My ultimate travel guide- #1- Manali

Manali came to limelight in the late 80’s/early 90’s when the Indo-Pak dispute increased in the serene Kashmir Valley. Since then it has been a hot spot for tourists, be it in the months of April to August to get relief from the soaring heat or from October to March to enjoy some fresh snowfall and chilly winds.

The most practical and convenient ways to reach Manali from Delhi are by air or by road.

Delhi to Manali by Air: The nearest airport to Manali is the Kullu-Manali Airport in Bhuntar located at a distance of 11 kms from Kullu and 50 kms from Manali. The flight journey would be approximately 1.5 hours and Air India provides daily connectivity between Delhi and Bhuntar. You can then opt for a bus or a cab which will take around 2 hours for you to reach Manali from the airport. If you are time crunched, then reaching Manali by air is a practical option for you.

Delhi to Manali by Road: The distance between Manali and Delhi is around 540 km. You can opt to self-drive or hire a cab. Delhi to Manali by car takes about 13 to 14 hours with 2 stops in between. Also, there are a number of semi-sleeper buses that ply daily to Manali from Delhi (ISBT Kashmere Gate). The journey to Manali may seem long, but it is definitely worthwhile considering the beauty of the journey.

In my personal opinion, reaching Manali by train from Delhi is not recommended. The nearest railway station to Manali is Joginder Nagar which is located 163 kms away. You cannot even reach this station directly. You have to change stops at Pathankot to reach Joginder Nagar station. It would be unnecessarily hectic and you would end up spending over 24 hours in reaching Manali. 

I have been to Manali 6 times so far and this is the first time I am writing about it. There can be two types of trips that one can plan while visiting Manali. First can be a short trip to Manali for about 5 days, out of which 2 days will go into travel and the rest 3 can be spent exploring/relaxing in Manali. Second can be a longer one, around 8-9 days, and in this you can club Manali along with Kasol and Mani Karan Sahib Gurudwara. I would suggest taking those extra days off work and spending the best holiday to rejuvenate and recover from your hectic office lives. 

 Here is my itinerary plan for your 8-9 days holiday to Manali:

Day 1

Plan to leave early in the morning at around 4 AM, so that you can reach Kasol before the sunsets around 6 pm. I am very particular about planning your travel plans to utmost details- such as when and how many stops you should take in your journey. My family pays heed to my decisions and they ensure they take bio breaks only during a scheduled stop. This may sound harsh, but being disciplined on trips is important to ensure you reach on time. I would suggest you plan 2 stops on your way to Kasol- for breakfast and for lunch. For breakfast, you can try exploring some mouthwatering, jaw dropping and utterly delicious food being served in the various local road side Dhabas- Jhilmil Dhaba, Amirk Sukhdev, Garam Dharam, Haveli or Mannat to name a few. After your first stop in one of these Dhabas, you can take a second stop at Hotel Raja just before you hit Sunder Nagar. It will take atleast 4 hours to reach this spot from Chandigarh. Kasol will take another another 4-5 hours’ drive. If you have started at 4 AM you will surely reach Kasol by 6 PM in the evening. I would suggest you to book Alpine Guest House in Kasol as it is one of the best riverside properties. 

Pic source: Alpine Guest House

Day 2

After a long and hectic travel, Day 2 can be all about relaxation and lots of food. You should start your day with some awesome ‘breakfast with a riverside view’ being served at the Alpine Guest House. Do try some amazing fresh juices being served here. Post your lovely breakfast, for pre-lunch snacks, plan a visit to the German bakery for some fresh pies and cakes. Also, don’t forget to binge on the Momos (they are served with some very different sauces) in front of the bakery. For lunch, head to the Little Italy café and for dinner I would recommend either Moon Dance Café or Evergreen Café. I would suggest you to try some Israeli food as Kasol is also known as mini Israel. During the day, you can also explore the market and buy some local handmade handicraft from the local shops. Prices are very reasonable with very little scope to bargain. The market is next to the river Parvati flowing from the Parvati Mountains and the sound of water flowing throughout Kasol makes the experience scintillating. 

Day 3 & 4

Now it’s more of a personal choice, but I suggest that you check out early at around 6 am and go for an early morning trek to Kheerganga. It is my favorite trek with ‘straight out of painting’ scenic views of snow-covered peaks, forest landscape and hot springs. It is a 4-5 hour trek and you should reach around noon. There are several homestays/camping options and you can choose basis your affinity. Do not expect electricity so you will be away from all the city hustle bustle, internet connection and you can put some rest to your obsessive need to check out Instagram/Fb or Tik Tok these days. Instead, enjoy a bath in hot springs and savour the hot food served by the overjoyous locals.

Pic source: Kheerganga Trade India Tour

The other option is to consider a trek to Tosh (google what Tosh is famous for :P) and book Hill Top Hotel for the view and their italian food preparation. To reach Tosh you can either choose to drive your own vehicle or to take a local shared taxi. The taxi will drop you at a point in Tosh village from where the hilltop is a 45 minutes walk. While walking up you can enjoy some food at the local cafes and absorb the beautiful view. So in my opinion, day 3 and 4 should be around the 2 options or else you can consider the following.

Other options for trek that you can explore are listed below

  1. Malana
  2. Rasol
  3. Chalal

I have not done these but if you want to spend more time in Kasol, you may go ahead and try these.

Day 5

Leave early in the morning from Tosh, trek down and drive back to Bhuntar, from where you will head towards Manali. It will take around 3 hours to drive from Kasol to Manali. I prefer staying in The Conifer Manali or Snow Valley Resorts. They are adjacent properties and you can choose either of them. Both properties have beautiful gardens and awesome view of the hills. These hotels are in the old part of Manali. This area is less commercialized with less crowded streets. Rest for some time in the beautiful property and walk around on the Mall Road in the evening packed with some small shops selling famous Kullu Shawls and Sarees. Try some Chinese food at The Chopstick and have dinner at The Himalyan, both restaurants offer the best food you can find on the Mall road. Explore the local shops and if you are traveling there during the Apple season then do buy some freshly plucked apples from the roadside vendors.  

Pic source: Mall Road, Manali-IndiaVid

Day 6

You may have understood by now that I always suggest you to start your day early. This gives you a headstart and a larger timeline to explore much more in a day. Hence plan to leave early in the morning for Rohtang-Pass which is the second highest pass on your way to Leh. It is a pass that connects two splendid valleys of Himachal- Lahaul & Spiti and Manali. At a height of 14000 Feet above the sea level, it is a tourist spot to visit especially during the months of March, April and May. During this time, you can find some adventure activities like Zip Lining, Paragliding and Skiing. In the months of November and March you might get lucky to experience fresh snowfall in this area but in the months of December, January and February the roads to Rohtang are closed and you can only go up till Gulaba and Solang Nala, providing you with the same activities. It will take 1 hour to reach either Solang Nala or Gulaba from Manali. Gulaba is on the way to Rohtang and the road conditions after Gulaba worsen resulting in a minimum of 2 hours to reach Rohtang from Gulaba provided that there are no landslides or any unwanted congestion. 

Also do remember to take an online permit to visit Rohtang. The government has restricted the number of petrol and diesel vehicles plying in a day, in order to keep a check on the pollution in Rohtang. You can do a 6 day advance booking for the permit. 

Pic source: Rohtang Pass-Travel Triangle

All these places offer delicious Maggi noodles and bread omelette. You can also enjoy some fresh ‘bhutta’ or Maize/corn grilled on coal. I would even suggest you hire a horse and go around to the top of the peaks and enjoy some breathtaking views. The weather at Rohtang is chilly throughout the year and the place is usually covered with snow so do remember to carry warm clothes and snow compatible shoes. You may get them on rent on the way but the size is usually an issue so it is better if you carry your own. As a precautionary measure, try to leave the place atleast 2 hours before the night falls, as usually fog makes driving conditions very difficult in the accident prone areas. Once you are back from Rohtang, you can have your dinner at The Johnson’s Café or The Lazy Dog, and if you are a non-vegetarian, then don’t forget to try the trout fish- it is a fresh water fish specific to Himachal. 

Day 7

Rest Rest and Rest…. Shop at the Mall Road in the morning after offering prayers at Hadimba Temple and Manu Temple. In the evening, you should visit Café 1947. I think it is the best café in Manali, with your table on the river side while you experience transcendence through some sheesha with chilled beer and some amazing Italian food. Have a good night sleep before you start your journey back home early morning the next day.

Pic source: Cafe 1947- Yogesh Sarkar Blog 

Day 8

Start around 7 AM for your way back to Delhi. Do not forget to stop by Manali Sweets and Bakers in Sundernagar on your way back, and take the second stop in Ambala where you will find this mall on the highway having multiple food outlets. Try to reach the foothills before it gets dark as the road conditions aren’t that great factoring the 4 lane conversion of the highway. 

Drive slow and stay safe.  

I hope you got some useful tips from this post. I travel frequently and would keep you posted on my next journey. Shortly, I will write in my experience to Vaishnodevi in the all new Vande Bharat superfast express from Delhi to Katra. 

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