Manali (250 kilometers north of Shimla) is a hill station popular with hippies, mountain climbers, trekkers and Tibetans. Home to about 8,000 permanent residents, it is set amidst lovely forests of towering cedar trees and circled by snow-capped Himalayan peaks. Some of the people that live in this area are Parbatya (high caste mountain people). The Jot people are culturally close to Tibetans. In the high plain you can find semi-nomadic Champas.
Nestled in the Himalayas at the northern end of the Kullu Valley, Manali lies by the Beas river at a height of 1,926 meters (6,318 feet) above sea level. Floral meadows, green slopes, apple orchards. Igurgling streams, snow-capped mountains, lofty mountain passes, temples and Buddhist monasteries can be found in and around the town. Some of the world’s best hashish is produced in the Kullu and Pavrati valleys to the south.
Manali has a good selection of budget accommodation. Mall Road in old Manali offers several options for shopping. Among the things you can buy are handcrafted wooden trinkets to woollen shawls and Buddhist prayers wheels, Manali is a shopping paradise. The Tibetan Market is a great place to buy shawls, silver jewelry, rugs and bamboo trinkets.
Manali also finds a place in the pages of Hindu mythology. It is said that one day, Varvasvata, who was the seventh incarnation of Manu, writer of the ancient text Manusmriti, found a tiny fish in the water he was bathing in. The fish asked him to take care of it as one day it would be of great service to him. He obeyed and took care of the fish until it grew up and then released it into the sea. Before leaving, the fish warned him that a flood would drown the world and advised him to build an ark. When the deluge came, Varvasvata and the seven sages were taken to safety by the fish, who is believed to be the first incarnation of Lord Vishnu. It is said that when the water receded, the ark came to rest on a hillside that was later named Manali, after Manu. As the water slowly dried, life and natural beauty came alive again and a breathtaking sight was presented to Varvasvata.
Getting There: By Air: Bhuntar Airport in Kullu, at a distance of approximately 50 kilometers, is the closest airport to Manali. Regular flight services connect it to New Delhi and Chandigarh. By Road: It is very convenient to take a bus from Shimla (about 248 kilometers), Kullu (about 40km), Dharamsala (about 236 kilometers), and New Delhi (about 554 kilometers) to reach Manali. These bus services are operated by both, state-run and privately-owned companies. By Train: The train station at Joginder Nagar in the Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh is nearest to Manali. It is connected to many Indian cities by regular rail service and is located about 160 kilometers from Manali.
Activities in the Manali Area
Manali is major center of for hiking, climbing, fishing mountaineering and hashish smoking. There is good trout fishing in the River Beas and skiing at Rohtang. Skiing Skiing can also be enjoyed in the Solang Valley, about 12 kilometers from Manali, Gulaba, Dhundi and Marhi. The Manali area is home to many natural springs and lakes. Water sports can be enjoyed in the Pong Dam or Maharana Pratap Sagar, which is 42 kilometers long and 2 kilometers wide.
There are wonderful walking trails around Manali that are ideal for day hikes and longer treks. These range from easy and moderate to difficult and can take you to places like Solang Valley, Lama Dug, Jogni Waterfalls and Gulam Lang. Nearby trekking destinations include lush green Solang Nallah, several small glaciers Beas Kund and Naggra. More serious treks head to 13,500-foot-high Chandratal Lake, 15,000-foot-high Baralacha Pass, Deo Tibba, and Dharamsala.
Mountaineering and rock climbing can be enjoyed at many locations in Manali and its surrounding areas. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports located here sports offers training for beginning and advanced climbing. It also organizes rock, climbing, skiing, heliskiing and high-altitude trekking courses and trips.
Jeep safari also gives one an opportunity to get a close look at how people live in the mountains and explore the beautiful surroundings and the highest mountain peaks. Kullu town, around 40 kilometers from Manali, offers whitewater rafting on the Beas river. The best time is from January to June and from September to December.
Sights in Manali
Hadimba Temple is a place of historical and archaeological importance. Also known as Dhoongri Temple, it is dedicated to Goddess Hadimba, the wife of Bhima, a figure from the epic Mahabharata.. The temple is said to have been constructed by the raja of Kullu, Maharaja Bahadur Singh, in 1553. It is a quaint structure with a four-tiered pagoda-shaped roof and a wooden doorway that is adorned with carvings of mythological figures and symbols of gods and goddesses, animals, designs resembling leaves and episodes depicting Lord Krishna’s life. The inner sanctum, however, does not house an idol.
Nestled amidst a dense deodar forest, the temple offers picturesque views to visitors, who can also walk around the temple complex and explore the nearby trails. Around 200 meters south of the temple stands a scared tree, which is supposed to represent Bhima's son Gatothkach. In view of its historical and architectural importance, the temple was declared protected as a Monument of National Importance on April 18, 1967. The temple has also featured prominently in several Bollywood movies including Roja (1992) and Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani (2013). Tourists enjoy taking pictures with white fluffy angora rabbits and yaks here
Museum of Himachal Culture & Folk Art (next to Hadimba Temple) established in 1998 and contains scale-sized models of temples and forts in and around Kullu Valley, along with displays that include traditional textiles, garments and jewelry, furniture, architectural wood carving, dance masks and masks representing devtas (religious deities), religious relics and indigenous musical instruments.
Vashisth (4 kilometers from Manaili) is said to be named after sage Vashistha , one of the most revered Hindu sages, and is known for its hot sulphur springs, whose waters are believed to have healing powers. Adjoining the springs is the Vashisht Temple. Said to be over 4,000 years old, this temple is dedicated Vashistha. Close by is another temple, which is dedicated to Lord Rama. From Vashith are the best views of River Beas and Old Manali. Most of the shops in this village sell woollen garments. The houses are built in the traditional style of thatched roofs with intricate woodwork.
Manali Nature Park (two kilometers from the main Manali town) forms the catchment of Manalsu Khad. Covering an area of 31.8 square kilometers and established in 1954, it is characterized by dense deodar, kail, horse chestnut, walnut and maple trees. Musk deer, monals, brown bears and leopards can be spotted here, while its higher reaches are home to ibex and snow leopard. Some of the most-spotted wildlife in this sanctuary includes the Himalayan black bear, Himalayan palm civet, Himalayan yellow-throated marten, Kashmir flying squirrel, flying fox and barking deer. In addition to having a wide variety of flora and fauna, the sanctuary also offers stunning views of the snow-capped peaks of the surrounding mountains. You can camp overnight at the park also known as Manali Wildlife Sanctuary or Manali Sanctuary.
Popular sights in the Manali area include Arjun Gufa, Jagat Sukh, the Bhutti Weavers Colony, Manikaran hot springs and Rahla Valley. Bir Billing bills itself as the paragliding capital of the world and has a sizeable community of Tibetan refugees and several Tibetan monasteries. At the head of the heavily forested Kullu Valley is 3,718-meter (12,200) foot-high Rotang Pass, which leads into the high dry plateau and heavily glaciated mountains of the Lahaul and Spiti valleys. Rotang Pass is also the border between Indian Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. The Lahual and Spiti valley towns of Karding, Shashur and Tayal are filled with stupas, prayer flags and Tibetan Monasteries. Up until fairly recently Rotang Pass was one of the most important passes on the caravan routes between India, China and Central Asia.
Jagatsukh (12 kilometers from Manali at the northern end of Kullu Valley on the left bank of River Beas) is quaint town with several temples and is considered to be one of the biggest towns in Kullu Valley. Local lore says that it was the first capital of Himachal Pradesh. The most popular attraction in the area is a unique shikhara-style temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Sandhya Gayatri. Along with being a prominent pilgrimage site, Jagatsukh is also a favored honeymoon destination, offering scenic views of surrounding snow-capped mountains, meadows and orchards. Jagatsukh serves as a base for the trek to the base camp of Deo Tibba. This trail offers unparalleled views of the mighty Himalayas.
Naggar (21 kilometers from Manali, 26 kilometers from Kullu) is a small town, situated at an altitude of about 1,851 meters (6,072 feet). Situated on the banks of River Beas, and was founded by Raja Visudhpal and continued as headquarters of the state until the capital was transferred to Sultanpur (Kullu) by Jagat Singh, the ruler of Kullu in 1460. The town has a good climate. While summers are pleasant, winters are quite cold. One of the must-see sights in this picturesque town is the Naggar Castle, which is said to have been built by the rulers of Kullu around 1500, before being turned into a courthouse by the British in 1846, and ultimately a hotel in 1976. Exhibits depicting the town's rich culture and history can be found at the International Roerich Memorial Trust and the Urusvati Himalayan Folk Art Museum. The latter was established for the sole purpose of preserving the folk art and craft of the region. The nearest airport is at Bhunter, about 36 kilometers away.
Rohtang Pass (51 kilometers from Manali) is the stunning 3,978-meter (13,051-foot) -high pass and a gateway to Lahaul-Spiti, Pangi Valley and the Ladakh region. One of the most scenic places in Himachal Pradesh, the pass remains snow-covered for most of the year and is reasonably good only from June to October. Lying on the watershed between the basins of the Chenab and Beas rivers, the pass makes for picturesque drives. It is said to have once served as an ancient trade route for people living on either side of the Pir Panjal range. During summer, visitors can access the snow-covered slopes here and engage in snow scooter rides, skiing and mountain biking. But accessing this pass requires special permit, which is valid for only one day, and can be obtained from the Tourism Development Council.The road route in the area will be shortened by about 46 kilometers (29 miles) when the Atal Tunnel is opened in 2020, avoiding the Rohtang Pass.
Kullu and the Kullu Valley
Kullu (200 kilometers north of Shimla, 40 kilometers south of Manali) is the center of a valley with the same name that in Hindi that translates to "Valley of the Gods." Everyvillage has its own deity and during the annual Dussehra Mela, images of the deities are carried through the streets on palanquins to a court presided over by the god Ragahunathji. There are several well-trodden trekking routes. October to February is considered to be the best time to visit Kullu.
The Kullu Valley is a narrow but open valley in Himachal Pradesh formed by the Beas River between Manali and Largi. Situated between Pir Panjal, the Lower Himalayan and Himalayan Ranges, this valley is famous for its temples, majestic Himalayan foot hills, pine and deodar forest and sprawling orchards of plum and apple trees which are full of blossoms in the spring.
The Kullu (Kulu) Valley is 75 kilometers long and two to four kilometers wide and occupying an area of 547 square kilometers, and ending at the famous Rohtang pass. Naggar Castle, Nehru Kund, Roerich Art Gallery, Hidimba Temple are main attractions of this valley. According to local lore, Kullu was known as Kulanthpitha in the past, meaning the end point of the inhabitable world. It also finds mention in the Hindu epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Historians are of an opinion that once upon a time, Kullu boasted several Buddhist monasteries, along with numerous Hindu temples, and that people of both faiths co-existed peacefully in the Kullu Valley. The valley is once said to have been rich in gold, silver, red copper, crystal and bell metal.
Parvati Valley (between Shimla and Manali) branches off from the Kullu Valley and extends from the confluence of the Parvati River and the River Beas eastwards, through a steep-sided valley from the town of Bhuntar, in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, The Parvati Valley's main attractions are scenic trekking routes, mountains, temples and hashish.
Aprecipitous valley road climbs past a side valley leading to the village of Malana near the famous tourist spot Kasol. From here, the road passes through the Sikh and Hindu pilgrimage town of Manikaran and terminates at Pulga, where the construction of the Parvati Hydel Project, a hydroelectric dam, dominates the landscape. From Pulga, the footpath climbs to a temple and small dhaba at Rudra-Nag waterfall, apparently after its resemblance of a water snake. Beyond Rudra-Nag waterfall, the trail ascends further through thick pine forests to the spiritual site of Kheerganga where Shiva is said to have meditated for 3000 years. The hot springs at Kheerganga are extremely important for Hindu and Sikh pilgrims as well as many others who believe the waters have sacred healing properties.
From Kheerganga to the site of Tunda Bhuj village (3285 meters) the Parvati Valley cuts a steep-sided gorge through the mountains and as the altitude increases, the thick, coniferous forest gradually makes way for patches of meadowland scattered with boulders. Several tributaries join the main Parvati River and numerous waterfalls cascade down the steep valley sides. Beyond Tunda Bhuj, the conifers continue only as far as the Basuki Nal tributary but groves of silver birch continue to line the valley, quickly becoming sparse as the altitude increases.
At Thakur Kuan village (3560 meters), the Parvati Valley meets the valley of Dibibokri Nal river which is a tributary of Parvati River, which climbs towards the Northeast to the Dibibokri Glacier and Dibibokri Pyramid mountain peak (6400 meters). The area is characterised by abundant alpine flowers and rocky outcrops glittering with mica. Beyond Thakur Kuan village, the Parvati Valley ascends gradually to Pandupul village (Pandu Pul) where two natural, rock bridges cross the Parvati River and a southern tributary. According to legend, these bridges were created by the massive strength of the Pandava brothers.
From Pandupul, the wide valley of the upper Parvati valley climbs gradually through the wide, high-altitude meadowland of Odi Thatch to the sacred site of Mantalai Lake (4100m), the source of the Parvati River. Continuing east from Mantalai lake, it is possible to cross the Pin Parvati Pass (5319m) into the Pin Valley National Park and on to the Mudh village in the Lahul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh.
Charas (Hashish) from Himachal Pradesh
Although charas can be found in several places around India, it is produced mainly in a handful of specific places, mainly in the Parvati Valley, (Kasol, Rasol, Malana ("Malana cream"), Kulu Valley and Kashmir. The hashish from Himachal Pradesh is regarded as being the best quality in India. It is easily available in Shimla and Manali and almost everywhere in Himachal Pradesh, which is one reason why the area is so popular with backpackers, hippies and druggies.
Toostonedtoplay.com reports: Good Indian hash is always a pleasure to smoke. Often produced in the northern valleys such as Parvatti, charas is made by hand rubbing techniques rather than the sieving method favored in the Middle East. You might expect this then to contain a higher amount of contaminants, but in fact because of the colder and less dusty climate in the growing regions, contaminant levels are often low in the better examples. [Source: toostonedtoplay.com]
“Indian Hash has a deeper and sweeter taste than Afghan. It can be less aromatic but more pungent in pure cannabis aroma. The smell is pleasant and the taste bold and pine fresh without the spice that ones find in Afghani hash. Watch out for repressed Indian hash which is of lower quality (Gold Seal) and sometimes comes from Pakistan. Good charas should be highly maniable and pungent. Indian hash fingers are usually of lower quality than the charas. Unfortunately, good Indian hash is seldom seen outside of India, and it is often mixed or polluted with plant matter before export to the West. Quantities do become available from time to time, however.
Manala and Manali Cream: India’s Best Hashish
Malana is an isolated village and area in Himachal Pradesh with 4,700 people located in the Malana Nala, a side valley of the Parvati Valley to the north-east of Kullu Valley,. Shadowed by the Himalayan peaks of Chanderkhani and Deo Tibba, it is situated on a remote plateau by the side of the torrential Malana river, at a height of 2,652 meters (8,701 ft) above sea level. Malana has its own lifestyle and social structure and people are strict in following their customs. Malana has been the subject of various documentaries, including “Malana: Globalization of a Himalayan Village,” and “Malana, A Lost Identity.” Kanashi is the traditional language of the inhabitants of Malana. The most common way to get to Malana is by taxi or bus from Jhari.
Malana is famous for its “Malana Cream”, regarded as high purity hashish made by rubbing cannabis flowers between the hands repeatedly, pulling out the resin to generate a layer of sticky hashish across the palm. During hand-harvesting, live cannabis plants' flowering buds are rubbed between the palms of the harvesters' hands for a long time, yielding around 8 or 9 grams of charas at the end of the day. The faster one works, the lower the quality of charas; hence to make "Malana cream" it is necessary to go very slowly and make only a few grams a day. Nowadays production of cannabis in the Himalayas has increased with growing demand for Malana cream; the ancient art of manufacturing is disappearing under the pressure to capitalize on the domestic and international market for charas.
Malana Cream and Manali Cream are made made the same way but come from different areas. The names are often used interchangeably, mistakenly or under false pretenses. Toostonedtoplay.com reports: “Good Indian hash comes from the Northern provinces, north of Delhi near the Kulu valley. An earthy and tasty hash, Manali is aromatic and pleasant. Manali Cream tends to be of higher strength and well worth buying. An interesting fact is that the Kulu valley produces only between 2-3 tonnes of hand rubbed charas annually. Easily confused with Manali, Malana is made from plants in the Parvatti valley. Malana hash a slightly darker consistency but is just as potent, also available in the Cream variety.” [Source: toostonedtoplay.com]
Dailysmoker.com reports: Parvati Valley in northern India is a place where the finest hashish of the world comes from. The 'Manali Cream' is known all over the world for its incredible and amazing quality. I had the luck to visit that area in The Himalayas a few years ago and one of my goals while being there was to score some of that famous 'Charas'. Well, that was not difficult, trust me, it's all over the place. The people in that area are very poor and the cultivation and production of hashish gives them the possibility to make a better living for themselves. [Source: dailysmoker.com, Saturday 17 December 2011 +++]
“Although it's illegal over there, just as anywhere else, the police did not seem to care. Besides the fact that smoking hashish is completely incorporated in the Indian culture, that area in northern India is so incredible huge, that it's practically impossible to really do something serious against the cultivation of cannabis. +++
“But every now and then, a new police chief stands up and tries to make name for himself by going into the valley and destroying all the cannabis fields he can find. A video by two French journalists who went along with such an officer into the Parvati Valley perfectly shows how totally useless it is trying to destroy the hashish culture in India. Cannabis grows there even next to the police station (huh, they don't even notice?!) and during the destruction of a field of cannabis plants one of the police officers quickly tries to make some hashish for himself. I almost pissed my pants.” +++
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: India tourism website (incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020