Magnificent Manali - Hot Springs and more ...

Beautiful, breathtaking Kullu-Manali. I’ve wanted to go there for ages. One of the most popular tourist destinations in India, Manali has the allure of beauty, snow, mountains and everything else that a travel lover would pine for. So, go I did!
I loved it, I really did. I was blown away by the sheer majesty of the mountains, the magic of winding roads, and the heartfulls of fresh air. 

Manali - Magnificient, Magical, Mind blowing!

Manali - Magnificient, Magical, Mind blowing!

To be honest though, I was a bit let down by the touristy vibe that has attached itself to the place. The recommendations in the travel agent’s itinerary bored me a bit and as we spent hours in traffic hurtling from one tourist spot to another, I was frankly irritated. It was then that I realized that the thing I love most about travelling isn’t just the place or the way to get there. My true joy was in the thrill of discovery.

Discovering the undiscovered, carving out a bit of the place for myself, meeting ordinary people who are its soul, stealing a taste of local food that you could get nowhere else – that’s what excites me. That’s also the thing I love most about a road trip. You’re driving along to a place on your list and then suddenly you take a turn and you catch that first glimpse of a stunning landscape. Catches you unawares! That’s what I love and that’s what takes my breath away. 

Stay tuned to this series on Magnificent Manali. Out of the way places, unexpected treats and insider travel tips to come. First up – The enchanting hot springs of Manali.

Tourist guide alert!

If you are like me, a word of advice: do not go by the “popular” tourist destinations. The recommended “hot springs” for example, was an anticlimax for me. Hot Springs in my mind was a bubbling cauldron of hot water set in some deep enchanted glade. You tolerate unruly drivers and traffic-clogged roads, all the while dreaming about this miracle of nature and what you get is … well a crash landing back to reality. 

My vision of these hot springs was redeemed though, when our driver whisked us off to a spot he had discovered. Right there, bang in view of the main road was a wooden bridge over the furiously happy river Beas. The walk over the bridge was an experience in itself and what we discovered beyond it made our whole trip worthwhile. 

The Bridge to Wonderland

The Bridge to Wonderland

A quiet little spot of water, surrounded by boulders, sat there in plain view. A few locals were there already having a morning dip. They graciously made room for us though, as we sidled up on to the rocks and cautiously dipped our feet in. 

When you’ve been in the rivers of Kullu and Manali, you can testify to the ice-cold fury of its waters. A few seconds in and your feet will be happily numb and oblivious to the rest of existence. Skin and senses attuned to that cold, the step into the hot spring was an experience I am not likely to forget any time soon. 

From icy cold waters ....

From icy cold waters ....

The most amazing thing was that just a 100 meters away, we could see the mist forming over icy waters. And here in this cove was hot steam hissing out of a happily bubbling spring.  Mind blowing!

The Science behind the Hot Springs

The water in a hot spring is heated geothermally, with the heat produced from within the Earth. We know that temperature increases as we go deeper into the bowels of the earth. When water percolates that deep into the earth’s crust to touch the heated rocks within, that is what gives rise to these pockets of geothermally heated water. This is the phenomenon that creates hot springs in non-volcanic zones like Manali. 

Hot springs have been credited with many curative properties. The combination of minerals in these waters and the heat could well be the cure for a good number of diseases, or so it is believed. Minerals in these hot springs include sulfur, calcium, sulfate, iron, zinc, magnesium etc. Talking about the waters of the Dead Sea, a German study many years ago had suggested that the effect of magnesium could be a basis for its healing properties. The curative properties of these waters are still debatable, but you can’t deny the sense of luxury and well-being that a good pamper soak in an all-natural Jacuzzi can bring!

Now back to my experience of this particular secret hot springs…

The locals bathing there were impervious to our oohs and aahs (we tried our best not to disturb them but we were awestruck!). This was a normal part of their routine. Ah what it was to live in a Paradise like that! Or would we become unseeing of all that beauty if that was all we knew? That is a philosophical question for another time. 

Now … after a good soak we noticed that there was a little café nestled between the apple orchards banking this spot. We got ourselves into this charming little café and looked up their menu. It was run by a pretty little Tibetan lady named Dolma. It featured Tibetan food and so we ordered a Thukpa. I wanted to try the Tibetan butter coffee despite her honest comment that I might not like it. We got some ginger lemon tea as well. The shop had no board so I asked her what it is called. She thought for a moment and christened it " Hot Springs Cafe!"

We also made new friends who acquainted us with the Tibetan community in Manali and immensely enjoyed our time there.

All in all it was a heartwarming, tranquil and humbling morning. 

The entire stretch of Kullu-Manali is dotted by hot springs like this. Some of the more popular springs are the Manikaran, Kheerganga and others. You can read more on these here:

What I would suggest though, is to discover your own little nooks and corners, the little pockets of wonder undiscovered and unpolluted by tourism. I would love to hear about your travel discoveries. Share them in the comments.