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If you are the type of traveller who likes sophisticated citybreaks, staying in 4 star hotels and above, good food and wine, luxurious amenities - read this article before going to Manali. You'll be glad you did!
What Manali has to offer
Manali's surrounding scenery is its main asset. Set amidst the Himalayas and River Beas, the adjacent countryside is truly breathtaking. But go knowing that Manali is a nothing more than a base to explore the surrounding areas.
What Manali doesn't...
Apart from using Manali as a base to explore its surroundings, the city itself does not have a lot to offer if you are the type of traveller who enjoys culture, shopping, good cafes and restaurants, and so on. The temples in Manali can all be seen in half a day and after that you'll be hard pressed to find activities in town to occupy yourself. Old Manali is overrun with hippies who come mainly to smoke hash (which you'll find growing all over Manali). If this isn't your idea of fun, you won't find much that is redeeming about it.
Manali proper isn't much better; the main thoroughfare - the Mall - is a pedestrianised shopping street that has shops and restaurants of all sorts. But again, the quality of what is on offer is mediocre at best. Don't imagine a lively Indian bazaar where you'll find gorgeous local handicrafts and clothing - this is not what the Mall offers. It's more a hodgepodge of dollar store trinkets.
What to expect
In short, Manali caters to two types of tourists: stoners and adventure seekers. If you fall into one of these two categories, you might love Manali. If you don't, go knowing that Manali itself is not the reason to visit - the surrounding countryside is the only thing worth seeing, and Manali is only a base to explore that.
Hotels in Manali are nothing near 4 or 5 star quality, no matter what ratings they advertise. Generally, you will be hard pressed to find a hotel up to your standards if you are used to staying at 4 stars and above. Do not expect hotels to be clean, much less offer any amenities. You could also try the various home stays available in Manali or around Manali area. You could book these through internet. They come with kitchen and other amenities.
What to do
All of this said, before deciding on a visit, also consider whether the 15 hour bus ride from Delhi is worth it. If you are in India and Delhi is your base, you are much better off exploring Jaipur and Agra. You could also use Chandigarh as your base and travel to manali from there. It is less time consuming and takes about 6 to 7 hours to reach Manali.
If you must go to Manali: Hire a guide to take you to the various temples and around all of the surrounding countryside, which can easily be toured in less than a day. Spend another day paragliding in Kullu Valley, and after that take a guided horseback ride to Shiva's temple. If you are travelling with a small child or with elders then you would not be much inclined to try adventure sports. In that case you could spend time along the beas river and visit some of the shops selling kullu shawls or angora mufflars or sweaters or come to market and walk and get the feel of Manali. You could have a small picnic in some of the serene places in the surrounding countryside. If you wish to see snow then you could go to Solang valley in the winter or come to Manali during the snowfall time that is from january end to march end. All in all you need just two to three days, not more, but if you want to extend your stay pay your driver Rs 1500/ 1600 to take you to Rotang Pass for breathtaking views of the Himalayas. It takes mostly three hours to travel to Rotang Pass but sometimes it may take even more time. So you need to have lots of patience and take some eatables and winter clothes along with you. You may also get mountain sick here as it is at a very high altitude, so please carry some medicines but let it not dampen your spirit. If you are coming during summer you will find snow in rotang pass. Happy holidays....