Having covered Shimla, we leave for Manali the next morning after breakfast. We take a different road that winds its way around the mountains and towards Manali. It’s a 250km drive and will take an entire day of driving to reach there.
Our driver Kalyan Singh has, by now, given up on the guide and has taken up the responsibility himself. He tells the guide in a stern tone – “this time, I’ll do it. But next trip, I won’t speak a word.” The guide meanwhile catches a few winks 😛 So our “new” guide tells us that the geography of Himachal keeps changing every 30km. I realize how true it is! There were pine trees dominating the landscape at one point of time, it changed completely to Deodars and now we were passing by some hills which was plain rock with absolutely no vegetation. Amazing indeed! The landscape changes to Eucalyptus trees and then we move into a place with terrace gardens. We pass by the Ambuja cement factory in Darlaghat. That explains the multitudes of trucks on the winding roads. I hate traffic on ghats as it makes the drive all the more complicated. And to make it worse, these truck drivers speed away with one hand on the steering and the other holding their mobile phones.
Soon, we see a huge river in the valley below us – the Sutlej. After following it for some time, we go further up to Mandi where we see the Beas river. The journey map from here is as simple as it can get – just follow the river. We stop at the Hanogi Mata temple which is on a cliff on the other side of the river. But for people passing by the road, they had a new temple on the road-side. The scene is just amazing! Mountains on both sides with a huge river flowing in the valley below. The sheer size of the mountains makes one feel like a tiny speck. In short, it looks awesome! We pass through the Aut tunnel which is 3km long. I have gone through many road tunnels, but this was the longest. It just kept going on and on and on.
We soon pass by Kullu which is a beautiful town on the hillside with the river flowing below it. We stop once at a shawl factory – part of the organized tour “business”. We stay back and decide to explore the place. We could hear the thundering roar of the river. So we pass the row of buildings to have a look at it. But the sight that met us there was nothing short of magnificent. There were snow-capped peaks right in front of us with dark clouds in the sky. There was an ethereal glow around the peak which, I feel, was because of the strong wind blowing on the ice and snow there. With goosebumps all over, we continue our drive along the river to Manali. Apple trees dominate the landscape now. However, there isn’t a single apple on them – the season hasn’t started yet. The driver keeps calling out at regular intervals – “Look at your left side sir! Fullll Apple trees!” (with an extra emphasis on “FULLL”)
We retire for the day at our hotel.
The next morning, we wake up to the freezing cold. I pull aside the curtains and see that we are covered by snowy peaks. It’s like a dream. Step out into your balcony and you see the beautiful mountains and snow. You pull your shawl a bit closer to keep yourself warm and the cold starts creeping in. It’s amazing! I can’t control my excitement as I have always dreamt about the day I would see snow! As our tour organizers mainly catered to South Indians, the breakfast was South Indian. So much for trying out the local cuisine! We quickly wolf it down and leave for Solang Valley. The initial plan was to go to Rohtang Pass. But due to excessive snow, the roads were blocked and it wasn’t possible to make the trip. So the alternative snow point was Solang Valley.
We get equipped with our snow-gear and continue. The guide shows us shooting scenes of Krrish (where Priyanka Chopra got stuck in some trees) and Roja (Kashmir scenes were shot in Manali apparently). Once again, there are dried apple trees as far as the eye could see. As we climb higher and higher, we can see clumps of snow in the grass on the sides of the road. Soon we reach the valley.
The next few hours were just like a dream. Snow all around, everyone became a kid – slipping and sliding on the snowing. I see that even my parents are in a snow fight with my sis! I keep clicking away on my camera. For some reason, the charge on my battery has dropped suddenly. I remember the driver also complaining that his vehicle’s battery had dropped drastically at this height. Anyway, as long as the camera is clicking pics, I’m fine! We make snowmen as we had seen in movies. It soon became the object of attraction for other tourists as they came and posed with our snowmen! Tcha! We could have charged them for every picture they took – just like the yak photography!
The snow had begun melting and there was a snow-melt river flowing down. We cross the river and climb high up on the snow. Sliding down the snow on a steep slope is a really exhilarating experience – something like a ride in an amusement park except for the fact that there are no lifeguards here. Playing in the snow was one the most chilling and amazing experiences in my life! I wish I could explain it better, but words are just not enough. So I’ll let some photos do the job. I take a second to think about the people living here – it’s fun when you play in the snow as a tourist. But I wouldn’t fancy living in such a cold place for a major part of the year!
Tired and with parched throats, we head back to our hotel and take an early day off.