Manali at an altitude of 2,050 m (6,726 ft) in the Beas River Valley is a beautiful hill station nestled in the mountains of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh near the northern end of the Kullu Valley. It is located about 270 km (168 mi) north of the state capital, Shimla. Manali with a population of approx. 30,000 is administratively a part of the Kullu district. The small town is the beginning of an ancient trade route to Ladakh and from there over the Karakoram Pass on to Yarkand and Khotan in the Tarim Basin.
In ancient times, the valley was sparsely populated by nomadic hunters known as 'rakshas'. The next arrivals were the shepherds who arrived from the Kangra Valley and settled to take up agriculture. Some of the earliest inhabitants of the region are the 'naur' or 'nar', which is a caste unique to the Kullu Valley. Only a few naur families are known to exist now. A naur family in the village Soyal near Haripur on the west bank of Manali was famous for the vast land they owned and their practice of having 'rakshas' as their labourers.
The British introduced apple trees and trout, which were not native to Manali flora and fauna. It is said that when apple trees were first planted the fruits were so plentiful that often branches, unable to bear the weight, would collapse. To this day, apple—along with plum and pear—remains the best source of income for the majority of its inhabitants. Tourism in Manali received a boost after the rise of militancy in Kashmir in the late 1980s. This once quiet village was transformed into a bustling town with many hotels and restaurants.
The climate in Manali is predominantly cold during winters, and moderately cool during summers. The temperatures range from 4 °C (39 °F) to 30 °C (86 °F) over the year. The average temperature during summer is between 14 °C (57 °F) and 20 °C (68 °F), and between −7 °C (19 °F) and 10 °C (50 °F) in the winter. Monthly precipitation varies between 31 mm (1.2 in) in November to 217 mm (8.5 in) in July. In average, some 45 mm (1.8 in) of precipitation is received during winter and spring months, increasing to some 115 mm (4.5 in) in summer as the monsoon approaches. The average total annual precipitation is 1,363 mm (53.7 in). Snowfall in the region, which usually took place in the month of December, has been delayed over the last fifteen years to January or early February.
- Air: The nearest airport (IATA code KUU) is at Bhuntar town, situated on NH21 about 50 km (31 mi) south of Manali and 10 km (6.2 mt) south of Kullu town. The airport is also known as Kullu-Manali airport and has more than a kilometre long runway. Indian Airlines and some private airlines have regular flights to the airport. Chandigarh airport is the nearest international airport.
- Road: Manali can be reached from Delhi by national highway NH 1 up to Chandigarh and from there by national highway NH21 that passes through Bilaspur, Sundernagar, Mandi and Kullu towns. The road distance from Delhi to Chandigarh is 260 km and from Chandigarh to Manali is 273 km. The total distance from Delhi to Manali thus is 533 km (331 mt).
- Rail: Manali is not easily approachable by rail. The nearest broad gauge railheads are at Chandigarh (275 km (171 mt)), Pathankot (325 km (202 mt)) and Kalka (310 km (193 mt)). The nearest narrow gauge railhead is at Joginder Nagar (135 kilometres (84 mt)). See Bilaspur-Mandi-Leh Railway for the proposed railway line through this area.