A Less-Acknowledged Heaven On Earth
Once called the "end of the habitable world," Manali is an important hill station of northern India and is the destination of thousands of tourists every year. Its cool atmosphere provides a perfect heven for the ones afflicted by the hot Indian summers. Besides offering quite a few places for sightseeing, Manali is also famous for adventure sports like skiing, hiking, mountaineering, paragliding, rafting, trekking, kayaking, and mountain biking. In brief, Manali-the veritable "valley of the Gods"-is an ideal place for the ones in search of both adventure and comfort.
Situated in the central parts of the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, Manali is at the head of the Kullu valley, 280 km north of the state capital Shimla and 108 km from Mandi. Manali is perched at an altitude of 2050 meters above sea level and is spread along the banks of the river Beas. In winters, the temperature can drop below freezing point when heavy woolens are required. Summer temperatures are mild and light woolens/cottons are recommended. There are thick forests, filled with cool breezes and bird song. There are fields of wild flowers, small picturesque hamlets and fruit-laden orchards, especially apples.
Throughout the year.
Manali has a pre-historic legend behind its name. Vaivasvata, the seventh incarnation of Manu, the first creation according to Hindu mythology, found a tiny fish in his bathing water. The fish told him to look after it with devotion, for one day it would do him a great service. The seventh Manu cared for the fish until it grew so huge that he released it into the sea. Before departing, the fish warned Manu of an impending deluge when the entire world would be submerged and bade him to build a seaworthy ark. When the flood came, Matsya (fish), the first avatar of Lord Vishnu, towed Vaivasvata and the Seven Sages to safety. As the waters subsided, the seventh Manu's ark came to rest on a hillside and the place was named Manali after him.
The oft-visited site in Manali is the Hidimba or Dhungri Temple. Erected in 1533, this temple is dedicated to the local deity Hidimba, wife of the Pandava prince, Bhim. A major festival is held here in the month of May. The temple is noted for its four-storeyed pagoda and exquisite wooden carvings.
Manali is known for its shiny gompas or Buddhist monasteries. With the highest concentration of Tibetan refugees in the entire Kullu valley, it is famous for its Gadhan Thekchhokling Gompa, built in 1969. The monastery is maintained by donations from the local community and through the sale of hand-woven carpets in the temple workshop.
The smaller and more modern Himalayan Nyingamapa Gompa stands nearer the bazaar, in a garden blooming with sunflowers. Its main shrine, lit by dozens of electric bulbs and fragrant with Tibetan incense, houses a colossal gold-faced Buddha, best viewed from the small room on the first floor.
The Museum of Traditional Himachal Culture, near the Hidimba temple, is worth a visit, which houses artifacts of folk art of the entire Kullu valley.
At a distance of 3 km northwest of Manali is Old Manali, famous for its orchards and old guesthouses. There is ruined fort here by the name of Manaligarh. There is also the Manu Maharishi Temple, dedicated to sage Manu.
Vaishisht, around 3 km from Manali, also boasts a pair of old stone temples, opposite each other above the main square. Dedicated to the local patron saint Vashista, the smaller of the two opens on to a partially covered courtyard, and is adorned with elaborate woodcarvings. Those lining the interior of the shrine, blackened by years of oil-lamp and incense smoke, are particularly fine. The temple tanks are underground hot-water/sulfur springs.
Rohtang Pass, at an altitude of 13,050 feet above sea level, is another adventure tourist site where it can be chilly even on summer day. Close by is a small lake called Dassaur Lake. Beas Kund, the source of river Beas, is also nearby.
Solang Nullah, 13 km northwest of Manali, is famous for its 300-meter ski lift. It is a picturesque spot and offers splendid views of glaciers and the snow-capped mountains. Jagatsukh, the former capital of Manali, is also an important spot.
Woolen goods are the town's real forte, particularly the brilliantly patterned shawls. The New Shopping Center (NSC) near the bus stand has a good selection. A good place to familiarize oneself with fair prices is the Shawl Factory Shop, just off the Mall south of the bus stand, which sells high-quality shawls at fixed rates. Elsewhere around the bazaar, innumerable stalls are stacked with hand-woven goods and pillbox Kullu topis or caps. Manali's other specialty is Himalayan handicrafts: mainly assorted Tibetan curios such as prayer wheels, amulets, dorjes (thunderbolts), masks, musical instruments and thangkas.
HOW TO REACH
The nearest airport is Bhuntar, 52 km south of Manali. There are flights to Delhi via Shimla. The closest narrow-gauge railhead is at Jogindernagar, 135 km away. The closest broad-gauge railheads are Chandigarh (310 km) and Ambala (355 km). By road, the distance from Delhi via Mandi is 585 km, and from Shimla the distance is 270 km.