Nostalgia. Let us talk about nostalgia. I remember as a kid how we used to stay in a big house surrounded by my mom’s vegetable garden in a small remote town called Sumbawanga in Tanzania. Since we were homeschooled, we used to be always outside the house playing. But it is a place I will never forget, especially the view from there. During my recent trip to Himachal, I had a chance to stay in an awesome homestay in Manali called Johnson Orchards. I guess it was nostalgia but suddenly being there reminded me of my childhood days in Sumbawanga. It was an awesome choice and that is why I have to rate the place as the best homestay in Manali.
Table Of Contents
- 1 Why did we choose Johnson Orchards?
- 2 Chandigarh to Manali by road:
- 3 Checking in at Johnson Orchards:
- 4 Why did we think that Johnson Orchards is one of the best cottages in Manali?
- 5 Geography of Johnson Orchards:
- 6 Conclusion:
Why did we choose Johnson Orchards?
We had been scouring for places to stay in Manali before our trip. We did not search among the many hotels in Manali since we knew we wanted to stay in one of those quaint cottages in Manali. As we were browsing through Airbnb for some Manali cottages, we came across this place and felt that this would be ideal to base ourselves during our stay in Manali.
One of the things that attracted us to this place was that it was equidistant from both Manali and Kullu and it was on the main highway as well. Johnson Orchards (hosted by Veer) is located around 27kms from Manali and approximately 20kms from Kullu.
The photos showed a quaint cottage and it was not very hard for us to come to a decision on where to stay in Manali. The photos had already sold the place to us.
Chandigarh to Manali by road:
Our journey started from Chandigarh and we landed in Chandigarh around 12:30 in the afternoon. Even though we had booked a Ford endeavor through Zoomcar, we were told on landing in Chandigarh that only a Scorpio was available. This is a story for another day and I will definitely write about how it is a bad idea to rent a Zoomcar in Himachal.
By the time the issue was sorted out, it was almost 4 PM and we were soon on the highway to Manali. The distance between Chandigarh and Manali is approximately 310 kms. You have to follow NH205, NH154, and NH3 to get from Chandigarh to Manali.
The route is Chandigarh -> Bilaspur -> Mandi -> Kullu -> Johnson Orchards -> Manali. Initially, the roads are pretty good. But then the 50kms ghat section before Bilaspur is in pretty bad shape and that is the area that took us the most time. Since it was a weekend and summer holidays in Delhi and Punjab, there was lots of inbound traffic on the route as well. The roads are much better post-Bilaspur, all the way to Mandi.
By the time we got to Mandi, it was past 9:30 PM and we stopped there for dinner. When we enquired there, we were told to expect snowfall on the route to Manali but thankfully that did not happen. There is construction going on between Kullu and Manali as well and again the roads are in pretty bad shape. We also got lost and went another additional 15-20kms before realizing that we were on the wrong route.
It took us more than 8 hours finally to reach Johnson Orchards.
Checking in at Johnson Orchards:
Since we knew that we would be arriving only past 10:00 PM, we had already informed our host, Veer. I was constantly in touch with Veer over the Airbnb messenger. When we told him our coordinates, he was the one who told us that we would only reach post 12:00 AM and asked us to have dinner at Mandi. We even called him when we got lost and he gave us proper directions to the place.
Since he was still on his way from Manali, he asked us to call Mrs. Bala Johnson when we reached the place. They were all waiting for us and after quick introductions, she took us to our rooms. We were too tired after the day’s journey and immediately plonked on our comfortable beds to get the much-needed rest.
Why did we think that Johnson Orchards is one of the best cottages in Manali?
Since we had planned a slow day the next day, by the time we woke up, it was well past 9 AM. That is when I saw it. The view from the place is just mesmerizing. You are surrounded by hills on all sides and it was such a nice view to wake up to.
I think before we go any further, I have to give a general geography of the place.
Geography of Johnson Orchards:
It is a big property and is around 30 acres. There are three cottages; one is the Raison cottage where we were staying, the second is ‘White House’ at Johnson Orchards (which is also on Airbnb) and the third is where the host family is staying. There is also a one room outhouse like cottage which is up for rent. In addition, there are apple, plum and peach orchards throughout the property. There are also some accommodation facilities for the workers staying on the premises.
Raison Cottage, one of the best luxury cottages in Manali:
Raison cottage is the biggest of the lot. We had hired 3 rooms for the 6 of us. All rooms are attached with bathrooms and are cleaned on a daily basis. The rooms and bathrooms are quite spacious. Two of the rooms had television as well. Even though I don’t like watching television when I am on vacation, the guys with us were very happy about the TV. (The ICC Championship 2017 final was on the next day.) There was also a kitchen attached which we were free to use. We only used this to make our morning tea. All meals were served in the dining room attached to the Raison cottage.
One of my favorite moments during our stay was sitting outside on the verandah and gazing at the beauty all around.
Location of Raison homestay in Manali:
Like I mentioned before, this was around 25kms before Manali. Even though Johnson Orchards is located on the highway, the cottage itself is nestled between the orchards and you will never be disturbed by the noise from the highway. We didn’t realise this in the night but when we woke up the next morning, we could hear the river. We had to just cross the road to get to the river and there were many water adventure sports. Also,we went rafting here one day. It takes hardly 5-10 mins by leisurely walk from the river to the cottage.
The entire property is surrounded by hills and it is a pretty view to wake up to each morning.
Are pets allowed at the homestay?
If you don’t like dogs, then I would advise against staying here. But for all of us, this was one of the highlights of the stay. There are five dogs on the property and there was another dog with a couple who was visiting like us. All the dogs except one are extremely friendly and we had a gala time pampering them with cuddles throughout our stay. One of them used to accompany us everywhere and he came all the way with us to the river one day. They were so adorable and I can’t help but miss them now.
For foodies like us, this was definitely the best part of the entire experience. We ate so much during our stay here that all of us gained a few kgs by the time we were back from our vacation. Everything is made from organic products and from their own personal farm.
Food is not included in the rates and you will have to pay extra. They charge around Rs300 per person for breakfast and around Rs500 per person for other meals.
But you will definitely not regret eating here. Every morning we used to walk into the dining meal and be surrounded by the wonderful aromas coming from all the food they cooked for us. We used to start the day with fresh fruits picked daily from the orchards. Breakfast was mostly continental but on our last day here, they made paranthas especially for us. It was so refreshing to have fresh farm milk every morning and it reminded me of my childhood days. Also, everything was homemade which added to the taste. Butter, cream, jam, pickles, juices. You name it and they were all homemade. The strawberry jam was a favorite with all of us and we even had an idea of shipping a carton home, of their homemade strawberry jam and apple/plum juices. (That never materialized but Veer if you are reading this, I can always send you my address so that you can ship the jam to us. :)).
Dinner was an equally exaggerate affair and we would wait in anticipation to see what was the menu of the day. Even though the vegetarians in the group preferred the continental style of cooking, the non-vegetarians were spoilt for choices with their Himachali dishes. They even prepared two non-vegetarian dishes one night, especially on the behest of my sly brother in law.
Every night we used to wait in anticipation for the dessert of the day. Since all the desserts were made from fresh fruits, it was mouthwatering and delicious. During the course of our stay there, we had an opportunity to eat baked puddings, apple pies etc.
I could definitely go on and on about the food. But due to time constraints, I will have to stop raving about the food now. Anyway, by the time we left, the host family would have definitely thought that we were the kind of people who had never seen food before in their lives.
The staff at the best place to stay in Manali:
We had three members of the staff who were extremely friendly and helpful. All three of them catered to our whims and fancies when it came to food. They were always smiling and would always answer any of the million questions we had for them. One of them even gave us a tip of visiting Manikaran to see the springs.
Even though we stayed there only for four days, we became quite friendly with the host family. All of them were very sweet and were always ready to chat about anything under the sun.
Even though we realized that they were quite an influential family in Manali, their behavior towards us was so welcoming. Special thanks to Bala aunty and Veer for making our stay in Himachal so memorable.
Johnson Hotel Manali
In addition to this property, they own many other properties in and around Manali like Johnson Cafe, Big Bear Cafe, Alternate Terrian etc. If you are looking for somewhere to stay in Manali town, then the Johnson Lodge and Spa run by their family would be ideal too.
You can check the latest prices and reviews for Johnson hotel Manali here.
While looking for a place to stay in Manali, you may find many hotels in Manali as well as many Manali resorts. But if you want to have a nice memorable stay away from the bustle of the city, then Raison cottage at Johnson Orchards is a perfect place. I am definitely planning to take my parents and nephew here one day. I would definitely recommend it after my experience here.
P.S: All views are my own as always. However, just to clarify, we paid for this experience and I write this on my own accord.