001. Manali is a little slice of a winter wonderland nestled at the top of Himachal Pradesh and is where I had my first experience of snowfall EVER (in India, who would have thought!). Overflowing with natural beauty in the form of snowy mountains, rolling hills and valleys to explore. We were two very happy campers and stayed over a week just chilling out, exploring and enjoying the rare untouched nature in a country of 1.3 billion people.
002. We arrived in Manali with prevailing nausea and sleep deprivation after a glorious 17 hours of travel via bus. Though the sight of snow capped mountains, passing yaks on the street and no longer being in a moving vehicle was so damn exciting that we just wanted to explore! After some struggle finding our unsigned guesthouse (which is surprisingly common in India in general), we found ourselves eating at the only cafe open, chatting with the owner and sharing a joint. As far as first impressions go Manali was ticking all the boxes.
003. At this stage it was mid December and the north of India was in off-season. This meant that cold mountain towns generally start to close down because it's too cold (with the exception of crowds of Indian holidaymakers heading up there over Christmas and New Years). We didn't really mind the lack of other backpackers because it just added to the whole sleepy-village charm. Although I will point out that nowhere in India has heating (at least not on a backpacker budget) and the weather was REALLY cold by my sooky-Queenslander-standards. I would love to visit during Summer one day to see the town at its full potential, pick apples from the orchards and bask in the sunshine (a girl can dream hey?).
004. For our entire stay Bhoomi Holiday Home was our go-to adobe. It was super affordable, had really hot showers and was run by the kindest man ever, Manoj. I would recommend to it everyone! Old Manali is the area we stayed around and had a rad backpacker vibe mixed the village charm. As far as food goes, almost every place serves a mix of the three I's (Indian, Israeli and Italian). Our favourite place hands down though was Raj's Cafe. It was INSANELY cheap and 10/10 delicious. I'm pretty sure we ate our weight in momos and thukpa everyday (with no regrets).
005. From Old Manali you are in an ideal place for some picturesque walks and adventures. Basically at the top of the main street going uphill you can either turn left of right. Left will lead you past a local laundry spot and up a trail that follows along a river. From there you can find somewhere nice to have a picnic or continue on the trail to just explore the surrounding area. If you choose to turn right at the top of the hill you will walk past a temple and then follow the trail into a charming pine forest with an epic viewpoint. Honestly exploring the hills in Manali is just drop dead beautiful everywhere and there is absolutely no way you could ever be disappointed, no matter where you turn!
006. One day we took a day trip to Solang Valley, a super touristy spot BUT with real snow falling from the sky! I had never experienced snow before so it was pretty damn exciting, but if you're looking for somewhere to shred or actually ski it's probably not the place. It was all mostly Indian tourists, just running around, enjoying the snow and taking lots of photos. Taxis are 1500 INR return and they tell you to hire the snowsuits and shoes at one of the hundreds of places along the road on the way for the fix price of 250 INR ($5). It was definitely not cold enough for snowsuits but we both only had a pair of sandals each.. so the gumboots were non negotiable (and I guess you could argue walking around like a marshmallow-cross-power ranger for the next few hours was just a priceless Indian experience).
007. Okay this post is getting long but I can't finish talking about this magic little town without mentioning their local delicacy. Manali Creme- the well known and highest quality hash you can get in India is grown in this region. If you're a stoner this place is what heaven might start to look like... high quality hash, endless nature and cheap Indian food (or is that just me?). Although still 'technically' illegal, it's pretty damn easy to get your hands on some if you strike up conversation with the right people. If you wanna experience Manali like a local this is how to do it. Again, not condemning or condoning anything here merely trying provide transparent information for fellow travellers.
008. Chilled out mountain town number two on the trip is coming at you in the next instalment very soon... Thanks for hanging around!