And a new chapter begins in the Himalayas. 🙂 I’m currently in Manali, a high-altitude mountain town in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Manali is popular among backpackers and families for its mountain scenery, trekking, and strong Tibetan influence. I am SO excited to be here as the Himalayas have been on my all-time bucket list. 🙂
I briefly mentioned in my last post about an exciting gig that I found here – I’ll be working at a backpackers hostel!! I found this gig through Workaway (cultural exchange website popular among backpackers). I’ll be volunteering a few hours a day in exchange for accommodation + food. I had experience in the past with work-stay programs – after college, I volunteered on farms in Ireland/Portugal through WWOOF. It was a wonderful experience as it was one of my only travel memories where I felt like I was truly “living” somewhere. So I knew I wanted to do a similar work-stay gig during my gap year, and when I saw this hostel and its amazing location, I was sold! I’m super excited for the next few weeks – getting plugged into this community and learning how to run a hostel.
Day 13: new beginnings in Manali
After a flight + looong bus ride, I made it to Manali early in the morning. I was greeted with epic scenery: pine trees, freshwater streams, and snow-capped mountains…it felt like Lake Tahoe but more epic. It was also much cooler here at 6500 feet (2000 m).
I headed straight to my new hostel/home: Nomadic Den Hostel. The hostel was in an amazing location, sitting quietly on a hill and 15 minutes walking distance from both old and new Manali. The views were just incredible and the hostel’s biggest draw.
I was greeted by the staff and immediately felt at home. After a sleepless night bus ride, I took a solid nap before we ventured out. The two hostel managers, Ganesh and Shivam, took me down to New Manali town for some shopping and exploring. New Manali had an Indian village meets ski-resort vibes. There were plenty of shops and restaurants, and it was bustling with tourists.
I went on a shopping spree for warm clothes – I was totally unprepared for the cold weather! Always good to be accompanied by locals to score better prices. 🙂
We had a late lunch at a hole-in-the-wall Chinese spot. I could totally feel the Tibetan influence in this town through the food, architecture, and people. The locals in Manali looked different from the rest of India, with fairer skin and East Asian features. To my pleasant surprise, I actually feel anonymous here as I blend in more physically – several people have even mistaken me for a local. Who would have thought that I would finally feel anonymous in India of all places? 🙂
In terms of my hostel job, these first few days were super chill as high season officially starts in May. The floodgates will open with tourists in a couple of days when we’ll start having guest bookings. I’m super grateful I had the space to chill and explore these first few days, as my job will pick up when more guests arrive. 🙂 It gave me time to bond with the staff and meet the local community. It also gave me time to learn the area as part of my job will be a tour guide!
Day 14: hiking Lion Rock + village life + evening party
The next day, our staff wanted to take advantage of the downtime before high season, so we organized a hike with friends in our neighboring hotel. We decided to hike Lion Rock nearby. It was a warm, sunny morning and a perfect day to get our hearts pumping.
The hike went along a forested area with tall pine trees. Every part of it was full of amazing scenery.
There was a challenging climb that went straight up a mountain. There was no real trail as we had to get creative with finding the path with the best chance of not falling. 😉
Finally, we made it to the top of Lion Rock! The views took my breath away – it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Endless greenery, snow-capped mountains, and the colorful town below…I’ll never forget it.
My two new “bosses,” Shivam and Ganesh. We became quick friends and I felt like our boss-employee relationship turned into friends just helping each other out.
A little further from the rock was a gorgeous field that made the perfect picnic area. I felt like I was in The Sound of Music. 😛 We chilled there, ate our lunches, and enjoyed the epic views.
Loved this group!! Everyone was so down to earth, and it’s amazing how much we had in common. We all had similar stories of living busy/stressful city lives and deciding to go to the mountains for relaxation and perspective. One of the biggest surprises in India has been how similar I feel to my Indian peers. From across the world, we’re all the same people. 🙂
On the way down the mountain, we took a different route through the local village around the hostel, Nasogi Village. I love that our hostel is located in this village versus the bustling Manali town. It’s been fun being a part of authentic village life in the Himalayas and meeting the community here.
After a full day of action, we took a break at the hostel. Then in the evening, we went to the neighboring hotel and hung out with the hiking crew. We ate dinner and had a little party into the night. A fun time with new friends. 🙂
Day 15: day trip to Koksar
After the party last night, I slept in. I walked out of my room barely opening my eyes, and Ganesh asked me if I wanted to go on a day trip along with the hostel photographer, Subash. The only catch was they were leaving RIGHT NOW. I was down for a spontaneous adventure, so I chugged a cup of coffee and we were on our way!
We decided to drive to Koksar, a mountain town ~1 hour from Manali at even higher elevation (10,300 ft / 3140 m). The drive was super scenic as we climbed the mountain jammed in traffic by goats. 😛
We crossed the Atal Tunnel, the world’s longest tunnel at 9 km. We crossed straight through one of the mountains I looked at every day from the hostel.
Then, we emerged on the other side of the mountain, and the scenery completely changed. It felt like a cold desert with some snow and no trees on the rocky mountain. The tall rock formations were epic.
Finally, we made it to Koksar. Subash went off for a photoshoot, so Ganesh and I had a few hours to kill in the village. He took me to his favorite family-run restaurant where we had chai + goat stew for breakfast. It was my first time eating meat in India and it hit the spot!
Then, we walked around the village. There were a lot of Indian tourists primarily coming to Koksar to see snow. I loved seeing all the families giddy to see snow for the first time in their lives.
There was also a bouncy castle, snow tubing, rock climbing, etc. – it felt like Disney World!
Ganesh and I agreed we wanted to get away from the tourists, so we walked further up the mountain and went on an off-trail adventure. We had a blast climbing the rocks, drinking water from the fresh springs, and relaxing on the grass.
Some maggie noodles for lunch.
Such a fun, spontaneous adventure! We synced up with Subash and drove back to Manali, stopping for fresh sugar cane juice along the way. The rest of the day was spent chilling at the hostel.
So grateful for a fun-packed start in Manali. The scenery has been beyond my expectations and the fresh air is soul-giving. This workaway job helped me get plugged into the community on day one, and in my short time so far, I feel like I’m family among the hostel staff. I’m also grateful for the down-time before my hostel job picks up, but I’m looking forward to meeting guests and getting the full experience of managing a hostel. 🙂