Named after Manu, the Hindu version of Noah (of Ark fame), Manali is a popular tourist spot in northern Himachal Pradesh, and the start of the memorable Manali to Leh Highway. I heard that there are around a thousand hotels in town, which seemed unlikely until learning that five million domestic tourists visit every year, primarily between April and June, escaping the heat in other parts of India. When I visited in mid-August we were the only ones in the hotel. Unexpectedly it is also extremely popular with Israeli backpackers, apparently in part due to the ready availability of weed, which grows wild here though is illegal.
The most historic site is the unusual Hadimba Temple, built in 1553 but a replica of an earlier temple. No photos were allowed inside, the interior is gloomy with smoke and incense, and home to sacred footprints and a surprising amount of electrical equipment, including a CCTV monitor.
Old Manali is filled with backpackers, a bazaar, some attractive old houses and a raging river.
Near the top of it is Manu Temple, another unusual building, if much more recent, being renovated in 1991. There was a lengthy Hindu ceremony taking place inside. Photos aren’t allowed inside Hindu temples, and to be honest I rather leave the locals alone rather than intrude on their ceremonies.
A highlight of Manali was the wonderful Himalayan Nyinmapa Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in the main part of town. This was colourful, peaceful, and very photogenic.
On the way to Manali from McLeod Ganj we stopped at Palampur to see a tea plantation. The Kangra area is the smallest of the four major tea growing regions in India, after Darjeeling and Assam in the north east and Kerala in the south. The lighter, less strong, more popular tea is achieved by limiting the amount of sunlight on the plants, so tea plants are usually grown under the shade of trees.
The 13th century Baijnath Hindu temple, dedicated to Shiva as ‘Vaidyanath’ the Lord of physicians, was worth wet feet to visit on a rainy day to see the intricate carvings.
The scenery got progressively more impressive along the way, helped by being able to see it as rain was replaced by sunshine. It was a long day in the car though, arriving in Manali twelve and a half hours after leaving McLeod Ganj, with delays due to traffic, road works, landslides and an abandoned car. It usually takes 9-10 hours, unfortunately this was the longest in the guide’s experience.