From a time during the late 90s, since my first visit more than two decades ago, Manali has become much more popular amongst tourists from all states of India and different parts of the world. This distant and bucolic destination surrounded by mountains, now has more than 1000 hotels, guesthouses and even dorms for backpackers in and around its small town region.
During season period, which is October to February, it is usually crowded everywhere during daytime and rarely completely quiet, at least in the main city. We hope you enjoy reading this travelogue from our trip during the first week of February earlier this year.
In the last five years, this was going to be my third trip to Manali. This time, I was probably as excited as I was when I visited the land of the Himalayas with my parents for the first time – a nine year old child, excessively excited about experiencing snow and playing with it for the first time.
Why was I excited this time? Two reasons. It was going to be my first visit to any Club Mahindra property in the world. Secondly, it was also going to be a weekend away with only Snehsha, my best partner in crime, which mostly involves exploring new food, taking lots of pictures and creating new travel memories.
Snehsha and I had visited Manali together for the first time a year and a half ago with my childhood friends, to celebrate that new year’s eve with them but sadly, I couldn’t take her to a few scenic spots I had explored during my previous visits and couldn’t make her try a few praiseworthy delicacies as well.
After our flight from Mumbai, we arrived at Chandigarh airport and found our driver sent by Club Mahindra. The first thing we did after arrival was find a deserving desi dhaba on our route to Himachal Pradesh, before leaving behind the border of Punjab.
For those who haven’t been to Manali before, especially friends and readers from Mumbai – let me assure you that the best way to get there is a direct flight to Kullu airport but that’s ridiculously expensive and annoyingly rare to find, only one flight per day or two days during season period. Also, you probably might not find even one flight during off-season.
The second best way to get to Manali is to take any flight to Chandigarh and then enjoy a long road-trip of 360 to 380 kilometers via Mandi and Kullu. Don’t forget to grab a heavy meal at any local dhaba on the highway, before you reach the border of Himachal Pradesh.
We had taken a morning flight to Chandigarh from Mumbai and our intention was to pace through most of our 8-hour-long journey on road by sleeping it off as much as we could. The drive uphill, especially after you cross Mandi, has many sharp turns and it’s not the best route to expect long-lasting peaceful naps.
The best way to cope with it is being equipped with good music playlists, plenty of snacks and great company for long conversations. Luckily, we had all of it.
Cozily nestling amidst mountains and inviting apple orchards, we reached Club Mahindra Manali after 11 PM that night, so we couldn’t explore the property much and ordered for room service instead.
The picture above depicts what it feels like when you wake up in a room inside Club Mahindra in Manali. It was minus ten degrees outside! It was 9 AM and I spent that morning mostly texting a few of my friends who are members of Club Mahindra. Some of them had visited this property in the past as well.
I was told that the resort offers excellent hospitality, great food, opportunities for adventure sports and an all in all a memorable family holiday experience – topped with perhaps one of the most stunning views in Manali. I couldn’t disagree and perhaps after scrolling through the next few pictures, you wouldn’t either.
My friends weren’t wrong about these *stunning* views from various rooms (some available even for non-members) at Club Mahindra in Manali, Himachal Pradesh.
At 9:30 AM, without wasting any more time in our cozy room, we went downstairs for breakfast before the buffet service was stopped for the day. Apart from a big cup of hot coffee, one of my standard orders at hotels during breakfasts has always remained to be a mushroom or a masala cheese omelette.
Was the cheese omelette at Club Mahindra Manali disappointing?
Each room in the Club Mahindra Manali resort offers a double bed, tea/coffee maker, hair dryer, LCD TV, multi cuisine restaurant, a well-equipped gym, luxuriously unique and relaxing spa experiences, a well-stocked bar, a pool table and…
After soaking in the pine-scented air and the peaceful scenery of the hills post breakfast, we decided to make a quick trip to the local market nearby and purchase some necessary supplies for our next few days in Manali.
There are many wine stores owned by the Himachal Pradesh Government in Manali. They sell various kinds of fruit wines, which are cheap (Rs. 150 to 200 per bottle) and tastes good too. I usually end up consuming a pint or two of my favourite refreshing apple wine by Minchy’s daily in Manali, it keeps me warm and hydrated too. You can try other kiwi, peach apricot, plum and grape wines by Wonder Wyne too, all are worth trying in my opinion.
One of the places I wanted her to see was Hamta Pass. This mountain viewpoint is located in Himachal Pradesh at an altitude of 4270m (14009 ft), It is a small corridor between Lahaul and Kullu valley, on the Pir Panjal range in the Himalayan region of Himachal Pradesh.
Most people visit Hamta to trek down its valley but we wanted to just enjoy the sunset and a snack instead. If you visit Hamta and decide to go trekking, please note that people always need a proper guide to cross certain glaciers out there. For those who have more time to spare, can consider extending their journey towards the beautiful Chandrataal lake near Spiti Valley.
Trout river fish is to Manali what butter chicken is to Punjab and Delhi NCR, it is staple fare at all restaurants out there. Trout fish was introduced by the British in Himachal Pradesh more than a century ago. The valleys of Himachal Pradesh have numerous places for trout fishing, including Katrain, Raison, Kasol and Naggar, Sainj Valley and many more.
The abundance of trout fish explains the ease of its availability and economical pricing at markets and restaurants too. If or when you visit or revisit Manali, don’t forget to enjoy a fresh trout fish fry (or in any other preparation you prefer) with a cold pint of beer or fruity wine.
My friends had told me that Club Mahindra Manali usually organizes exclusive dinner experiences for their guests and we were fortunate enough to experience their Himachali menu during our stay.
Siddu is a native Himachali street food delicacy, it is a kind of stuffed-bread made from wheat flour, loved and consumed by inhabitants and tourists mostly in regions of Mandi, Kullu, Manali, Rohru and Shimla. The ghee (clarified butter) topped on the bread helps in maintaining an ideal body temperature during excessively cold weathers and snowfalls.
After a heavily satisfying Himachali meal, we decided to call it a night and catch up on adequate sleep before we left to visit Dhakpo Shedrupling Monastery in Kaise (pronounced as Kais) which is open to the public, located in a serene and picturesque view of mountains surrounding it.
Our experience at Dhakpo Shedrupling Monastery was not merely a picturesque delight. It turned out to be one of those supremely serene places to revive my faith and inner peace.
The chirping of birds nearby, the whispering of winds flowing rapidly everywhere, the mighty mountains at a distance, the soft prayer chants sung in unison by monks, the melodious sounds of bells and drums… Almost everything contributing to the overall vibe of this place, makes it so positive and calming to the soul that you will promise yourself to return for another visit soon, just like we did.
We returned to the Club for a quick breakfast and a deservingly relaxing nap before we visited our favourite People Cafe at Old Manali Market later that evening and left for Delhi airport early next morning.
After breakfast, we left for Old Manali – a village with a 3-kilometer-long uphill main street, with shops located on both of its sides of the street.
During the season period, this market street gets shockingly crowded but because we were there during the end of this year’s season, we couldn’t find many of the shops or restaurants open at that time.
We always order the fried rice and chicken chilli at People Cafe, especially during winter, and I was certainly not in the mood to try anything new, probably because we were leaving the next day.
We left People Art Cafe after sunset and decided to enjoy a few drinks, some appetizers and then sing songs with other guests at Club Mahindra. The Club had even organized for a bonfire outside, in their garden’s lawn. It was peaceful and magical.
It was time to say goodbye and leave Manali at sunrise on the next day. We had a long 12-hour-journey on road from Manali to Delhi airport as all flights from Chandigarh were taken when we booked our tickets.
A year-round magnet for tourists, couples, families and solo backpackers – Manali is frequented by people from all four directions of the world. Backpackers come to hang out in the hippie villages, adventurers go for trekking/climbing/river-rafting/skiing and honeymooners to fall in love with its breathtaking views.
Manali, we hope to be back soon!
For more information about Club Mahindra Manali,
– THE BIG BHOOKAD