The rustic charm of the hill destination of Manali can be experienced during the winters when the wooden houses, roads and the contoured slopes of the mountains are covered in snow.
“Would you get married and settle down here? ” asked an old lady from a village near Manali, a small town amidst the Himalayas, while spinning yarns from wool under the winter sun. Sitting in the company of other women, weaving carpets or pattu, a local attire for women, she further said, “The life in mountains is simple, quiet and fulfilling, with basic needs of food, water and home.” A group of women, engaged in weaving, spinning and chatting in afternoons; children playing out in the open, while the men go out for wood, cattle grazing or to work in the nearby cities, is a regular sight in the mountains. One is tempted to live such a life.
Winter, although harsh, draws more beauty to the mountains. Snow piled at backyards and the narrow lanes of small villages, distant white mountains that arise an interest to be climbed, stir a very peaceful emotion. While beaches evoke a queer sense of liberation and alienation, mountains call one back to settlement and silence. Manali attracts numerous tourists during summers, but winters sees only a handful letting one to absorb more from the place.
A hike through the mountains
Varvasvata, the seventh incarnation of Manu who was the progenitor of humanity according to Hindu mythology, found a fish one day that asked him to take care of it as it would provide him with its services in future. Varvasvata did as he was requested until the fish became big enough to be left into the sea. However, before departing the fish warned him of an impending deluge that would submerge the world and suggested him to build a sea worthy ark. When the flood approached, Varvasvata along with seven other sages, was towed away by the fish, also considered the first incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu on earth. The ark, when the water subsided, came to rest alongside a hill that came to be known as Manali, named after Manu. So says the legend.
Located at an altitude of 2,050 metres, at the end of Kullu Valley and nearly 250 kilometres from the state capital Shimla, Manali comes as a beautiful surprise to the travellers. With the views of Dhauladhar and Pir Panjal Ranges and Beas River flowing by its side, it acts as a jumping point for popular choices such as Ladakh, Lahaul and Spiti during summers. If summers engage the travellers with approaching colder regions such as Rohtang Pass and Ladakh from Manali, winters allow them to explore the snow scattered roads, mountains and villages through the quiet hiking trails surrounding the town. Away from the noise of the new Manali market, towards the old town, the road diverges into numerous trails.
Starting from old town, a popular resting place among hippies, a two kilometre hike through the mountains at Solang Nullah trail (11 km), takes one to a small village of Goshal. The walk, apart from the views of the Himalayan peaks at distance, is made interesting by the sight of snow covering the roads and the slopes; isolated homestays or guest houses in the middle of nowhere; shepherds with flocks of sheep; and the distant sound of Beas River flowing all along the trail. The town below with red-green-blue roofs makes for a contrasting image with white of the mountains in the background. The hilly vegetations such as Deodar and Pine on the slanted hills, covered in snow, blend with the background while the apple orchards stand bare off leaves because of the climate.
Wood and stone houses
Goshal village can be located from far end of the road, with beautiful wood and stone houses and women sitting under the sun, busy with their daily chores. While the way to the village may be covered in snow, slippery and slanted; it is worth visiting to sit beside the women and chat over the sugary tea they offer. The relative isolation, harsh climate and cut off lives in the hills have encouraged the artisanal activities and a refined aesthetic sense that is displayed through their self made attires and the architecture of their homes. The subtle and graceful combination of colours used in the pattu that they wear are at par to challenge many school-trained designers in the cities. Their works, often found in cities and showrooms, help them sustain themselves in the lost yet simple life of the hills.
The settlements in the mountains draw one’s interest with their contoured location along the slopes. As the people of the mountains are immensely devoted to God, every village has a small temple with a local deity of its own.
The architecture of the temple and the houses are, however, similar in style and technique. The indigenous architecture of the Himalayan region, in response to the climatic condition, is called Kathkuni, with its specimens found in towns such as Shimla, Kullu and Manali. Typically, the houses are either two or three storied with the ground floor forming the cattle shed while the living area is on top capped by the pent-and-gable roof. The usage of materials such as the Deodar and Kail woods along with the stone slabs as the base help the houses to endure long periods of corrosion by weather. The walls, constructed with alternate courses of dry masonry and wood without the use of cement to bind them, give a raw ethnic feel to the houses.
The small windows surrounding the living area, for ventilation, open directly to the view of the mountains. Many such houses inside the narrow and snow covered lanes of the village are also home to yaks and horses that are seen basking under the sun.
How to reach
Air: The nearest airport is at Bhuntar, located approximately 50 kilometres away from Manali. Domestic flights connect Bhuntar with Delhi and Chandigarh.
Road: Manali is well-connected to important tourist destinations like Leh, Shimla, Kullu, Dharamshala and New Delhi by means of a network of state-run as well as private buses. The distance from Delhi to Manali is 550 kilometres.
Where to stay
Manali is dotted with wide range of options from luxury stay overlooking the mountains or the Beas River to budgeted hotels and homestays. Winters, being the off season, offers economic and cut down prices.
Read the full article in India & You November-December 2015 (special WTM London).
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Dudhwa National Park, Uttar Pradesh