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The High State

 Before The Judgement

I believe I must begin by addressing the pressing question - Was planning a vacation in the midst of a pandemic a recommended move? 

No.

Yet we went ahead with it. Here is why. 

We (Nithya & I) were newly married, and our vividly planned vacation at the island of Langkawi was stolen away from us by the virus.

Our stay in Delhi was coming to an end due to job-related moves, and we felt it would be a waste not to utilize this opportunity in exploring at least one of the tourist hot spots easily accessible from the national capital region.

Let us end this section by answering another question - Are the reasons listed above good enough to risk a vacation during a pandemic?

No. We had taken a calculated risk.


Arrival at Manali


There are two phases to this - planning and execution.

We had not started planning with Manali in mind. There were numerous choices - starting from Jaipur and Amritsar to Nainital, Shimla, and Manali. After a bit of reading and deliberations, we zeroed in on Manali since it was one of the most popular destinations, and neither of us had been there before.

The timing of the trip was of essence too. Diwali of 2020 was falling on a Saturday, and we knew it would be ideal to spend the same week away from Delhi to escape the infamous, ensuing blanket of smog. And mountains promise clean air.

Once the place and time were set, what took priority was the mode of transport. A private car would have been the ideal choice to minimize public exposure - however, the demanding twelve-hour long drive would have drained the energy off us. Planes from New Delhi to Bhuntar are less frequent and expensive. The bus was the most feasible choice for us.

There was a catch, though.

The Covid situation mandates that inter-state air-conditioned Volvo buses do not operate. The travel operators bypassed this hurdle by changing buses at the Himachal Pradesh state border, thereby inducing a slight discomfort for the travelers.


Orchard Greens Resort and Spa


View from the balcony the day we arrived



Our stay at Manali was at this hospitable resort located at the very picturesque Log Huts Area of Manali. Apart from the dreamlike scenic beauty - the resort is closely located to some of the key attractions of Manali - the Hadimba Devi Temple, the famous cafes and bakeries of Old Manali, the Manali Mall Road, Jogini Falls, and so on.

We had started slow - going on foot and exploring the local attractions for the first couple of days. Hadimba Temple? Check. Mall Road Shoppng? Check. Then something happened on the third day.


Our First Snow


There were weather predictions suggesting that it would snow in Manali on November 16th, the Monday. However, we were skeptical. And to describe the utter delight that we felt as we looked outside on the Monday morning!


View from the balcony on Monday


 That morning we wrapped ourselves in layers and layers of clothing to cope with the ice, and headed out. The very wonderful Manohar Lal, who had dropped us at the resort from the Manali Bus Stand, took us to the famed Solang Valley.

Mountains draped in sheets of white. Froth like snow on either sides of the road. The non -chalant Beas river flowing on despite the snow covered rocks on its beds.

We had our fun failing at skiing, and then proceeded to build the very cliched, yet very exciting, our own Snowman.

Although by that time we had had more than enough fun for a day, our local guide Manohar Ji decided that was not enough.

Later that day, we were strapped and hooked to a metallic wire, and then pushed off to slide away. Further later, we were driven up all the way up to the top of a cliff - only to be asked to jump off the highest point.

Zip line and Para gliding marked the end of one of the most memorable days of our lives.


The Food Scene


Some travel to explore the unseen. Some others travel to unwind and escape. And then there are some whose primary intention of the travel would be to indulge themselves in a culinary affair with the regional offerings - a gastronomical adventure, if you may. If you ask me, experimenting with food always play a significant role in my travels.

Before we hit Manali, we had spent some time researching the famed cafes and their specialities. Some names had come across in multiple blog posts, namely Evergreen Cafe, Johnson Cafe, Cafe 1947, and so on. Our list was set. Luckily, some of these cafes lay in close proximity to our hotel.

Himalayan Trout Fish - Johnson Cafe


If you visit the Mountains, your culinary journey wouldn't be complete without trying the famed Himalayan Trout fish. This one has a celebrity status akin to the Karimeen from the Kerala Backwaters. We tried both the Continental Roasted preparation as well as the Desi Tandoori preparation - and both satisfied my palette.


Maggi


Yes! We were also surprised to see Maggi as a must try delicacy in multiple blog posts! What was so special about this ubiquitously available, commercially mass produced product! Well, one needs to travel to the mountain peaks lying at the sub zero temperatures in order to truly appreciate the value. 


Takeaways


Having a helpful local guide really helped us elevate our whole experience. In this regard, we were lucky. If anyone reading this is panning a Manali trip, feel free to contact me if you wish to avail his services. 

Another thing we realized is that while planning the itinerary for a trip/vacation, it is always important to have buffer days - days where little or no activity is planned. After a day of intense physical exertion, your body might need some time to relapse. It is okay if you cannot fit all of your planned activities in your itinerary. A relaxed vacation would be memorable than a hectic run to check the bucket list items off. And the unchecked items might prompt you to make a comeback to the same place some time later.



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