There are stunning views of snow capped mountains in every direction in Manali. Why we thought that getting an even better up-close and personal view of snow would be a good idea remains a mystery. But our driver said we should go up to “snow point”, an hour north of Manali. The road turned out to be an order of magnitude worse than the road that we used to get to Manali from Mandi. Boulders were on the road from innumerable rockslides, several sections of the road had washed out, the potholes could (and did) break axles, and one-lane sections had to accommodate both directions of travel. In spite of these conditions, we found ourselves in a lemming-like convoy of tourist busses, vans and cars. We knew it was going to be a less-than-ideal experience when we reached the first of the infinite number of shanties lining both sides of the road offering “for hire” full body ski suits, rubber boots, vintage skis, and full length winter coats that looked like they were made of synthetic yak wool and weighed 100 pounds each. In front of each shanty was a hand-painted sign that read “Shop No. 341” or “Shop No. 749” etc. And each item “for hire” prominently displayed the number of the shop that had put it out “for hire”.
The cars, vans and busses reached a point of gridlock about half a mile short of the final destination. Everyone then continued on foot through the slush,including the women in high heels. With very few exceptions, the tourists were from other parts of India, and it appeared that most of them had never seen snow before. There was a circus-like atmosphere at the end of the road that words cannot describe, and that we fled after just a few minutes. Luckily our driver was able to extricate our car from the gridlock and we made our escape. Just in time, we discovered the next morning. A short while after we left, a major rockslide blocked the road and stranded everyone else up on the mountain for more than 4 or 5 hours.
I always had envisioned trekking as activity reserved for people who do triathlons, or run up and down Mt Everest in an afternoon. Here in India our form of trekking means a walk in the woods. And that’s how we found ourselves one fine spring afternoon strolling through a nearby, most charming village, past the hot springs and up a gently winding path toward a waterfall.
The little village was built on a steep hillside and probably got its genesis from the hot spring and adjacent temple located in its center. Now it’s got its fair share of a multinational mix of cafes and tea stalls as well as an aging hippie or two. It seems that eating well and continuously is one of the prime activities here. Puppies and new born calves wandered about and children played a game that consisted of throwing a ball and knocking the top off small piles of stones. Women walked by carrying loads of firewood on their backs.
Beyond the village center, where the road ends, there are only narrow winding alleys with houses squeezed onto concrete terraces up and down the hillside. There are no open fields because of the very steep slope of the hillside. Therefore, each family’s cows simply live on the concrete terrace outside the family’s front door. As often as not, that concrete terrace on which the cows live also serves as the roof of the house on terrace below. All the concrete, rebars, gravel and other construction materials get carried to the construction sites on the backs of the villagers, both men and women. And all the cow manure gets removed from the village the same way.
There was always something interesting to look at as we made our way first through narrow streets, down mossy trails set next to meadows and then in the woods until the towering falls came into view. Apple and cherry trees were in bloom and bougainvillea flowed over many of the old concrete dwellings. Spring was in the air, which put a spring into our step until David decided a nap was in order.
What do you call a holiday in which both children and adults joyously paint themselves and each other with colored powder? People in India call it Holi but I call it a photographer’s dream come true.
You can read all about the holiday by clicking on this link:
Everything you need to know about Holi
We assumed that Himachal Pradesh (the state in Northern India where Manali is located) celebrated Holi on March 27, just like the rest of India. Therefore we felt no concern about heading out of town the day before. We went to a place called Nagga to visit a lovely wooden castle and an art gallery of the marvelous Russian painter Nicholas Roerich, who painted the mountains surrounding the village.
about Nicholas Roerich