I first went to Manali as an adult in 1998. Vidyadhar Joshi, or as he is informally known as Kaka had started a new outdoor adventure company called The Outdoor People in partnership with Sunil Joshi (the owner of Great Outdoors – manufacturers of trekking and camping equipment) and was holding camps for children in Manali in the summer. I had just come out of a bad patch in life and wanted to explore myself further at that point in time, and when Kaka asked if I would come to Manali as an instructor in his camps, I happily agreed.
Raka was the other “responsible member” of our advance team and the two of us reached Manali to set up the infrastructure for his camps in Solang Nallah. I’d come to Manali as a kid, but as a grown up, this was my first time. I hardly remembered anything from my previous visit.
The blessed cool of Manali was the first impression of the place after a dreadfully hot day in Delhi, in transit, where we traveled a lot in the scorching sun to make arrangements for the stop over of the camp batches. The bus journey itself was lovely. After a brief sprat with Raka (we both get travel sick easily and wanted the window seat), I finally settled for peace and looking over his shoulder at the passing scenery.
We had both dozed off after dinner, and woke up some time in the night, as the bus stopped because of a landslide near some place called Mandi. Cold was the first impression, as I finally got to use my jacket when I stepped out to see what was happening. And then, I was too excited to sleep – I was in this new place!
The second impression was a delightful scent in the air, which I was later to understand as the scent of the deodar trees all around. Reaching Manali early in the morning, we had a heavy breakfast and proceeded to make supplies arrangements before heading over to Solang Nallah where the camps would take place. We had about a week to sort things out before the first group arrived.
There really wan’t much to do. Sites for conducting adventure activities were easy. Some plans for games and a brief hike to Dhundi where the group wouls also be going completed the preparations and the two of us were then free to enjoy ourselves thoroughly and make local contacts.
Solang Nallah is full of camps in the summer. Many companies conduct adventure camps in Manali, and Solang Nallah is a very popular location for its proximity to the snow and paragliding grounds. Some companies we knew from Mumbai were also our neighbours here.
It was here that I met Nitin Gupta, a computer science graduate from Delhi, now settled in Manali and become a horseman. He used to play the guitar and had his horse called Ribot in his camp for children to ride. In all, and interesting guy.
Over the months, our acquaintance grew, and finally, when it was time to return to Mumbai, I realized that I had fallen in love with the place and didn’t want to go. There were two batches left, and I returned with one to meet my parents and tell them that I was planning to settle in Manali.
I still remember the date. It was the 3rd of May 1998. I reached home in the morning, had a talk with the parents and had to return with the batch leaving the same night. The parents were understandably worried, but I was adamant, and finally, they had to agree.
I visited the bank and took what little savings I had and returned to Manali that evening to stay there for the next seven years.