Manali. We don’t think there’s any place that gets us in the heart like Manali. At least for now.
Not that Manali actually gets us. Or we get Manali. Y’know, we don’t pretty much do the cream and stuff. And Z had to marvel at each and everyone who spoke to her in Hindi, and later explain in English that her Hindi is poor. And say she’s Sri Lankan. Not from Kerala. But that was Manali. A tiny part of it.
Monday. A bumpy Volvo bus drops us off at Manali Bus Stand. It’s freezing and below ten celsius. Nathan quickly rushes to the counter and reserves our return bus ticket to Delhi. It highlights a whopping 3000 Indian rupees for a very uncomfortable bumpy bus ride of 13 hours. We quickly takes a tuk for seventy something rupees to Drifter’s Inn and Cafe in Old Manali. Nothing in India opens early. Manali, the beloved Himachali town follows the same rule. Except for one tiny kade. We quickly rush inside. Ten minutes later, a warm plate of two aloo parantha and pickle greet us hello, followed by possibly the best tomato cheese omelette we ever had. And a two cups of chai. Masala chai. Nothing works in India without chai. They, we, everyone breathes chai here. (Also read: Natural Mystic Sanctuary: Finding bliss in Deniyaya)
After our breakfast, we walk to our home in Manali – Orchard House: A Hidden Tribe. A gorgeous guesthouse inside the village of Old Manali. It lives up to its name, “Hidden Tribe.” We walk past tiny oldschool hamlets brimming with colour. Tiny kids who rush to morning schools and families poured with love. “I love it here,” Z whispers to Nathan.
After a quick nap, we walked down the aisle back to the main street. Settle down for a cup of chai again. As we walk past tiny cafes, Indian, Korean and continental, a cool breeze embraces us. Temperatures drop down to freezing numbers here in October. Freezing. At least for us. Anything below 15 Celsius is cold for us Sri Lankans. We stop by Spice and Ice for dinner. Twentysome minutes later, we have a plate of butter chicken and freshly baked, warm roti. If we could live in India forever, we would. And that would obviously be for food. It’s a two-men army here in Spice and Ice cafe. And they put love and their soul into what they cook. The food here is delicious. Freshly cooked. And you are always greeted with a generous portion.
And that was how we spent all our days in Manali. Waking up to freezing temperatures, lazily snuggling up in our thick warm blanket, and finally when we are up, we walk to our favourite kade while we grin at aunties, uncles and wee kids on our way. Everyone here is working hard for the winter months. In winters, everything here is closed down. The season is almost over. The shops selling hippie clothes and mandalas being slowly shut down. We walk down to our favorite kade as a herd of yaks rhythmically saunter down the road. Chai again. With tomato and masala cheese omelette. Aloo parantha with pickle? For 20 rupees? Yes, please.
(Also read: Amba Estate: The hidden gem of Ella)
We walk uphill to Manu Temple. It’s simple. It’s quiet. It’s peace. And after all, it’s gorgeous. We observe two little kids bossing around each other. Perhaps a little Zinara and a little Nathan. From Manu temple, a 2km path takes you to Goshal Village. We walk back. All the way to New Manali and Hidimba Temple, passing hippie shops, quirky TripAdvisor’s best cafes and the Beas River. Hidimba Devi Temple is a crowded place. But the walk uphill surrounded by deodar trees is surreal. We pay ten tuppes and take a walk in the park nearby. A gorgeous little place with deodar trees. In a corner of the temple, locals hurry to take photos with bunnies and yaks. Bunnies so cute and fluffy that you want to adapt them and take them back home. On our way back, we stop by for momos. A plate full of twelve chicken momos for just 50 rupees. Oh India! You are fabulous!
As we walk down, Nathan spots a sign, says, “Village Srilanka.” Excited to find out this new bugger who turned an entire tiny but diverse island into a village, we walk along the Beas River. It gets colder and colder as we walk uphill and walk through Himachali hamlets. “This is enough for us,” Nathan spots a tiny wooden house by the river. He’s excited. He’s happy. And happy, hyper N is the best N. (Also read: Traveling on the train from Colombo to Ella: A photo story)
“Village Srilanka” apparently was a cottage-type-hotel. After a one kilometer walk uphill, we walk back to other side of Beas River. Sit down for a slice of Black Forest Cake by the river. It’s warm. Creamy. Softer than any cake we ever had. And effin’ delicious. The German bakery was a gem we found.
Back in our trusted Spice and Ice, we order a plate of Himachali Trout. It takes good forty something minutes to arrive. Here’s the thing. The rule here is to wait longer for good food. The longer the wait, the more it tastes better. Food here is prepared with love. During our time in Manali, we visit Spice and Ice three times. Even the Maggi here in mountains taste better. Always. Everything. Better.
Manali has everything in her. Are you adventurous? Trek. Trek. Trek. Trek. Even if you are not and into culture, visit all the temples and architectural wonders. We did a mixture of all. And spent our times lazily wandering around tiny paths and discovering teeny cafes, makeshift stalls to shop cheaper and finally actually buying two mandalas with Ganesh and a God Nathan never can name. His mom is so appalled. Hush
And this, boy, is the Manali we loved. Will we go back? In a heartbeat ❤