Eat at Chandra’s dhaba

After the must-do breathtaking drive from Manali to Rohtang, you arrive at zero point where souvenir vendors and dhabas with the ubiquitous maggi abound.  It’s redundant to mention the spot is beautiful but it can get pretty crowded and cacophonous during season time. There’s an icy blue igloo of mythical importance here, Beas Kund, where the Beas river originates;  Beas rishi meditated here and was inspired enough to pen the 18 Ved and 4 Puranas here. But after the mandatory halt, drive about 20 kms further up to Khoksar at an altitide of 10300 ft to Chandra’s dhaba for ‘meat-chawal.’

The stocky Ajit  Singh slow roasts  the most succulently tender lamb meat in an earthy gravy,  on a wood fire and then casually spoons it onto puffed rice, much like the character in Oliver Twist, to his eager and hungry customers. Freshly ground spices add just the right flavour without over powering. He cooks in huge copper containers at ground level, leaning over in his gravy spatterd apron, with an eagle eye and hawk nose, wielding a stirring ladle, constantly checking the meat doesn’t stick to the bottom and in the process letting out the most mouthwatering waft into the cramped space. There’s of course the dal, kadhi and aloo parathas from the famed locally farmed potatoes, for vegetarians.  The dhaba is at a breathtaking spot where the Chandra river meets the Bhaga with the Chandra changing course and flowing on to Jammu from here. No fancy modular kitchen! No Michelin star! But the tastiest, heartiest, most wholesome meal!

Stay at Sterling  Holidays Resort

As I opened the windows of my room and stepped out onto the balcony, I was speechless at how casually the Dauladhar, the Rohtang pass and the Hamta views enveloped the hotel. Simply breathtaking! Coming from a concrete jungle these seemed like the walls of heaven. Rooms are spacious and comfortable and after a long drive or uphill trek you can come back to bath showers spewing steaming hot water which invigorates you enough to make you want to head out to a pulsating bar. Miniature toiletries to save space and curb wastage are replaced when needed. Loved the little bottle of fresh coconut oil which turns waxy in those temperatures but is the most perfect and inexpensive antidote to dry skin. Heaters and hair dryers are available on request. Freshly plucked parsimum and apples placed in the room make for a nutritious evening snack. Try the dham, traditional Himachali thali at the restaurant.  Both, the veg and non veg were equally spectacular. Speaking to Baburam, the chef, I felt I was in the company of a palace cook who caters only to the king. Soft spoken and affable, he seemed to enjoy and cherish cooking, feelings that translated into the taste and flavour.

Dauladhar, Rohtang Pass and Hamta ViewsSterling Resorts is In Prini village, on the left bank, away from the bustle, but just 21/2 kms from the shops on Mall road and the quaint bars and restaurants in Old Manali. The dynamic team headed by Rajesh Ishai do a super job organizing your days, whether it’s day trips to Rohtang 54 kms away or Naggar castle and Jana falls about 32 kms off with off beat stopovers for lunch, or even half day treks to Hadimba temple or Jogani falls close by. Families with kids must try the thrilling experience of camping out at night, where the resort puts out tents by the Beas river, walking distance from the hotel. An ideal way to get your kids used to the idea before planning more rigorous adventures.

Shop at Karan’s

Jackets with removable inner fleece layers, all weather lightweight trek pants, bright caps that screamed ‘ganja farmer’ from their visors, Karan has it all. 15 years ago he started off peddling his wares on a hand cart and today he owns one of the largest, most popular stores on Mall road. A true blue nouveau riche, endearingly inducting his son into the business and parading the brighter neon coloured jackets on him. He’s got a flair for suggesting what suits you and is absolutely bang on with sizes. Any equipment you need for adventure travel is available here at one-hundredth the cost abroad.

The quality is superb and the cuts and colours are trendy enough to tempt you. The compact sleeping bags affording different degrees of warmth are worth buying. He has light backpacks in different sizes and zipper pockets to suit every fastidious traveller and the few shoes that I spotted had been hand picked in consultation with his many aficionado international clients. It’s really worth stocking up from here for your future travels anywhere in the world.