“A Dream is only a Dream until you decide to make it real”~ Harry Styles
How do you contain your excitement, when you are set to tick off a major landmark/work/progress/ activity in your lives? Do you feel the butterflies in your stomach? Does it ruffle your sleep the previous night? It surely does for me (although not always). In this case, we were set on a trip to Rohtang Pass and explored the vicinity of Manali. Especially the former is one place I’ve always wanted to spend some quality time.
Cometh the day, cometh the time and it was 8th of October 2021, on Day 8 of our trip to Himachal Pradesh. Check out this link to access the previous episodes.
I was in the middle of a trip with my buddy Arkya and travelled to Mcleodganj and Triund. We came to Manali the previous evening and stayed at Moustache Hostel Manali.
On the way to our hostel, we decided to try and avail the Himachal Tourism Bus for the next day and explore Rohtang Pass, before taking the evening bus back home. We got down at Manali bus stand when the clock read 5.45 pm on 7th of October at the Main Government Bus Stand near the Mall Road. HPTDC office was barely some hundred meters ahead and took less than 2 minutes to reach.
There was only one tourist bus operational, which starts at 10 am and runs dailyand covers spots including Kothi, Gulaba Falls, Marhi, Rohtang Pass, Koksar, Atal Tunnel, Solang Valley, Nehru Kund, and back to Manali. All these places are covered in 8 hours including a lunch break at Marhi.
This cost us around 600 Rupees per head! Indeed Pocket friendly, considering the spots they are promising to cover. We got ourselves two front row seats. Since my friend is a Vlogger, he needed to position in the front row to cover more of the route.
The thing about Manali is the chillness. We came from Mcleodganj, which was certainly not the coldest place on the planet. Of course winters in Mcleodganj are extremely cold, but it was still nearly 2 months away. Manali was colder and we absolutely enjoyed the weather to the fullest.
The Big Day
The Big Day has finally arrived! Our Date with Destiny we were just a few hours away.
We quickly checked out of Hotel by 9.30 am on the 8th of October 2021 and carried all our luggage to the HP Tourism Office. This was barely some hundred meters away from where our bus was parked. To our delight, we were fortunate to have met some of the nicest staff on the whole trip and here as well. Both the Driver and the Guide were extremely courteous and cooperative, that even the snobbiest of tourists would respect them.
The guide instructed about the plans and details about these destinations at every juncture. He helped us with our luggage and loaded them at a rack behind the driver’s seat.
Talking about the bus! We were set for a treat!
It wasn’t a luxurious Volvo or a Scania… It was a simple Tata Bus with extra comfortable seats and ride quality. The bus came in as a replacement for a smaller bus since there were more tourists apart from us.
We started with a delay of 15 minutes and were off to Kothi.
We cruised along River Beas and took the diversion towards Rohtang Pass from the main highway, which leads towards Atal Tunnel.
To give us a grand company, it was the Himalayas, surrounding us from all visible directions and giving a sense of positive feeling. With each hairpin’s curves, we felt overwhelmed and our eyes were glued with the windows for a long time.
Kothi: A Pleasant Hamlet in Kullu
Kothi is a small hamlet, located just off the bridge connecting Solang Valley and towards the Old Leh road towards Rohtang Pass. Although, nothing much to explore, the place is well suited for having a fine cup of tea and maybe Maggie while you are ascending towards Rohtang Pass.
Bird’s Eye View Point and Rahala Waterfall
The next stop we closed in was Gulaba. The roads spiralled and curved at every juncture. At one point, we felt there is no end to this. We and the other travelers enjoyed the pristine blue skies, acting as a perfect light setter for photography purposes. My friend Arkya is a Vlogger and is set to release the whole journey experience in the coming months.
Our bus stood for about 10 minutes and we saw the bird’s eye view of Solang Valley on the other side. With ample vegetation and snow-capped mountains, this felt surreal and photogenic. The bus started and within a few minutes, we reached Rahala Falls. It was filled with tourists and it felt quite generic but served a good juncture for having a nice tea break. We started after spending some nice time around.
Marhi: Ultimate Option for Paragliding
Now, Wait! Rishikesh, Bir Billing, and even Solang Valley might be some names popular for Paragliding Activities. I get it!
Honestly, I didn’t try any of these. But the fact that Marhi is one underrated gem of a place when it comes to Paragliding comes without saying. I am not trying to compare it with top spots like Bir, but the fact that Marhi offers an entirely different landscape is simply scintillating.
Marhi is a popular point in Leh Manali highway, filled with Dhabas and eateries. There is a beautiful Buddhist Temple that offers the first view of the barren and sandy landscape cant go unnoticed.
It feels like you have already entered the Ladakh region and the landscape shows it. There is a point ahead, which offers a comprehensive Paragliding for enthusiasts. The other paragliding spots might outscore this with their altitude and other factors, but Marhi in my take offers you a breathtaking alternative.
We visited the beautiful Buddhist Temple and had light snacks at Marhi, while many had their lunch. We started when the clock read 12.35 pm.
Summiting Rohtang Pass
We were some 20km away from summiting the top of Rohtang La. I was excited would be an understatement, considering summiting this beautiful spot in the Himalayas.
The bus picked up the pace and started to ascend further and further. We saw a few tourist vehicles ahead and a lot more following us. In about 40 minutes from Marhi, we came to a spot that had a board that read,
Border Roads Organization 70 RCC Welcomes You At ROHTANG PASS 13058 Feet
We got down from the bus and let the feeling sink in!
The journey, the roads, the weather, and the destination….. All matched with our schedule perfectly!
A trip to Rohtang Pass feels surreal. The feeling of happiness and the broad new landscape is a cherry on the top of the tastiest of cakes.
We took turns and got our pictures with the board. One common spot for photography after all xD
Arkya had steamed momos, while I had a tasty stuffed kulcha Chola. The piping hot food amidst a sunny yet cold windblast and standing at an altitude of 13k feet felt pleasing.
We explored a small cliff nearby and saw the place completely commercialized with vendors and tourists swarming across.
After spending some good 50 minutes, it was time to say goodbye to Rohtang Pass and move forward. We wished to spend the entire day here. Who knows? We might sometime in the future.
Gramphoo and Koksar: A brief look of Lahaul and Spiti
Once you start ahead of Rohtang Pass, you would be descending towards Gramphoo, which is the first village while arriving at Lahaul Valley. This is a small and high-altitude village with the classic look of a typical Lahaul Valley. We were set to descend about 3000 feet from Rohtang to Atal Tunnel. The spiral hairpins on the Lahaul side of the valley looked even more breathtaking and scenic. With each hairpin’s curves, our eyes took turns with the bus and the landscape ahead.
We were near Gramphoo, a place where the road towards Spiti Valley starts. This is the junction point for Lahaul and Spiti.
On the other hand, we got a beautiful company in the form of Chandra river from this point. This is a river originating from the pristine Chandrataal Lake in Spiti and flows into Kashmir to become Chenab. This led to a small passerby village with a touch of classic Buddhist and Ladakhi architecture called Koksar. We didn’t stop here and then proceeded towards our next point.
Atal Tunnel: An Engineering Marvel
The Old road via Rohtang Pass is evidence of how tough lives of people might have been, who stay disconnected from the rest of the country during winters. Since the roads are prone to heavy weather changes and rampant snowfalls, Rohtang Pass remains the last motorable point and the entire Ladakh and even the Western part of Lahaul and Spiti remain disconnected.
Nevertheless, times have changed for good and with the new Atal Tunnel, spanning about 9km underneath the Himalayas, the tunnel sits close to 10k feet above MSL. With such high-altitude challenges and complexities of the geology in the area, all credits to the engineers to pioneer such a project. The tunnel was opened for traffic on 3rd Oct 2020. Above all, both the North Portal (Lahaul side) and South Portal (Manali side) remain a popular spot for tourists and travellers alike.
We reached Atal Tunnel and got down from the bus exactly outside the North Portal parking. To our surprise, it was unbelievably cold. Even though we were around 3000 feet below Rohtang Pass, Atal Tunnel felt bone-chilling cold. We felt more because the sun was shining towards the West and technically towards the South Portal.
We clicked a few pictures and saw all the regular vehicles now taking the tunnel. With this, the time taken to reach Keylong from Manali has come down to 2 hours from the previous 5-7 hours.
After spending some 15 minutes at the North Portal, we started our journey to the South Portal on the other side of the tunnel. The tunnel is heavily secured with CCTV and no vehicles should stop inside the tunnel. In about 10 minutes or so, we crossed the 9km long tunnel and were welcomed by the beautiful sunshine around the Solang Valley area (South Portal). There was no point in halting here once more, and this meant we cruised towards Solang Valley Park Area and once again rejoined Beas River in this region. The bus took some 10-15 minutes to reach the point
Solang Valley and Nehru Kund: The Last Phase of the Trip to Rohtang Pass
We arrived at Solang Valley around 4 pm. Honestly, after witnessing so many breathtaking spots earlier in the day, what we saw here was an absolute disappointment. Solang Valley with snow is a great place to visit and we all would agree. Minus the Snow, it looked like yet an overly commercialized adventure tourism spot. We didn’t do much here at Solang Valley and subsequently, we decided to have a cup of tea and some snacks to pass the time. Not just us, there were a few of the tourists, who joined us near the tea stall alongside Beas river, while many went a notch ahead to try the paragliding, ATV rides, and even ropeways.
These tourists, backed by our guide and bus driver joined us and shared the same perspective of how it felt now in Solang Valley. It felt nice to know that many apart from us felt the same way.
We had to wait for long 45 minutes and finally, all came on board to leave for the next stop at Nehru Kund.
Nehru Kund is nothing special of sorts, apart from a small water stream, offering the visitor one of the tastiest drinkable water. We filled around 2 bottles of Pure Himalayan Mineral Water… Something that’s not available in any Metro cities.
Arriving back in Manali
In the last phase, it took less than 15 minutes from Nehru Kund to reach Manali Bus Stand. The same place where we boarded the bus earlier that day.
In the end, though, the bus driver and guide were courteous and offered us an extra ride to the Private Bus Stand, which is about a kilometre from the Government Bus Stand. The reason? We had our return bus to Ambala later that night at around 7.30 pm. It was a great gesture and full marks for HPTDC for offering budget travellers just paying 600 Rs per head to take them across Rohtang Pass and all these places. A big thanks to them from the bottom of my heart for being such humble human beings. I would love to avail their services whenever I visit Manali in the future. Likewise, I would surely recommend availing of the wonderful bus service for a trip to Rohtang Pass, especially for those with budget constraints.
Lastly! All’s Well that End’s Well and a trip to Rohtang Pass did end on a great note!