The Manali Sojourn

Posted on December 19, 2010 in Travel
View from Hotel Bhrigu in Vashisht. Photo by Samonway Duttagupta

By Samonway Duttagupta:

A sudden jerk made my forehead hit the glass window of the Volvo bus and I woke up with a start. As I opened my eyes and looked out of the window I could see nothing except the mammoth structures of the breathtaking Himalayan Range. My eyes were wide open and it did not even take a minute for me to ignore the fact that I was very sleepy as it was hardly an hour of sleep that I got during my journey through the night. Bus journeys never allow me to sleep but this one was worth staying awake, for the views one gets to see while the bus takes its sharp turns on the serpentine roads is truly one of the most significant experiences of a trip to the mountains. The mysterious roads of the mountains which take you to the final destination actually turn out to be way better than the former looks- one feels like hopping out of the vehicle, capture the beautiful surroundings in the camera and just sit back and relax in the pure environment of the mountains. That reminds me of American novelist Don Williams Jr’s quote- “The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.”

Finally the 15-hour long journey from Delhi came to an end when the bus engine mellowed down to allow the sounds of Manali bus stand to take over. Getting down from the bus made me feel how celebrities actually feel while swarmed by fans all around. At least five to seven Autowalas were actually ready to take my bags and put it in his Auto. I had to penetrate the crowd and reach a place where I could find not-so-greedy Autowalas. So the price was fixed with one of them and I was off to a place called Vashisht which is 3kms away from the main town. The objective was clear- to stay away from the maddening crowd in a place where I could talk to the sounds of nature.

The view from the hotel balcony in Vashisht treated me with a perfect blend of river and mountain- the expanse of the Beas River passing by the great heights of the Rohtang range.

Photo by Samonway Duttagupta

After enjoying the beautiful views from the hotel, I could not help but fall for the treat River Beas was luring me with. I had to trek down the narrow short-cuts of the hills to reach the bank of the rocky bank of the river. Standing in the middle of the river on a rock, I felt as if I was at the epicenter of the watchful mountains. It was like standing in the middle of the colosseum where I was applauded by the mountains for achieving something, and at the same time, the cold waters of the river flowing down my feet, showing a mark of respect.

Then it was time for me to explore the rest of the village. One of the major tourist attractions of the place is the old Vashisht temple made of wood. Besides is the natural hot water spring where people go to take a bath. The market place is full of shops selling woolen garments and a number of cafes attracting the foreign tourists with either of the Chinese or Italian cuisines on their platters. I had to go in one of them and try the food. I tried one grilled chicken which had baked potatoes and a white sauce served along with it. The taste was satisfactory but what made me ask for more was the Tuna fish sandwich and one must not come back from Vashisht without taking a bite on it.

The later half of the evening in Vashisht gifted me with the beautiful view of the snow-capped Himalayas under the expanse of the evening sky.

Photo by Samonway Duttagupta

After looking at the snow-capped mountains from below, my next desire could not be anything but touching the snow. Road to Rohtang Pass was already closed by the Government because of the heavy snowfall but who could stop a travel enthusiast to find a replacement of the same? 36kms from Manali town and 15kms before one reaches Rohtang, there’s a place called Marhi in the middle. Marhi was the last snow-covered place one could reach.

Before leaving for Marhi at early hours of the next morning in Vashisht, I could not help but capture the visual treat the balcony view of the hotel was offering me.

Road leading to Marhi was truly an out-of-the-world experience. With every sharp turn taking me a few meters above sea level made me feel as if I was being carried further up on the stairway to heaven, with my body resting on the lap of a being way larger than life than one could imagine. The road to Marhi gave me greater awe than the place itself.

But one can also not forget the kind of experience that the accomplishment of the journey offers- the beauty of the destination. Marhi was a place which offered me a perfect mixture of beauty and fun at the same time. The place seemed to be a paradise for honeymoon couples who were rolling over and playing the kiddish snow-games. It was truly a great treat to watch all the urban people bringing out the innocence in them and all being so happy at the same time. It is truly one of the rare sights as you can never see so many people so happy at the same time in our daily urban livelihood. Looking at everyone around, I decided to be a part of the adventure but in my unique way. I went halfway up on the top of a hill which was snow-covered and quite risky to take on for amateurs on snow. But the sense of achievement was felt when I reached almost the top of it after struggling for about 2 hours. The few shots that I got from that spot were breathtaking- it was an aerial view of the snow point of Marhi. But besides the fun, what enthralled most was the mystic beauty of the place. One could not avoid the sight of the various poses and expressions getting into the rolls of the camera. I could not help but take a few shots which had captured the whole mood of this fascinating place.

But the most interesting of all the experiences was the lunch that I had in Marhi. A plate of vegetable maggi and a bread omelet sitting on a plastic chair in the middle of the snow covered place. It was a real treat to consume the hot food within the bone-chilling temperature of the place and at the same time looking at the vendor continuously making food for the tourists on a make-shift stove kept on the snow.

The hours flew past in no time and the rays of the evening sun fell on my face as an indication of the time to say goodbye to Marhi.

As I was leaving Marhi, I knew for sure that I was going to extend my stay for a day or two. But I did not want to go back down to Vashisht or Manali. I asked my driver to take me to the place which is the nearest to Marhi. The driver took me to a small village named Kothi, which is the last living point before one crosses over Rohtang and reaches Leh. Kothi comprised of tea and maggi shop, a snow-dress hiring store, one café, a bar and just one hotel. The moment I reached there, I knew it was the perfect place to stay for a traveler like me. And this time around, I just could not turn my eyes away from the views that the balcony of this hotel room offered me- a snow-capped mountain standing like a wall right in front of me and a road going past which takes one up there to get a glimpse of paradise.

Kothi is a place which any travel enthusiast would never like to leave and similar was the situation with me. But I had to drag myself back from the heights of fantastic imaginations and accept the harsh reality of going back to the bounds of practical urban life where one has much less to think than to act. But the finishing to this short, crisp yet beautiful trip had to be one I would always remember. With this mindset, I picked up my heavy rucksack on my back and started my trek down to Manali early in the morning. I did not know how I would trek 36 kms within a few hours on hilly roads along with a 15kgs bag on my back, all I knew is to just make myself one with the mountains, who would sometime or the other show me a way to reach Manali at the right time for catching a bus back to Delhi. This swan song journey was the best of all the journeys I have been through. I could actually walk on the green and mysterious tracks within the abode of the mountains.

After trekking around 15kms, these roads took me to two beautiful tourist attractions- Solang and Palchan. Both the places are major tourist attractions. Palchan is known for it’s beautiful views of the valley and Solang attracts tourists for paragliding and the other adventure sports like skiing and snow-biking. I had stopped over in Solang for sometime in order to capture the beauty of the place.

Photo by Samonway Duttagupta
Photo by Samonway Duttagupta
Photo by Samonway Duttagupta

I started my trek again and after going a kilometer or two downhill, I found an auto which took me back to Manali. After reaching Manali, my heart still craved for more though I knew that I had no option but to go back. I walked up to the ticket counter of the Manali bus stand and bought my ticket back to the capital. The bus was about to leave after 2 hours and I knew that I just could not let those 120 minutes go in vain by just sitting in a bus stand. Immediately, I was reminded of the famous Hadimba Temple where Mani Ratnam’s film Roja was shot. A thought is as good an action for a traveler- I took an Auto and went for a short visit to this temple located at a place which is surrounded by a beautiful forest.

Boarding the bus back to Delhi was definitely not a happy moment to experience but as always the journey back to real life was as good as the journey to the Himalayan paradise- with me what remained were the reminiscent thoughts of a wanderlust soul.