Surrounded by snowy mountain peaks, Manali, India, is a popular tourist destination in Himachal Pradesh for Indians and adventurous foreign travelers. The Middle Himalaya Range provides a scenic backdrop while exploring Manali and the region.
Locals come to Manali for the fresh air and winter sports. Western travelers often use the mountain town as a base for trekking and outdoor adventures. Everyone enjoys the snowy scenery; a mountain stream passes right through town.
The Best Way to Get to Manali
Manali is around 350 mountainous miles from Delhi and is situated along the Beas River in the Kullu Valley at an elevation of 6,725 feet (2,050 meters).
The nearest airport to Manali is Bhuntar in Kullu (airport code: KUU ), but flights are intermittent. With no railway, reaching Manali typically involves a long, winding bus that crosses mountain passes at high elevation. Don't bemoan the lack of options: The fact that Manali is difficult to reach contributes to its charm (and lack of over development).
Bus From Delhi: You can take a 14-hour Volvo night bus from Delhi to Manali. Overnight buses usually depart around 5 p.m. and arrive late the next morning.
Buses do not have an onboard toilet, however, they make frequent stops. Plan on a very bumpy, winding ride! Take precautions if you are prone to car sickness. For better mountain views, sit on the right side of the bus. If you're squeamish about seeing the road drop off around some turns, sit on the left!
Bus From Dharamsala to Manali: Volvo tourist buses from Mcleod Ganj and Dharamsala leave nightly at 8:30 p.m.; the journey takes around nine hours.
Tourist buses and minibuses usually arrive at a private bus lot around 200 meters south of Manali. Public buses arrive at the bus lot in the center of town. You can easily walk north on the main road (Mall Road) to town or grab one of the waiting autorickshaws; always agree on a price before getting inside.
The wide, busy strip through Central Manali is known as "The Mall." Although there are several grungier hotel options along the main drag and on side streets, most travelers prefer to stay just outside of town in either Old Manali or across the river in Vashisht.
Many travelers escape hectic Central Manali by walking north up the leg-burning hill to peaceful Old Manali. The single strip through Old Manali is dotted with plenty of budget and midrange accommodation options. Tourist-oriented restaurants serve Indian, Tibetan food, and lots of Western favorites; you'll even find Mexican food and sushi on some menus!
Old Manali is an excellent choice for escaping the busy Mall but staying within range of town. Walk north on Mall Road then continue north on Circuit House Road to the steel bridge. Cross the river and turn left; numerous signs indicate where to go.
A little less accessible but certainly good for tight budgets, Vashisht is strung out along the hill across the Beas River and highway opposite of Old Manali.
To reach Vashisht, you'll have to cross the bridge just north of Central Manali then walk north along the busy Naggar Highway. You can turn right and continue walking along Vashisht Road or take a small, steep trail through a hillside community to Vashisht. Otherwise, an autorickshaw from Central Manali is inexpensive.
The vibe in Vashisht is laid back but in a different way than Old Manali. Plenty of backpackers on shoestring budgets head to Vashisht for the cheap accommodation and good views from balconies and rooftops.
Tips for Visiting Manali
- Internet access is more reliable in Old Manali. Many cafes and guesthouses have free Wi-Fi, however, speeds vary. Check to see that a connection is working before you commit to buy something.
- You'll find many ATMs in Central Manali around the northern end of the Mall. For safety, opt to use ATMs that are attached to bank branches when possible.
- Many shops and restaurants in Manali close down around mid October. Some of the owners head home or move to Goa for the winter months.
- Motorbike rentals are an option for experienced drivers to reach the many natural attractions just outside of town. Otherwise, you can consider hiring a driver for the day.
- Although hash and marijuana are smoked openly (especially in Vashisht) both are still illegal in India.
Things to Do in Manali
Manali is an epicenter in Himachal Pradesh for outdoor adventure sports. From rock climbing and multi-day treks to paragliding and even zorbing, Manali is a happy playground for adrenaline seekers. Numerous agencies around Vashisht and Old Manali can arrange exciting activities.
Two hot springs, one in Vashisht and one in Kalath, are famous for their mineral-rich water purported to have health benefits.
Whitewater rafting is an option during the dry season. The river can become too swift during monsoon season.
Skiing is available during the winter months in the Solang Valley, just eight miles north of Manali.
When to Visit in Manali
The weather in Manali varies greatly throughout the year. Even in October you'll sweat in a T-shirt on sunny days then shiver at night when temperatures dip sharply. Summers can bring temperatures around 80 degrees F, but the mercury can drop well below freezing from October to April. Dress appropriately! Most guesthouses do not have central heating, but personal heaters can sometimes be rented for an additional charge.
Mountain weather is unpredictable; always plan for rain or quick temperature changes when setting out on an adventure, especially if you're hitting the trails self guided.
Where to Go After Manali
- McCleod Ganj: Overnight buses from Manali take around nine hours. Don't plan on much sleep along the bumpy ride, but a chance to see Tsuglagkhang, home of the 14th Dalai Lama, is worth the trip.
- Kullu: The interesting, mountain town of Kullu is around three hours away by bus.