Our top experiences on our Kullu-Manali trip

We found lots of interesting, off-beat things to do during our Kullu-Manali trip. Here are our top experiences.

No, we’re not fond of crowds at all, and yes, Kullu Valley is one of the most touristy places in India. But we still managed to have a great time, either by doing non-touristy things, or doing touristy things at non-touristy times. It also helped that we were there at the beginning of April, just before the start of the main tourist season.

So here, in no particular order, are our top experiences from our Kullu-Manali trip.

Staying in Dobhi village

Instead of staying in crowded Manali or Kullu, we stayed in Dobhi, a village about halfway between the two. And rather than stay in a hotel or guesthouse, we stayed with fellow travel blogger Shubham Mansingka (travelshoebum.com), who lets out a room in his lovely flat to other travellers.

Staying in Dobhi was great, and not just because it gave us easy access to everything without the having to deal with the crowds. Dobhi itself was quaint and beautiful, and there were lots of nice things to see and do nearby. Definitely one of the better decisions we made for our Kullu-Manali trip!

You might also like: 35 unique places to stay that we’ve discovered while travelling

Homestay room, Dobhi
Our cosy little room at Shubham’s place
Dobhi, Kullu-Manali trip
The view from our balcony: breathtaking at any time of day!
Temple, Dobhi village
A local temple, seen from our balcony at sunrise. Note: this was taken with a zoom lens; it’s not as close as it looks.
Orchard in Dobhi, Kullu-Manali trip
The fruit orchards behind the house are perfect for evening strolls.

House in Dobhi, Kullu Valley
A view of the house from the orchard (Shubham’s flat is on the second floor).
Dobhi river, Kullu-Manali trip
A view of an older part of Dobhi from the highway bridge across the river.
Dobhi, Himachal Pradesh
Most older parts of Dobhi are on the hillside, overlooking the valley.
Kullvi Cafe, Dobhi village
Kullvi Cafe: just one of the many eateries along the highway in and around Dobhi.
Dobhi village, Kullu-Manali
The view behind another popular local eatery seems like it’s from another time.
Beas River, Kullu Valley
The riverbank of the Beas river is a nice place to spend an hour or two.
Palrabling, Tibetan colony, Dobhi
The Tibetan settlement of Palrabling sits right on the riverbank below Dobhi.
Cannabis plant, Kullu Valley
Yes, this is exactly what it looks like; it grows wild pretty much everywhere in Kullu Valley.

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Taking in Naggar in the morning. And evening.

One of the more popular things to do around Manali is to visit Naggar Castle. And with good reason, because this small wood-and-stone castle, built by the rulers of Kullu in the 14th century, is very pretty and has some magnificent views.

But what most people don’t realize is that the restaurant in the castle is serves breakfast, too. And if you’re there when it opens at 9:00 am, you’ll have the place pretty much to yourself. Sitting on the restaurant’s balcony and soaking up the views while tucking into some hot tea and poori-bhaaji is definitely one of our favourite memories from our trip!

Naggar is more than just the castle, though. We landed up there one evening, and we were pleasantly surprised. It turns out that, when the castle’s closed and the tourists have left, the area around the castle makes for a beautiful evening stroll. Especially if you enjoy admiring the local temple architecture.

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Breakfast at Naggar castle, Kullu-Manali trip
Breakfast with a great view of the valley.
View from Naggar castle, Kullu Valley
It feels like you can see the whole of Kullu Valley from the castle’s courtyard!
Jagati Patt temple, Naggar Castle
The beautiful little Jagati Patt temple on the castle premises.
Wooden beam, Naggar castle
Someone was drying their socks on the edge of one of the massive wooden beams that form the base of the castle.
Sunset at Naggar, Kullu Manali trip
Coffee and cake overlooking the valley in the evening, outside the castle.
Doggie under our chair at Naggar
We made a friend, of course.
Tripura Sundari temple, Naggar
The Tripura Sundari temple on the lower road from the castle up the mountain.
Vishnu temple, Naggar, Kullu-Manali trip
The small but ancient Vishnu temple behind the castle.

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Hiking along Jana waterfall

Halfway down the road back from Naggar to Patlikuhal is a little road that turn off towards the village of Jana and it’s waterfall. This is the same route you’d take if you’re heading towards the Bijli Mahadev temple. The waterfall isn’t one of those spectacular ones you see in travel photos, but more like a pretty little stream leaping down the mountainside between boulders and pine trees.

When we got there, we saw that there was a little path that led up the right side of the waterfall. But we liked the look of the pine forest better, and decided to go a little off the beaten path. So we discovered that hiking up through the forest alongside the waterfall was way more picturesque and fun than sticking to the path.

We also found that, a little down the road from the main waterfall, there’s another smaller fall with a little seating area that you can climb up to. And if you’re feeling hungry, there’s a little shack next door where you might score some siddu if you’re lucky! If you’re looking to soak up some nature during your Manali trip, this is a good place to do it.

Kullu Manali trip - Jana waterfall
What a great place to have a drink!
Hiking along Jana waterfall, Kullu-Manali trip
LOTR vibes in the forest next to the waterfall.
Next to Jana waterfall, Naggar
Yours truly admiring the views back down the hill.
Jana Waterfall, Naggar
As close as we could get to the stream during our hike.

View from Jana waterfall, Naggar
You can almost smell the fresh mountain air!
View from Jana Waterfall, Kullu-Manali trip
One more, just for luck.
Mountain cottage, Jana, Kullu Valley
A little cottage at the top of the mountain on the other side of the falls.
Smaller Jana waterfall - Kullu Manali trip
The other little waterfall, with the rough stone sit-out a top left.
Apple cider at Nightingale - Naggar
Bonus: Fresh apple cider at the Nightingale restaurant on the road back to Patlikuhl.

Exploring Kullu Valley by bike

If you’ve been reading my blog or following me on social media, you’ll probably have figured out that getting around by bike is one of our favourite things to do. This time was no different; with the all the great weather and spectacular scenery on offer, we couldn’t NOT hire a bike. So we headed into Manali (because there weren’t any bikes to be had where we were), and hired ourselves a Royal Enfield Himalayan.

Our initial plan was to hire the bike for a day, just to ride up to the new tunnel under Rohtang Pass and back. But we enjoyed ourselves so much, we decided to keep it for the rest of the trip too. That turned out to be a great decision, because it gave us so much more freedom to explore that we would’ve had just using public transport or hiring taxis. And of course, we felt much closer to nature than we would have in an enclosed vehicle.

So if you’re visiting Kullu-Manali and can ride, then hiring a bike is something I definitely recommend!

You might also like: Kicking off our two-week motorbike tour through Rajasthan in Jaipur

The mountains beckoning as we pick up the bike from Manali.
The smooth highway from Kullu to the Atal Tunnel was a pleasure to ride on!
Mountains, blue skies, and a bike: what more could one need?

The higher we went, the closer the snow got.
Snow on the mountainsides, despite the warm sun.
Riding back down was just as much fun.
Little villages in the valley.
The road to Gulaba was closed, so we went off-road…
And ended up here.
Crossing the rickety bridge at Pandra Meel (literally ’15 Mile’)

Driving through snowy Lahaul Valley

While planning our Kullu-Manali trip, we didn’t realize that Lahaul Valley was just a short drive away. We’d always though it was quite difficult to get to, given that one had to drive over Rohtang Pass. What we’d completely forgotten was that the new Atal Tunnel under Rohtang had been finished a while ago, and that made getting to Lahaul Valley pretty simple. Which we figured out once we got to Kullu Valley.

When we rode up to the tunnel on our hired bike, it was tempting to keep going through and out the other side. But we decided against it, and hired a car instead. And we’re glad we did, because we weren’t prepared for the icy wind on the other side! So staying comfy in the car let us admire the magnificent rugged, snowy landscape without being chilled to the bone.

To cut a long story short, we hired a car, drove through the tunnel, and then kept going. Most tourists from Kullu Valley stop at Sissu, a few kilometers into Lahaul Valley, to experience the snow that piles up near the highway. That wasn’t for us, so we had a quick breakfast and kept going, past Keylong and Jispa. We finally got to the bridge at Darcha, where the police kindly informed us that the road further on was closed. So we grabbed a plate of hot momos from a guy cooking them in a van, and headed back. We got back late in the afternoon, after a chance sighting of a group of ibex on the way. A day well spent, I must say!

You might also like: Eight things we learned in Ladakh

Atal Tunnel under Rohtang Pass, Kullu Valley
The tunnel: straight, long and not very well ventilated.
Sissu, Lahaul Valley, Kullu Manali trip
Quick breakfast before Sissu, with the wind cutting through all our layers of clothes.
Lahaul Valley
But that view made the cold worthwhile!
Road through Lahaul Valley, Kullu Manali trip
For most of our drive, the snow was on the other side of the valley from us.
Snow on the road, Lahaul Valley
Finally snow! Old and dirty, but still snow.
Darcha bridge, Lahaul Valley, Kullu Manali trip
The bridge at Darcha gave us a chance to see some snow up close.
Lonely wine shop, Darcha, Lahaul Valley
Wonder if this chap, set up next to the Darcha bridge, gets many customers.

Lahaul Valley, Kullu Manali trip
It got warmer as we were heading back.
Litter in river at Jispa, Lahaul Valley, Kullu Manali trip
It’s sad that even pristine mountainscapes, like these at Jispa, have so much litter.
Chortens at Jispa, Lahaul Valley, Kullu Manali trip
Roadside chortens at Jispa.
Ibex in Lahaul Valley
A curious ibex perched on the hillside, watching us

Discovering the quaint village of Bhalyani

During a chance encounter over breakfast at Roots Cafe and Stay, we learned of a little mountainside village that was worth seeing. So we hopped on our bike and headed off the find Bhalyani. And that turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip to Kullu Manali!

To get there, we needed to head to Kullu and turn off into Lug (pronounced like in ‘luggage’) Valley. Once we were in the valley, we used the GPS to find our way there. The picturesque but narrow roads did get a little confusing at times, but luckily there were signboards to help us out. Once we got to the end of the road, we had to park our bike and hike up the mountainside for half an hour to get to the village itself. But the entire experience, not to mention the sprawling village meadow at the end, worth it!

Lug Valley, Kullu Valley
On the way to Bhalyani. Turns out, those nets are to protect the fruit trees from hail.
Path to Bhalyani, Kullu Manali trip
This path was the only way up the mountain to the village.
Bhalyani meadow, Kullu Manali trip
Schoolkids on the village meadow, making the most of their break.
Bhalyani Meadow, Lug Valley, Kullu Valley
Locals practicing their cricket.
Bhalyani Meadow, Kullu Manali trip
Soaking up the view. Note the gate to the Krishna temple on the left.
Krishna Temple, Bhalyani, Lug Valley
The little Krishna temple, hiding among the ancient trees.
Bhalyani, Kullu Manali trip
Fruit (apple?) trees in bloom behind an old shed.
Bhalyani, Kullu Manali trip
Quite a few houses were on stilts. To rise above the winter snow, maybe?
Path to Bhalyani, Lug Valley, Kullu valley
Heading back down.

Strolling through Manali’s peaceful Nature Park

During most of our trip, we tried avoiding Manali as far as possible. Not only did the thought of the surging crowds put us off, we also didn’t feel like doing the invariably touristy stuff Manali is famous for. But we did get a hot tip that the path through the Nature Park was worth a stroll, so we decided to try it out. And it turned out to be a lovely walk, despite our misgivings.

The park itself (at least the half that we were in) could be accessed from the Wildlife Information Centre on the road from mall Road Circle to Old Manali. It seemed quite tame compared to our hike through the forest at Jana. But it was still nice to be surrounded by tall pine trees on all sides, even if they did all look the same.

And even though there were quite a few people just inside the entrance, we soon found ourselves alone as we walked. It seems most tourists don’t venture more than a few hundred meters into the park. Turns out, this is one of the more unlikely off-beat things to do in Manali. Even if we did encounter a few people, it was mostly locals using the park to get from Old Manali to Mall Road. So if you’re looking to get away from the Manali crowds during your Kullu-Manali trip, this is a great way to spend a peaceful hour or two.

Sun through the trees, Manali Nature Park, Kullu Manali trip
The sun peeks through the tall trees above.
Pine trees in Manali Nature Park
The mossy rocks made for great places to take a break and soak up the peaceful atmosphere.
Mountains seen from Manali Nature Park, Kullu Manali trip
The snow-capped mountains in the distance.
Nature Park, Manali
Yours truly trying to capture the atmosphere. And failing.
Old Manali bridge, Kullu Manali trip
On the bridge into Old Manali at the other end of the path.

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Tasting siddu for the first time

Before we arrived in Kullu Valley, we’d never even heard of siddu (pronounced like laddoo, not Sidhu). But we were told it was definitely something we should try while we were there. It was a little difficult to find, though, because it’s considered more of a hearty winter food rather than something one eats all year round.

Luckily, we found a little hole-in-the-wall place that was especially well-known for it: Sheela Negi siddu corner in Babeli (location). It turned out that siddu is a bit like a flat steamed bun stuffed with a rich masala of nuts, poppy seeds and spices. It’s usually served cut into segments and drenched in ghee. No wonder one serving is considered a full meal!

The first time we landed at Sheela’s, they only had a single siddu left, so we had to share it and finish our dinner with a plate of hot momos. But we liked the siddu so much, we headed back for lunch a day or two later, and scored one each. And that was more than enough to last us for the rest of the day!

Sheela siddu corner signboard , Babeli, Kull Valley
The signboard is almost invisible from the highway. FYI, it says ‘Sheela Negi Siddu Corner’ in Hindi.
Siddu at Sheela Negi siddu corner, Kullu-Manali trip
We had to share first siddu, sadly.
Momos at Sheela siddu corner, Babeli, Kullu Valley
An out-of-focus shot of the momos that were the rest of our dinner.
Two plates of siddu at Sheela siddu corner - Kullu Manali trip
Our second siddu consignment, with two jars of chutney as accompaniment.
Eating siddu at Sheela siddu corner, Babeli
Yours truly, focusing on the important things in life. Note the tiny signboard in the background.

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IQ’s top tips from our Kullu-Manali trip

Here are some things we learned during our trip to Kullu-Manali.

When to visit, and how to get there

  • Mid-April to end-May is the peak season in Kullu-Manali. Early April is a good time to visit, because the weather’s just warming up and the hordes of tourists haven’t started arriving yet.
  • Kullu-Manali is about nine hours’ drive from Chandigarh, which you can do by taxi or bus.
    • Expect to pay around Rs. 3,000 for a taxi, while a bust ticket on one of the many air-conditioned HPTDC buses will cost you around Rs. 1,000.
    • There’s constant work being done on the road; if you get stuck in a jam, you’ll easily take an extra hour to get there.
  • There’s an airport at Bhuntar just south of Kullu. But last I checked, the only direct flights were from Chandigarh, and were prohibitively expensive (Rs. 25,000 one way!)

What to pack

  • The weather’s unpredictable, so it’s good to be prepared.
  • It gets chilly in the shade, especially if it’s windy; but it also gets surprisingly hot in the sun. Pack layers that you can add on and peel off as the weather demands.
    • I suggest packing at least one thin sweater (if not two), and a water-resistant jacket against the wind and any rain you might run into.
  • If you’re planning to hire a bike, consider packing a pair of gloves. Your hands will thank you when you ride around at night.
  • If you’re thinking of driving into Lahaul Valley, you might want to pack a woolen cap. The wind might freeze your ears off, otherwise.

You might also like: 17 packing tips from a regular traveller

Staying around Kullu and Manali

If you don’t like crowds, then your best bet is to stay in one of the villages between Kullu and Manali, rather than in either of these towns.

  • We loved our homestay in Dobhi, halfway between Kullu and Manali. Get in touch with Shubham and he might just open his doors to you.
  • The Roots Cafe and Stay in Bandrol has nice views and great food. Drop them a line on their Instagram profile.
  • If you’re looking for a heritage stay, you might like the accommodation in Naggar castle, even though it looks slightly run down. Check out their (very reasonable) rates and availability on the HPTDC website.

You might also like: 35 unique places to stay that we’ve discovered while travelling

Eating out for vegetarians

There are lots of restaurants in both Kullu and Manali. But if you’re looking to eat somewhere else, there are plenty of options, even for vegetarians. Not all of these are ‘pure veg’, though.

  • The modest Shubham Dhaba in Duwara is great for parathas, and for rotis in general.
  • The basic eateries around the bus stand in Patlikuhal are known for good local vegetarian food. We had a nice thali and kadhi-chawal in Behl Sweets.
  • If you’re looking for something continental, the somewhat posh Nightingale near Naggar serves up some nice Italian food (Pro tip: Ask for their awesome fresh-brewed apple cider).
  • If you’re looking to have a quiet drink along the riverbank, coupled with good North Indian food, you might like the open-air Dev Dham Restaurant outside Biasar.
  • Of course, Sheela’s siddu corner is awesome if you want to try siddu, but the momos are also very nice. The setup is very basic, though.
  • I’ve also heard that the shacks around Jana waterfall (the second shack, in particular) are good for local food.

Sustainability tips

  • The only way to get around Kullu Valley is by road. But if you want to keep your carbon footprint as small as possible, there are plenty of places where you can hire a cycle to get around.
  • There are also regular buses, both private and government-run, that ply all along Kullu Valley and even up into Lahaul Valley.
  • If you want a little more flexibility, though, you can hire yourself a motorbike in Kullu or Manali. It’s not the most sustainable option, but it’s better than hiring a taxi.

You might also like: 21 simple tips to be a responsible traveller

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  1. This is such a wholesome blog 💛. Loved every bit of it. Thank you so much for getting all the details and sharing your experiences. I will read through it again when I plan a trip to Kullu Manali.

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