Getting from Chandigarh to Manali via road
The Chandigarh to Manali route that thousands of people travel on every year. Manali is a holiday spot for almost everybody up north and even for those down south. The route might not be as picturesque as the Chandigarh-Shimla route, but once you're nearing Kullu, the greens and the blues become, well, greener and bluer.
Let's say you're starting off from Chandigarh, somewhere near sector 18, like we were. First thing to do is to switch off your GPS. I'm not saying you go all Bear Grylls. I'm just saying that, the last time we used the GPS, it took us through Nalagarh and attempted to cross over a bridge that was washed away a year ago (exact dates, I'm not so sure about, but a year is what I've been told).
The roads are a series of blind corners, hairpins and short straight stretches with villages all over
So here's what you do. Get on to NH 21 and stay on it. Do not use NH 21A. That's the one that will take you via Nalagarh. NH 21 will take you to Rupnagar and then onwards to Bharatnagar and over to Kiratpur Sahib. This is the good stretch of roads. They are all dual carriageways with not a lot of traffic. So you can achieve some reasonable speeds on this stretch. But once you reach Kiratpur Sahib, you're in for a surprise.
When you come to a split flyover with one going right and over a river, you'll know you're in Kiratpur Sahib. Just keep an eye out for that tiny board that points towards Manali. Once you're across the bridge you can kiss speeds above 15kmph goodbye. For the next couple of kilometers you'll be faced with potholes that could swallow up your whole car, craters filled with dirty brown water and truckers who appear out of nowhere to push you off the road. So be very, very careful here.
About the time when you swear to yourself not to come on this road again, you will cross a toll and from there, the roads get better. The road is then a straight run till Manali. The roads are a series of blind corners, hairpins and short straight stretches with villages all over. You really have to be on top of your game when driving here. There is a lot of truck traffic and sometimes it can get frustrating when you keep trying to get ahead of them. Just make sure you do not overtake on blind corners and you'll do just fine.
If you left Chandigarh in the morning, by the time you clear all the bad roads you will be hungry and cranky. The second bit, I really can't help you. But for the other one, there is a pretty good solution once you get to Swarghat. Once you take the left that will take you to Manali, you will see Hotel Hill Top. Hill Top is one of those HPTDC run places that serve you some really good food.
Past that you will come to Bilsapur. If you want to pick up water and snacks, this is a good spot. Past Bilaspur, you will come to the dam over river Beas. And that means you're getting closer to Kullu. From here the road climbs. The surface quality is good and there are some really nice corners that make things really interesting.
Your next landmark is Mandi. And when you see a hoarding that asks you to like Mandi Police on Facebook you'll know you're there. A little after Mandi you will go over Pandoh Dam and come to the Mandi tunnel. Keep your windows rolled up and your AC running in recirculate because the tunnel is always filled with diesel fumes. And watch out for cars that are trying to overtake inside the tunnel too. After the Mandi tunnel you'll be in Kullu in no time. And once you're in Kullu its just an hour till you reach Manali.
Keep note though that you have to take the left over the bridge to enter Manali town. Keep driving with the river on your left and you will still enter Manali, but you will enter from Old Manali side. If you've got the river on your right, you're going the right way. Soon, you'll come to a check post. Here you have to pay Rs 300 as environment tax per car. If you're planning to head up Rohtang the next day, and you're driving a non-HP registered car, you will have to get special permits. Earlier you had to go to the registrar's office in Manali and get the permits. Not anymore. These days you can get the passes at the same place you have to pay the environment tax. After that you're in Manali n a matter of minutes and you're free to explore and eat as much trout as you can.
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