A pretty, alpine hill station in Himachal Pradesh, Manali is about 32 kilometers (20 miles) from Kullu Valley, 280 kilometers (175 miles) from the state capital Shimla, and 108 kilometers (67.5 miles) from Mandi. Manali is at a height of 2050 meters (6833 feet) and spreads along the banks of the gurgling Beas River. Named after sage Manu who is believed to be the creator of human race according to Hindu mythology and the writer of Manusmriti, Manali has a temple dedicated to this great sage. Besides, it is steeped in legend and folklore, making Hadimba Temple a popularly visited landmark. A string of brilliant waterfalls, sulphur springs and monasteries only add to the ambience of this hill station. The glacial paradise of Rohtang Pass is a popular skiing destination, where you can enjoy snow activities even in peak summer.
A popular destination, Manali does not have a long recorded history. Though it does have a significant role in Hindu mythology, according to which at the time of the apocryphal floods Sage Manu, lawgiver to the Hindus was towed to Manali by the avatar of Vishnu and thus saved.
Besides that little myth of origin, Manali remained largely unexplored and uninhabited. It was sparsely populated by nomadic hunters called ‘rakshas’; they were followed by shepherds who came from the Kangra valley and took up agriculture in Manali. Very few of these original shepherd clans remain now.
In early 1900s, the British introduced apples and trout finishing to the region. The pleasant summer climate attracted many British officers and their families and Manali gained some importance as a recreational hub. But the lasting legacy of the British were the fruit orchards, which are now one if Manali’s prime industries.
Post-independence, Manali was largely frequented by trekkers and hippies, who found the local society accepting of their freewheeling ways.
In the lat 1980s, with the mountains and snow of Kashmir out of bounds, many Indian families started coming to Manali instead. It proved to be an accessible hub for Rohtang Pass, Solang Valley, and many other peaks as well. This burst of tourism led to the construction of many hotels and resorts, all of which has helped many Manali even more popular with families, trekkers, and adventure sport enthusiasts.
Himachal Taxi Operators’ Union provides taxi service to and from Manali, Dharamshala, Leh and Naggar. Besides, a number of public and deluxe buses run between Manali and Leh. There is a daily bus connecting Manali with Leh. This bus, originating in Delhi, is run by HPTDC (Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation), and charges around INR 1200. You can even take a public bus from Rs 375 to Rs 575. In fact, several buses operate between Manali, Kullu and Parbati Valleys. HPTDC Transport has a large fleet of well maintained luxury coaches operating within and outside the state. You can also explore around Manali in a private taxi or auto-rickshaw.
The region’s rich tradition of handicraft and handlooms make shopping a pleasant experience in Manali. Due to the presence of vast forestland producing huge timber, wood has traditionally been a favorite medium for handicrafts. Key chains, name plates, etc with customized messages are worth a buy as mementos. Also, you can get your name carved/written on a single grain of rice.
Stroll the market to shop for some colorful woolen stuff such as sweaters, pullovers, shawls and quilts among others. Don’t forget to pick up some beautifully hand-embroidered woolen shawl in Manali. This includes some heavily hand-embroidered rugs. The shops on the Mall are full with Tibetan handicraft which includes some one-off curios, antiques and knick-knacks for home décor. You could also include the very exquisite inlaid silver jewelry in turquoise and coral in your shopping cart. For all kinds of shopping, The Mall is the hub, and you will get an amazing variety here. You will come across numerous private outlets alongside government-run emporiums.
The village of Vashisht has a gem store (owned by a gentleman named Shafi) that has on offer an impressive assortment of semi-precious jewelry, unset stones, silver ornaments, rugs and shawls. This small corner shop just below the main square in the village is a treasure trove of ethnic junk. For hippie clothes and jewelry, look no beyond Old Manali.
Remember to always bargain. Hand-embroidered woolen shawls are best bought from the Mall. But do take a look around the Mall and the road off Hadimba Temple, you might find some exclusive creations and souvenirs. The main shopping zone in the Mall comprises Hong Kong Market, Thai Market, Tibetan Market, Dragon Shopping Complex, Lama Underground, Shangri La Shopping Complex, New NAC Market and Snow Lion Underground Market. If you are looking forward to shopping for something ethnic, explore the Tibetan market famous for rugs, Kullu caps, shawls, local tweeds, woolen blankets, footwear, one-off Buddhist paintings, silver jewelry, bamboo souvenirs, metal craft and natural oil among others. For authentic Kashmiri hand-woven shawls, try the Kullu-Kashmir Shawl Emporium, a cooperative run by local women.