Manali is one of the best-known hill stations in the lower Indian Himalayas, and is a Mecca for backpackers, old hippies and young thrill-seekers alike.
It’s a beautifully scenic town split into two parts; Old Manali, where most of the backpackers hang out, and New Manali, which is a pedestrianised shopping town surrounded by pine trees which is reminiscent of Western Canada.
The town is dissected by the Beas River, a rocky and fast-flowing river filled to the brim with delicious local trout… A ‘must try’ if you’re in the area!
It’s no coincidence that this is the busiest backpacker town in the state of Himachal Pradesh: Manali’s location in the Kullu Valley gives it access to some of the best adventuring in the Indian Himalayas.
Here are 10 of my favourite adventures Manali.
1. Hiking the amazing mountain scenery
It would be criminal to come into the Himalayas and not see some of the incredible landscapes on foot. Challenges range from short walks of a couple of hours to treks over several days, so there’s definitely something for everyone.
For a short (and free!) hike of just a few hours, start in Old Manali and head towards the river. Without crossing, turn left and follow the road for 2 miles or so before turning back. The road hugs the Beas River for a lot of the way, so you’ll not only see beautiful mountains, but a raging river, and plenty of waterfalls on the other side of the valley too.
For a hike spanning two or three days, hike the Hampta Valley Pass, which starts from town and heads up the mountain to around 4,000m above sea level. High enough to see the snow line and get some breath-taking views too.
Prices range from 1500 – 2500 rupees per day, including guide, warm clothes and sleeping bag.
2. White water rafting
This isn’t technically in Manali itself, but you can book this experience in any adventure travel store in town. Approximately half an hour by car from Manali, you’ll find a stretch of the Beas with grade 2 or 3 rapids, depending on the season.
Definitely not the most challenging rafting experience ever, but a fun afternoon nonetheless, and a way of seeing the valley from the river’s point of view.
Ever since I went canyoning in Goa, I’ve got a newfound respect for this sport. A combination of abseiling, wading through rivers and jumping off cliffs makes a day out to remember.
Posters throughout Manali proudly display slogans such as ‘experts since 2006’, which for me doesn’t feel like a whole lot of experience when you’re trusting someone to help you fling yourself off high rocks, but the safety record is good here.
Book with a reputable company such as Himalayan Extreme Centre, based at the kink in the road at the top of the hill in Old Manali. I was really impressed with their knowledge and honesty when I booked with them.
I battled with myself over whether I should include this on my list of adventures in Manali, as when I visited, there were two accidents within a week. One of them fatal. Still, paragliding is an option for the adventurous traveller, so I would be doing a disservice not to mention it.
Paragliding is available in the Solang Valley, a well-known tourist hotspot a short cab ride from town. Although I’ve heard that the gliding is great, and the up-currents keep you in the air for ages, be aware that at the beginning of each season (around May time) there are new instructors for tandem glides.
This means a lack of experience, and sadly, accidents. If you’re thinking of paragliding in Manali, then please do your research beforehand, and book with a reputable company such as Himalayan Extreme Centre, who will be able to give you up to date advice.
5. Renting a scooter / motorbike
There are bike shops all over town offering short and long term scooter and motorbike rental. It’s a great way of getting around and seeing some of the nearby valleys.
As always in India, safety on the roads isn’t priority number 1, so hire a helmet if you can and drive carefully, especially through the manic traffic in the town.
6. Rock climbing / bouldering
As you’re in the Himalayas, there are plenty of options for those looking to climb a rock or two. Rock climbing tours tend to be aimed at those with a little experience, however if you’re a complete newbie, then consider doing bouldering.
If you’re on a budget and you don’t want to pay the price of a day’s guided bouldering, then hire a bouldering mat and some chalk from one of the shops in town and head for the forest conservation area between Old and New Manali (5 rupees entrance fee). The area is full of easy boulders to get started on.
7. River crossing
Popular with Indians, although I don’t think I saw any foreigners having a go, the bizarre activity of ‘river crossing’ can be done in Manali.
You’re strapped to a horizontal wire at the river bank and then pushed over the river, swinging wildly and being dunked like a tea bag. Totally strange and definitely not safe, but only 200 rupees per person, if you want a cheap thrill!
8. Skiing / snowboarding
Only available in the winter months (October to March), when snow is regular and deep, Manali is a popular skiing and snowboarding town. Ask the locals to point you in the direction of the best runs as the snow will dictate which ones are good.
Alternatively head for the tourist-filled Solang Valley for your skiing and snowboarding needs. The crowds will drive you nuts, but on the plus side, there’s a gondola to take you to the top of the run, and to save your aching legs.
Also (surprise surprise) situated in the Solang Valley, this popular summer activity replaces the snow-based fun between May and September. Get strapped into a big inflatable hamster ball and flung down a hillside until you’re dizzy and sick. It’s a relatively new pastime for Manali, but is fast becoming one of its most popular.
10. Getting high
Not technically an adventure (although it depends which way you look at it), but having a smoke of the local ‘tobacco’ is pretty much inescapable in Manali. I mean, it’s EVERYWHERE.
In no way am I promoting this activity of course. Just listing it as an option….
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