Manali/1: Arrival

Until almost a month ago the plan was to visit Chibo, this picturesque hamlet in the district of Kalimpong. Then while checking the flights our respective jaws almost dropped to the ground (screw the airlines companies and their oligopolistic pricing) and as always I just blurted out my true wish. “Let’s go to Himachal instead!” However the sudden change of mind was received without any brickbat and I was represented with the next choice. Dharamshala or Manali? Umm to be honest my heart’s deepest, truest desire was neither of the two. It was the third one – Spiti. But time was luxury commodity and I thought perhaps it would be prudent to start the Himachal Pradesh chapter with an easier option. After two days of absolute confusion and dilemma (damn my INFP mind) I picked Manali. Reason? Well, the first reason was that I simply wanted a change from my usual Buddhist inclination and explore the other aspects of the Himalayas. Hence began my trip to Manali – the land of Mahabharata and Hindu mythology. And I wasn’t disappointed. Not even a bit.

Journey was long and hectic. Flight to Delhi, then train to Chandigarh, then bus to Manali. I was utterly amazed to be pointed out that I (we) had covered five modes of transportation within a span of 24 hours, including the cab journeys in between and the metro ride to New Delhi railway station. Whatever little I saw of Delhi on my way to Chandigarh and during coming back I did not like the capital of India. Half of it could be attributed to psychological reason, built up presumptions over the past few years. Rest was simply because of a lack of greenery.  My not-so-high-profile Calcutta is way better than this urban desert. Almost ten hours later looking out of the running cab Chandigarh city seemed much nicer to me. After a smooth ride through a very well planned and beautiful city came the part of the journey I was most excited about – the overnight bus ride. My co-traveler was a little apprehensive about my endurance as I had never been on a night bus journey before. Soon after the journey started our overenthusiastic HRTC conductor guy started the TV – B grade Bollywood actors churning out C grade comedy. However, after a joint objection from the entire bus he spared us the nightmare and turned off the TV. Eventually the entire bus went off to sleep. As for me, whatever little exhaustion I had been feeling was immediately gone the moment the bus started climbing up. Mountains! No matter how badly they were burning I couldn’t take my eyes off the road. Ever see a river flowing through the mountains on a full moon night? Like an endless silver of magic ribbon the Beas was unfolding herself against the dark silhouettes of the hills looming over like ancient guards. Now you have entered their kingdom, you gotta bow your head before them and pay your respect. I can't tell when my eyes finally gave in to the battle between body and mind. When the morning light hit the eyes the bus had already reached Kullu. I dozed off again.

Apart from disheveled hair and slightly burning eyes I was in perfect composure when the bus reached Manali bus stand at about 8 o’ clock on the chilly Saturday morning. I got down. My legs felt a little stiff from sitting for almost nine hours. I looked up; eyes squinted a little bit due to the morning glare reflecting from the snow-capped mountains far off. The ongoing cacophony around me vanished for a moment. I took a deep breath. Ah yes, I am home.

The name Manali was originated from Tatsama word Manu-alaya – the abode of Manu. Manu is considered to be the father of human race. The Hindu version of Noah. So when the great flood hit the world and everything needed a fresh start Manu disembarked off his ark in Manali and set up his home here. Needless to say, that happened a long time ago. So every tourist place or temple in and around Manali comes with an indefinite chronological tag. It either goes back to the Great Flood or the time the Pandavas paid their visit. Ok, compare to the first incident the Pandavas look like incorrigible, infant grandchildren of Vyasdev. Cut to the present time – Manali is an overcrowded, over-commercialized tourist destination. Or to be precise, honeymoon destination. I couldn’t keep a count of arms with fading henna marks and chudas roaming about all over the city, with respective owners displaying little too much enthusiasm and misfit outfits. I might sound a little bitchy but what else is there to do when you are sitting right in the middle of an esplanade? After taking photos of the entire place from every possible angle one is left with the most interesting thing about a crowded place – the people who made the crowd.

Me doing my usual stuff - making friends

However, it was our first day in the homeland of Manu and we did not have much energy left to move around after that overnight journey. So we rented a bike (Manai traffic is crazy; so is the road condition. If you wish to actually see the places during your stay, a two-wheeler might be the best option.), came to Mall Road and decided to have lunch at Chopsticks, right on Mall Road itself. While doing pre-trip research on Manali, this Sino-Tibetan restaurant appeared in almost all the ‘Best Places to Eat in Manali’ lists. However, they serve crazy quantities. I don’t know what their profit margin is like. But if you don’t want to wake up next morning and see your companion sitting on the bed and eating cold dumplings and fried rice from last night’s takeaway parcel and also insisting you to have a bite, that too with a proud smile on their face; don’t go overboard while ordering.

To be continued