Having spent a few days relaxing in Shimla we decided we’d catch a bus north to find more snow and more awesome views. We’d booked a ‘deluxe’ bus to take us on the 10 hour trip north through the Himalayas to Manali and to be honest, we weren’t expecting it to be all that good. Turned out that it was actually alright, we had seats that reclined and spent the first couple of hours watching some weird Indian martial arts film! By the time that had finished it had started to get really cold and so out came the sleeping bags, and before long we’d dropped off to sleep. We kept stopping every few hours to watch the cricket but we were kind of getting used to that by now and so went with the flow. At about 3am we stopped and were all kicked off the bus… turned out the bus had got a flat and we were now changing buses. Not so bad you might think, well it would have been fine except it was -25 Celsius outside and the bus windows did not shut on the new bus and I’d spent 15 mins watching the driver try to defrost the windscreen with a cold bottle of water and a cloth! A short while later we set off and thank the lord for down sleeping bags and thermals as we somehow managed to get back to sleep!
We rolled into Manali at about 4:30am and before I’d packed my sleeping bag away some dude was on the bus trying to get us to go to his hotel for a cheap room. We’d not seen a white person for a week, someone had definitely rung ahead to let people know we were coming! We would usually have argued but at RS250 a night we just followed him down the dark streets to our hotel, fighting off a few rabid dogs along the way, I’m not exaggerating! Having not had a hot shower for a few days and with it being -20 on average we told the guy that if the shower wasn’t hot we weren’t paying, he seemed confident, we however were not. He proved his point, we shook hands and settled in. Having managed to finish off our nights sleep in a moderately warm room, we woke up to an absolutely beautiful day in Manali, blue skies and snow capped mountain vistas as far as the eye could see. We decided to pack all our warm gear and head up the valley to Solang Nullah which was a ski ‘resort’ about 15km from Manali.
Arriving at the bus stop we asked about the bus to Solang only to be told the bus was not running as the road was too dangerous and would not be for a few days.. gutted, we’d not had 10 hours on a bus that had its windows wide open to be told we couldn’t go! We asked a few taxi drivers only to be greeted with laughs, shaking heads and replies of ‘no friend’. As is the way in India, if you ask enough people, you always get what you want and we’d soon persuaded a driver to take us, paid him some danger money and off we went. He’d claimed he had a 4×4, what he meant by that was his little TATA hatchback had 4 wheels on it, this could be interesting. At first we were both a bit confused as to why no one would take us, but as we climbed higher we started to realise, it was really icy. We came across a 4×4 that was stuck in a ditch and couldn’t get out. We all piled out of our little car and helped dig the 4×4 out and once the road was clear, we were off again.
We rocked up in Solang about 30 minutes later, and what a view, we had 360 degree Himalayan views and the sun was beating down. It was absolutely breathtaking. We managed to hire some ski gear and headed for the slopes. Unfortunately there had been a power cut and 0 out of the 3 lifts were working and the only way to the top was by Yak or by foot. We spent the day climbing up the mountain to ski back down and I can tell you that at altitude that’s pretty tiring work. Needless to say, we didn’t get many runs in, but it didn’t seem to matter as in India skiing seems to be more of a social event and a photo opportunity. There were people paragliding off the mountain, people zorbing at the bottom, tubing, quad biking, riding skidoos and even riding yaks. It was all pretty bizarre but fun none the less. We made friends with the only other two whiteys in northern India and spent the day hanging out with them at the top of the mountain and being asked all day for photos by the Indians.
Back in Manali, we watched a crappy film on HBO and prepared ourselves for another epic journey the following evening. This time we were doing 17 hours… not on a deluxe bus but on a local bus. Even when we spoke to locals they laughed out loud in our face at the thought of it. But there was no other way to get to Amritsar so we’d thought, how bad can it be???….