The swiftly rising mercury has already swallowed the joys of spring and winter is a long lost memory. To those of us with less money than enthusiasm, Himachal is like a gift from God. To escape from the stresses of a mundane life, Parvati Valley in Himachal is one of the most beautiful destinations in the world. Starting at the confluence of River Parvati and River Beas, the valley is famous for its pretty as a picture coniferous forests and crystal clear mountain streams. Nestled in these sylvan hills is the charming village of Kasol. Resplendent in natural beauty, Kasol is fast emerging as a hub for backpackers, trekkers and nature lovers. It is yet to be ruined by commercialization. However, it is also one of those places you want to strike off your bucket list before you have children as it has a culture of pot smoking and hippie lifestyle. Even if you are not into either of those, there are many other things to do in Kasol.
Walk by the Parvati River
Nothing like a nice stroll down a cackling, churning and frothing river on one side and looming pine trees on the other. Clean white sand and smooth boulders separate the lush green grass from the tumbling blue-green water of the river. Every bend in the river opens up to an exciting vista of pine trees, cliffs and waterfalls. All this is framed with snow capped peaks piercing the happy blue sky at the horizon. A great site to take those pictures you could show off on your wall. The river has a steep gradient and a greater mass of water, so it rages down in noisy torrents. It is inadvisable to cross the fierce river on foot. There is a rickety old wooden bridge for that. For a supremely pleasant leisure afternoon stretch out on one of the smooth boulders beside the river with your feet in the cold water. It could be an eternity in an hour or an hour stretching into a lifetime.
A fifteen minute walk from Kasol village leads to Chalal, on the other side of the Parvati River. This forest destination is accessible by crossing a cable supported bridge over the river. The nature walk along the trail is awesome in the moonlight with the Great Himalayas on one side and the Parvati valley on the other. Though the path is narrow, the walk is scintillating with the sound of the river as background music along the way. Trance parties are a feature here, as they are held often deep in the woods attended by both locals as well as visitors
The village still hasn't lost its old-mountain-village-where-people-are-so-pretty-and-simple charm. Whats interesting is the undercurrent of these villages. All just looks calm. It is in these small villages that the real trade happens (no no , not the THE real trade, that happens much deeper inside. I didnot have the time to find out) Any kid here can roll a better joint than you. Most can rub the charas while just talking to you. Who knows that the sadhu aka the indian-hippie sitting next to you might be a charas lord.
There are enough options to stay in the village. Just walk up to the village and pick the one with your preferred view (aka where you would like to smoke up). We liked the view from Freedom Cafe (every Freedom cafe at every backpacker town is good ... its like they are one big chain). Though the food at this one was not good, the charas definitely was !
Visit Manikaran Sahib
Manikaran is just about 6 kms from Kasol so you can take a hike or hitch a ride, whatever suits you. Manikaran Sahib is a huge Gurudwara tucked between imposing hills and a fierce Beas. The high point of the Manikaran Sahib is the hot spring located within the premise of the Gurdwara. The devout take a dip here to wash their sins and illnesses away as the spring water is believed to have healing properties. The ‘Langar’ is delicious and wholesome. It is a fact that the rice is cooked in the hot water from the spring. You have to take off your footwear and cover your head in respect before entering the holy Gurudwara. It would be wise to carry a convenient piece of clothing to cover your head. Inside the shrine, you can see pictures of Hindu Gods, alongside Jesus and Sikh Guru’s. The messages couldn’t have been clearer; everyone is welcome and all faiths are respected. I find this bit especially touching about Manikaran Sahib.
Go for a long walk to Malana / Tosh
In the morning we took the roadways bus to Jari which was around 30 – 45 minutes away. From there we took a taxi for Malana, the lesser known village of arguably the Greek descendants. The ride is around an hour long and where the jeep drops you off it’s another 2 hours of long trek to the village. This trek is slightly steep, and was slippery because of the snow but the surroundings just made it worthwhile.
Malana is famous for its distinct culture and the temple of Jamlu Devta. The people of this quiet hamlet live in self imposed isolation. They believe themselves to be the descendants of Aryan’s and that the purity of their race would be compromised by interaction with outlanders. A visitor cannot touch their walls. I have even heard that they wash their walls with the blood of a buffalo if an outsider happens to touch it. Shocking, right? Not to them! They have their own government and do not consider themselves within the jurisdiction of the Indian government. Most say it is a cover for a raging hash industry. Having said that, Malana is a village of splendid beauty. It is often referred to as 'Little Greece'.
Tosh is more European than Israeli and with a distinct whiff of marijuana in the air. Trekking uphill through the forest is a shorter route to reach Tosh. Cab’s are also available to take you there for a minimal charge of 200 Rupees. Accommodation and food are cheap and surplus. You will find plenty of cafe’s with great Israeli and European food and ideal ambience to relax. You would be hard pressed to find a typical Indian restaurant though. The village is located on a hillside overlooking the river and a waterfall. It is ideal to undertake long walks to discover the pretty delights of mountain scenery.
Barshani is the base for treks like Kheerganga, Kalga, Pulga and the base from where you can either walk the road or take a taxi to Tosh. It took us 90 minutes to reach there and we found out that it was not possible to go for kheerganga trek due to heavy snow. Hence, we explored Kalga, pulga for couple of hours, walking in the snow with mountain dogs, following trails left by locals and then took the taxi to Tosh which cost us INR 50 per seat.
There also a day hike to Kheerganga where you'll find a decent ashram to stay or wooden shacks and fire n ice restaurant with a natural sulphur water spring pool for your free bath.
Trek to Kheer Ganga
Trek to Kheer Ganga is a nine kilometer, four hour steep climb on narrow and tricky trails. As far as treks go, this is probably one of the easiest to do from Kasol. Those not in the prime of their health still might find the hike to Kheer Ganga rather more than challenging. But when you finally reach the lush green meadow, you will find the Geo-thermal spring as the answer to all your prayers. Just the thing you need when everything around you is chilling. Lie in the hot bath for a wonderfully soothing experience. It is tranquility united with breathtaking beauty. It is better to say the night at Kheer Ganga as to and fro trekking can be taxing and might hamper your enjoyment a little. The nearby hamlets provide plenty of cheap accommodation and excellent food.
Try Israeli Food
Kasol is not just a place to smoke up in quietude. It is also a haven for great food, albeit little known. Tucked amidst wilderness, in a remote corner of the world, Kasol is flocked by young Israelis. Hence the name Mini Israel. The influence is clearly visible in the Hebrew inscribed sign boards and abundantly available Israeli food. When in Kasol don’t hunt for fancy. Street side cafes serve excellent food. Eat outdoors if you can. There is no dirt threatening to get into your food in this pristine valley. A view of the immense hills and dark green forests just makes your eating experience that much better. Do try the ‘Turquoise Kasol’ and ‘The Evergreen’ for a taste of Israeli food.
German Bakery : You must visit German Bakery for fresh cakes.
Stroll to the local flea market to pick souvenirs for family and friends. The flea market of Kasol sells items like semi precious stones, pendants and other trinkets. Bob Marley T-shirts abound alongside that of Lord Shiva, incidentally both pot smoking icons. Winter clothing like pullovers, caps and coats can be bought at astoundingly low prices.
Traveling to Kasol from Delhi could take anything between 8-14 hours depending upon your mode of transportation. If you take a bus from Delhi, you will be dropped at Bhuntar from where you need to take a local bus or book a cab to Kasol. A well laid out travel plan includes things to do and places to be on the list. Apart from Kasol, Himachal provides other great hideaways to unwind in the lap of nature.
Bhuntar -- Kasol --32 km ~ 1hr
The local bus for Kasol leaves after 7 AM.
Kasol -- Parvati -- Barshani
Bharshani to Tosh
Tosh to Manikaran -- Kasol
Kasol -- manikaran 26 km
Kasol -- Malana --- Kasol - hasish - 22 km
Kasol -- bhutan
Buses between Bhuntar and Manikaran pass through Kasol.
Taxi fares from the stand near the bridge include
150 to Manikaran,
700 to Barsheni,
900 to Bhuntar and
1950 to Manali.
For kasol, you may like to stay at camps of Om bhai next to parvati river, amazing place. he can be contacted at 09805716616. However, if you want to stay at hotels there are plenty of them and easy to find once you reach main chowk of kasol. (its a small town).
Next to 'Saamy's Travel Agency' in Kasol Main Market is a tiny-shady board that reads 'Cafe Bhoj'. The interiors are as beautiful as as the exteriors are nondescript. Two floors of pure bliss. Big Hot Box Halls, Smaller Semi-Private cafe rooms, ambiance matching Israel of 1960s. Its also one of the few places that stay open all night.
Places to eat in Kasol: Shiv café, Evergreen Cafe, Bhoj, German Bakery, Little Italy, Maria café
Places to stay in Tosh : Jim Morrison café - one of the highest point to stay
Here are two other contacts which may come useful:
– Taxi, Barshani – 08894494428
– Bus, Vishal – 09882624000 (for bus to-and-fro Delhi to Bhuntar)
Certainly best place for a short vacation.