harsh winters. I however cannot imagine how anyone can have the vigour or zest to take lives in a place which feels close to heaven.
Btw, on our way we saw couple of people on motorbikes too. I am sure they must be having backaches after their long ride. Finally we reached a point where the vehicles could not go any further. We parked the car and started walking in the snow. A few minutes of walking and suddenly we came to a wide open snow field. There were many people around; it looked like a festival. Everyone was wearing bright colored snow suits; some were busy clicking pictures; others learning to skii; one place we saw a couple playing in the snow. They used to walk by a small slopy area and roll down in the snow- the way they show in the movies. It was hilarious! The entire place was surrounded by mountains. You could only look at them with a feeling of awe and admiration.

We tried skiing for sometime; took a ride on snowmobile too; that was so much fun. We met a few people who were selling tea and coffee in this cold. When asked how they managed to travel all the way on top of the mountain they told us that they used to stay overnight because the transportation was very costly. Sometimes, tourists were very kind to allow them to travel with them in their vehicles.
Soon we had to head back to the hotel else we would be caught in the traffic on the narrow slopes. We didn't want to leave but were left with no choice. But Rohtang Pass will continue to remain a very special experience for Navin and me.
Next day we decided to explore a small and beautiful village named Naggar about 25 kms from Manali. The houses in Naggar are very small and are located all along small hills.

Nagar has a beautiful ancient palace amidst the greenery and mountains. The palace had beautiful wooden carvings. A movie was being shooted while we were at the palace. We also got to know that Kareena Kapoor was in Manali to shoot for Jab We Met too. We hoped we could get a glance of her sometime but we were pretty happy to rather enjoy the real beauty :)
There are many temples to visit there but now I have lost count. However we came across an interesting temple. The pecularity of that temple was that the pujaris of the temple were ladies! The lady preist told us that men of the city would travel away for business (I think we said business or may be war) and they had to look after the deity.
That was the end of our special trip to Manali. We were lucky to enjoy the wonderful weather of the month of May and enjoy some fun adventure trips which were open in summers.
Do plan a trip to Manali atleast once in your lifetime. You will realize how enjoyable it is.


Navin said...

:) Oh yeah manali..shonalng..naggar..was beautiful ...god's creations in its pristine form

Somesh said...

Babes.. you've got the talent. Great travelogue