Himachal’s main tourist resort, Manali, stands at the head of the Kullu Valley, 108km north of Mandi. Despite lying at the heart of the region’s highest mountain range, it remains easily accessible by road from the plains; after one hour on a plane and a short hop by road, or sixteen hours on a bus from Delhi, you could be staring from your hotel veranda across apple orchards and thick pine forests to the snowfields of Solang Nala, which shine a tantalizing stone’s throw away to the north. Manali has become increasingly popular with domestic tourists (more than five million annually), and now greets an eclectic mix of honeymooners, holiday-makers, hippies, trekkers and traders.
The Manali that lured travellers in the 1970s has certainly changed, although the majestic mountain scenery, thermal springs and quality charas can still be enjoyed. Old Manali retains some of its atmosphere, and the village of Vashisht across the valley, with its increasing number of guesthouses and cafés, has become a popular place to chill out. For those preferring to venture into the mountains, Manali makes an ideal trekking base for short hikes and serious expeditions, and countless agencies can help put a package together for you. The relaxing hotels in Manali’s cleaner, greener outskirts, and dozens of sociable cafés and restaurants ranged around a well-stocked bazaar, provide a welcome relief from the rigours of the mountain trails. As well as treks around Manali you can also explore the Kullu Valley.