The ideal way to experience the beauty of a mountain is to climb it. Sabiha Ghiasi shares her first experiments with Manali trekking, camping, public baths, snow, and love at first sight—the forever kind with these breathtaking things to do in Manali.
The bus finally stopped vibrating, and gently halted. A human burrito at four in the morning, I squinted out of the two shawls wrapped around me and tried to catch a glimpse of anything in the darkness outside the tightly shut window. The bus’s lights were switched on as a cue for us to get on with our plans. I secured my backpack and finally got off the vehicle. I was instantly slapped by the cold, mountain air. Shaking like a leaf in autumn, I dared and straightened up for the first time as the bus zoomed on. Even in the pre-dawn dark, I saw a gigantic mass of brown with a cloak of white staring down at me from across the road. Our senses locked immediately. It was the first time I’d seen a snow-clad mountain; it had to be love at first sight!
Here I am, penning down experiences of my firsts on Manali trip. But with camping, trekking, bathing and other things to do in Manali, there is so much more to this trip. Let’s uncover some of my firsts and bests..
4 Adrenalin Pumping Things To Do In Manali
#1 Camping In Vashisht
Located in the Upper Kullu Valley at about 6,500 feet above sea level, Vashisht is three kilometres from the bustling tourist town of Manali. Without much effort, parts of this tiny settlement offer an unobstructed view of the Beas River, its waters rippling and waves tussling with each other over rocks in every shape and size. The imposing Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas—the ones that had literally taken my breath away—reach for the clear blue sky from almost every angle in the village. At six each the morning, I’d noticed the sun slowly descending on the peaks of these mountains, only to reach us in full glory a little after 10am. Locals remain bittersweet about the fact that the problems of Kashmir and its tourism have worked favourable in the development of this area.
#2 Bathing In Natural Sulphur Springs
My first acclimatisation trek was to Jogini Falls, which is home to a small temple of the goddess Jogini that is ensconced behind the falls. Since it had rained recently in the vicinity, I slipped countless times and clung to wild plants while struggling to ascend above Vashisht. I walked through lush green and moist pine tree forest with pine cones at my feet, and cut across the barest apple orchid that was a collection of branches and trunks bereft of a single sprout.
Four kilometres and a lot of screeching and a soiled behind later, I heard the falls before I saw it. I covered my ears with a thick stole, and sat on a rock a little away from the water falling at lightning speed ahead of me. Signs request visitors to remove all footwear at a distance as a mark of respect to goddess Jogini. The temple is a short but chilly barefoot walk on the cold rocks at the freezing base of the falls, all the way behind it.
I huffed and puffed back to the village and decided I deserved a treat. One of the most famous attractions of Vashisht is its public bath—a natural hot sulphur spring inside the Vashisht temple. The ladies’ bathing area is divided into two sections. The first has four taps that continuously run with steaming hot water that you have to quickly wash yourself under before you enter the second section, which is the big bath. The place was bustling with local women taking turns to scrub themselves and their little ones, along with a generous helping of smiling foreigners dipping into the water. I submerged myself into this approximately three-foot pool and distinctly felt my muscles relax. My bathing place for the rest of my days in the mountains, I will always associate that pool as a miracle cure for the slightest fatigue or hair frizz, it was one of the best things to do in Manali.
#3 Trek To See The Pando Ropa Peak
Like clockwork, at five thirty every morning, I’d open my eyes to the whistling of the Blue Whistling Thrush. I could swear it was a little boy until I spotted it one morning, blue plumage and all.
My second trek was locally called the Eagle Eye View. This walk was on drier but much steeper terrain. The sun bore down and I stopped by cold streams frequently to refill my bottle. The path got narrower but it looked well-trodden. A fresh batch of snow had plopped from the slope above where I stopped to admire the clear ranges of snow-clad giants in front. When the Pandavas were in hiding from their cousins to avoid exile for another 14 years, they had lived, farmed, and moved around in these mountain ranges. A landmark among these mountains is the Pando Ropa Peak.
The downhill climb back to the village was slow and leisurely. I admired the quaint, and sometimes crooked, local wooden houses with pots of pink- or blue-coloured flowers at their window sills. I dodged one too many cows returning home from their walks, nonchalantly leaving trails of dung cakes along the narrow winding lanes. The saddest parts were the empty plastic bottles and wrappers that clogged the greenish brown stream near the town centre. I called it a night in at 8pm because I knew the next day was going to be long.
#4 The Climb From Vashisht To Manali
The last and longest trek was about eight kilometres up, down, and through all kinds of terrain. The wind was crisp and the sun, bright, as I walked on haphazardly placed wood planks on at least five creaks above off-white freezing water that I’d stop to dip my hands into. I ambled past bright yellow fields that brought memories of Shahrukh Khan in the 90s. I also peeked into a hydro-powered wheat mill perched above a gushing stream.
From the highest point of my climb, I vaguely identified the tiny dots in front of me as the various guesthouses and hotels. A lush field—in multiple shades of yellow and green flowers and grass and pine trees in full bloom as fencing—seemed to carpet the mountain. It was dense with stark naked apple trees drying in the sun, waiting for their turn to bear fruit. Above, the snow-clad mountain seemed to wait patiently for nothing.
I walked the quite by-lanes of Ghoshal and Shanag village, where ladies were surrounded by packets of detergent powder at the community ‘laundry’ and were beating away at the clothes. A few kilometres before Old Manali, I stopped at the wood- and stone-structured Manu temple, which is dedicated to Manu Rishi who is believed to have created the world.
Mythology has that there was once a demon king in Manali, whose sister fell in love with and married the brawny Bheem when the Pandavas were in hiding. Her name was Hadimba. At this tourist attraction, I climbed a steep flight of stone steps to her three-tiered temple. An important goddess for the locals, she is prayed to especially in times of natural calamities.
My last stop was central Manali, the most exploited tourist geography in the region. Though naturally as beautiful as the surrounding terrains, the town’s centre was smoggy from the various tourists’ buses, and strewn with plastic bags and wrappers that clearly did not deserve the patience of a dustbin.
On my bus ride back home, it began to lightly drizzle. The cold wind continued to blow as I opened the window next to me. This time, I let the chilly Himalayan air caress my face into multiple shades of pink as a fond memory from my new-found love.
How to get there
By plane: Fly in at the Bhuntar aiport in Kullu, which is an hour or two away from Vashisht by road.
By train: Disembark at Ambala Cantt Station. Vashisht is about eight hours uphill on a winding ghat.
Where to stay
There are numerous B&B options around Vashisht’s town centre and near the main temple. Alternatively, you can also lodge at one of the smaller villages such as Manu or Ghoshal but be sure to pre-book as there are a limited number of hotels/guesthouses in those areas.
Best time to visit
Rains can truly dampen your trekking plans. The most tolerable and ideal months to truly explore the mountains are between April and June. The apple orchids are in full-bloom in June/July.
A tourist hotspot, Manali is a known for its various temples, tiny villages, and beautiful mountains. A trekker’s paradise, ensure that your body is equipped to handle cold winds and rough terrain. A basic level of fitness is a must for any of the above-mentioned treks. Famous for river rafting in the freezing Kullu Valley water, Babeli is approximately 40 kilometres from Manali. Among so many things to do in Manali, choose your favourites and just give in!
Interested to tour Manali?