‘Old’ – now that’s a qualifier that changes the entire mood of this conversation. I am no fan of gold and I refrain from using clichés but this one, yes the glittering one, “Old is Gold” seems so appropriate at the moment.
What is it about old things, old people or old places for that matter that gets us intrigued? What is it about the new or modern that isn’t as alluring? I for sure, found my answers in Manali. The very same commercially-tarnished, crowded and touristy Manali. But then, here’s the difference. We stayed in old Manali, hung out, ate and dreamt in old Manali and just a glimpse of new Manali made us squirm and run back to the old. The Mall Roads have contributed amazing disgust value to many a beautiful place the world around. Whatever happened to the local? The local moved to cozy nooks and corners in an older quieter place. Local flavours, local people, local stories, local shopping – everything that made a place, quintessential.
I really urge these loud holidaying, mostly Punjabi families to go to Disneyland or the waterparks to amuse themselves, rather than create Mall Roads in every hill station. Families must have their outings, but come on people, learn to enjoy and respect a place as is. Blaring horns, thumping music – disgraceful. Do you blackberried and iphoned people even remember the last time you heard the soothing sound of a flowing stream or a local language for that matter? Sigh.
Let it rain! Now that my angst with the touristy tourists is let out, let me actually ask you to walk with me on these narrow undulating lanes, slopes mostly, discovering the pleasures of the real Manali, tucked away in many interesting nooks and corners. Here is a place that must be explored on foot. The crisp air is welcoming. Walking in the drizzle is like the annual SALE that you’ve long been waiting for; so don’t take cover! Stopping at roadside cafés to sip Honey-Ginger-Lemon is the next thing on my mind.
The Bullet-in! And as I blissfully sip on the hilly potion, did I just hear the classic sound of the Royal Enfield? A roar, to be more precise. Another common sight is the fleet of bullets that people in Manali hire to move around. Good choice I say, worth it if you have a good rider too.
At around Rs. 700 per day, you’re already kick-started. As a pillion rider, what I get is an unforgettable cloud-kissed ride, I get the bullet vibrating in my veins and I don’t even have to get it on the stand! And if I’m crazy enough (which I was), I also get to stand on the bike with my arms flung open, letting the fresh air blow my hair and my mind out, as I whiz past the meandering hills like a bird. On a downhill, the bike just drives itself on neutral and is way smoother than what it is when in gear. Remember this even otherwise – save oil and be good to the environment while you have the joyride of your life. So park your cars, get the bikes.
Picture perfect! Misty clouds, unwinding roads, the sound of rain, long drags of clean air, the appetising smell of local bakeries, silent musings by the riverside, a walk through the woods, an occasional local musician, running into interesting people – a sumptuous experience is guaranteed in Manali.
A room with a view. Manali is easy on your wallet. My recommendation: just take a top floor room to get a permanent view of the hills and that slim waterfall. And don’t forget to open the windows to let the clouds in. Depending on your budget, there are a range of hotels and homestays to choose from. It is quite easy to find a neat and clean economical room with some finger-licking World(Indianised) and local cuisine and of course, a breathtaking view. And beware, stays often get extended here. Those in the mood for luxury can also indulge in some cottage stays with a private butler at your service. Interesting to know – a lot of foreign visitors book some awfully cheap rooms for months and make it their second home.
Hog-culture. Huddled together are many cozy walk-in cafés and shops that make for the most memorable stopovers. Whether it’s Dylan’s Café, where waiting to be seated is the usual, the snug atmosphere of the Lazy Dog, or any roadside shack, their menus offer much more than what’s on the plate. Great company and ambience for instance. And remember, not all bakeries are authentically German.
Whether its an egg puff, a crunchy salad, steaming parathas, momos or even your very own Maggi, everything is like what you’ve never tasted before.
Order for a hookah on the side if you please. Relaxes any cold nerve in your body, is an anytime companion and is sure to take you on another trip right there!
A bargaining act! You’ll find not-so-pocket-friendly silver (but some irresistible pieces) every few steps, cool Tees with cool prints or messages (Rs.200-800), music shops, bike hiring junctions (where you get to see all the dudes and the wanabe type too), endless clothes’ shops and irresistible woolens.
Surprise yourself with some interesting bookshops too that house a lot more than fiction. This is where I splurged. Mind you if you’re an Indian, be prepared to get ignored at the mere sight of the fair-skinned. Sad and comtemptfully true.
Befriend Manali! Like-minded company in Manali is pretty much served on the menu at no extra charge. This town has a myriad of faces that have many a story to tell or an ear to lend.
The smallness of the place, the commonness of purpose (chilling out) creates a good platform for you to join a bunch of strangers at their table or on the road and take it from there. Making friends here is not just the easiest thing to do, but the most ideal one. There are people from Greece, Italy, France, UK and probably every nook and corner of the world including our very own loud Punjab!
Who wants to let go of a cozy hug? Yes, that’s what old Manali feels like. It embraces you with such cozy experiences that you would never want to let go. And that’s a promise. A lot of people from different countries do stay there for long periods, but as an Indian who is always running behind something – that something being work, money, family or just the guilt for having enjoyed yourself too much, even you busy-Indian can’t let go. After a splendid time here, you get greedy and start wondering if you could have a cozy hut of your own here. Well, if any of you do seriously intend to take that plan ahead, I’m ready to be your guest of honour.