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Manali Diaries

Manali it is. The call of the hills allured us, and we had an added excuse, my birthday. We picked our brains and became organizational
baralacha la photos
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It was only the first week of June, and the heat advisories were already the highlights of all the news channels. The temperature in Delhi was soaring to scorching and unbearable, fluttering in the mid-forty degrees, and with no rain, it felt like the heat index was intolerable on our skin. Helplessly I wanted respite and continued cursing the weather and the climate changes that paralyzed our ordinary lives. We were all living in an eternal inferno and needed an escapade. Everyone in the family once and for all echoed, agreed, and jumped on the suggestion to run away from our summer miseries to a far-off land where there’s cold and peace.

We all were amazed at how quickly and instantly the family could agree without any discord whatsoever. Living already seemed delightful.

Manali! Manali it is. The call of the hills allured us, and we had an added excuse, my birthday. We picked our brains and became organizational wizards at planning the trip. We must be there on the 16th of June, my birthday. After searching online booking portals, we found what we thought would be cute and charming, the Iris Cottages. The location was perfect, on the brink of the hustle and bustle of the busy touristy part of Manali. At once, we called up Mr. Jaypal, the owner of the cottages. He was cordial and, to our delight, helped us to book a room with a balcony, or must I say, “A Room with a View,” for the stay dates. After ensuring our lodging for those dates, enthusiastically, we booked our transportation. We decided to take an overnight journey, and the bus (Volvo, it is) that leaves at 8 PM would reach Manali by 10 AM in the morning. I always loved sleeping on the night trains and buses as a kid and even as a grown-up. Our son, Sagnik, also decided to join us for two days, so we called up Mr. Jaypal again, and cordially he found another room for my son to stay.

manali days
It was the best birthday I ever had

We boarded the comfortable Volvo bus at 8 PM, run by state-owned Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC), from the Inter-State Bus Terminus (ISBT). Ashoke, my better half, had prepared delicious sandwiches and packed them for dinner on the bus. After the bus left the terminal and the city light faded, the driving got smoother on the highway. Our bodies also switched on the relax mode. With no time spent, we ate our delicious sandwiches and drinks, and soon we reclined the chair, the sleep fairy came along, and we dozed off with dreams of our vacation days. 

When I opened my eyes, there was light. It was dawn. As I realized I was on the bus, I found that the bus was not moving. I woke Ashoke up and discovered an accident was ahead of us, and the traffic was stopped. We got off the bus as it would take a while for the road to clear. By then, after close to ten hours into the journey, we were already in Himachal Pradesh. The mountains all around, puffs of fresh air, and the deep emerald green of the conifers, were all so refreshing. Thankfully we were near a ‘dhaba’ (roadside eatery). We had our morning ‘chai .’ We saw a long queue of buses, trucks, and jeeps carrying tourists and others waiting patiently. “The business is good for the ‘dhaba,'” I told Ashoke. It took almost two hours for things to clear. Yet, I loved it. I was in the vacation mood and no rush for the morning classes or household chores. There was beauty all around to sip in. The surroundings were so postcard scenic. 

Finally, we reached Manali without any further delay. Our pre-booked cab was waiting to take us to Iris Cottages. The hotel was located in Vashisht, a village about one and a half kilometers from the Manali city center. It was a beautiful, quaint cottage built in an apple orchard. I fell in love with it at once. Our rooms were ready. The view from the balcony was breathtaking. I could see the mighty Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas, the lush cedar trees, and the river Beas meandering below. Tranquility and peace prevailed; my longing was satisfied. The rippling sound of the river Beas added to the serenity all around, and a sense of calmness embraced me with love. I am happy that I was born. It is my birthday.

Iris Cottage
Iris Cottage is built inside an orchard

In the evening we had a small celebration in the café attached to the hotel. My son managed to get plum pies and pastries from a nearby German Bakery. I couldn’t have had a better birthday, the best gift I could desire.  

While conversing with us, Mr. Jaypal, the owner, suggested that we visit Baralacha La pass on the Manali-Leh highway connecting Lahaul in Himachal Pradesh to Leh in Ladakh in Kashmir. The elevation of this pass is more than 16,000ft, and I was a little apprehensive of high-altitude sickness. Mr. Jayapal assured me things would be fine. So, we decided to go there the day after. Sagnik, my son, decided to go to Baralacha la Pass the very next day since he would have to leave early for Delhi.

We took it easy and relaxed the next day. Sagnik left for Baralacha La early in the morning. I hoped he would have exciting tales to share.

We had a hearty continental breakfast with toast, butter, fruit juice, and fried eggs. The food in the café was good. The wait was a little longer during the rush breakfast hour. Then we casually, with no rush, walked down to the Manali mall, a kilometer and a half away. The downhill stroll was leisurely and relaxed. We walked along the beautiful Beas River. Then it started raining heavily. As we were cautioned of these random downpours, thankfully, we had umbrellas and reached the Mall without getting drenched. The Mall was brimming with tourists. We walked to the Tibetan Market, bought a few gifts, sat on a bench, and watched the happy holiday crowd. There were happy faces, colorful clothes, a giggling bunch of school kids, shoppers bargaining in shops- myriad joyful scenes. It was soon lunchtime. We walked into Mount View Noodles, a renowned restaurant, and sat in their rooftop section. We ordered their delicacy, special noodles with mutton, chicken, and paneer. It was ok, but I may refrain from ordering it again. By then, it started to pour like cats and dogs. We picked our pace and returned to our hotel.

Manali Mall
Mount View Noodles near Manali mall.

In the evening, we walked down to the banks of the Beas. The river flows through rocks and boulders fed by the snow-clad mountains. The verdant greenery in the background made it the most watched picture postcard, a mesmerizing view that will stay with me during my dull or overloaded days in the busy city. There were two colorful hot air balloons, and I wanted to ride one. The price was steep, so I let it remain on my bucket list, a reason to return. Before returning to our hotel, we walked to a nearby café and had fragrant Jasmine tea, soothing the senses.

Sagnik came back later in the evening. He was all excited about the trip to Lahaul and Baralacha La. He had clicked away merrily, and the pictures were beautiful, and I was glad we had planned a trip to Baralacha La.

The next day dawned cloudily. It was cold and raining. I just prayed that things would be fine during our trip. We had a quick breakfast, and our cab arrived on time. On our way, we rented warm jackets and snow boots as we had not come prepared for a trip to a high-altitude pass. Baralacha La pass is at 16,043 ft. Baralacha La means the pass, junction of many roads. The pass is a plateau where three mountain ranges meet (Pir Panjal, Zanskar, and the Himalayas). Baralacha La towers over three valleys. The pass is 161 km (100 miles) long, running from Jispa to Pang in Himachal valley at almost 10,500 ft.

Visiting Baralacha La has become easy after the construction of the Atal tunnel which was opened to the public in October 2020. I was also looking forward to seeing it. It is 23 km from Manali, and we were inside the tunnel within an hour. The tunnel is 10 km long and is an engineering marvel. It took ten minutes to cross the tunnel, and we were on our way to Baralacha La. It was unadulterated joy. The only music I could hear was silence. We passed through the scenic villages of Sissu, Keylong, and Jispa (the last inhabited village). The Chandrabhaga River kept constant company along the entire route. The landscape changed like flickering colors on a static TV screen from verdant green to brown and then to stark black. It was distinct from the mountains I had seen before. 

Baralacha La pass is at 16,043 ft. Baralacha La means the pass, junction of many roads. The pass is a plateau where three mountain ranges meet (Pir Panjal, Zanskar, and the Himalayas). Baralacha La towers over three valleys. The pass is 161 km (100 miles) long, running from Jispa to Pang in Himachal valley at almost 10,500 ft.

We halted briefly to see the beautiful Deepak Tal (tal means lake). It had started snowing by then. Snowfall in June! What more can you wish for. We also took another break at Darcha, with a few dhabas where bikers often rest. Finally, we passed Suraj Tal and the final zing on the route, Zing Zing Bar. 

Zing Zing Bar is famous for its dangerous nullahs (narrow streams). It is a refueling station for BRO (Border Roads Organisation) vehicles, with a few shacks. Finally, we reached our destination, celebrated Baralacha La. The snowclad mountain pass took my breath away, literally too. I was too filled with awe to feel any discomfort. We felt younger by three decades and started throwing snowballs at each other. After enjoying the good time, we had to leave with the hope of returning another day. Once again, breathing in the kaleidoscopic beauty of the surroundings. On our way back, we had a delicious hot meal of mutton curry and rice, which felt like manna from heaven for two famished souls. We reached our hotel, exhausted but deliriously happy.  

fried trout and chips
A delightful lunch of fried trout and chips near Vashisht temple.

The next day was a quiet one. We needed some rest after the supercharged day at Baralacha La. We walked up to the nearby Vashisht temple, spent the afternoon, and enjoyed a delightful lunch of fried fish (river Trout) and chips. We met a few locals and bought a couple of bottles of cherry wine to take back home for a lingering delight.

Our bus was scheduled to leave in the evening, so to make better use of the time, we took off for Naggar, another small town, twenty-three kilometers from Manali, lying on the left bank of the Beas. It is the starting point of many exciting treks. We took an hour to reach Naggar. On the way, we bought apricots and cherries. It is a sleepy small-town san with the glamour of its neighbor Manali. We visited the medieval Naggar castle, built by Raja Sidh Singh of Kullu around 1460 A.D. The Kath Kuni (indigenous architecture style prevalent in Himachal Pradesh) architecture of the castle is worth seeing. It also offers a breathtaking view of Kullu valley. The property is now converted into a heritage hotel run by the state government run Himachal Pradesh Tourist Department. Bollywood movie buffs will remember a song from “Jab We Met,” which was shot here. We had heard of the Naggar bakery across the castle, and we decided to check it out and were glad we did. I had never tasted such fabulous cheesecake, even in the fanciest Delhi bakeries. We packed cinnamon buns for home.

trip to manali
The last day of the trip was action-packed.

We wanted to visit the Roerich Art Gallery nearby, but it was closed as it was Monday. We had some time on our hands, so we decided to visit the Jana Falls 11 Km away. The drive to the falls was truly unique, the winding road was lined with majestic Cedar trees, and the air was fragrant and pure. After we reached the quaint village of Jana, a short trek through a rocky path took us to the fall, a typical waterfall with not much fanfare yet poised elegantly like the proud, beautiful village belle. The delicious Himachali food made my day and stole my heart. The dhaba (a roadside food joint) where we ate had its charm, with seats made of a log of wood from the local pine or cedar trees. The experience was enthralling.

As heard and seen over time, the charming flock of sheep with a leader dog and shepherds got on our way. I must say the charm of the view was abducted by the tension of reaching town and getting the bus on time. The sheep are the king on these routes walking lazily on their terms down the mountain road, paying no heed to all the honks and our adrenalin rush.

Our last destination before we boarded our bus was the adorable Café Sunbloom inside a plum garden. We had to appease our tense nerves. All well that ends well. The proverb stands right always.

We came back with a treasure trove of beautiful memories.


All images used in the article are from the author’s personal collection. 

Useful Links for the Tourists

For more information on places around Manali, hotels, and travel tips, please visit 
Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC). 

For transport-related queries, visit
Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC)

Where the author stayed:
Iris Cottages and Cafe, Vashist

Other information from Wikipedia:
Atal Tunnel
Naggar Castle and Kullu 


Maitreyee Bhattacharya considers herself a lifelong learner. An accomplished high school teacher with many accolades and awards to her credit she enjoys mentoring and interacting with her students. An avid traveller, she lives to explore the unknown to assuage her inquisitive spirit. Her bucket list is endless and hopes to fulfill some of them for sure. She was born and bred in Kolkata, now a seasoned resident of Delhi with two adult children and a caring husband.

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