If you’re the kind of traveller where your fellow compatriots are constantly asking you to slow down, then this Indian adventure itinerary is for you.
When you think of the Himalayas Mount Everest and Nepal probably comes to mind, but the iconic mountain range stretches all the way into India’s north – and with it thrilling adventure activities that will make sure the adrenaline never stops flowing.
Two top destinations at the foot of these giants are Manali and Rishikesh – and just travelling between them is an adventure itself.
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Things to know before you go
How far in advance should you book: For peak season book accommodation about three months ahead, and for this itinerary it would be India’s summer months. The best time to go for these activities is from March to May, but double check when Rishikesh’s week-long yoga festival takes place as the holy city will be packed during that time, normally at the beginning of the month. For the big activities that require a bit of planning book in advance, but many you can book when you get there, giving you a chance to shop around for the best price.
Visa: You need to apply for an e-visa online and is free for South Africans for a 30-day tourist visa. Apply no less than four days and no more than 30 days before date of travel.
Medical information: Whenever hiking upwards be mindful of altitude sickness, but even just in Manali the air will be thinner so take it slow while acclimatising. Be vigilant with mosquito repellant, although malaria isn’t high risk in these areas.
Budget: Flights range between R7 500 and R9 500 for a return flight between South Africa and Delhi – there are no direct flights.
For meals and accommodation, according to Budget Your Trip, the average daily cost per person for mid-range travel style is R437, which would be just over R6 100 for the whole two-week itinerary.
For local transportation, expect to spend around R51 a day, depending on whether you use taxis or public transport – however Manal and Rishikesh are very walk-friendly with many activities including transport from your accommodation. For the transport in-between the destinations, budget around a grand in total.
The cost of activities ranges depending on which operator you book with, how much is included and whether you want to do unguided vs guided treks. Budget for around R4 000 for all activities, but you’ll probably end up spending less.
Manali's mountains. (Photo: Pixabay)
What to be mindful of: You need a sturdy pair of boots to survive this itinerary, so rather spend more for something that lasts than getting the cheapest.
India is also unfortunately known for hustlers, scams and people asking for money – try to book tickets in advance online as far as possible and only buy tickets from official stands.
Food is really cheap in India, but take some medication with you in case anything disagrees with you and only drink bottled water.
Bring warm clothes – Manali can get cold even in summer due to its proximity to the Himalayas.
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Day 1: Delhi
Travel: Arrive in Delhi.
Accommodation: Look for accommodation close to the airport so that you can just crash and recover from the jet lag, or anywhere near Dhaula Kuan – and airport train line goes straight here.
Day 2: Delhi - Manali
Day activities: You’ll have the day to yourself before having to jump onto an overnight bus for Manali. You can head into Old Delhi and walk to Chandni Chowk Market, see the Red Fort and Jama Masjid mosque.
For a greener experience walk through Deer Park – a green space filled with animals like deer – past the lake and ancient monuments to Hauz Khas Village to see the modern, artsy side of the city.
Travel: Just make sure you end your day at the Dhaula Kuan bus station to catch a Redbus sleeper to Manali overnight. Remember to buy some snacks and drinks beforehand for the trip.
Day 3: Manali
Travel: Arrive in Manali on the bus and grab a taxi to your accommodation.
Manali is India’s Switzerland and is considered a gateway to the Himalayas. In winter it attracts skiing enthusiasts from all over, but even in summer you’ll still be surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It’s also a massive backpacker destination, so meet up with fellow travellers in the backpacker bars in your evenings.
Accommodation: Stay somewhere in Mall Road if you’re looking for hustle and bustle, or opt for Aleo district for quieter views of the mountains.
Activity: Take a nap if you need to and then take to the streets and visit one of the many temples around the area – the Hidimba Devi Temple is the most famous - and head to Manali Bazaar for evening entertainment and food.
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Manali. (Photo: Pixabay)
Day 4: Manali
Morning: Get up early to go paragliding (weather dependent) in Solang Valley for amazing views – if you’re an amateur you can do it with a pilot. It’s a short activity, leaving the rest of the day open for more.
Rest of the day: After that adrenaline rush, go on a day bike tour from Manali to Kullu Valley, driving past villages, rice fields and apple orchards. Enquire at your accommodation about which is the best option or pre-book online.
Day 5: Manali
All day: This should be your hiking day! While Manali is a popular starting point trekking to the Himalayas, there are various short day or half-day treks that will work your legs. You can walk through the forest at Dev Diyaar made up of pine, apple and peach trees, or hike to the sacred Jogni Waterfall past temples and villages, including a hot spring dip in Vashith.
Another option for the hardcore hikers is to do a 10-hour hike up to Patalsu Peak, starting in Solang Nalla.
Day 6: Manali
Day: Take this as a rest day from the hike, or take the day to see more Buddhist temples you might have missed, check out the Museum of Himachal Culture & Folk Art or do a bit of shopping at The Mall market.
Evening: Get a good night’s rest for the next two days will involve a lot of travelling.
View of Manali. (Photo: Pixabay)
Day 7 - 8: Manali to Rishikesh
Travel: Take a luxury overnight Redbus or similar from Manali to Ambala Cantt (about 9 hours) and from there grab a train to Rishikesh. Opt for the Hemkunt Express as it gets there faster in five-and-a-half hours, but check if it's open as there has been some construction which should be done at the beginning of 2020.
People might recommend taking a bus from Manali to Haridwar and another from there to Rishikesh, but this involves almost 24 hours of being on the road straight in one go and will absolutely destroy your body. Only do this route if you get stuck with the previous recommendation.
Accommodation: When you finally get to Rishikesh, look for accommodation on the Ganges River, especially around Tapovan where a lot of the adventure centres are concentrated. The best way to get around is either by auto-rickshaw or by walking.
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Day 9: Rishikesh
Rishikesh is not only one of India’s premier adventure destinations, it’s also a holy city and where people from all over the world come to study meditation and yoga.
Morning: Get up early for a quick hot air balloon ride over the Sivalik Hills – a mountain range that’s part of the outer Himalayas.
Afterwards, get ready to scream at the Mohan Chatti bungee jump. It’s 83 metres high, but you can also instead do the giant swing at the same place.
Afternoon: Wander around Rishikesh and visit the temples and ashrams – it would be weird to visit Rishikesh without doing yoga so perhaps book a session at sites like the Swarg or Beatles Ashram – the famous music group visited Rishikesh in the 60s which sparked the worldwide yoga movement.
The City of Rishikesh. (Photo: Getty)
Day 10: Rishikesh
All day: Raft the holy Ganga River – mother of all rivers in India. The frothing waters helped put Rishikesh on the map and there will be many centres where you can book a journey.
Be honest about your skill level so that you choose the right grade and pay special attention to safety and your guide.
Afterwards you can relax with a picnic on one of the river’s beaches, like Ganga Beach next to the Ram Jhula bridge.
Day 11: Rishikesh
All day: Book a day trip jeep safari to the nearby Rajaji National Park.
This conservation area is a thick jungle filled with wild Asian elephants, Bengal tigers, the mountain goat goral, chital deer and sloth bears.
Asian elephants in Rajaji National Park. (Photo: Getty)
Day 12: Rishikesh
All day: Go chasing waterfalls with the option of various hiking trails. You can try a short hike to Neer Garh, Garud Chatti and Patna, all walking distance from the main centres.
You can also hike to the temples that are a bit further away – like Neelkanth Mahadev Temple.
Day 13: Rishikesh
Optional: You can take this as a rest day if you’re feeling tired and want to recharge before heading back to Delhi for your flight. Perhaps the best use of time on this day is another yoga or meditation session.
Otherwise you can take this day and head straight to Delhi.
Rafting along the Ganga River. (Photo: Getty)
Day 14: Rishikesh to Delhi
Travel: Take a bus to Haridwar, then a train to Delhi for your flight back. It might be advisable to try to stay the night before your flight as the bus and trains can get delayed.
*Disclaimer: Pricing an estimated recommendation at the time of publishing
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