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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Dimmock

Lost hippies in Manali

On 15 June, rather than take the circuit route which would have lead us over a big pass just after Kaza, we took a car and driver directly to Manali. I can’t recall the cost now but probably around 4000 (£45). I had enquired at length with travel agents in Shimla but nobody could tell me for definite when the pass would be open – estimates ranged from 3 days to 3 weeks! Almost 20 years ago we had got snowed in in Kaza and in the end this advice proved correct as I later heard of people doing this route and having to turn back. So although I was a bit disappointed, we had our Leh flight to hit (and of course the flight home) so it was much more sensible to just head to Manali.

Just arriving in Manali was like a blast from the past! Winding roads, rickshaw jams and out of the window the first glimpse of the crazy foreigner population of Old Manali. We arrived close to Joshi's Homestay which we had booked on 4500 Rs for 3 nights plus taxes which equated to £57. The owner Gautaum was brilliant and carried my bags down the narrow lane that lead to the homestay past beautiful old wooden buildings with cows in the yards and children running around. It seemed really that not much had changed in 20 years.

Our room was great, clean and tidy and with the most beautiful views of the mountains. Staying in the homestay were a few long term foreigners who had gotten stuck in Manali, two puppies and a cat! The whole vibe just made me smile from ear to ear.

We wandered around Old Manali and, whilst I knew what to expect from before, it still made me chuckle to see all the foreigners, especially the Israeli demobbed army kids (literally the best place to get Israeli food is Manali for this reason!), and lost white hippies walking around with no shoes on. You’ve got to love it!

We ventured into New Manali fairly quickly (somewhere between 100 Rs and 200 Rs for the CNG depending on how much you can bargain it for… local price is 100) because all you can buy in Old Manali is foreign food (pizza, falafel…), hashish, tobacco, lots of snacks and literally all manner of sweets, slightly odd wine, better cider and beer but (importantly!) no baby milk or nappies and no ATMs. New Manali is a bit like snapping back to the real India. The “us and them” of Old and New Manali is startling and foreign and domestic tourists see two completely and utterly different views of the place. Suitably furnished with everything we needed, including having checked taxi costs to McLeod Ganj/Daramsala and bought Tiger some hand knitted suits, we headed back to Old Manali.

All in all we loved the nutty-ness of Manali… reminded me fondly of my first visit to India and being all wide eyed with the big adventure ahead of me. We celebrated Tiger's 5 month birthday here on 18 June on the day we left for McLeod Ganj by car.

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