Manali, the idyllic mountain town of Himachal Pradesh is much more than just a prized travel destination. The hill station is also popular for its Winter Carnival, a community-wide celebration of athleticism, cultural events and ski heritage. The carnival began its journey nearly four decades back when it was inaugurated by late Dr. Y. S. Parmar, the Chief Minister of Himachal in 1977. From then on, the extravaganza progressively grew and today it makes for an unforgettable experience. The brainchild of Shri Harnam Singh, the founder of Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports (previously known as WHMI), the carnival was born out of the need to bring the spotlight on skiing.
It started with skiing competitions on the Solang valley with active participation by professionals from HAWS, ITBP, and Gulmarg Ski School. The initiative was a big hit and started attracting hordes of fans to the sport. In a bid to give skiing a further boost and attract tourists, Dr. Singh started hosting cultural events simultaneously with the skiing competitions. The cultural events were organized at the Manu Rang Shala and enthusiasts attended the spectacle from across the nation and globe. Thus began this interesting journey of the Manali Winter Carnival.
Although this arrangement came to an end in 1984, skiing activities, State & National level competitions, along with regular courses, kept going smoothly. Manu Kala Kendra, a local club was at the helm from 1985 to 1992. A year later it joined hands with Trios Mumbai and continued the Manali Winter Carnival on the earlier lines. Such was the popularity of the event that it was listed as a State Level Function in 1999. Since then the carnival has been celebrated with much fanfare.
The year 2008 can be termed as the turning point when Cultural and Skiing events were once again organized side by side. The only difference being that cultural programs were used to highlight skiing. Apparently the belief was that an intermingling of the two would lead to mutual prosperity and pave the way for an international skiing event.
The 12th State Level Winter Carnival (7th to 11th February 2010) was organized on a large scale. Numerous tourist attractions spread along the 250 metre stretch of the Manali Mall from the Ram Bagh Chowk to the Ibex Chowk. For the first time, an effort was made to directly involve the vacationers in the spectacle. Apart from the skiing championship, the carnival had an element of the rich Himachali culture in the form of a Food Festival, Craft Bazaar, Local Band Competition, Folk Dances, Street Plays, Adventure Sports and more.
Manu Kala Kendra took over the reins of the 13th carnival in which 30 teams from various states of India participated with fervor. Impressed with the turnout and stupendous performance, Sh. Prem Kumar Dhumal, the Chief Minister declared the carnival a national festival. In a bid to prop up tourism, the carnival committee decided to motivate travel agencies across India to promote the event. The purpose was to ensure that the Manali Winter Carnival occupies an important place in the tourism calendar and lures holidaymakers in the off-season too. The Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation and private hoteliers are now offering special packages during Christmas and New Year to attract visitors to Manali. Time year too, the event is being publicized in a big way and promises to be a big tourist attraction.