Manali literally means the 'Home of Manu'. Legend has it that when a flood deluged the earth, Manu and the gods were towed to dry ground by a giant fish, which was the seventh `avatar' of the god Vishnu. The area where Manu eventually found refuge was Manali. He then came to Manali and recreated human life. Thus, the area of Manali is sacred and Hindus treat the temples over here as pilgrimage and its name finds mention in various epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as well as Vishnu Purana.
The Mall Road (1.5 km.)
The Mall, or main road of Manali is the hub of activity in this tourist town, lined with hotels, restaurants, shops, the bus station and many travel agencies. Though it carries the same British epithet as its counterpart in Shimla, the Mall of Manali has an entirely different character from the colonial flavour of the former. It is more of a busy commercial street with modern concrete blocks of hotels that spills over with tourists in the peak season. Most of the hotels overlooking the foaming Beas River, however, do offer pleasant views of the valley, green terraced fields and the surrounding orchards.
To get a more authentic flavour of the area, take a half-hour walk from the Mall across the Manalsu nala to reach the village of old Manali. Also known as Manaligarh, the village has a ruined fort and a cluster of houses built in the Pahari style - with heavy stone roofs and wooden balconies projecting out of the first floor. According to popular belief it is here that Manu, the lawmaker lived around the 2nd century BC. His treatise, the 'Manusmriti' is the foundations of Hindu law and of the rigid caste system based on varna or profession. Considered one of the most orthodox Hindu texts with strict role definitions based on gender and class, the Manusmriti continues to be followed by many devout Hindus even today. In the centre of the village is the Manu Maharishi temple, a relatively new shrine dedicated to Manu. The village itself is an idyllic break from the rush of main Manali, surrounded by terraced maize fields and apple orchards. There are several guesthouses and cafes lining the path to the village.
Hadimba Devi Temple (1 km.)
Hadimba or Dhungiri temple in Manali is one of the most important temples in the region. This four story wooden temple is located in the middle of a forest called the Dhungiri Van Vihar a 2 km walk from the Tourist office in Manali. Maharaja Bahadur Singh built the present wooden pagoda-like temple in 1553 after forest fires burned down earlier structures. Standing on a stone platform surrounded by old deodar trees, the three-tiered temple is crowned with pennants, brass bells and a trident. Carvings of animals, plants and folk deities adorn the temple, while hunting trophies hang over its entrance.
Inside the shrine is the brass icon of the goddess, surprisingly tiny compared to the huge temple structure and the legendary prowess associated with her. The shrine is within a natural cave formation dominated by huge rock. A set of enlarged footprints on the rocks is believed to be of Hadimba, herself. In mid-July the idol from old Manali is brought to this temple for a major festival. As part of the frenzied celebrations, several animals including a buffalo and a goat are sacrificed to the goddess. The blood falling on the stones is channeled to the mouth of goddess Hadimba. Not for the faint-hearted, this ancient ritual draws large crowds, along with some pickpockets who take advantage of the spellbound mobs.
Gadhan Thekchoking Gompa (2 km.)
This Gompa dominates the Tibetan area around the bottom of the Mall in Manali. The Tibetan refugees built the Gompa in the late 1960's. The Gompa is covered with brightly coloured frescoes and a mid size Buddhist statue. It also carries a list of the martyrs killed in occupation of Tibet of 1987 to 1989. Inside the brightly painted prayer hall is a statue of Shakyamuni (form of Buddha). The monastery is maintained through donations and the sale of carpets woven by the lamas within the temple workshop. A smaller gompha near the market has a large gold-faced image of Buddha, which is best viewed from its first floor verandah. Monks can be seen printing prayer flags in the open terrace.
Temple Of Manu (1 km.)
Slippery stones paths lead through the old village houses up to the temple of Manu. Manali is named after the sage Manu who meditated when he came in this area.
Tibetan Temple (2 km.)
Tibetans have a base in Manali too. There is a large modern Tibetan temple to the South of the bus stand and also a small handicrafts centre.
Old Manali (3 km.)
The old Manali area is located some 3-km from the present day Manali. The old Manali is covered with guesthouses, which look ancient now, and orchards where the livestock move at will.
Vashishta Hot Sulphur Springs (4.5 km.)
This small village near Manali is famous for its scenic beauty. The village has a temple dedicated to Lord Rama and Vashishta Muni. The village has some hot water springs, which are said to carry medicinal properties. It is a picturesque little place, 3-km out of Manali but on foot the distance is a bit shorter.
Mountaineering Institute (6 km.)
The Mountaineering Institute located at Manali provides training facilities for basic and advance climbing both for Indian nationals and foreigners. This institute also conducts other adventurous sports activities like high altitude trekking, minor mountaineering, rock-climbing, skiing, and high altitude rescue and relief courses. The institute has sufficient lodging and boarding arrangements and equipment can be hired for trekking purposes.
EXCURSIONS FROM MANALI
Rohtang Pass (50 km.)
Rohtang Pass is the highest point, 4,112m, on the Manali-Keylong road, 51-km from Manali town. It provides a wide panoramic view of mountains rising far above clouds, which is a sight truly breath-taking.
Arjun Gufa (5 km.)
On the left bank of the Beas, 5-km from Manali near the village of Prini, is the 'Arjun Gufa' or the cave of Arjuna. In here Arjuna practiced austerities to get Pashupata Ashtra or weapon from Lord Indra.
Beas Kund (50 km.)
It is the source of river Beas, at the Rohtang Pass and is easily accessible. The great sage, Vyas performed `Tapa' here during the Mahabharat times. The place is still hallowed by the celestial light. It was because of this that the river got the present name of Beas.
Jagatsukh Temple (6 km.)
It is one of the biggest villages in Kullu district. About 6-km from Manali, Jagatsukh is famous for its Shiva temple that is built in "shikhara" style and nearby is the old and interesting Devi Sharvati temple.
Kothi (12 km.)
It is a pretty little village, 12-km from Manali on the Keylong road at the foot of Rohtang Pass. There are very fine views from Kothi, and the Beas River flows through a very deep and narrow gorge at this point. The well-situated Public Works Department (PWD) Resthouse is a popular place for overnight stays. Close to the rest house is an awe-inspiring gorge where Beas enters a chasm about 61m deep and just few metres broad.
Solang Nullah (14 km.)
14-km northwest of Manali in the Solang Valley, this place offers Himachal Pradesh's best ski slopes. The Mountaineering and Allied Sports Institute operates a 300m high ski lift and the month of February is the best month to ski over here. HPTDC runs seven-day package for ski courses with accommodation in the Hotel Rohtang Manaslu in Manali. Courses are also offered by the Mountaineering and Allied Sports Institute and the North Face Ski School.
Rahalla Falls (16 km.)
About 16-km from Manali and 4-km away from Kothi, at the start of the climb to the Rohtang Pass, are the beautiful Rahalla Falls at an altitude of 2,501m.
Naggar (28 km.)
On the left bank of the Beas and about three hundred metres above the river, Naggar is delightfully situated on a wooded slope and commands an extensive view, especially of the north west of the valley. It is an excellent place for a longer stay. Naggar was the capital of the Kullu Rajas for about 1,400 years. There are a large number of famous temples in and around Naggar. Artist Nicholas Roerich's art gallery is also worth a visit. Cars and jeeps can easily go up to the Naggar Castle, which is now Himachal Tourism's well-furnished Hotel Castle.
Manikaran (45 km.)
On the trekking route to Pulga and Pin Parvati pass, Manikaran is famous for its hot springs. Thousands of people take a dip in its hot waters. The water is so hot that dal (pulses); rice etc. can be boiled in it. It is also a well known pilgrimage centre and there is an ancient Hindu temple and a gurudwara here. According to a legend, Manikaran is also associated with Lord Shiva and his divine consort, Parvati, who lost and recovered her earring here.
Bijli Mahadev Temple
The Bijli Mahadev temple one of the most striking temple is set on a spur, and is famous for its 60 ft high staff, which periodically attracts lightning that shatters the Shivalinga. Each time this happens, it is pieced together by the temple priest.
Situated on the banks of Parvati river, Kasol in the Parvati valley makes a good holiday destination. Charmingly located in an open space, which slopes down to a broad expanse of clear white sand at the edge of the river. The place is known for trout fishing.
28 km. up to Naggar by bus and then 20 km. on foot. A little ahead off the beautiful Chandrakhani pass lies the tiny village of Malana, famous for the temple of Jamlu and its distinct social and cultural life. Reputed to be the oldest democracy in the world in existence where all the inhabitants of the village take part in managing its affairs. An exciting place for trekking.
The Beas River flowing through Kullu valley is suitable for not only white water rafting but is ideal for canoeing and kayaking too. Open between May to September.
Near Manali there are some slopes, which have been rated the best for skiing in the world. The Solang Nullah, Patalsu, Kothi, Marhi and Rohtang slopes are very good for skiing in the winters as well as in summers.
For high mountain thrills perhaps nothing can surpass the magic of heli-skiing. The sport is available in the area abound by the Hanuman Tibba, Rohtang Pass, Deo Tibba and Chanderkhani Pass near Manali.
PEOPLE & SOCIETY
Traditionally, Manali is a Hindu town, with important shrines dedicated to goddess Hadimba and the temple of Manu. In recent times, however, a large population of Tibetan refugees has set up a mini-township with distinctive gomphas (monasteries) and prayer flags fluttering across the houses.
The local language in Manali is part of the group of languages known as Western Pahari. A Hindi dialect, which is derived from Sanskrit and Prakrit, Pahari has a number of local variations. The version spoken in Manali is known as Mandiali.
The influx of a large number of Tibetans has meant that Tibetan is also now used by a number of people, while most people associated with travel and tourism will be familiar with at least basic English. Hindi is universally used.
Culture and Crafts
Local crafts include woollen products like the namdas (rugs), blankets and the famous Kullu shawl. Locally made footwear called the pullan and baskets woven by village women are also available. The Tibetan inhabitants of Manali have set up a craft centre and outlets selling carpets, thangkas (religious wall hangings), prayer wheel, masks and silver jewellery.
Traditional Dress of Men
Chola: Chola is a long woolen coat with pleats.
Dora: Dora is a piece of cloth, which is tied on the waist and is served as a belt.
Suthan: Suthan is something like a tight pant.
Topa: Topa is a black cap.
Topi: It is now known as Kullu Cap. It is a colorful cap made out of woollen cloth with a Kulluvi designed band around it.
Lachhoo: Lachhoo is a blanket used to cover the shoulders.
Chadder: Chadder or Loi is a gent's shawl. It is mostly in grey, white, cream and brown in color.
Traditional Dress of Women
Pattoo: It is a traditional dress of the local women. It is thicker and heavier than shawls, with fast and bright colors. Women wear pattoo over their clothes and pin both ends with local silver broaches called 'boomini', which is a long silver chain. It covers the whole body and a piece of cloth is tied around the waist called gachchi, which acts as a belt.
Dhatu or Thipu: Dhatu or Thipu is a square piece of cloth used to cover the head.
Shawls: These shawls are world famous because of their beautiful intricate designs and bright colors.
Pullas: Pullas are footwear like the bedroom slippers made out of hemp (fibre extracted from Marijuana stem). Very colorful designs are made on the upper portion with colored woolen threads.
Nepali porters, Buddhist monks, and even the odd party of Zanskaris, swathed in fusty woolen gonchas, muddled together with souvenir-hunting Indian and Western tourists-all add up to the welcoming hub of Manali.
Though almost all the festivals are celebrated with zest and devotion, Dussehra gets special attention all over the valley. The festival is celebrated in the month of October during the autumn season when the rest of the country celebrates Durga Puja and Vijaya Dashami. The celebration goes on for a few days when all the people of the Kullu valley take part enthusiastically.
The Hadimba Devi fair is another important event in this place and a rather big fair is organized in the Hadimba Devi temple complex. People from in and around the countryside come to visit this fair, which is held during the spring season when the valley is at its spectacular and colourful best.
The Doongri Forest festival, which is basically organized by the women folks of this place, is another major event of this place. Moreover, the winter sport carnival held in the mid-February draws a good number of tourists from all over the country and abroad.
Snow continues to play a major part in February's festivals and Himachal Winter Carnival is also held this month. Ski slopes of Kufri, Manali and Narkanda come to life with adventure seekers competing their way downhill. For daredevils, Manali, as a base camp, offers best opportunity for Heli-Skiing.
Spring festival is also called Basantotsava or Pipal jatra and takes place at Dhalpur ground Kullu from 28th April to 30th April. This fair has been declared a state festival by the Himachal Pradesh government. As it marks the beginning of the spring season (and also the tourist season) in the valley, it is also known as Spring Festival.
The woodlands of Kullu preserve a variety of wildlife. The district has five wildlife sanctuaries of which Manali, Kais, Kanawar, Khokhan are in Kullu Valley and the Great Himalayan National Park is in Sainj valley. These sanctuaries preserve animals like Musk Deer, Common Fox, Leopard, Ibex, Himalayan Tahr, Porcupine, Bear (black & brown), Goral (Nemorhaedus goral), Himalayan Yellow Throated Marten, Langur and Flying Squirrel etc. and pheasants like Cheer Pheasant, Monal, Western Tragopan etc.
The Great Himalayan National Park is situated in the Sainj valley of Kullu district. The park harbors more than 300 species of birds and over 30 species of mammals. The park provides habitat for some of the highly endangered species like western tragopan, snow leopard and musk deer.
Manali sanctuary is located 1 km away from the international hill resort Manali. The main species of animals found in the sanctuary are leopard, musk deer, black bear, brown bear, and Himalayan ibex. The birds found in the sanctuary are monal, koklas, chakor, tree creepers, snow pigeon, kingfisher etc. Snakes and lizards are also found.
These sanctuaries are rich in trees like Oak (Quercus incana), Fir (Abies pindrow), Kail , Spruce (Pices smithiana), Deodar (Cedrus deodara), Bras (Rhododendron arborium), Maple (Acer pictum), Walnut (Juglans regia), Fig (Ficus spp), Poplar (Populus ciliata), Pine (Pinus roxburghii), Aesculus (Aesculus indica) etc.
The best time to visit these sanctuaries is April to June and September to October. During this period the weather and visibility is suitable for spotting animals and the high reaches are easily accessible. The nature is also at it's festive best.