7 Quirky Ways to Experience India’s Most-Wanted Hill Station Manali

My Manali travel blog to offbeat Manali and the best places to visit in Manali.

I would take an unknown trail leading to a strange place over a popular trek any day. I leave a city from its bus stand if I see it is crowded. Staying alone in one tent amongst the hundred empty ones makes me feel like a ninja. Ditching the most popular restaurants in a city I get lost in the back lanes to find local treats.

The road less traveled is my home.

Otherwise, why would I wander alone in South America for nine months while Europe waited or stalk wild orangutan around the Kinabatangan river in Borneo when a national bird park in Kuala Lumpur was a fifteen minutes walk or become a blogger while I still get software engineering job offers from TimesJobs or hitchhike in the deserted Spiti alone when I could have just stayed on under the blossoming apple trees of Parvati Valley.

My unexpected love affair with Manali, India’s summer queen, started when I arrived there for a day to travel to Spiti the next morning. Though the counter at the HRTC bus stands and the many travel agents in Manali told me that the road to Spiti wasn’t open yet, I shuttled between the tour agencies that fringed the rickety lanes of Old Manali until I found one who understood that I wouldn’t take no for an answer. 

But on that one day that I spent in old Manali, I walked in the colorful old market of Manali that is catered to please the ones on the Hummus trail, got enticed by small coffee and confectionary shops right in the middle of a tiny street lined with guesthouses, the green hills around Manali called me to walk along them, the various local dishes sizzling out of Manali restaurants’ kitchens made me hungry, while the Manaslu and the Beas river flowed in all glory. 

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Dharamshala Travel Guide – To a Meaningful Trip to Dharamshala

What does this travel guide to Dharamshala contain?

  1. My Dharamshala trip at a glance
  2. About Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh.
  3. My best things to do in Dharamshala.
  4. What is the best time to visit Dharamshala?
  5. How to reach Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh?
  6. How to reach Dharamshala from Delhi?
  7. Where to stay in Dharamshala?
  8. How much would a trip to Dharamshala cost?
  9. What to bring to Dharamshala?
  10. Is Dharamshala safe for solo travelers?
  11. How to avoid the smoking culture of Dharamshala if you don’t want to be a part of it?
  12. How to go on a long trip to Dharamshala?
  13. Around Dharamshala and further reading.

My Dharamshala trip at a glance. 

This is not your typical Dharamshala travel guide.

During my six weeks in Dharamshala, I hardly ever searched for “things to do in Dharamshala” or “best places to visit in Dharamshala.”

What was I doing? I was busy taking my Dharamshala trip slow.

I might sound clichéd, but I was learning the art of doing nothing.

Having said that, let me tell you that I started my journey in Dharamshala by attending a Vipassana course in Dharamkot, one of the many green villages of Dharamshala district. After a much-needed 10-day silence of body and mind, I packed my bags and headed out of the deodar forests of the Dharamkot Vipassana center. My plan was to stay for a week in upper Dharamkot. 

But something made me leave Dharamkot in just two days. Was it the smoky air of my Dharamkot hostel or the hippies lining the cafes in Dharamkot market, I am not sure. I surrendered to my discomfort and shifted to Upper Bhagsu, another lush village in Dharamshala that lies on the other side of Dharamkot.

I had gone to Upper Bhagsu for a week, and I didn’t know that I would end up spending more than a month there. 

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Hiking in Dharamshala – Under the Rhododendrons and Into the Icy Summits

During the six weeks that I lived in the Bhagsu village of Dharamshala, hiking in Dharamshala was one of my favorite activities. 

On a sunny day when I was walking from Bhagsu village towards Mcleodganj, the idea of going to Mcleodganj seemed mundane, and I took a detour. Instead of continuing going straight to Mcleodganj, I took the road on my left that went downhill.

I had seen the road many times before and had wondered about its destination. But that day the road seemed to promise the solitude I was looking for. Hell, we all know I wasn’t going to get much peace in Mcleodganj unless I strayed away in its back lanes.

When I had walked downhill for a while, the road disappeared after leading me to a cluster of few tiny houses. Where was I to go then?

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Not Your Typical Travel Guide to Parvati Valley

The Ravishing Parvati Valley.

Originating from the popular Mantalai Glacier below the Pin Parvati pass in Himachal Pradesh, Parvati river flows unrestricted towards the West to merge with her sister Beas at Bhuntar. On her way Parvati curls through the Himalayas to form a gorgeous valley which is known as Parvati Valley.

Villages of Kasol, Manikaran, Shilha, Barshaini, Gargi, Kalga village, Pulga are dotted around the rich banks of the curvy Parvati. Apart from the Pin Parvati, many high treks also rise up from the Parvati basin to meet the higher Himalayan peaks and snowy villages at their summits.

But from where does the Parvati river gets her name? Legends say that long time ago Lord Shiva meditated in the mountains for about 3,000 years. Oblivious of his landscape, he continued to meditate, only to open his eyes one day to realize that he was in a gorgeous valley. He called the valley Parvati, after his wife.

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Kasol – The Unappetizing Smoker’s Hub of Parvati Valley

Kasol: An overhyped, but a connected town of Parvati Valley

I found many Kasol travel blogs that describe Kasol as a heaven or a tiny hamlet in the middle of Parvati Valley, Himachal Pradesh. Until I traveled to Kasol, I also fantasized Kasol as a misty village where you start your day with mushroom thukpas and end it with an apple tea.

While you can still have your thukpas and tea, let me tell you that Kasol is not a dreamy hamlet, at least not anymore.

One thing you should know while planning a Kasol trip is that you would be in a commercialized small town that has over-utilized its presence in the mountains, therefore, taking out the essence of the hills altogether.

Whether you are on a solo trip to Kasol or you are with a group, your experience will depend on what you plan to do in Kasol and how many days you spent there.

In this Kasol travel article, we will talk about how Kasol is and the logistics that you need to plan a solo or group trip to Kasol. Knowing how to move around Kasol is important as Kasol is the entrance to the gorgeous Parvati valley, and to experience Parvati you have to head to Kasol first.

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Why I Ran Away From the Gorgeous Shila Village in Parvati Valley

Shila – A Timeless Village Ruined by Smokers

It was nothing less than perfect. A velvety green path going up to a small hut. A river flowed below while lush fields swayed with the wind. A deep blue sky watched from above. Snow-capped mountains peaked from a distance.

But even a storm of beauty couldn’t keep me hooked to Shila, one of the most beautiful villages I have ever seen. Do you want to know why?

Here goes my story of running away from Shilha village.

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Natural Hot Springs, Chai, and the Timeless Manikaran Sahib

A timeless journey through Manikaran.

While sauntering around in Manikaran’s narrow lanes on my recent trip to Parvati Valley, I reminisced about my childhood journeys to Shukkartal and Haridwar with my family.

Like in those religious towns, time didn’t seem to have passed in Manikaran Sahib either.

Young girls dressed up in traditional bright Kullu dresses and Himachali topis waited to be clicked. Streets were lined with kitschy souvenir shops that flaunted neon plastic toys, rudraksha malas, and brass bracelets.

Devoted Sikhs with their Kirpans hanging around their waist walked swiftly towards the Manikaran Sahib Gurudwara. Hindu families strode to the Shiva and Ram temple to bathe their young ones who trailed behind eyeing the hot jalebis and crispy samosas that were on display at the local sweet’s shop.

If only their mother could buy them a hundred gram of jalebis the children might walk faster. But the mothers were already thinking about quickly getting their little ones undressed and bathing them in the Manikaran hot water springs.

They also had to pay their respects to Guru Nanak Ji or the Ram and Sita adorned in the Sikh and Hindu temples.

After all, the history of Manikaran dictates that the town was touched by both the Hindu gods and Guru Nanak Sahib though at different times.

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Kalga to Kheerganga via Bunbuni Pass– Offbeat in Parvati Valley

When I was in Kalga in Parvati valley, I had almost decided to not go for the famous Kheerganga trek because almost every local and traveler I met talked about Kheerganga. As you might already know I don’t like going to the most visited places. This arrogance to avoid the touristy destinations further deepens when it comes to trekking.

The idea of hiking for me translates to strapping a small backpack on my back and then setting off into the forest and figuring out my way on the go. Sometimes I don’t even care if the trail takes me anywhere significant or if I am on a must-do hike as long as I am in nature.

The boisterous young boys trekking in Parvati Valley who told each other that they completed trekking Kheerganga in a couple of hours and they couldn’t have done the same if there was a girl with them further pushed me away from the mainstream hikes towards offbeat paths.

Suggested Read: My experience of hiking an active Chilean volcano – Climbing Volcano Villarrica

When a friendly guy at a supermarket in Kalga, also known as Kalgha, asked me if I wanted to join him and his friends for Bunbuni trek, I agreed. Of course not without first asking him if they carried loudspeakers and rushed towards their destination.

I already knew that Bunbuni — also known as Bhunbhuni or Bun Buni or Boon Booni — is vast open green meadows high up in the Parvati Valley.

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Kalga Village – You Won’t Believe Until You See

From the Sun-Kissed Balcony of Kalga Village, Himachal Pradesh.

Almost deaf with the loud music that blasted out of the speakers of Indian travelers who visit Kasol to escape the Delhi heat, I ran out of Kasol after staying there for a night. A steep uphill walk took me to the village of Shilha, a tiny apple village that seems to be pasted to the slopes of a beautiful green hill. Only I didn’t know that the speaker lovers from Delhi had discovered Shilha and were smoking away in the few guesthouses of Shilha village.

I gave up and joined the groups of Indian boys around a bonfire under a starry night. But rigid about running away from people who couldn’t appreciate the silence of Parvati valley, I strapped my bag and walked towards Kalga the next morning.

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Yoga in Dharamshala – With an Introduction to Yoga

When I went to Chile in 2016, many Chileans asked me if I knew how to do yoga. While traveling around South America for nine months, I realized the popularity of yoga in the world.

Apprehending the vast influences of yoga and seeing the craze of the westerners towards India and yoga, I became a wanna be yoga learner.

In those immature years of my life, I wanted to be a solo female traveler who also did yoga. I wished to bend myself one-eighty-degrees on the sultry Goa beaches and the summits of the mighty Himalayas alike.

After all, the social media pictures of yoga teachers and practitioners over the internet kindle enough narcissism that you forget the real purpose of yoga (if you ever knew) and only admire the overwhelming curves on the trending photos.

Yoginis look like the epitomes of Urvashi from the Indra palace. Maybe we can compare the Yogi to Shiva who is said to be the first-yogi or the Adiyogi?

Those yoga pictures look as perfect as the postures held in the frame, but remember that pictures don’t tell the entire story.

Yoga is not about a few jazzy posts on Instagram or Facebook. And I kept this in mind when I traveled to Dharamshala and practiced yoga there.

Yoga, a word derived from the Sanskrit word Yuj meaning join, means union — of the mind, body, and soul.

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A Road Trip From Bangalore to Coorg – The Quintessential Karnataka

I won’t tell you that Coorg is the Scotland of India, as every other Bangalore to Coorg travel guide must have already told you this. I don’t know anything about Scotland’s landscape for I have not been there. But I can say that Coorg, also known as Kodagu, is straight out of that movie where you see fat cows grazing on a soft grassy carpet while spinach-green hills pose in the background.

I am not sure if I can call Coorg a quaint town for everybody traveling to Bangalore or the South, in general, go on a road trip from Bangalore to Coorg, at least one-time. But what brings these travelers to Coorg, a district nestled in the western ghats of South Karnataka?

Rolling emerald hills, an opportunity to see elephants, leopards, gaurs, giant Malabar squirrels, and other wildlife, the peppy birds of Karnataka, aromatic coffee and tea estates, huge avocados, rich Kodava cuisine, silky waterfalls melting into the revered Kaveri, old temples, and ancient monasteries could be some of the reasons.

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Spiti in Photos – The Pictures that Instagram Won’t Let You See

Snow-capped peaks, inky sky, copper mountains, creamy cubicle homes, lean Spitians jostling around, and a few sheep and cow — this is Spiti Valley, one of the remotest valley of the Indian Himalaya.

Spiti is indeed a bucket list destination for many millennials and older travelers alike. Some say their dream came true when they visited Lahaul and Spiti.

Spiti valley photography isn’t a new trend. People have been clicking pictures of Spiti for decades. Occasionally you would see Indians and foreigners posting gorgeous Spiti images on their Instagram account.

Young maroon-clothed monks jumping on the road. Himalayan peaks standing tall and a river swiftly shifting in front of them. Icy summits with a white Spitian village in front. A selfie with a Spitian woman on the road. Key Monastery standing tall. Pictures of self in front of dominant mountains. A few close-ups of flat-roofed homes of Spiti.

We have seen this all. But most of the Spiti valley photos don’t even make it to Instagram.

The nothingness that envelops the stunning Spiti and the isolated Spitian life is too much to handle sometimes. Even in pictures.

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