Having covered Shimla, we left for Manali the next morning after breakfast. We took a different road that wound its way around the mountains and towards Manali. It was a 250km drive and took it an entire day of driving to reach there.
Our driver Kalyan Singh had, by then, given up on the guide and taken up the responsibility himself. He told the guide in a stern tone – “this time, I’ll do it. But next time, I won’t speak a word.” The guide meanwhile caught a snooze. So our “new” guide told us that the geography of Himachal keeps changing every 30km. I realized 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 changed to Eucalyptus trees and then we moved into a place with terrace gardens. We passed by the Ambuja cement factory in Darlaghat. That explained 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 saw a huge river in the valley below us – the Sutlej. After following it for some time, we went further up to Mandi where we saw the Beas river for the first time. The journey map from there was as simple as it could get – just follow the river. We stoped at the Hanogi Mata temple which was 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 was just amazing! Mountains on both sides with a huge river flowing in the valley below. The sheer size of the mountains made us feel like a tiny speck. In short, it looked awesome! We passed 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 passed by KulluImage which is a beautiful town on the hillside with the river flowing below it. We stoped once at a shawl factory – part of the organized tour “business” ideas. We stayed back and decided to explore the place. We could hear the thundering roar of the river. So we passed 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 continued our drive along the river to Manali. Apple trees dominated the landscape. However, there wasn’t a single apple on them – the season hadn’t started yet. The driver kept calling out at regular intervals – “Look at your left side sir! Fullll Apple trees!” (with an extra emphasis on “FULLL”)
We retired for the day at our hotel.
The next morning, we woke up to the freezing cold. I pulled aside the curtains and saw that we were covered by snowy peaks. It was 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 was amazing! I couldn’t control my excitement as I had 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 wolfed it down and left 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 equipped ourself with our snow-gear and continued. The guide showed 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 were dried apple trees as far as the eye could see. As we climbed higher and higher, we could see clumps of snow in the grass on the sides of the road. Soon we reached 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 saw that even my parents were in a snow fight with my sis! I kept clicking away on my camera. For some reason, the charge on my battery 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 was clicking pics, I was fine! We made 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 was a really exhilarating experience – something like a ride in an amusement park except for the fact that there were 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 took 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 headed back to our hotel and took an early day off.