I have always been told that, when taking a solo trip for the first time, it is more practical to go with the standard practices. I am sure there’s a lot of sense to it. It is more economical and safer. But then again, I am the kind who always chooses to do things differently. So, when I went on my maiden solo trip to Manali, I made my travel plan.
I planned to backpack through Manali, Kasol, and Malana, and finally head to Ladakh to stay with a friend for a few days. Everyone had told me to take the overnight bus from Delhi. But I didn’t feel it would do justice to the trip. After all, if you cannot see the road, what is the point of a road trip?
So, I flew to Delhi, from there, I hitched a ride to Chandigarh with a friend. Chandigarh was another place that I had never been to before. I stayed there for a couple of days at my friend’s home. After that, I started my journey to Manali. I realized it would be more interesting to ride a car than a bus from Chandigarh, although it would be a little high on the budget. But a solo trip is all about indulgence. Surprisingly, I found a cheap, reliable, and comfortable Chandigarh to Manali cab and a friendly and skilled cabbie to drive.
The Plains of Punjab
I had read in countless blogs about how incredible the drive from Chandigarh to Manali is. And on my trip, I could see it why. This route is arguably one of the best ones in North India, especially for a road trip. Crossing the cityscape of Chandigarh, we soon entered the forested perimeters of Panchkula and Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary.
In about an hour, we were passing through Punjab. I had to admit, Bollywood movies don’t exaggerate when they show the quintessential landscape of Punjab. It was right there in front of me; the sun-kissed green fields, the sky as clean and sparkling as fresh laundry, and the golden glow of mustards. And somewhere, far away, I could see the tractors rolling on the fields. I rolled down the windows and breathed the fresh country air, a blessing for the tired urban lungs. And if beautiful background music was missing, my cabbie turned on the local radio which completed the picture.
Although we were only on the edges of Punjab, it gave me a good peek into its rural life. Could I have done this on an overnight bus from Delhi?
First stop in Himachal
I made my first stop at Swarghat. It was an essential junction for trading and tourist traffic between Punjab and Himachal Pradesh and was bustling with people and vehicles. After a quick grub, I was back on the road. I had told my cabbie earlier that I would like to stop at significant places on the route since this was my first time. So, as per my standing instruction, he next stopped at Bilaspur.
The actual town of Bilaspur is busy and quite unassuming but is known for the famous Bhakra Dam. The exact site of the dam was another couple of hours from the main town, but the driver knew a bypass to a point from where I could get a view of the reservoir and the dam. Although a long shot, the views of the roaring dam balanced with the tranquil reservoir, surrounded by hills, was truly incredible.
It was past afternoon, and the sun had started to mellow down. As soon as we crossed Bilaspur, I could feel the altitude kicking in, and the weather also changed dramatically. The air felt fresher and crisper with sudden jumps in pressure after every mile.
Around evening, we passed through Kullu. I wanted to make a quick stop at the Tibetan market, which I had read about in so many blogs and magazines. It was past sunset so that I couldn’t see the surroundings, but I did get a flavor of the Himachalese life, and knew what I could expect in Manali /The markets were in full swing with vendors rushing through their last hours of business before closing for the day and backpackers lazily browsed through the fares. After a cup of local tea and splurging on a few souvenirs, I was back on the road.
From Kullu, it took another couple of hours to reach the hostel in Manali where I was going to stay. That is where my road trip ended, only to begin my journey on foot and public transportation through the mountain state.
The drive from Chandigarh to Manali turned out to be an all-encompassing one. From the concrete jungle of Chandigarh to the warm countryside of Punjab to the lush green hills of Himachal, it was a progression of culture, nature, and vibes, giving me a holistic experience, which I will perhaps cherish for a long time to come.
Tips for a first solo trip
- If you are traveling in peak season, avail of the best Manali sightseeing packages online and save the time, money and hassle of on-spot booking.
- When traveling solo by car, always go with a trusted car rental.