The ensuing thoughts are based on my visit to the popular destination Solang late in the spring last year. Having visited Manali on numerous occasions serving varied purposes, it was only then when the long cherished wish to experience its popular touristy sidearm – Solang Valley – materialised. Although, I have rarely been able to develop the curiosity necessary to visit a site jammed by tourists, Solang happened to be on the list because of the unparalleled landscape it offers.
The cloud-free weather window at this season of the year vibrantly splattered the scenery with haze-free sunshine to make it enchanting beyond description. The mountain-sides were clothed with rhododendron – white, mauve, and scarlet, standing out against grey rocks outlined by shining snowy heights under a sky of intense blueness. The dreamy Himalayan-scenery had every natural element at its colourful best.
The valley of Solang is located at a distance of 3 km from Palchan and 8 km from the tourist centre point of Manali. The Solang nala in a swift current courses between mountains clad in scattered deodar patches, from the midst of which jut out vast headlands of perpendicular rock; and a couple of miles above Palchan, a series or similar gigantic cliffs rise up sheer from the river and line its course for a considerable distance.
Approached through a widened road past remaining fragments of beautiful glades of olden pines and horse-chestnuts, the centre point of the valley comes at last into view, bowered with green patches on either shore, against the indescribable backdrop of the marvellous heights of the snowy Pirpanjal Range. The landscape in the Solang Valley was in my opinion unsurpassable and certainly unmatched by anything in the rest of the region.
No sooner than I reached the tourist-activity centre of the valley, my thoughts and hope to experience the beauty of “adventurous” Solang seemed to fade away. It was still spring, technically an off-season from tourist-traffic point of view, and even though the area was far from being overcrowded, the state of affairs at the site were indeed pathetic.
Thronged madly by Manali-bound tourists, honeymooners and party animals alike, the site was claimed by stall-sellers, activity guides, touts, open-air restaurants, dubious cafes often supplying stale foodies at over-priced rates. As I was mobbed by desperate parasail guides, I deliberated over the change in the outlook of the region since 1990. The upsurge in the tourism was partly led by the political problems in erstwhile more popular Kashmir. Many multi-storeyed concrete hotels had been constructed that would have been more suitable to Delhi or Mumbai than to the Himalayan foothills.
Funfair themed park had been built where once stood wide expanse of dense deodar forests, concrete shopping complexes had occupied the traditional bazaars and video-gaming arcades had mushroomed to accommodate the needs of tourists unable to cope with the serenity of the mountains. Traffic jamming was now a routine occurrence; the constant blaring of horns and thump of music a loud reminder of our growing frustrations of life.
The activity site of Solang is popular with tourists round the year particularly in winters and summers. The few hundred metres of immediate meadowland is used for parasailing, hiking, horse-riding and zorbing. In winters the same portion is thronged by skiers and snow-boarders. What’s more, a ski-lift has now been installed to facilitate the “adventures”. Leave aside the smoke gushing and diesel-fuming scooters, favourite with Machos of the valley and among the tourists, the desperate adventure-tour companies, operators as well as agents equally dot the scene throughout the day.
Grabbing a machine-pissed coffee, I headed towards the take-off point of tandem-parasailors, positioned a few hundred metres away towards the ridge. The then British Col CG Bruce, a Himalayan veteran-cum-hunter was immensely impressed by the views of the Solang Valley back in those times. “As for Kullu, I simply yearned to travel there. It seemed to contain all I wanted – magnificent forests which I love, fruit, flowers, rivers, picturesque scenery, interesting people and of course mountains. I had also heard of its quaint and curious Gods. I always hoped to hunt red bears and even Ibexes at Solang”. During those days, Solang Valley used to be the favourite roaming grounds for Red Bear which required license from the administration to shoot. The Black Bear, being more common, did not require any such formalities.
Despite the ever-increasing flow of tourists near the activity centre, the existence of cooler and sylvan environs in its higher purlieus could not be denied. And that’s where the magical charm flourished. In its vicinity, one may still be able to find an alpine-like feel. The head of the Beas Valley is known as Beas Kund which only means the source of the Beas. The popular hike to the Kund takes about 8 hrs from Solang main parking. The peak views are dominated by Hanuman Tibba (5928m), Ladakhi Peak (5342m), Manali Peak (5669m), Muker Beh (6069m), Shikar Beh (6200m), Shiti Dhar (5294m), Gondla and Goh Kincha (5153m).
I would, however, recommend staying in the chalet-styled guest-houses located downstream on way to Manali. Far in the distance, the deodar-rich scenery exceeded in magnificence anything that can be found elsewhere in mainstream Kullu region.
Average Altitude: 2300m
Best time to visit: Throughout the year; Summers and Winters in particular
Travel Lure: Himalayan views, Picnic adventures
Accommodation: Always in plenty