Manali trip on a budget

Brief Intro:

Named after the rishi ‘Manu’,  ancient India’s first law-maker. My guess is that its initial name will be “Manalay”(Manu+ alaya), meaning Manu’s home, which in time came to be known as Manali. One of the most popular hill stations in India in every season but saves its best for winters. Situated in Kullu District of Devbhoomi (Himachal), around 550 km from Delhi, Manali is a hub for tourists who plan to visit Leh, Spiti, Kasol, Mandi or do some other famous treks to lake such as Bhrigu.

I had the privilege to visit Manali this February and experienced its glory first hand. I had planned a budget trip, so in this write-up, I will let you know how I managed it. Also, since this was my first solo trip, exploring on foot would be the best option to save a few hundred. I will detail my trip in another series of blog, here I will tell you how to cheaply plan your trip if you are a backpacker with a decent fitness level. Read on for how to plan Manali trip on a budget.

How to reach:

There are primarily 2 ways to reach here, either by bus or air. The preferred location to start your trip will be from Delhi. In case you are coming from another city, you can take a train or flight to Delhi or Chandigarh. As for getting to Manali, let me elaborate:

  • Air – The nearest airport is in Kullu, about 50 km from Manali. The flights to Kullu are rather expensive, so I would not advise it if you are not looking to splurge.
  • Bus from Delhi: The best option is to take a bus from ISBT Kashmere Gate, Delhi to Manali. It will cost you around 1700/- for an HRTC bus. There are a lot of semi sleeper Volvo buses as well as general public buses plying from Delhi to Manali daily. From punctuality perspective, your best bet would be HRTC buses, since they don’t stop at any random location to pick up passengers. Other private buses start from either Majnu ka Tila or from Himachal Bhavan.  The journey will take you around 13-14 hrs, given there are no roadblocks due to tress or landslides. Read Redbus reviews before making bus selection.
  • Bus from Chandigarh: Almost the same as Delhi with regards to buses. The pickup location is in Sector-43, takes about 3-4 hrs less than what it takes from Delhi. Consequently, the price is a bit less, with HRTC buses costing around 1200/-.

If you want less bus time, you should opt for Chandigarh. Else, both locations are equally appropriate locations for starting your trip.

Where to stay:

This is the trickiest part of the trip. For a wonderful experience, the place of stay has to be very ideally located. As for me, I stayed at a place around 2 km from Mall Road. I wouldn’t say it was ideally located since some places mentioned in the next section were quite close while somewhere we somewhat far in terms of walking. So let me help you with the selection, from what I have learnt from my trip.

As far as my opinion goes, I would suggest you pick a place very near Mall road since it is ideally located in the heart of Manali. Let’s look at distances of various local attractions from Mall Road:

  1. Hidimba Devi Temple – ~2 km
  2. Great Himalayan Nature Park – ~1.5 km
  3. Vashisht – ~3.5 km
  4. Manu Rishi Temple – ~2.5 km
  5. Old Manali –  ~1.5 km

All these distance are from my own personal experience. I had covered 21 km in 2 days which included exploring all the above places. You can divide these places between 2 days, and walk it out. If you pick a sightseeing local cab, all these will be done in a day and could cost you about 1500/-.

If you are looking for a quieter experience, you can choose to stay little beyond Hidimba temple (where I stayed). It is quite a solitary experience and wonderful for peace of mind.

For Solang Valley, excursion to Kullu Valley and for visiting Rohtang pass, you would have to anyway get a private/shared cab. So it hardly matters where you are staying.

For cheap, hassle-free booking you can always choose Airbnb. I have had a very good experience all the 3 times that I have used it.

What To Explore:

Once you reach there in the morning, there will be a line of cab drivers hounding you, offering to drop you to your hotel. I would suggest to talk to your hotel and ask for a pickup or at least pick-up charge and then bargain with the cabbies. They ask something around 300-400 for your drop, depending on how far and how elevated your hotel is.

Ideally, after a long bus journey, you would want to take it easy that day and rest in your hotel with a light stroll sometime in the evening or night.

The places mentioned below can all be done on foot. You can take your sweet time to go about it and try to soak in as much as you can.

Hidimba Temple: One of my favourite places simply because of the mythological feel to it as well as it is surrounded by tall Deodar trees giving it a very woody and rollback-in-time feeling. The temple is very old and dedicated to Hidimba (wife of Bhima).

Great Himalayan Nature Park: Walking around in the evening amongst the tall Deodar trees is easily one of the most soothing feelings. You will always have a sense of belonging amongst trees and that provides a very calming experience.

Old Manali: The older, ethnic of Manali. Lying at the other end of the bridge over River Beas, come here to experience the rustic charm of this mythological wonder of a place. You have a large number of cafe’s to choose from to spend your evening riverside and some faint music. I would suggest Cafe Kathmandu, which has a blistering view of flowing Beas river.

Mall Road:

Busy place, best for shopping. Variety of shops selling all kinds of stuff. Kashmiri products like Saffron, Shawls, dry fruits are also available readily. With local handicrafts, eateries, travel agencies all available, this can be your shopping destination.

Manu Rishi Temple:

Once you reach cross the bridge for Old Manali, take left and keep walking until you see the signboard below and then walk some more.

Finally, after a long, arduous climb for about a km, you will reach the gates of the temple. Walk up, take your blessing, enjoy the view, catch your breath and get ready to walk back.

Manu Rishi Temple

Vashisht Temple:

Ideally should be done the following day, since it is also quite a walk from Mall road, around 3.5 km. The journey is filled with a few steep inclines that will puncture your breathing tube on multiple occasions. But you should carry on to the end. Once there, you can take a dip in the hot water pool. This is supposed to have medicinal value and also quite relaxing.


Vashisht Temple


Ram temple

All the above-mentioned places can be done by walk (as I did) but you can always choose a local sightseeing package if there is time constraint so you will be able to complete in a single day.

Few other important places:

There are a few more places for which you will have to find a cab or rent a bike to see. Since I went in the winter season, I took a cab but summer people can go for bikes.

Solang Valley:

The adventure destination of Manali, full of winter and adventure sports, is around 19 km from Manali. Open all year round and one of the best places to enjoy snowfall, if you are lucky (I was). Get your hands dirty at skiing, fly with paragliding or take the ropeway to give yourself an awesome view.

Gulaba View Point/ Rohtang Pass:

Around 50 km from Manali lies Rohtang Pass, one of the busiest pass in India. Open for around 4 months in a year, fetches a lot of tourists who are on a road trip to Leh, Spiti Valley. This pass opens only in mid-May. As an alternative, tourists flock to Gulaba viewpoint in the winters. But this winter has been particularly good, which meant that even Gulaba isn’t open for tourists.

Kullu Valley Tour:

Only if you have any extra day in hand, opt for this tour. You will be taken to Naggar Castle, Jana waterfall, Monastery visit and a Handicraft centre.

The total package that I used, cost me Rs. 2200/-. This also included a drop to bus stand on the day of departure apart from the 2-day tour, one each for Solang Valley and other for the Kullu Valley.

The rest of the points I covered in the other 2 days on foot. It took me 4-5 hr each day, without much exertion.

I stayed @ this homestay which cost me about 3600/- for 4 days. It was a wonderful place with a good view all around especially with the thick layers of snow.

All in all, that’s how I planned my Manali trip on a budget and gave myself the best experience possible. I hope, this can help you in some way to plan your trip. For any question, you can always comment or message me on Instagram (profile via above pictures).

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