After correcting myself countless times that it's not Manilla, but Manali, it was time to leave the Dalai Lama (I saw him IRL!) and his wisdom behind in the clouds of McLeod Ganj and face the first of what will become many of ten hour bus travels.
While buses can be extremely crowded in India (there's always room for one more if you're living in a country with 1,3 billion inhabitants!), what was supposed to be my bus was completely empty at the time of departure. That's not very reassuring. After six people spoke an unanimous verdict (without the infamous 'wobble' of the head, which van mean anything, including a clue that they're not sure) that this bus was indeed the bus to Manali, I decided to take the chance.
I wasn't alone for longer than two minutes though, since the bus had hardly left the stand before it picked up a number of passengers who were waiting by the roadside. Why, when and where Indian busses stop is still a mystery to me...
Even with superb views, ten hours is still ten hours and as the road conditions vary from bad to non-existent, you generally have a hard time taking a nap for longer than two minutes. My e-reader was a lifesaver.
So I took the standard bus, unaware there was also a deluxe option which has comfortable chairs, decent suspension and even shows a bollywood movie during the trip! Though the last one, as a German guy told me, wasn't really that much of a plus since they showed the same movie three times. Maximum of maximum volume of course. Maybe I was better off just being tossed from side to side on my bus-for-average-people.
On first sight, (old) Manali is not that interesting. It had nothing of the chaos of Amritsar, nor the Holy vibe of McLeod Ganj. It was rather laid-back, maybe even slightly boring. Little did I know much I would learn to appreciate that laid-back vibe, which also meant that people were more friendly. You can easily spend an hour or two chatting to the guy who organizes your trekking, while being served chai, momo's and other snacks. Here they call it 'no hurrie, no wurrie'. Amen to that.
Not a lot to do here in terms of sight-seeing, except the small Hadimba Temple, which is not nearly as overwhelming as some of the other temples scattered over India. The interesting part here are not the wood carvings or the skulls of goats that are sacrificed here every year (unfortunately only in May), but the way people (all Indians) pray to what - objectively - are just a few small statues in a mini-cave. It creates a unique atmosphere which almost makes you want to crouch down, add some money to the pile and mumble some words in prayer. Impressive.
Apparently Manali is usually much livelier, but since the season is at its end (they know the meaning of 'Winter Is Coming' here) there a only a few tourists left. And with the tourists gone, a number of shopkeepers were also getting ready to leave for 'the south'. Luckily, there are always options for trekking here and so I went back to the kind man who offered my the chai and snacks to arrange a day trek in preparation for my trek in Spiti later that week.
Some basic trekking talk: no word means fast walking, 'slowly' means normal speed, while 'slowly-slowly' means go slow.
Apparently, when during a trek, you see a sheep that has lost it herd and there's no other (non-tourist) person in a hundred meter radius claiming it to be his, the sheep is yours. At least that what my guide figured. Too bad we ran into the real owners on the way down. Mèèh.
Next up: Spectacular Space-Like Super-remote Spiti!