A Rendezvous with the Himalayas – Part 1 (Journey to Manali)

It’s been quite a while since I wandered. My new job as a news analyst kept me pretty busy over the past few months, and there’d seldom been much chance to think about travelling, leave alone actually venturing out. But as you know, a moment comes when the mind says, No more ! Such was the moment for me when I decide to wander into the Himalayas for seven days.

At Patna Airport (I blurred the image for privacy reasons and to comply with Airport Ethics 🙂 )

My journey started in Bangalore. I flew to Patna one fine evening, and took a night train the same day to my hometown of Bhagalpur. The monsoon was in full bloom, and it felt very soothing to feel the rain slapping against my slicker— I love the feeling of venturing out in the rain without getting wet! 🙂

It was a very pleasant weather in Bihar at the moment—greenery all around, misty winds stealing their way into my jacket, the exotic smell of petrichor emanating from the wet soil, the colorful vegetation dotting the plains, and the soothing touch of monsoon wind grazing my face. I was already getting into the mood of wandering.

Traffic Jam on a bridge over the River Ganges. I was stuck here for 4 hours !

Bidding goodbye to my family a few days later I flew to Delhi to meet a friend who would be my travel companion  for the coming few days in the Himalayas. My stay in Delhi was brief as we took a bus to Manali at midnight the very day I landed there—and I must say, it was really a good decision. The bus was a Volvo service operated by HRTC under the brand “Himsuta” – the most luxuries of all the buses in its fleet. It did help me sleep peacefully until 5 AM when I woke up suddenly dashing my head against the window bonnet. Something happened, and it was not good. The bus had stopped in the middle of road, and only after coming out I realized the matter—we met an accident! The bus had hit a barrier and was brutally damaged from one side, with much impact to the engine. It won’t start!

The bus conductor was a cheerful guy from Mandi, Himachal. He was calm and gentle just like how the people of Himachal Pradesh are. He requested that we take an ordinary bus to Sundernagar, from where we can board another “Himsuta” and reach Manali without much delay. We agreed. The bus arrived. All the passengers had a scowl on their faces, for they all had paid 1600 bucks for a the ticket and now they had to travel in a not-so-luxurious bus which only costs 600 from Delhi to Manali. Yet no one had choices, and we set out. The incident happened in Punjab.

A Misty Morning in Himachal Pradesh !

Soon the plains of Punjab were left behind and the Himalayan hills began to mark the way. Within two hours we were already in Himachal, and the terrain had changed significantly. We were ascending up through a curvaceous road. Hours went by and the sight of green hills turned monotonous. I dozed off. But only awoke an hour later as the bus had reached Sundernagar. Here we were told that if we wait for a Volvo bus it is going to cost us 5 hours, so it would be better to carry on travelling on the same bus which would save a lot of time. The persuasive conductor had been travelling with us, and somehow he was able to persuade all the passengers to continue the journey in the same bus.

 Tourist shared taxi are abundant on these roads.

Another few hours of back-breaking journey over the snaky roads and we were in Mandi. It was almost noon by that time, and my stomach was aching with hunger. All I had eaten since morning was a cheeseburger at a stopover, and given the nature of journey I needed more energy. Yet I decided not to eat anything heavy at the street side, as I am not very good with eating streetfoods—it often gives me troublesome stomach and I try to avoid it as much as possible. All I did was sat and prayed that I reach Manali as soon as possible. Soon I got the first glimpse of Beas—the noisy, muddy river at would stay in my sight for the rest of the journey. The river runs a distance of around 402 km, and has its origin in the upper reaches of the Rohatang Pass. The road to Manali runs parallel to the river, and it stays in sight for most part of the journey. There are warning boards everywhere along the banks warning people not to venture near it as there are sudden currents which can turn deadly. The roads too are very narrow and at many a place it almost feels like the bus would fall off in the river. But the drivers who negotiate those roads are well trained, and I really admire their skill. Traffic Jams are a constant here—mostly as a result of landslides which claim half the road leaving only a little space for vehicles coming from both sides to share. When all the perils are lived, comes the tunnel which runs thorough the mountain. It’s a thrilling experience in the tunnel, though there’s abundance of dusts in the air and its advisable to cover your nose as you negotiate the tunnel.

Manali – Market Area behind the government bus stand !


All good, and you reach Kullu, and then finally Manali. In our case we reached Manali at 4 PM. It took almost 20 hours. We were tried to death, and still had to walk one kilometers along the river Beas to make it to the hotel room  which had been pre-booked. I ended the day relaxing on the cozy bed with the river in the backyard, noisy as always. Next day would be a challenging day as we were heading to Kaza in the Spiti Valley through some of the most dangerous roads of the world*!

*To be continued in Part 2

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