Drive to ManaliTravelling to Manali has to be among my favourite things in the world and I have been up there both by Air and Road. While Buntar airport seems to be shut nowadays and the convenience of flying to Manali has been denied the road has improved dramatically over the last two decades. The drive to Manali was an epic journey and now it’s a breeze. An experienced driver in a good vehicle (such a seasoned Sardarjee in an Innova) can do the drive to Manali in 11 hours including two short breaks. I have driven this road comfortably in my Santro (with family) in 15 hours with a break for the wife to buy shawls in Bhutico. I remember it used to take two hours plus just to drive from Kullu to Manali, now it’s an hour in the local bus which stops everywhere. Thus my Manali drive ended up at Highland Park, which is one of the best hotels in Manali
Chandra passAfter an early morning start which meant we could stop for hot stuffed Parothaans with homemade butter at Murthal. The drive from Delhi to Ambala nowadays is mostly a 4 lane expressway and can be quite boring. Sometimes because of the timing of my trips, I’ve had to stay over in Ambala or nearby Chandigarh. Nowadays the Hotels in Chandigarh are quite good in all budget categories. The fun starts from Kiratpur when you start driving in the hills. Up to Swarghat and then down to Bilaspur with a huge Govind Sagar lake. This Sub Himalayan region is wonderful for ornithologists.
I love to stop near small culverts and bridges try and spot my first Himalayan Whistling Thrush of the trip. Up and down and up to Sundernagar and then down to Mandi, back in the day it was not really possible to drive any further and I have spent many a night in this bustling town. Be sure to look up the age old temples near the water line with special attention to the figure of “Vetaal” hanging on to the tail of Nandi outside many Shiva temples here. Walk through the market that Mandi gets its name from and see the stuff especially the “Shaadi Ka Saamaan” that all the villages of the District come to Mandi to buy. It’s interesting to know that Mandi was in fact a very important stage post on the old Hindustan Tibet road. There are many Hotels in Mandi but do stop at the RajMahal palace hotel here for a meal and take in the rapidly fading Royal past of this charming mountain town.
Chandra pass From Mandi, the drive to Manali is the best and these are the greenest bits of the main Himalayan range. You will pass by the trendy ridges that is dotted with pubs, restaurants and hill resorts to Manali hotels. Pandoh with its huge Dam and backwater is spectacular. The narrow gorge of the Beas is stunning here, with the river, the valley and the change over from sub-tropical trees to alpine. Now there is a long tunnel in this section and you come out into the wide open and vast Kullu valley at Aut. This is where the road to the Banjar valley, the Jalori pass and the Great Himalayan National Park cut off to the right. There are many options for Accommodation in Tirthan and Banjar valleys but that’s a different story.
Drive past the busy town of Bhuntar which is the cut off for the beautiful and “mind blowing” Parvati valley. A lot of people Travel to Manikaran in the Parvati valley. Beautiful Raison and Katrain roll by with options like camps and log huts to put up in. At Patlikul is the turn off for Naggar and this is a wonderful detour by itself with the quaint Naggar castle which is now a hotel with commanding views over Kullu valley and the Roerich art gallery just 2 kms up the road are must visit aspect to this drive. Now you can go to a Manali drive from Naggar along the left bank or drive back down to Patlikul and head to Manali on the right bank of the Beas. Many myriad Manali Adventures are waiting.
By Rajesh Baruah
Best SeasonSep - June
LANGUAGESPahari, Hindi, English