To get to Manali from Shimla we booked seats on a Luxury A/C express mini bus. Imagine our surprise when we were directed towards this beast!
There was no space onboard for bags, so they had to be stored on the rickety old roof rack. We watched intently as our bags were strapped down to the roof, but still we feared arriving in Manali having dropped our belongings somewhere in the mountains. We had visions of locals walking around with spanking new Berghaus backpacks.
Thankfully the old ropes used to secure our bags held out, and we arrived in Manali along with our bags. Not exactly on time, and there was nothing express about it either. The journey was meant to take 6.5 hours, but in all it was closer to 10.5! To say we were annoyed and exhausted would be a massive understatement.
It was late at night, cold and raining when we arrived. We’d gone from 40 degrees in Delhi, to a brisk 15 degrees and a very English feel in the North of India. We treated ourselves to the first beers of our trip before getting a taxi to the hostel. Boy, did we really need them!
We drank our beers in the common room, and for the first time since arriving in India we saw first hand that hostel “vibe”. There were lots of other guests listening to music there and relaxing, playing cards, drinking and generally chatting and having fun. We were given a very warm welcome which was great.
We were clearly 10-15 years older than most of the other guests that first night, but what we lacked in youth, we more than made up for in experience!
Manali is split into the old and new towns. We stayed in Old Manali upon recommendation from other travellers. We weren’t disappointed at all. New Manali is a lot bigger and has more shops, restaurants and cafes etc, but with that comes crowds, noise and traffic. We of course visited New Manali during our stay, and found a very peaceful shortcut through a beautiful pine forest. It certainly beat walking along the side of a busy road, and at the same time saving our ears from 45 minutes of constant car horns, and everywhere else from all the dust.
Not only that, but in that forest we witnessed our first ever Crow vs Monkey grudge match, and got to sample a 6 in 1 ice cream.
Old Manali has loads of little shops and cafes, even though it is basically just one street. We were spoilt for choice when it came to places to eat. Not just that, but the variety of food offered was also quite impressive. Italian, Chinese and Israeli food were included in most menus along with Indian of course, and it was nice to have a change when we had too many curries day after day.
We also had porridge and muesli as breakfast options in these cafes which was a welcome change after having dal makhani at 9 in the morning of first 10 days! Also, the fruit juices here are amazing.
We must mention the countless German Bakeries. We kept wondering since when had Germany become so famous for their baked goods? Luckily for us we met a lovely German lady at the hostel who told us she was wondering the same thing. Also worth mentioning that these German bakeries sold French croissants, Austrian strudel and the quintessentially English Apple Pie! She mentioned to us that her favourite, and very German was the pretzel which were strangely nowhere to be seen.
We also have been introduced to the concept of the “English beer and wine shop” in India. We tried to see what makes them English but still have no clue. Oh and those of you who thought I would find no cider in India, there are shops near the English beer and wine shops specialising in cider and fruit wines! Not to mention that cider is cheaper than beer. Also it may be less injurious (?) to health!
Our time in Manali was the best we’ve experienced so far in India and we extended our stay to a week. We felt really relaxed these after the craziness of Delhi, Agra and Amritsar. Immersing ourselves in the backpacker culture, spending our evenings in the common room chatting to people was the exact hostel experience we were looking for.
The hostel we stayed at had regular musical evenings having either a guy playing a guitar (beautifully) or a band playing sufi music, or a couple singing and playing traditional music from the Rajasthan area. Most of the time the guitar playing carried on in the common room afterwards. I was delighted to see Andy have a go at playing it as well, this is how relaxed we are starting to feel.
Our first treks were incredible. The Himalayan mountains are simply breathtaking. We often couldn’t believe that we were actually in India and how we never imagined such places existed here. I guess that is the beauty of travelling. Opening your eyes to what is out there and changing your perceptions of what everything is.