My heart pumped wildly even before I was exposed to the trippy air of Kasol. No, it wasn't because I was smoking up. The road leading to this popular hill station is so nerve-rackingly dangerous that every time the bus took a sharp turn (and there were plenty of those), I looked out the window with trepidation.
On one side of the highway stands massive and mean looking rocks that threaten to slide on to the road causing havoc. And on the other side is the Beas river with an unrelenting current. The bus had to tread a delicate path between these two stubborn natural obstacles. The life of 25 bus passengers (including mine) was entirely in the hands of the driver and there was no margin for error whatsoever.
After a twelve hour bus ride from Delhi, I reached the first pit stop of the journey at Bhuntar (Himachal Pradesh). Another four hours on the road and an hour long trek finally led me to the remote village of Tosh, located on the slopes of a mountain. The snow capped mountains high above and the waterfall below made the long and tedious journey to Tosh worthwhile.
Tosh: Where Time Stands Still
The sun had set by the time I stepped inside the Pink Floyd cafe for snacks. The smell of hash reeked from every corner of the dim lit cafe with Bob Marley posters on the walls. In time, I realised that Bob Marley is the God, Schnitzel (Israeli food) the staple diet and trance the archetypal music in this part of India.
The three Indian travelers I interacted with didn't remember what day or date it was. They had even forgotten when they had arrived in this village nor did they have any clue of their departure date. I was beginning to understand why Tosh is called smokers paradise. People don't come to Tosh for the weekend, they come for weeks that turn to months. Stubbles turn to beards amid the smoke and sound. I walked down to another cafe, with a torch light in hand, only to find another group of young men smoking up and betting on an IPL match.
"Can you increase the volume, " I asked. They looked back at me with a bemused expression and went back to watching the game on mute. As a rule, the television is always played on mute. Silence is celebrated with joints and psychedelic music fills the space with noise.
A young traveler offered me weed and I declined. "You haven't smoked up. And you don't even want to smoke up?" he said looking astonished.
I felt like the world is divided into two kinds of people. Those who live in Tosh and those who don't. The former are comfortably and happily detached from the mainstream.
Ten minutes inside the cafe and my eyes began to burn. I stepped out to fill my lungs with the crisp and chilly mountain air. Two young men (Avinash and Shikhar) joined me and began rolling a joint. They were articulate, smart and completely stoned.
"Kasol is no good anymore," Shikhar said. "This is the real deal. We get 10 grams of top quality hash for 1,400 rupees.
Shikhar took out the tobacco from the cigarette and placed it on the rolling paper. Meanwhile, Avinash broke the hash ball down into minute pieces using his nails. They carefully mixed the two particles together, rolled them into a joint, lighted the cigarette and savored each drag. The conversation fell as quickly as it picked up.
They were mentally absent. When I asked a question they remain silent. A few moments later, when I had already lost the trail of the conversation, they suddenly answered.
I, too, have the habit of withdrawing to my thoughts. I began to wonder if they saw me with the same curious and questioning eyes with which I looked at them. Perhaps we weren't all that different. We were both addicts in our own right; them to smoke and me to my words.
I didn't judge them and they didn't judge me. We sat on the opposite sides of the table intoxicated by our own believes, accepting our vast differences. There is more than one way to live.
Kasol: The Little Israel of India
The Parvati Valley is the favoured holiday destination of young Israelis tired from the three years of compulsory military service, and Kasol is undoubtedly the hotbed of this recreational immigration. The readily available drugs, low cost of living, peaceful environment and prospect of rave parties draws many foreigners to this hill station.
Kasol is fast turning into a Jewish settlement where Shalom (greeting) and namaste are used interchangeably. Hebrew signboards are a common sight in this area. According to an estimate, about 70 per cent of the foreigners visiting the state come from Israel.
Kasol also has a Chabad (prayer place) for the Israeli community at the end of the market. It is open and accessible to people of all communities and looked after by a soft-spoken priest. They have build their own nest here and are at ease with the surrounding.
The stillness of Kasol is frequently broken by the dash of bikes headed to the Sikh pilgrimage sight Manikaran, five kilometres away. The young pilgrims can be easily identified by the blue flag with a khanda (Sikh sign) that juts out of the front of the bike. Their youthful rigour comes across in their demeanour and constant blow of horn.
After a round of falafel, I was ready to venture to a nearby village called Chalal. The trek began by crossing a rickety bridge that swings perilously with every step. The winding path of the Parvati river, tall pine trees and the setting Sun had a soothing effect on me. For the first time on this trip, I felt truly at peace.
An hour into the trek, I heard booming techno music from the thicket. I followed the music deep inside the jungle to find myself at a rave. There were loudspeakers, makeshift dance stage and plenty of expat faces in the crowd.
It seemed like half of Kasol was gathered here. Bodies grooved to music uninhibitedly and there was no dearth of LSD. By the time I returned to Kasol and boarded the bus to Delhi, dark clouds had gathered over the hills and a hail storm ensued.
I thought Parvati Valley to be a haven and it was, although in a different way than I had imagined. It is a place for those who want to leave behind the world, date and even day. That is the good, bad and trippy of it.
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