Since last one year or so, if not more, we had not gone on a road trip together – full family. Somehow, everything just fell in place when my sister got leaves from her office, my kid had summer vacations, my wife arrived from US after her official reviews & could take leaves and me, well, it doesn’t matter. Who asks driver whether he can come or not? So, the travel dates were planned and hotel bookings were done.
Manali – little over 12 hrs drive from Gurgaon lies this picturesque town of Himachal, along the river Beas. During summer vacations this town turns into little Chandni chowk with newly wedded couples flocking the streets. It was peak season but this did not deter us from taking this trip. Personally, I prefer the solitude of Himalayas over hustle bustle of commercialized hill stations, but still, the plan was made and this poor driver had to follow the orders from the planners.
We planned to leave early, so that we can reach Karnal by breakfast time. Upon back calculation, it showed leaving time as 5am. Did we make a calculation error? Even in summers, getting up at 5am was a herculean task, leave aside ‘leaving’ home by this time. Not possible. Period. You’re a driver, I was told. So, on the D-day, ruefully, I got up by 4.30 am, and by that time, everyone was already up and getting ready. Since I had to drive for the entire journey alone, perhaps, I was allowed this luxury of extra 15-20 mins of sleep.
A Sindhi family on a vacation – it looked as if we were relocating, so much luggage, so many packets of eatables – fruits, dry-fruits, chips, biscuits, chocolates, candies, kokis, pickles, spreads and breads, buns, namkeens, cold drinks, juices, a crate of water and what not. Looked as if we were about to go to a curfew zone where nothing would be available. Anyway, as the clock struck 5.30 am and by then we were in XUV on its voyage to hills.
The route chalked out was Gurgaon-Delhi-Kurukshetra – Ambala- Sindhu border – Kharar – Rupnagar – Kiratpur Sahib – Bilaspur – Mandi – Bhuntar – Kullu – Manali. Around 570 km one way with about 250 km hilly drive. I must confess I have never driven for so long continuously on hills… gosh, 250 km… but I wasn’t worried, in fact, I was excited about it. I love the fog and winding roads, the chills and thrills of the serpentine roads (unlike my family). Getting out of Delhi merely took us an hour at this unearthly hour. By the time we reached bypass road, it was 6.30 am. As we got clear roads, XUV sprinted in triple digit speed and it was then when my dad intervened and asked me to slow down. I adjusted myself on seat so as to hide speedometer from his direct view. Perhaps I was successful as he didn’t ask me to slow down again. In a jiffy, we crossed Sonipat, Panipat and Karnal. Just before reaching Kurukshetra, we stopped at Mayur Dhaba (opp. Savoy Greens / Karna Lake) for hot parathas. Clock showed 8.15 am.
Last time when we stopped here for breakfast was while going to Chail, the service was quick and we expected the same this time. However, owing to rush, even after 15 mins of ordering, only water was served to us. I had to push the waiter and tell him that we were heading to Manali and need to leave soon. Our pleas were heard and we were rewarded with white butter and alu paratha with tea. Oh, heavenly! It was worth the wait. We ordered another round if it. Shall we go for a third round… naah, don’t overeat – lunch bhi karna hai. Finally, with hunger satiated, we were ready for another marathon run. I decided to make the next halt at Kiratpur Sahib and not before… surprisingly, God did not smile otherwise. We reached Kiratpur by 12 noon and took the hilly road diversion for Manali. One of my friends told me that this route has bad roads from Kiratpur and we were deliberating whether to go via Una when we stopped for refueling at Kiratpur. Upon asking the pump attendant, we were informed that roads were repaired and we can take this route without worrying. Liar! Anyway, as the hilly drive started I could feel the adrenaline gushing in my veins. Loved the quick turns and bumps of road. With Cheetah in AWD mode, the control was superb. Quickly we passed through Bilaspur and then realized that in spite ofregular munching of snacks, we were again hungry souls. We stopped at the most shabby and horrible restaurant we could locate. Not that it was a deliberate attempt to save money, but no other ‘decent-er’ place was in sight. Since we were hungry, we even relished the rubbery paneer and bland dal served to us. Just to help ourselves, we washed it down with coke… God and coke are present everywhere, and coke saved us this time.
Rest of the drive was uneventful. We reached Kullu at around 5.45 pm. Manali is just an hour away! With Beas river running along the highway, the landscape turned stunning at every twist and turn. We enjoyed the landscape and drizzle on the highway, the weather was amazing. Time showed 6.15 pm on the dashboard. We were tired as we were driving since early morning and needed to reach hotel quickly and rest. Just before entering Manali, we encountered bumper-to-bumper jam which lasted till Mall road. Time read 7.15 pm. We turned towards Circuit House Road for our hotel. Looks we reached, finally, said my heart. Naah, final test was pending. The lane to our hotel was so narrow, it barely had space for a cycle to pass next to XUV. Cautiously, I drove and was successful in parking the car at the parking area. Time read 19.30 hrs. Finally, a long drive of 14+ hrs came to an end.
The hotel is nice. Crap, a facade it was. After completing the paper formalities, I asked for WiFi password from reception which he readily gave. Boss, WiFi is a basic need of humans now, just like food and water, in fact, bigger than that. Upon reaching the room , to my horror, I found there is no WiFi signal in room. Damn! Suddenly, I felt tired and hungry and sleepy… all mortal emotions just invaded my mind and body. Lets have dinner first. Ordered chicken and some veg stuff. This was the ‘most special’ horrible and tasteless chicken I had ever eaten. Take a bow, chef! It takes special effort to cook this bad. Finally, without proper food and WiFi, I retired to bed. Bad, long, tiring day, finally ends, so early. The Clock read 22.30 hrs.
Our itinerary was to explore Naggar and Jana falls on 11th May, go to Rohtang and Solang valley on 12th, 13th for kasol or Manikaran, 14th for Manali local and return on 15th May. So, on the first day in Manali we got up around 7am. Wanted to have tea without even brushing my teeth but last night’s chicken still tasted bad in my mouth…eeeee, creepy and gory writing style! Apologies! Well, didn’t want to experiment with morning tea so went to a tea stall just opp to hotel. Its tea was decent though sugary. At least, the start of the day is sweet, I thought. By 9am, we were ready to leave for Naggar Castle. I still remember, last time in March 2009, when I had come to Manali with my wife, we had rented a bike. Serpentine roads, white river gushing along with us, excellent weather and with young age on our side, we did have fun then too.
Shooting of Jab we met song was done at Naggar and being in the same place was a wow experience. There is nothing much to see other than click few pics of amazing view of Beas and highway, use clean toilets and have a delayed lunch (read slow service). Time read 10.30 am. After Naggar, we deliberated whether we should go to Kullu or go to Jana falls. Road to Jana falls was bad as per the locals but I was reluctant to go to Kullu for shopping of shawls. Well, the car goes where the driver drives, so we took the narrow road to Jana falls and believe me, next 10 km were nightmarish. Road was non-existent and we had to run the XUV back and forth many a times when some big vehicle shared the space on road. Perhaps, this is what gave my parents an idea to say blunt NO on my face when I recommended Manikaran / kasol visit to them. Anyway, after much struggle we finally reached Jana Falls by 13.30 hrs. It was a very small waterfall, definitely not worth the road hardships. What a loss of time. Only solace was that there were a few dhabas serving food. We ordered maggie and tea while my wife braved to try ‘pahari thaali’… I could not recognize any of the dishes they served to her. She said it was tasty though she could not finish the entire food served. There were a few adventure games going on and my sister tried her hands at one of them. Rs 300 went down the hill with one ride…phewww! Finally, after a so called lunch and games, we left for hotel. Yeah, we had no strength to go to Kullu and then drive in traffic to Manali…We reached hotel at around 5.30 pm and called it a day. Of course, with dinner at Mall road, not at our hotel.
12th May – This was a big day, my solo driving to Manali-Leh road upto Rohtang, okay okay, Gulaba camp only since Rohtang pass wasn’t open yet . We got up early before the dawn, okay fine, after the sunrise, big deal. Happy now. Clock showed 06.30 hrs when I left bed. By the time we got ready and left it was 08.30 hrs. It was sunny and a bit warm at Manali but as we ascended, the air got cooler and finally ended up being chilly. While parking on the narrow road near Gulaba camp, while reversing the beast, there came a sound ‘thud’…omg, would Rohtang be a lucky place to get first underbelly hit or the first scratch? Can we drive the car back to Manali and get a quick check? I sweated amidst chilly wind of mountains in a split second. It was when my dad assured, nothing is wrong, just that the side step has hit the road as I backed through a pothole. Nothing to worry…waah, the smile was back on my face. As we got out of the car, we all had high hopes of seeing snow atleast, without the ‘actual snow-fall’. All hopes were dashed while gazing at barren mountains… it looked as if all were singing in chorus ‘try next year buddy’, just like the IITs said to me 20 years ago.
After spending some time, we rushed down to Solang valley to do something better. Hard luck, Solang valley was worse with no parking place. We had to park about 2 km before the entry point. We headed for the rope way but upon knowing it is Rs 600 per head, we thought of having a lavish meal for Rs 3600 instead (we were 6 people, remember! Now, do the maths). Finally, on the way back to Manali city, just before the city bridge, we stopped the car on the banks of Beas and rushed to the rocky river. Someone has rightly said, best things in this world are free…like this. Clicked a few pics with the mighty river, embraced the cold water (not literally) and off we went to hotel for a long relaxing time. Again, dinner on Mall road.
On 13th May, we thought of visiting local Manali… Van vihar, Hidimba temple, and Vasistha kund… I wasn’t interested in either. Instead I preferred a walk down the mall road, have hot tea and bask in sun. Well, who asks the driver! All places were covered reluctantly, photos clicked, lunch eaten and back to hotel by the evening. Lets call it a day, shall we? Nothing exciting.
Last day for exploring Manali … I wanted a drive to Manikaran but since the road was bad, and my parents had already experienced ‘Jana’ falls, they were adamant ki Manikaran nahin ‘Jana’. I dont even know how we killed the day, eating chicken and having beer is all I remember now. Yeah, in the evening we went to German bakery too, don’t remember the English name of cake I had but it was nice, bakery is located just at the start of circuit house road from Mall road. Finally the day ended at 21.00 hrs. So early, yes, because its a marathon drive back home tomorrow. Gurgaon, here we come.
Its 15th May and we’re up again. So Early. Time is still 04.30 am. In a jiffy, we packed our stuff and got ready to leave. Good riddance hotel, you couldn’t even give us a decent cup of tea in 4 days of stay, though we didn’t order, so what. See you again over tripadvisor review. When I woke up my XUV from slumber, it was 05.30 am. Didn’t even give it time to wake up properly and get the engine warm. She might be hungry too as fuel meter said we could go for another 180 km only. Well, my hunger was more than hers so we thought of having breakfast first and then get the fuel. Well, at this unearthly hour, no restaurants were open, but petrol pumps were. XUV won! We got the fuel and continued to drive. After crossing Kullu, on the highway, we saw a restaurant, well, basically a small shack where few persons were having tea. Now it was our turn to satiate our morning tea craving. Killed the engine, ordered tea and opened the Sindhi snacks bar. Buns, biscuits, namkeens, cakes were flowing from the bags kept in boot. Once we were filled and thought we could skip the actual breakfast, we started the drive again. Time read 8.00 am. By the time we crossed Pandoh dam, we were hungry again… rather I was hungry. So, we again stopped at Bilaspur HPTDC restaurant for a break – both bio and breakfast. It looked so clean as if no one had ever stepped into the restaurant. We were the daring (or lucky) ones. Ordered the standard omelette bread and tea. Tea was good, and so was the view from the balcony. Upon opening the glass of window I realized that we have climbed down most of the hills and its warm outside. Didnt realize it in the car or restaurant which had the AC on… one thing was sure, XUV’s AC was working perfectly, though with average of 9 kmpl it was burning a deep hole in my pocket. By the time we reached Kiratpur Sahib it was almost noon. Glad we were on plaines, now I can push the car harder. Soon, we were cruising at 120 kmph. Sooner than we had anticipated, we crossed Kharar and entered Ambala. I realized, we could reach Delhi sooner than anticipated and then thought of spending some more time on highway. “Shall we stop for lunch at Savoy Greens before Karnal?” ‘Yes’ came the unanimous answer. By the time we reached Savoy Greens it was 14.30 hrs. Finally, some rest for the driver and the car which was cruising continuously. I am impressed Mahindra, good job. After a heavy meal of fast food, we left the place by 15.30 hrs. No more stops, I had thought but by the time clock showed 5 pm and we crossed Panipat, I was craving for tea yet again. It was when I cried out “driver needs tea”, my dad asked me to look for a dhaba. It was warm outside but evening tea, highway and dhaba… can’t beat this combination. Soon, we were done and now no more stops…pakka! said my heart. By the time we entered Delhi it was late evening and traffic was at its peak. I could feel I was getting tired but had to reach home… eventually, by 19.30 hrs we were back home!
Family vacation comes to an end. Overall, the trip was nice. More than the destination, I enjoyed the journey driving the beast. And now, more than feeling tired, the thought of joining office back tomorrow was dreadful. Monday blues!! Perhaps this is it.