|(From top) Paragliding is a year-round sport in Solang Valley; A tourist tries her skiing skills; The state-of-the-art ropeway connects Solang Valley to Mt Phatru
My screams could have shattered eardrums no I hadnt hurt myself; I was atop an inflated truck tube sliding down a vertical wall of snow at a speed that might have impressed a rally driver. And this, Id thought, was the most harmless of the activities on offer at the Solang Valley in Himachal Pradesh (HP).
The valley, which is now being pitched as an adventure hub, lies at an altitude of 8,500ft above sea level. And most astonishingly of all its open throughout the year. In winters, you can bravely go snowboarding or skiing, paragliding or ride a snow mobile; and summer is the right time to roll in a zorbing ball or go cycling or just let the wind take you paragliding.
The powder snow, of the type found here, makes the slopes around the valley ideal for skiing. And to popularise it, Ski Himalayas Ropeway, in association with local ski clubs and the state tourism department has launched the Alpine Premier League, a four-day skiing competition with over 350 participants (some of them foreigners), which was held here recently. Skiers from organisations as varied as the Indian Army, skiing clubs in HP, teams from Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir participated in the event.
But if youre not a pro, do not fret. There are plenty of trainers who can teach you the basics. One such was Mahi Munna, resident of the nearby Palchan village. The trick, he pointed out, was to bend a little and balance all your weight on the upper edge of your knee-high skiing boots. It worked for a good 20 minutes till, with a touch of bravado, I announced to everyone in earshot that I hadnt fallen yet. Within seconds, not only did I crash but took along a lady who was caught completely by surprise by my ambush on a ski-ride that shes not likely to forget in a hurry.
Id actually kept the skiing for last. My stay at the Solang Valley began with a trip to Mt Phatru aboard a gondola the state-of-the-art cable car operated by Ski Himalayas the only privately owned ropeway in the country. Built by Poma of France, its just like the ropeways of Switzerland and France and has 19 cars that can hold eight people each (along with their skis). An unexpected treat awaited at Mt Phatru after the ride. This was the Cafι Vertical Limit where I had amazing thin-crust, clay-oven baked pizzas. A word of advice skip the ones with special toppings and dig into the Margherita, which is to die for.
And then I went for the adventure of a lifetime paragliding. But first, I had to climb about 50m in deep snow up Mt Phatru. For someone as out of condition as I am, this was an arduous struggle. Just as I felt my lungs were ready to burst, I reached a plateau where our adventure was about to begin. Here, parachutes in all colours possible were laid out on the white snow. And they went off the cliff passengers in tow with military precision.
While being harnessed and strapped to the parachute, I realised that running over the precipice, to take off, was a scary proposition. But the instructor seemed unfazed by my worries and simply told me to close my eyes and run for my life. And it worked I was airborne in a matter of seconds. The view snow-covered mountains with pine trees, skiers zipping around the slopes was breathtaking and well worth the ride. But it is the landing, which though looks simple, is where the accidents (when they do happen) take place. The easiest way to avoid one for a novice is to make sure that your legs stay off the ground and let the instructor take care of the landing.
Once back on terra firma, there was manoeuvering of a different sort to be done. Shutterbugs descended to negotiate the price of the photographs and the video that they had just shot of my flight. I put my bargaining skills in practice and did my best to look disinterested. It worked and the cost came down by almost half. Soon, I was holding the proof of my first flight for posterity.
However, if you venture anywhere close to Solang Valley in winter, where temperatures even in February can plunge as low as -9°C, go well equipped not just with woollens but also shoes. Itd just snowed in Manali and my legs sunk in as soon as I stepped on the road with disastrous consequences for the sensible sports shoes that were soaked within minutes. Help was at hand as there are shops aplenty that rent out gumboots.
You cant coordinate them with the colour of your dress perhaps, but they do a good job of protecting your feet. For those who really want to protect themselves from the sub-zero temperatures, jumpsuits are available on rent though the hygiene is a bit suspect.
If youre not very adventurous, you can also take a gentler but slightly bumpy ride on a snowmobile. Therere also the more powerful snow bikes in which I spun around for a while with a friend before getting stuck in the snow.
For those who do not want to do even that take in the beauty, don Kullu gear, sit on a yak and pose for the waiting shutterbugs. The cost? Negotiable.
Getting there: Manali is 585km from Delhi. Take a train to Chandigarh and then a taxi to Manali, 310km away.
Staying there: Stay at WelcomHeritage Solang Valley
Resort (01902 256132 / 256134). In Manali, options include Banon Resorts (9861044252/ 9777919598).
Solang Valley is around 13km away from Manali, Himachal Pradesh. According to legend, Manali is named after the Hindu lawgiver, Manu. The name is derived from the words, Manu and Alaya (abode). Legends also say that Manu stepped off his ark in Manali to recreate human life after a huge flood had destroyed the world.