Manali is a small mountain town bustling with wonderful locals, surrounded by gorgeous mountains and full of countless nature trails... I’d be surprised if you didn’t like this place!
We arrived after fifteen long hours on a local bus from Rishikesh. Never will I ever take another overnight local bus ever again. The bus offered hard benches and zero insulation. Locals kept getting on and off so I positioned myself laying down on a bench in hopes of getting some shuteye, however, the driver was wasting no time flying around corners causing me to fly off the bench every minute. At one point I lost the feeling in my hands and feet from being so cold. Next time I’ll be sure to fork over an extra ten dollars for a Volvo bus for more comfortable seats and a warmer welcome to our next destination.
We walked the mile to Old Manali from the bus station. If you’d rather a tuk tuk they cost about 150 rupiah ($2.50). My squad, being the cheap backpackers we are, decided to walk to our hostel and only regretted it when my MapsMe suddenly said we arrived and we had to keep climbing the never ending winding hills of Old Manali. We finally found Orchard’s House through the beautiful labyrinth of winding walkways and orchards. For only 325 rupiah ($5) a night we had a big room in the beautiful hostel/guesthouse located in the hills of Old Manali. The views were breathtaking and the rooms were superb.
Old Manali was very quiet when we visited because the temperatures had dropped significantly and many shop owners headed south for the Indian winter. It was a nice change of pace with no crowded streets and less badgering to by things along the way. The way the villages and houses were built reminded me of Nepal and being back on the Annapurna Circuit. The beautiful wooden houses, corn and kidney beans drying on tarps outside, laundry strung from balconies, local women doing dishes in the village spicket, cows, yaks and sheep around every corner and even a volleyball net where the local kids performed better than many people back home. It was a very homey and welcoming place.
You regularly see women from all villages carrying baskets of fire wood or crops on their backs. It still blows my mind that we complain about our packs and they manage to do this walk everyday with more than triple the amount of weight and a smile on their faces. I also noticed the women were in charge of building the wells for the village we stayed in. It’s amazing to see how strong and fit the women of Northern India are.
There are many day treks and small hikes you can take from Old Manali. Don’t be alarmed if dogs follow along with you, it’s totally normal. Just be aware they pick fights with other animals along the way and unintentionally try to trip you up while walking.
My favorite walk was past the Manu Temple through Goshal Village over the river and up to Jogini Falls. The trek weaves through the orchards and hills finally leading you down the mountain to cross the river. Walk slowly to enjoy the spectacular views and birdwatching along the way. You pass many locals leading their cows with baskets on their backs full to the brim always greeting you with a “namaste” or a head bow.
From Jogini Falls you can cut through the forest to Vashist for a tea break before heading back down into New Manali. We had three dogs following us the whole time almost knocking us off the mountain while they chased each other.
Another great hike starts across the river from Old Manali and up to the Wildlife Sanctuary. I recommend visiting the Hadimba temple on the way to the Dungrhi Nature Reserve to be sure you take the right path. It’s a 20 rupiah entry (30 cents), but worth every cent.
We took a wrong turn and ended up scaling a muddy mountain covered in thorn bushes. This ended sourly for me with mud all over my backside and thorns in my hands. Jesse was right, I should be wrapped in bubble wrap at all times. Note to self: Adidas Superstars do not make good hiking shoes.
We had a dog who we named Alfred follow us on this hike up into the wildlife sanctuary. He caught a live chicken and ate it in front of us. We were mortified when the little kid came out of the house and noticed one of the chickens was missing, but I guess it’s the circle of life right? The wildlife sanctuary is a must see!
Another trek nearby goes to Nimbal Falls and Wayland Viewpoint. Instead of taking a right to Manu Temple carry on straight and you’ll find the trail along the river. I stopped halfway given I was alone and didn’t have a good feeling about climbing by myself, so I sat on a big rock in the sun listening to the rushing river and got lost in my thoughts. The views along the trail were magnificent nonetheless.
New Manali is where you’ll find all the markets and locals pushing you to buy things from their shops, fruit and vegetable stands and local Punjabi restaurants. I bought a shawl to keep me warm and many loads of fresh groceries. It was lovely to be able to cook for myself each morning at Orchard’s House without the excess oil and butter they use in every dish.
My friend and I rented a motorbike for a day to drive through Solang Valley and towards the Rohtang Pass. As we drove the winding highway with the crisp fall breeze in our hair the white capped and basalt mountains surrounded us, paragliders flew above us and the leaves of the trees changed from green to yellow to orange to red. It was a incredible. To rent bikes it is only 400 rupiah ($6) for the day.
On our drive we came across an abandoned corn stand where two cows were enjoying a lovely snack. Unfortunately, you cannot pass the Rohtang Pass without a permit so we turned around and headed toward the Vashist temple and waterfalls. The Vashist temple has hot springs inside and costs two rupiah each for shoe storage.
Old Manali is an easy place to get stuck with it’s relaxed chilled vibes and beautiful surrounding nature reserves. I met a handful of expats who came to visit many years ago and have yet to leave. One individual I met while having a masala chai at a nearby tea stand was scrubbing crystals and went by the name of “Balance.” He mentioned that he gave his wife and kids up for lent 25 years ago... I’ve never heard of anyone giving their family up for lent, but he didn’t seem to think it was a big deal.
Nehru Park is just down past the river and looks as though it’s straight out of Avatar or Chronicles of Narnia. You could spend countless hours hanging out in this forest that was planted by the British decades ago. It’s a perfect place to get a good work out in or simply get lost in Harry Potter. Entry fee of 20 rupiah (30 cents) and worth it.
There are puppies everywhere in Manali. I came across a handful of dogs fighting each other. Be weary and careful of certain big dogs as they are quite territorial here, but give the little guys some loving!
If you do plan on visiting during the winter months (October-February) be sure to bring down jackets and warm clothes. It gets really cold at night and in the mornings!
Things to do:
- Trekking and day hikes - Mt. Phatru and Rohtang Pass - If you go with a guide to Mt. Phratu it’s 1500 rupiah ($22.50) for the day. You can also visit the base of the mountain and take a gondola up a few hundred meters for 650 rupiah ($10) to watch all the paragliders land.
- Rent a motorbike and drive through Solang Valley and up the Rohtang pass - get permit before you go!
- Jogini Falls
- Wild Life Sanctuary Manali
- Nehru Park - 20 rupiah entry (30 cents)
- Vashist Temple - Hot springs inside! 2 rupiah entry. (1 cent)
- Hadimba Temple/Dungrhi Nature Reserve - 20 rupiah (30 cent) entry. A local carnival is hosted for kids during certain times in the surrounding area.
- Manu Temple and walking track past Manu Temple to Goshal Village.
- Floatvoid - Cheapest place to do sensory deprivation floating. 2000 rupiah ($30) for a 90 minute session near Manu Temple.
- Day trip on motorbikes to Kasol, Rashol, Malana, Tosh, Kalga and Pulga if you don’t plan on spending more than one day in the Parvati Valley.
Where to eat:
- Raj’s Food Corner - Delicious and cheap Nepalese food! The momos and thantuk are incredibly fresh.
- English Bakery - Baksu cake and yak cheese toast all day everyday. The chocolate crossiants, kit kat balls, chocolate banana cake, peanut butter balls and everything else is absolutely amazing here. We lined the streets while waiting for our fresh baked goods!
- Sharma Punjabi Dhaba - Delicious local food!
- People - The grilled fish was amazing if you feel like splashing out and treating yourself to a nice dinner!
- Rocky Cafe - A nice place to have a hot masala tea while enjoying the beautiful view of Manali!
- Street food - Corn, samosas, aloo tika, paranthas, etc.
- Manali Sweets Shop in New Manali - Down the side street in New Manali. Turn down this corner! They have delicious mix veg curry for 90 rupiah ($1.50)
Where to stay:
I recommend staying in Old Manali for a more relaxing stay while visiting Manali. Old Manali is a village across the river on a mountain with winding roads and delicious restaurants. New Manali is the much more crowded and full of markets, restaurants and locals.
- Orchard’s House - 325 rupiah ($5) per night. Offers big rooms and lots of board games to play with fellow travelers.
Enjoy your stay in the stunning little mountain town of Old Manali!