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Relaxing in Manali

 Our first day of the Manali-Shimla trip was a disaster, thanks largely to Kingfisher Airlines (KF) botching up our schedules. Our flight was cancelled and we weren't informed on time. We were put on a newly pressed KF Red flight that was to have departed two hours behind our original schedule, which got further delayed by another hour. So we reached Chandigarh at about 4 pm and started for Manali at 5 pm. After 11 agonising hours navigating one of the worst-kept roads I have ever seen and constant throwing up, I reached Manali next morning at 4 am.

We didn't do anything much on day#2 except sleep and take rest. Manali is a beautiful place to go if you haven't seen it already. We've pretty much lost the main town to rampant construction and civilisation, but the outskirts of Manali and the surrounding scenery is beautiful. Large and never-ending mountain ranges, mountains so tall they seem to reach the sky, lush green deodhar trees like forests dotting the hills and mountainous landscape with snow-covered peaks is what you'll get to amply in Manali. If you haven't seen snow, Manali is one of the best places to see it. Many homes in Manali, in general, are not well-built, they seem like a bunch of boxes, though they aren't as eyesore as those that you get to see in Shimla. I remember when I had gone to Darjeeling in 2004, homes lined up on roads were so pretty. Even though they housed extremely modest families, they would still know how to beautify their houses. Practically every house in Darjeeling and surrounding areas, including many in Kalimpong and Gangtok, would be dotted with flower pots with flowers of all sorts of colours. Their entire parapets would have flower pots and their love to maintain their houses would be seen in abundance.

Rohtang Pass is one of the biggest attraction in Manali; about 50 kms from the main town. It's a serpentine road full of hair pin bends and a long road to climb up tall mountains to go to this narrow pass that takes you all the way to Laddakh. I did not find anything special in Rohtang Pass since I've gone to Nathula pass and Tsongma lake in Gangtok, 16,000 ft above sea level. Still, if you wish to see plenty of snow, Rohtang pass would appeal to you. The best way to enjoy Rohtang is to leave as early as 5 am from Manali and reach Rohtang as early as possible. If you start late, you'll encounter a lot of traffic. Hence, leave early in the morning. Also, either take your car all the way to the top from where you can get to see a clear view of the Rohtang-Laddakh road (Laddakh side of the mountain) or stop at a place where we stopped, a km before the Rohtang top, and then go all the way to the top on snow on the back of the mountain yak. Since it's very cold and breezy, you need to wear a special gear; a snow suit, gloves and snow boots. They are available on rent at the many shops that are lined up on the Manali-Rohtang road. Be prepared to be fleeced here though; our shop charged Rs600 for a pair. Besides, our suits were very dirty, so try and haggle for a cleaner suit and a better price. I doubt if they allow for bargaining though.

Naggar valley and the home of the great Russian artist, Nikolai Roerich (yesteryear's Bollywood actress Devika Rani's father-in-law) are another interesting places to visit. I was fascinated with the road that connects Manali town and Naggar. Take a few pictures of the Naggar valley and savour the tree-lined road.  I also visited the Hadimba temple and had a sumptuous lunch at the Johnson's Cafe. You must have food at the Johnson's Cafe, one of the best places to eat in Manali. Have the Trout fish; it's specialty. I also had the lasagna which was very tasty. Prices are reasonable and it's a garden restaurant, so the setting is perfect. It's very close to the main market, so it's very convenient to reach.

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