Its tough to convince others that you are in your sane mind when choosing the same destination twice within six months despite of it being a costly affair for your finances. Leave others convincing co-travellers might be even more tough. But then I was set to do exactly the same thing.
Why Manali again after being there twice in short span?
Because there was possibility of long holidays at end of year, because I been to Manali twice but once in June summers and once in July monsoons but never during winters which always been on cards to brave with snow. Because I twice been to hills during snow, both times in Mussoorie (Once January end and once December end) but both the times failed to get it and this time in my attempt I need some kind of guarantee that it won’t fail this time.
Nainital or Mussoorie though being under 300 kms circle from my place, in no way can guarantee you snow even in higher reaches nor those higher reaches even if there is a possibility of snow are in easy reach via roads in comparison to wide roads leading to Manali. Shimla or Khajjiar side might be another alternative if I wanna avoid repeat of same destination but then that trip was already planned for Mid-March of next year as I might be visiting Pathankot. So Manali remained as safe bet with almost certainty of snow. Also it would cover Manali in all three available seasons or may be leave a chance for Extreme Winters that is Feb for a future trip.
Plans, Precautions, Schedule?
This time I chosen a Hotel named Hotel Victoria Palace than the last two times choice Tourist Hotel and all reviews and maps etc shown that to be situated at the very highway (2kms before the Mall road) than maneuvering through narrow roads in search of hotel. Bookings were for December 25-28 means though reaching by congested holiday start but returning back on a lean Monday tourist traffic wise (Not the same for office traffic though schools would be closed by then). So the first thing was checked.
Like last time, this time also I had “uncertain partners” for the travel in my youngest brother and his wife for whom though I had made bookings via Pay At Hotel mode of Yatra.com, but I wasn’t certain if they would be available and willing by the time trip begins.
Last time, my worries were with rains as July end was peak of rains and night journey as that was first then while this time worries were almost certain about the foggy conditions making it kind of impossible to drive through Chandigarh-Ambala highway as I heard through many. As starting in morning and making to Manali before evening seemed a NO GO as would waste whole day and would also risk me to drive in snowy hills during evening or night, alternative was to break the journey by Chandigarh like it was the case last time. A friend was there in Chandigarh for that option but then number of travelers were doubled than last time making the place of friend inadequate for that option.
Finally the plan was settled over stay at Mansa Devi Shrine Board Accommodation (₹200 per room per night) while place of relative and friend as Plan B. I got car checked, but with slightly worn out tires and 3years+ old batteries, I wasn’t fully assured from that end and then I had to look out for the fact if we can brave the below 0 degree cold with generic warm cloths available with us. Got new battery on by first weekend of the month and was almost ready for the journey now despite of news of one major landslide on the main highway.
I penned the above thoughts in November only and the real journey had to take shape in December. The first snow of season has already made its way to Solang Valley by November 26th Night and even though earlier it didn’t look like so, later it was getting highly probable that it would be a WHITE CHRISTMAS for Manali.
But was it?
Day one of the journey
Day one was almost eventless as we had to drive from Delhi to Chandigarh only and then find the Mansa Devi Shrine Board for stay. While I finished off some troubles related to office and reached back home early at around 3PM via Metro, brother and his wife reached to our place in Faridabad from Gurgaon by 4PM around. It didn’t took much time to get ready and start the journey by some 1630 hrs.
The first stop was at a Petrol pump for washroom at around 1952 hrs and then due to city traffic and kind of roads, it took around two and half hour to reach our destination.
Mansa Devi Shrine Board accommodation would a very useful alternative for stay for kind of schedule we had chosen. Winter means night journey (even though that particular day wasn’t much foggy) avoidable and not much point to chose those ₹1200-1300 hotel rooms.
We had some food packed with us so an outing wasn’t needed nor we bothered to take any pictures around. Just had dinner and then headed for much needed rest as we had to start early morning. Word of caution here, the blankets provided were not enough for the kind of cold that time so its advisable to keep an additional one if can’t negotiate one. We didn’t asked any additional and slept with jackets on.
Day two: The real drive to destination
Our plan for the morning was to start as early as possible though same time had to keep in mind that hill part of journey may come only after 0630 hrs so that it may fall in morning time. Alarms were set for 4AM though I woke up by 0320 hrs itself. Didn’t disturbed others though and let them finish their sleep till 0400 hrs. After 0400 hrs, all woke up and started getting fresh. Plan was to leave by 0430 hrs though that was delayed a little as office guys had to be woke up. We left by 0445 hrs anyway.
There were two routes, one via Baddi and one via Ropar and knowing that Baddi part is with hill area, I had decided to go via Ropar one. Then don’t know what happened and we ended up on NH21A. Possibly because of sudden turn at Bharatgarh. They even took some ₹30 toll on the unpaved road while in reality they should have been paying at least ₹3000 to each passing vehicle for the kind of horror this road was.
The above picture can’t judge that how beautiful the full moon was looking at that moment from those hills.
Narrow and unpaved hill route (which we later come to know that was under construction since last 3-4 years along with at least 6 tunnels on the route) along with multiple trucks even on that route means I was managing the route in first gear throughout and even then ended up getting three bumps from the bottom.
At least 30kms horror it would have been which ended by 0730 hrs somehow once we reached Swarghat and took a short tea break. A short discussion with a local shop told me the history about the construction which though have picked the pace now but been dragging since last few years. Once done (likely in next 2-3 years though) then due to multiple tunnels etc, it would easily become the main route with lesser distance to travel, not to mention wide roads.
We started from there by 0740 hrs around and still roughly 220 kms was pending means at least 6 hours plus being the hill ride and 8kms long Sundarnagar patch means make it 7 hours at least including the compulsory stop for lunch at Mandi, which been part of our last two journeys as well.
We reached to the lunch break place (same hotel we stopped in each journey) by some 1240 hrs. Unlike last two occasions, the water level was low and comparatively calm making it a treat to watch. The water was obviously way colder than last times possibly belong 0 degree or at least felt like so.
We chose a lunch with Gobhi and Aaloo Paranthas along with some plates of maggie.
Kiddo had some fun with puppies there. We might have left the place by 1330 hrs around and now it was sure that we are not reaching hotel by 1400 hrs as we were around 60 kms plus away from the hotel even now.
Finally we made it to hotel by 1500 hrs and while location was good, rest all was disappointment. Be it faulty Water heater in our room with leakage or be it classic type smallish room pushed to us in name of Deluxe Room or be it chargeable room service every time we order lunch or dinner or be it no towel given to us despite of asking for entire stay of ours. It was officially the worst decision of the trip to chose Hotel Victoria Palace, which even ended up giving a small dent to our car back in last min of the stay. Do you know the charge for heater in the room was ₹300 per night (yeah only for night and to return back in morning)while one could have gotten a single rod heater from Mall road @ ₹400. Anyway… less talked the better, as there was much good to talk about the trip.
We didn’t took much rest and left for mall road by 1620 hrs around. ₹20 each passenger or roughly ₹80-100 each time, choice of hotel away from mall road wasn’t going to play nice with us. There is a free parking before mall road for those who have paid the compulsory green tax of ₹200 for vehicles entering into Manali from outside, but trust me, you won’t get the parking slot in seasons like Christmas and year end holiday. I was already missing the Tourist Hotel, where I stayed last two times as even though narrow entry to hotel, it was 5 mins walk to mall road from there.
We might have stayed there till 1800 hrs around and then same ₹100 to Auto for returning back. Had a bad feeling about it so didn’t ordered the dinner from hotel and chosen to take a long walk (at least 1km) and got it from a nearby restaurant (name I don’t remember now but some Patanjali store was in same building). Rates were on higher side but food was ok. We called it the day post the dinner as day was started since early morning anyway.
Day three: The first morning in Manali and touch of snow
I usually prefer to use the day at fullest but this trip was exception as we been Manali twice so things weren’t new for us and being family means we preferred to be late riser. We had booked a cab @ ₹1500 for Solang Valley last evening itself from hotel (don’t ask me why.. We had booked Rohtang + Solang drive @ ₹2300 in July end itself), which arrived a little later and we left for Solang Valley by 0945 hrs around.
In the last trip, when we had visited Solang Valley then it was just an eventless unattractive field without snow but this time, it was all white.
The cab was parked roughly around 1.5 kms before the main place and we were asked to come back in 2 hrs only unlike the last two trips. The route to the place didn’t look any problematic for self drive except last few meters so I already made my mind to come back again next day.
Even though distance was long, after some snow play in front of the cab itself and later customary maggie, snacks etc from the mobile van “restaurant”, we walked towards Solang Valley. I must say, the fresh snow was more in the way than the field itself (not to say it was anyway lesser exciting).
While I was worried about the kiddo and temperature there, playing in snow was no issue considering the kind of sunshine. Kiddo rather handling the snow even better than us and was unstoppable. Commercial activities like that Bubble walk etc were surprising missing and only sliding and Ropeway seem to be available. Didn’t seen anyone paragliding either.
The cab driver unlike the last two time drivers wasn’t that fun kind. Received calls twice to limit our stay at Solang for 2 hours and anyway we were enough tired of walking already. It was another bad impression about the hotel ensuring that my all future trips to Manali would remain limited to tried and tested Hotel Tourist only from now on.
Rather than Solang Valley, the untouched areas nearby with fresh now were more fun and the same reminds me that how majority of the picture of the Facebook always happened to be not from the very ground itself. We had much fun along with kiddo in same way.
We started returning back by 1330 hrs and it took long time to reach to the cab itself due to heavy jam. Huge trash trucks or whatever been causing nightmare and we were realizing that why cab driver parked the car this down.
The jam was for some distance only and post the bridge was almost clear. We would have been reached to our destination by some 1440 hrs around.
After some rest and tea etc, we thought to drive today and took the car to river bank.
Despite of tries, the camera couldn’t capture the divine look which snow peaks been giving under sunset.
After playing some badminton in the hotel lobby for a while along with kiddo, we decided to call it the day. We been lazy to try outside food and ordered from the hotel itself, not to mention, didn’t like that much but wasn’t bad either.
The day three: The eventful one
As me and wife been Manali twice so most of the things were familiar to me and wasn’t much to do on third day for us. Hidimba and Vashisth Temple were ruled out and we decided to drive in car for whole day.
Though I woke up early, others wanted their sleep more so we could move out only by 0930 hrs. Weather was clean and sky was blue enough to help snaps.
From the last trip, this particular bridge in the way to Naggar got a place in my heart and even though navigation shown a different way from the hotel, I chosen the same path. I wanted to see how much more snow would be there on peaks which had snow even during July last week. Sky was still the same blue like last time and views similar.
This time, it wasn’t Apple trees and greeneries around the way it was during Monsoon but the texture was still the same calm and mesmerizing.
It was too little but spotted even snow at some places on side of the road.
Even though rush on roads was the same way as was in July end, but this time, there were many cars already at Naggar than the last time when we were only second vehicle parked in front of the gate. This time, we had to park the car in the car parking about which we didn’t even had idea that it exists last time.
Naggar Caste gets entirely different view during winters and that’s when its not even snowing nearby. It was looking even more beautiful the majority of Manali side (old and new).
We would have stayed there till 1200 hrs and then moved back with Solang Valley as target in mind.
We would have moved hardly 3-4 kms and we came across a Trout Fish Farm. The place was fun for the kiddo so taking a brief stop was a must.
We would have left the place by 1250 hrs around and now were headed to Solang Valley. Plan was to drive as high as possible means till the point from taking U-Turn would be easy without any trouble. I was in mood of driving all the way up but considering the time in hand, others weren’t in favor of the same neither did we had required cloths etc.
One thing was noticeable in this journey. There might have been at least 3 instances when we were stopped and asked for car papers, driving license, insurance and more importantly pollution certificate etc in Manali. NGT push sure seems visible across. Noticed cops stopping a Chandigarh bullet with a couple for being without helmets with words that disregard to law by outsiders bring bad incidences to hills.
As it was getting late so a lunch stop was also must. I stopped the first hotel where I felt parking is adequate. Considering a pure Punjabi Dhaba, I was expecting a full on non-veg brunch. The backside of hotel was way much scenic than I would have anticipated and kiddo was in instant love with the place. When enquired about the food then a bomb dropped, then hotel was PURE VEGITARIAN. Punjabi Dhaba\ Restaurant and only vegetarian? The guy was hell bent on breaking the stereotypes. Anyway, as we settled there already so chose to abide the same only.
After some snow play with dad and uncle, kiddo was busy in making snowman and “snowman ki amma” while we waited for the lunch to be served.
Its sheer blessing to have lunch while sitting kind of surroundings.
Before Solang Valley, we faced one or two narrow stretches where I had to manage the vehicle on narrow roads while jam from other side otherwise most of the route was ok to drive. We had planned to drive up the one particular bridge which comes before Solang Valley, the place where some construction also going on related to Rohtang Tunnel. Even though I could have driven easily towards up, I was voted down by majority as it was already 1530 hrs.
I can only imagine that how scenic the place would be when it snows. All white across like some heaven to walk up on.
We even spotted beautifully frozen waterfall. Not sure if it was Jogini Waterfall as one way towards that goes from that side as well.
by 1600 hrs, we took a stop near Palchhan which we had spotted while driving upwards. Surprising it had abundant amount of snow of kids to play. Some kids been earning from the place by giving ride in their small wooden slides @ 10₹ and apart from fun, it was noble to let them earn a little for self.
We had lots of fun at the place and many rides as well and then it was time to leave as sun was setting.
After facing some long jam before market and also being assured that no parking space possible around Mall Road, we reached back to hotel by 1640 hrs.
It was the last day so ladies wanted to do shoppings while kiddo was hell bent to get Badminton set inspired by the courtroom at hotel. We had to make one last trip back to mall road.
It was almost 6PM when we headed towards Mall Road and I still regret that how despite of tries, I failed to get the natural colors of those magical sunsets on snow. That’s something you can watch over and over again for days after days.
Anyway, it wasn’t easy to find Badminton of kiddo but I managed to get one somehow and ladies of the group managed to find their shawls etc and we were back to base packing up for early morning exit. Hotel bills were paid and he was asked NOT TO PARK any vehicle after us so that we may leave easily in morning.
The last day: The drive back to home
The morning didn’t went that eventless as I would have expected and preferred. First there was a SuV parked behind my car blocking the way so we had to woke up the office employees, who after lots hesitation, finally started reaching out to prospective owners of the SuV. Then the stupid bunch possibly didn’t knew how to drive or whatever. They moved SuV but God knows why kept half blocking the way while I wasn’t able to watch back clearly due to fog etc. Result, little bump to car (minor one) while there was no case to get one. I mean, what’s point to hold the vehicle in middle when you are clearly the way?
Anyway… after the bad start of the day, the journey back home might have started around 5AM.
Crossed tunnel etc and by 0800 hrs, we might have crossed Pandoh Dam etc.
The first break was taken at the above place in Swarghat at around 10AM I guess and post that drive been straight to home.
The drive downwards comes easy and you don’t get much trouble due to roads etc unless very worse. Sundarnagar part was anyway much improved over the last trip. For covering Bilaspur-Swarghat patch, I took a local SuV set as cruise vehicle for mine and followed him across the way in the same fast pace. He was clearing the overtakes and I was just riding over him making the most of the route easier though it ended up a little faster than comfortable for wife, who faced vomiting issue for the first time in any hill trip.
Let me tell you one important thing about hills and vomits. For major part, the person who is sitting on backside near the side windows faces the vomiting issue as he\ she looks outside windows contrary to the direction of pace messing with the mind perception. Hardly anyone sitting on front seats or the one sitting in middle at the back seat get the issue. Solution is to look as straight as possible.
At some points, Shimla was merely 70kms away and it was sure tempting to drive that way but we preferred to remain on court. Only Kiratpur would have some bad part of roads for 4-5 kms otherwise road was smooth sail this time and we were into planes post that.
In the way, we found many groups stopping vehicles and offering them tea and snacks etc in name martyr day of Sikhs. Sikhs being reliable bunch majorly so I wasn’t that worried about taking some but still I preferred to avoid the same but insistence of rest of group, finally I had to give up around Sonipat I guess and we took abundant Pakauras, Bread Pakauras and Tea etc from a group, which was sufficient to fill up our tummy for avoiding lunch for the day.
I took the mandatory stop before 60kms of Delhi which I always take in each trip as it makes you settled with the pace and traffic and also eases down the highway mindset while entering into the city, which largely responsible for spoiling the last leg of the journey. It always helps and even this time it was no exception. We managed to reach home safely by some 1900 hrs or so.
Overall stats for the return journey been fair enough and another satisfying trip was over with only regret that we would have chosen a better hotel and may be God was more favorable with at least one snowfall in main Manali during our stay.