Surrounded by snowy mountain peaks in Himachal Pradesh, Manali, India, is a popular tourist destination for Indians and adventurous foreign travelers.
Locals come to Manali for the fresh air and winter sports, while Western travelers use the mountain town as a base for trekking and outdoor adventures.
Manali is situated along the Beas River in the Kullu Valley at an elevation of 6,725 feet (2,050 meters).
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.
Tip: Consider checking out the Drifter's Inn, an excellent place to eat, sleep, and hang out in Old Manali.
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. Unfortunately, you have to cross the bridge just north of Central Manali then walk north along the busy Naggar Highway to get there. 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 will cost around Rs. 100.
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.
Things to Know About Manali
- Internet access is comparably excellent in Old Manali; many cafes and guesthouses have free Wi-Fi, however, speeds vary. Check to see that the connection is working before you commit and don't trust insecure connections.
- There is no ATM in Old Manali or Vashisht, however, you'll find two in Central Manali around the northern end of the Mall.
- Many shops and restaurants in Manali close down around mid October; many of the owners move to Goa for the winter months.
- An autorickshaw between Old Manali and Vashisht should cost between Rs. 100 - 120. Securing a ride after dark is sometimes more difficult.
- Although hash and marijuana are smoked fairly openly, particularly in Vashisht, both are still illegal.
Things to Do in Manali
Aside from the usual shops dotted around town and a multiplex cinema, 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 place 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. Skiing is available during the winter months in the Solang Valley, just eight miles north of Manali.
Weather 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 Fahrenheit, but the mercury can drop well below freezing from October to April. 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.
Getting to Manali, India
From Delhi to Manali: Bhuntar in Kullu (airport code: KUU ) is the closest airport but flights are intermittent.
Alternatively, you can take the 14-hour Volvo nightbus from Delhi to Manali. Buses do not have an onboard toilet, however, they make frequent stops; plan on the very bumpy, winding ride!
From Dharamsala to Manali: Volvo tourist buses from Mcleod Ganj — home of the Dalai Lama — and Dharamsala leave nightly at 8:30 p.m. and take around nine hours; don't plan on much sleep along the bumpy ride.