I have always been a keen wanderer, looking for hill stations, and as soon as the spring settles in I begin hunting for new breathtaking spots. Manali is one such place that has been on my bucket list since I watched the film Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani (YJHD). I had been planning it throughout my high school but when my friends finally decided to pick this buzzing and adventurous hilly region for a vacation, I was all over the place in excitement. After the hassle of convincing our parents we started backpacking for this most exhilarating journey. I, along with nine other friends, set off for Chandigarh in the Kalka Mail from Howrah station. Having undertaken a 27-hour-long train journey, we were exhausted. As soon as we reached Chandigarh we booked a car for the entire trip and headed to our destination, which took another 10 hours. Since we were in the city of sarso da saag and makke di roti it would have been tragic to not have tasted these. We got down at a tiny dhaba located five to seven kilometers from the Chandigarh railway station. After the delightful meal we set for the bone breaking journey; even though NH 21 is a well-paved road the landscape around it wasn’t very inspiring. But as is said, “there is a sweet fruit at the destination of every journey”, the drive got a lot more enjoyable after we entered Kullu. A chilling sensation took over as the winding road carried us towards the dove-mountain, which soared towards the sky. We took a fresh breath of air after reaching our hotel, which was pre-booked via Make My Trip. The temperature was harsh and frosty.

The next morning we woke up to freezing fog that was wrapped around the town like a blanket. I quickly went to the terrace to grasp a peek of the mountains. Then we decided to begin our trip with Solang valley and Gulaba, situated around 13-20 km from Manali. This 40 minutes ride was the most spine-tingling ever as we discovered some breathtaking sights, stunning mountain ranges on one side and the beautiful cascading river on the other side. The ultimate thing to visit in Manali is Rohtang pass but sadly we couldn’t make it as it was closed during March, still Gulaba is a great alternative for the latter.

Named after Raja Gulab Singh of Kashmir, the village of Gulaba is flanked by the picturesque beauty of snow covered mountains and grasslands. It almost resembled Pahalgam of Srinagar. However my desire to encounter snow fall was eventually fulfilled. Yes, you have heard me right, first ‘snow’ ever in my life. The naked trees covered with fresh snowflakes and the ground was filled with snow flurries. I was brimming with enthusiasm to play in the snow. Dressed up in a sky suit and to play with the snowballs was all I wished for. It was all fascinating, especially as I was recapitulating the scenes from Subhan Allah, the song from YJHD shot in Gulaba.

On the way back to our hotel we bought a bottle of Lugdi(local drink) which we were longing to taste. It tasted as though it was rotten, which it obviously was since it was made out of fermented rice. The trip would have had been incomplete without some adrenaline rush, so on the second day we planned for Paragliding and river rafting in the Beas River, one of the five rivers that gave Punjab its name. Immediately after the instructions provided by our guide we braced ourselves for the electrifying experience. River rafting in Manali is one heart racing adventure that gets thrill seeking travelers on their toes. Right after we set off a wave of cold freezing water splashed on us. But that wasn’t simply the end of our adventure; afterwards we clashed an array of obstacles including rocks and strong eddies. Once we reached to the middle, we could feel the mountain that stood silently in the background, crowns of snow covered their lofty peaks, and the silver colored river was all calm. We finally felt connected with nature. At night we went to our respective beds, drowsy and fatigued.

The following day was all about local sightseeing, which included few temples and monasteries. Situated on the banks of the Beas River, Naggar castle, ancient cave temple, and Hidimba Devi temple are a primary tourist attraction and a must-visit for anyone. Hidimba temple is 500 years old, and the Dhoongri temple built with wood has a wooden pagoda with three tapering roofs, surrounded by beautiful silver mountain peaks. This place has a lot to offer. It was a divine religious experience, serene and peaceful. Naggar castle, located in Naggar town is 26km from Kullu, is a magnificent historical edifice made of stone and wood.

Refreshed yet half-hearted, I boarded the same Kalka mail and proceeded away from the heavenly abode, recalling those moments spent in the winding lanes of the Himalayas. If travelling is about sensing and experiencing the true colors of nature at its best then this scenic hill station is definitely a thumbs-up.