Have you ever witnessed the time when the world stops around you to a standstill, the people walking around you without any hurry or urgency of the moment, and you yourself feel pretty much useless because there is nothing much to do? Have you ever seen how your coloured photographs automatically turn black and white? It's not any camera glitch but praise Mother Nature for her exuberant beauty that makes the photos so. If you are ready for all these feelings, then Manali welcomes you in January end or better in February. Manali is a small town in the northern Himachal Pradesh nested in the Pir Panjal range of the mighty Himalayas but drives large number of tourist from all across the nation, even foreigners, mainly from Israel and Germany. Manali is the gateway to Ladakh, Leh, Spiti Valley and other hidden treasures of the Himalayas. Hence throughout the year there is a constant rush of tourists and tourism industry is the main occupation of the local population. But in February, where is the rush of tourists? Particularly in this moth snowfall is intense, with snow upto 4ft to 5ft in certain places and the roads going out of Manali into the interior of Himachal or Jammu and Kashmir is pretty much blocked due to heavy snowfall. So Manali and the adjoining Old Manali, these two are the final destination if heading north. The Himachal Govt. does a good job in time to time clearing of the snow covered roads in Manali and its surroundings. Else life would have been come to a complete standstill.
I visited Manali last weekend. It was my quest to experience the thrill of life in heavy snows, which I never experienced before. It seemed that the snow-capped mountains and the spine chilling cold winds have cast a deadly shadow over the town. People were in no hurry of doing things, their main intention seemed keeping themselves warm. So fires were lit at various places across the Mall Road, which is the main market place. Some were busy with shovels picking up large chunks of ice and clearing pathways. When asked they said they have nothing to do, so doing these they keep themselves occupied. The food is stocked inside their homes, due to snowfall there is no cable TV connection, mobile networks are not working most of the time and they threw me back the same question, “tell me, what can we do?” and I was pretty much singing the same tune as theirs. As I tried some hand in shovelling the snow it felt good as it kept me warm for long. Finding the hotel was not that difficult, unlike the peak seasons. Most of the hotels were run at massive discount on their room rates.
When asked which the local places to explore are, Jogini Falls seemed the answer in every mouth and Solang Valley. So I started trekking up the Jogini Falls despite warning from the villagers that I might fail to find the real route to the falls due to heavy snow which eventually in massive turn of events happened. It was some 1 km more or so when I lost my route. I had to stare high up to see the Jogini pouring down gushes of water through the “ruads”. “Ruads” are the narrow caves which the shepherds use for night stay when their cattle graze high up in the mountains during the spring. Poor me, could not make out to the ruads and the mighty Jogini. The place around the waterfall is worshipped by the local people. They believe that is the place where Jogini Mata, the local goddess resides and showers her blessings to the shepherds. But the entire thrill of finding the road alone and that too in thick snow was amazing. All I had to do was following the trail of the rapid alongside me. But it was amazing, a bit of a challenge but more of fun. It was complete silence high up in the mountains. All that I could hear was the eagles and some birds chirping. Serenity indeed.
Solang Valley is more of a commercial place. The valley turns to a skiing ground in winter. It's in February when the winter skiing festival is held in Solang grounds and people from various countries flock to this place for winter sport activities. There was paragliding, ski, hot air balloons and lots to give the thrill. However the best thing I discovered was not in Solang valley but 2kms down west of the main parking lot. I am more of a wanderer. I came across a complete frozen mountain rapid. Thick snow covered its surface and it was only me on that spot. I could hear the water flowing swiftly beneath the snow and the big boulders. It was late afternoon and the entire landscape was amazing and changing its colours. The first ray of sunlight struck around 3-50PM and the ray was silvery. I have never seen sun rays, so brilliant. Hence February is the time to experience all these. Its shimmering cold, frost bite on my toe, yet the thrill to wander around could not stop me. I could not make out to the local villages by the frozen river, thanks to the bite which ultimately made my left foot some blacking blue.
As it is said “No Pain, No Gain”. I got injured, suffered bruises, feet got badly hurt, but the experience I gained from the wilderness was amazing. If you venture out to the unknown, you must know first where you really belong. Then you can start venturing out. It made me come to the conclusion that mountains are my thing, those stone blocks towering high up in the sky, I love to take the path less travelled to those towering peaks. There I belong. The mountains and the thrill they give me rejuvenates me and enriches my life from within. I get my frission from those mountains. It seems sometimes I hear the words they try to speak, yet remains unspoken. Keeping all the philosophies aside, if you want to feel the true nature of the mountains you must visit these places when these are less visited. Manali was another eye opener for me.