A Kochi-Manali trip isn’t unheard of, for sure. However, what if it’s a not-so-well-planned road trip and that too in a 2010 model Tata Nano car? That’s exactly how a couple from Kochi, Sudev and Likhita, went on a Manali trip a month and a half ago.
Last year, in January, the couple had been to Manali much the usual way travellers did - a flight to Delhi, and a bus from there to the picturesque town. They couldn’t visit all the places they wanted to within the limited time they had in hand and realized that they will need another trip to fully enjoy the charm of the hills.
Once the Leh-Manali Atal Tunnel was opened this October, they didn’t think twice; they decided to drive through the Atal Tunnel in their own car, the Tata Nano, and that’s how the decision to drive all the way to Manali in the car came about.
They did minor repair works on the vehicle, changed the lights and tyres. They needed a little more money than what they had in hand. In no time, Sudev’s gold chain was put on mortgage. They managed to take a few days off from both their workplaces and were all set for the trip. A friend of the couple, Bibin, from Ettumanur, Kottayam, joined in as well.
Sudev and Likhita had made a meticulous plan for the trip. Clothing for a few days, a stove, rice, a few vegetables and curry powders, vessels, 35 litres of water along with cans for storage, sanitisation kit and a small medical kit were the items that filled up the boot space of the car. They started the trip with a little money in hand, leaving the rest to bank transactions. They took the road via Coimbatore, Salem and Bangalore and reached Anantapur, and decided to halt there for the night.
It was when they reached Hyderabad the next day is when the thought struck them that they hadn’t informed their families about the trip! Likhita’s parents were especially concerned after they found out about the trip all on a sudden. It was quite a task pacifying both the families and making them feel alright before continuing the journey. They made sure to stay away from crowds and took care of sanitising the hotel rooms by themselves as they couldn’t completely put their trust in the hotel sanitisation methods.
They started their days by 7 in the morning and enjoyed the lovely ride, watching scenic sights speeding by till 10 in the night. When they catch a warm shady spot during the day, they would park the car and start cooking. They always opted for something simple to cook, like tomato rice or noodles. If they happened to see fresh vegetables being sold on the roadside, they would buy and store them in the car. Their biryani memories are from Anand Hotel in Hoskote and Star Hotel in Salem. They had to completely rely on restaurant food for the two days they stayed in Manali because the hotel did not let them use the stove in the room. They had also made pit stops in Nagpur, Jhansi and Ambala to spend their nights. They had an expected adventure while on their way back; they had to spend the night in a petrol bunk as there were no rooms available on their route in Delhi, Jhansi or Nagpur.
The Google Map was their guide; however, it did lead them astray on one occasion. A road diversion suggested by Google Map from Nagpur to Sagar (in Madhya Pradesh) landed them in a jungle of sorts with a heavily bumpy road! They did manage to reach Sagar eventually, but by then the three of them were exhausted. From there, they reached Himachal Pradesh via Gwalior, Agra and Delhi. A one-day drive through Atal Tunnel was so exciting, they were there the next day as well. By the flowing river of Chenab, they travelled till Koksar. In the chilly ambience of the town, they sat peacefully, made a cup of tea and took in the beauty of the locale. They wanted to go up to Keylong but since the route was closed, they had to call it a day.
The next day, they were off to Manikaran, which is in Kullu district, a travel of over 2 hours from Manali. Manikaran is also a pilgrim place. After a detailed round of the Taj Mahal in Agra, they started on their way back. They travelled over 7000 km through the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. They used up Rs 27,000 worth of petrol and paid around Rs 7000 at various tolls. Once they reached home, they followed the quarantine protocols and took the antigen test as well. They did observe that there were hardly any COVID restrictions or protocols, nor social distancing, while entering and exiting most other states.