Suchita Ambarkdekar, 36, a financial consultant, and her businessman husband Deepak, 43, travelled with their friends Sushma and Satish Bhatt and their children to Kullu-Manali for a holiday in May last year. The destination was perfect for the kids and they spiced it up with some great activities
Why did you decide to go to Kullu-Manali for your holiday? Hasn’t it been done to death?
Well, as it happens, though we as a family like to travel widely, we had never been to Kullu-Manali! In fact, the Bhatts, too, had never visited that part of the country. We were a total of 10 people, five adults and five children, ranging in age from four to 46. Because we have young children, we prefer not to go to places too out of the way, so this destination suited us perfectly. It helped that we were looking for a cooler climate and natural surroundings, not a city.
You stayed away from the regular hotels and rented a bungalow instead?
That’s right. Once we finalized the destination, we did the rounds of tour operators and sounded out hotels and realized that we would end up spending far too much on accommodation since we would need at least 4-5 bedrooms on a twin-sharing basis. So, we scoured the Net and found some excellent deals on villas and houses. Independent accommodation provided much better value for money and also gave us the freedom of having our meals where we wanted to. After rejecting many cottages for one reason or the other, we finally zeroed in on Springdale Cottage in Simsa, just ahead of Manali town. The website offered all the details, but it finally took a chat with the owner—a high court judge—to convince us. We loved that we could use as many of the cottage’s five bedrooms as we wanted to and pay only for what we used, and the fact that it came with a cook.
You also packed in a lot of adventure activities in a supposedly ‘safe’ destination.
Yes, we went horse riding and the kids even went on yak rides. But the most exciting experiences were skiing and paragliding. The skiing experience was memorable since none of us had ever skied before. We were lucky in that there was enough firm accumulated snow the day we went up to Rohtang. There are shops from where you can hire ski gear and instructors and slopes that can accommodate everyone from beginners to experts. After lessons of 20-25 minutes, we were confident enough to try tackling the slopes on our own. Skiing isn’t easy and it took some time to get the hang of it, but the kids, especially, were very quick in picking up the basics.
And the paragliding experience? How was that?
Oh, it was very exciting but very scary! We had gone paragliding in Hawaii earlier, but this was a completely different enterprise so far as the infrastructure and safety precautions were concerned. We hired horses to go up the mountain in Solang Nullah and that was unnerving by itself since the gradient was very steep. The view from the top, though, was amazing, and the underage kids were quite content to continue riding there while all of us—all except Sushma, who’s scared of heights—geared up to run down the hill and then take off at a pre-decided point. The feeling of actually flying in the air was awesome, but scary as well: The gear was so rudimentary in comparison to what we had used in the US! Though the instructors seemed to know what they were doing, I was tense till we all landed safely.
Did you do any day-trips from Manali?
We wanted to go to Dharamsala, since we had heard so much about it, but were rather disappointed with the town—it’s filthy. The Thekchen Choling, the temple complex housing the residence of the Dalai Lama and the Namgyal monastery, however, are very well-maintained.
What was much more fun was a night halt at Palampur, where a relative has a farm. We had initially planned to drop in and see them, but on seeing the children’s joy, we decided to stay the night there. It was touching to see how easily these kids, all of them city-bred, slipped into the rhythm of the farm, feeding cattle, digging potatoes and garlic from the soil and watching awestruck when the glow-worms emerged at night to cover a whole tree.
Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation runs Volvo buses between New Delhi and Manali. Seats cost Rs990. Deccan operates flights between Delhi and Kullu; return economy fares start from around Rs10,000 plus taxes
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at email@example.com