The road North and Manali

Manali Travel Blog

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Old Manali, gateway to the Indian Himalaya
From Delhi, in theory we would be getting ourselves and our bikes to Manali, as Cass and Cara were still there with the previous group, but in practice we were simply receiving a masterclass in Cara's genius planning skills. With no direct train service, the HPTDC (Himachal Pradesh Tourist Development Corporation) bus service is the most reliable, cheap and straightforward way of getting to Manali from Delhi, leaving from behind the Chanderlok building on Janpath just south of Connaught Circus. 15 hours overnight on a bus is never going to be pleasant, but Cara's cunning plan involved buying each of us two seats which turned the experience from potential hell to dreamy road movie as we dozed our way North, the mayhem of Delhi's sprawl steadily replaced by the monotony of the open road.
Sunshine Guesthouse

The much-touted aircon on our coach lasted 4 or 5 hours before giving up, so we stood by and watched as the driver and his assistant happily troubleshot the problem in pitch darkness - our first introduction to Indian resourcefulness and determination. The light from our headtorches gave them a fighting chance at a fix, but it soon failed again - an electrical problem of some sort with the knock-on effect of limiting our headlights to a weak glow, not that this slowed the driver down one bit.

Dawn found us in the foothills of the Himalaya - a strange combination of mountain views and humid temperatures which felt very alien - and by breakfast we were well into the Kullu Valley and within sight of Manali. With a fortnight of hard biking and camping ahead of us, Manali was the perfect traveller-friendly starting point to unwind after the long haul plane and bus epic. I didn't expected to find superb bruschetta, but there it was in Old Manali's Pizza Olive; I didn't expect to be tempted by the BEST warm chocolate chip cookies, but there they were at Dylan's coffee shop; I did expect to be blown away by great fried momos, and the Tibetan Kitchen didn't disappoint. Not exactly an authentic Indian experience, but it was a restful few days to prepare for the journey ahead.

Manali base camp was the Sunshine Guesthouse, a characterful Raj-era hill station property in Old Manali, a kilometre or so up the hill from, you've guessed it, New Manali. Auto rickshaws were twice the price going up as on the way down as the driver simply switched off the engine and let gravity take over. After a couple of days exploring the hils and nearby Vashisht, a short day ride allowed us to check the bikes were OK, but sadly ended with a crash for fellow rider Kerry, and the end of her biking trip before it really began - a reminder of the potential for mishap (literally) around every corner, or in Kerry's case in the middle of a corner as a patch of dust pulled her front wheel from underneath her. One final group meal included my last beer for a fortnight and were all ready for the off.

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Old Manali, gateway to the Indian …
Old Manali, gateway to the Indian…
Sunshine Guesthouse
Sunshine Guesthouse
photo by: debrasiegel