With mercury breaking records in summer, I decided to spend the season where it drops rather than rises. I chose Manali, a cute, small little mountain town in Himachal Pradesh. Situated at 2000 feet above sea level, temperatures are a pleasant 15 to 20 degrees during April to June.
During my 3 month stay, I realised that Manali bears close resemblance to Bombay in so many ways. Here’s how:
Cosmopolitan culture – Bombay is a melting pot of many cultures. It is common to meet people from Dehradoon or Dubai in the city. In the same vein, global and Indian travellers visit Manali. A musician from Uruguay, a yoga teacher from Argentina, a doctor from Israel, a paramedic from California, a photographer from Udaipur, a singer from Chandigarh, I made an eclectic group of friends.
Apart from the traditional temples of Himachal, there is a Gurudwara, monastery, church and mosque within close proximity of each other.
From yak cheese to soya milk – There was a time when we used to ask our cousins or relatives staying abroad to bring goodies for us. With increasing access and e-commerce, almost everything is available in Bombay. And it is the same in Manali. From fresh fruits to green apple incense, facilities of tailors and cobblers, salons and cake shops, they were all a short run away.
While it is common to hail an auto or cab in Bombay, I preferred walking or running the mountain roads.
Best of restaurants – Anuradha Gadre told me that the QSR and food industry has seen disruption in Bombay. There are new theme restaurants and boutiques opening in the city. From pistachio truffle ice cream to sushi and burrito, we are spoilt for choice.
Well, I was only to happy with the variety in Manali. From coconut cinnamon porridge to apple cheese melt panini, softy ice cream to gourmet style paneer makhani, there was always something new to try. They even have a restaurant which just serves Korean food. It has one of the most picturesque menus I have seen.
Gigs galore – Just like the plethora of performances that take place in Bombay, musicians from all over the world perform in Manali. The weekend starts on Thursday! As I walked the streets lined with cafes, I let me ears pull me in the direction they liked.
Suneet, founder of the band Kalkii performed beautiful Sufi folk songs and selected tracks from Bollywood. Pali, from Uruguay sang in many languages and in 3 weeks, learnt the words of Dama Dam Mast Kalandar. A fan of Runalaila, he combined the sound of a ghungroo by tapping his feet while singing.
Connectivity – The HPSTC has the best connectivity through buses across India. I travelled to Palampur and Naggar in their buses. Both journeys were fantastic. On time departure and arrival, most economical prices, opportunity to experience the local culture and meet fellow travellers.
In terms of mobile phones, I selected an unlimited roaming plan from Airtel, which worked very well. Most cafes and guesthouses have Wi-Fi access. The speeds were favourable enough to do work on most days.
Water and garbage disposal – If Bombay has the magnanimous ocean, Manali has the meandering Beas river. It is common to see wrappers and plastic on the sea fronts, caught amongst the mangroves. The same is the case in Manali. It was sad to see tourists throw empty packets of chips on the road, which lands up polluting the river. Empty bottles of water were spotted floating in the river.
Garbage disposal is a challenge in both Mumbai and Manali. Bombay is seeing community initiatives like Urban Leaves and Pixie Dust Farms set up spaces to enable urban farming. These spaces use kitchen waste or bio degradable waste to form a rich fertile quality of soil. Manali can implement similar practices.
With respect to the wrappers, bottles, dry waste, FMCG companies must take the responsibility of correct disposal just as they ensure their goods reach the higher altitude regions. A part of the CSR budgets can be directed towards this, which will help keep the country clean and green for a long time.
While both the city and the mountain town bear close resemblance, they couldn’t be more different. The weather, the pace of life, the warmth of the people, the terrain, the quality of air are some of the differentiating factors. Some of us like it fast, some of us will be in sync with a leisurely life, sans stress.
Choice is ours!