We hadn’t intended to take a night bus, but Delhi to Manali is 15 hours so they all go overnight. We consoled ourselves with the thought that this will probably be our last night bus.
At 4:30pm we checked out of the hotel and were walked down the road to the bus ticket office. Other tourists arrived led by someone from their hotel. When there were about 8 of us we were led by 2 guys from the bus office in some kind of backpacker walking bus, down the Main Bazaar, across the road underneath the metro station and down onto a wide, quiet backstreet. There we all set up camp on the pavement to wait for the bus. Surprisingly it wasn’t very late and more surprisingly it was a proper semi-sleeper sleek black luxury coach. There was the usual faffing, confusion and messing about to get us all loaded, an efficient operation it is not. The bus guys have to be tipped 10 rupees just for putting your bag underneath.
We had seat numbers but there were no numbers on the bus, us and 2 guys got taken to seats near the back. The rest of the tourists were sat at the front as they weren’t staying on our bus just being taken to meet another. In perfect timing as we got on a proper monsoon shower started. As we drove through the streets to some kind of informal bus station where some passengers swapped buses we encountered for the first time cows wandering aimlessly wherever they pleased.
The bus journey wasn’t so bad, Indian roads are good compared to most we have been on this trip. The seat across from us was empty so we pinched it and had a pair of seats each. There was bugger all leg room once the seats were reclined but the extra seat each meant that we both got a bit more sleep than usual. We arrived in Manali sometime after 8am. As we got off we got touted for jeeps (even to Leh which is another 24 odd hours away), autorickshaws and taxis but unlike Delhi it was all done calmly and no one is really in your face. However, because we were still in city mode our default was just to say no to everything. We like to get our bags off the bus and on our backs and then see what the options are and negotiate for whatever it is we want.
Most people don’t stay in Manali town itself but in Old Manali (where we had chosen to head) 2.5km from Manali . A young guy offered us a taxi for the same price as an autorickshaw because he lived in Old Manali, he spoke quietly and had a gentle manner about him. We believed him when he said we could ask around to check that this was the price. In his taxi on the way up we got the ‘I have a guesthouse’ story – here we go, we thought to ourselves. We don’t mind being touted when they are actually selling something we want but we do want a fair deal and we don’t want to be messed about. We have discovered that many Indian guys do banter pretty well so we bantered with him. We knew that he understood why we were grilling him- ‘how much?’ ‘is that the real price?’ ‘is that with a bathroom?’ and ‘is there hot water?’ and ‘are these photos the photos of the actual room?’. It was all good humored and we agreed to take a ‘no obligation look’ and he agreed to take us to where we had originally intended to head if we didn’t like his place.
Basically Old Manali is on a hill, the Main Bazaar (main road) goes up the hill. His guesthouse is at the very very top of the hill so he has to tout for business as people looking would not walk that far, nor find it for that matter. At the end of the road at the very top you have to walk up a steep and winding (typical Himalayan) path. The pay back for the climb – fantastic views. We took the upstairs corner room with big windows on 2 sides and a balcony. We looked out onto some very big mountains, the biggest peaks that only revealed themselves occasionally had snow on them. The sides of the mountains were steep and in many places sheer. We could see numerous waterfalls running down the sides. The air was cool and fresh and sitting at just over 2,000m high we weren’t at high altitude (2,500m is considered high altitude) so there was no thin air to deal with. We were very happy.
We had come to Manali because our ultimate destination is Leh in Ladakh sitting high in the Indian Himalayas. You can fly in and risk altitude sickness or you can overland it via on of two long arduous three day overland routes. One is better than the other in that it doesn’t go over such high passes but it goes through a really dodgy part of Kashmir. The other route and the one that nearly everyone takes – involves going to Manali then to Keylong and finally a very long hard road to Leh. Going overland and going slowly helps acclimatisation and reduces the risk of altitude sickness.
We spent 2 days in Old Manali. It is a laid back traveller kind of place. We browsed the numerous shops on the Main Bazaar selling t-shirts and the normal hippy style clothing. Marie bought a couple of t-shirts as most of hers are only fit for the bin and a warm coat as she doesn’t like the one she has been carrying. Apart from that we drank lots of black tea and did lots of short walks, While not a useful height for acclimatisation we figured that to come from Delhi at less than 300m it would do us no harm. We walked to Manali, past a bunch of monkeys and up the other side of the ridge we were facing, to temples and part way up a path to a village, which we abandoned when the route became very unclear and got muddy. Basically it was a bit of relaxation before the hard journey ahead.
- Wild cannabis grows in abundance but people don’t seem to bother too much with it
- There are giant slugs, literally they are the size of a turd
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