Even the busiest body secretly hopes for a quiet place, to be far away from the bustling anthill, the demands of life. Most of us secretly hope to travel to a place without mental clutter, where stillness replaces the noise of the city, where the tangible elements of nature become an immediate reality. We can find quiet zones in different ways. For some, it is the absence of sound, the silencing of car horns and human voices. For others, it is to be found in the anonymity of the crowd that throngs a marketplace. Some climb mountains to reach faraway places without another soul. Others embrace the depths of the ocean, to find serenity there. From the recesses of a bus to the trek through gushing waterways, here is the documentation of journey from Kasol to Kheerganga, where my brother and his friends went last year to offer themselves a delightful break from all things urbane.
Their backpack excursion began on the 13th day of June; the most maddening month of the year. At around 6 pm, they arrived at Majnu ka Tila, a Delhi based Tibetan colony where their bus was accepted to arrive. They waited in anticipation as it happened to be their first trip to Kasol and Kheerganga.
Around 7 pm, they embarked their journey which would eventually make them tick-off another spine-tingling destination from their bucket list. A semi sleeper Volvo bus will take them from the bustling capital town, across the mountains to the solitude of the Himalayan range. After 2 hours, the bus stopped at a roadside dhaba for the passengers to satisfy their evening hunger pangs. The bus ride held the promise of being spectacular, treating their eyes with the enchanting views of the mountains and the enclosed river valleys.
Nearly around 7 am in the morning the bus stopped and the 4 of them pulled their respective jacket’s hood over their head ready to gulp the cold winds and embrace the morning chills. On a vacation, what many of us often need most is not an exotic locale or five-star amenities. Instead, perhaps we need to find time to occasionally explore a forest, a mountain, a clean beach away from the city: anywhere really, where the outdoors will refresh our lungs and with that our bodies and souls.
With an abundance of excitement running down their nerves, they got down on the bus and began to inquire with the locals about the closest ATM point. The local residents helped them to an ATM and advised them to withdraw sufficient sum of money because ATM is probably a rare sight at higher altitudes. Analysing the gravity of the situation, they withdrew enough money to treat themselves to a hassle-free experience. While moving towards the bus stand they struck a conversation with 2 guys and discovered that they too were traveling towards the same destination.
They joined the duo.
After an hour-long journey, they reached Kasol – India’s own Amsterdam, and the Mini Israel of the Himalayas. It’s a small village but almost overrun with reggae bars, bakeries and cheap guesthouses catering to large backpacker crowd, nowadays including growing numbers of Indians. The village divides into Old Kasol on the Bhuntar side of its bridge, and New Kasol on the Manikaran side. With jazzy restaurants, cafés and liquor shops opening till late night, Kasol seems like a magical valley which reverbs under the surface even at the wee hours of the morning.
Belonging to no cult or cipher, Kasol doesn’t want to be found. But then, this little piece of heaven is lush with that hard to ignore Cannabis waft. Skunk, Red Hair, Early Girl, White Widow, flower power, Morning California etc. aren’t names of my brethren but common concoctions of drugs around here.
The market brim with cafés that serve delectable Israeli cuisine. The four of them savored themselves with Paranthas filled with delicious stuffing as their first round of meal for the day and headed straight to the riverside to catch River Parvati wildly flapping its way across the tiny Himalayan village.
The beautiful valley and the surrounding pristine hills enjoy pleasant weather throughout the year. It is also the starting point for many treks. Every year, thousands throng the picturesque Parvati valley in Kasol craving for a “high”. What draws them here is a drug from the village of Malana that goes by the curious name of ‘Malana cream’.
After roaming around in Kasol and chilling at sides of Parvati River they finally zeroed in on Chalal that required not more than a 30 mins moderate stroll beyond a stretch hidden by tall pine trees. The trek starts as one cross over a hanging and perilously jerking bridge over the Parvati river. On the other side of the bridge, the view is blocked by steep stony hills. You just had to keep in walking by the side of the river following a narrow path. Chalal is basically a small village near Kasol. It has benefited from the tourism boom as a lot of resorts, camps and restaurants have cropped up in the entire stretch from Kasol to Chalal.
Upon inquiring with the locals, they got to know that they can stay in tents for the day and can spend the night in the nearby hotel. By the time they reached Chalal, the sun was below the horizon but there was light in the sky. An evening descended upon Chalal, city, noises and mundane routines seemed miles away.
The tents weren’t available for rent so they ended up booking a room at a guesthouse near cafe Shiva, the best eatery in Chalal. The cafe is run and operated by two men and was just under their guesthouse. That guesthouse served as a vantage point which can evoke an inexhaustible astonishment in anyone’s mind. Glancing at the scenic shades of one of the loveliest Himalayan valleys in India, they found themselves wondering how nature had been allowed to take its own course here with bare minimum interference. They were in an escape away from all the hubbub of the city with three beautiful hills standing right in front of their room. The locals believed they were Shiva, Parvati, and Ganesh.
With the falling evening, the temperature soared down. With the breeze holding the rain clouds in check, they stepped out for a stroll. Psychedelic
trance music could be heard in almost every café there. Trance-y music wafts from the diminutive village, where people intent on parties and some smokey peace.
Next morning they woke up to a heavenly view. Cotton candy clouds stole around them, softening the fold of the Himalayan hills. It felt like a deeply comforting place, perfect for long conversations, but also for companionable silences, where the only sound they heard was of the persuasive silence.
They had breakfast at the Shiva café and headed back to Kasol. From Kasol they took a bus to Barshaini. Barshaini is the place from where the trek to Kheerganga starts. The drive from Kasol to Barshaini was fairly smooth, but from then on, the path was treacherous. The last few kilometers to a destination are often the most exciting as its beauty comes into view. However, there they felt like dolls bobbing up and down the uneven road.
Before starting the trek they went to a cafe to be pleasantly surprised with the mint tea freshly made with wild mint. It was a fabulous setting in the midst of wildflowers of various colors blooming. Vatsal Khandelwal would highly recommend savoring a cup of mint tea to anyone planning to visit Kheerganga.
From here begins the trek to Kheerganga. The four backpack crawlers had their bags filled with clothes, food, and camping
stuff(except for the tents).
Kheerganga is located deep in Parvati Valley (Kullu Valley) and is perched at an altitude of approximately 2950m. With unpaved roads, they had to climb over boulders and cross some shaky wooden bridges, tied over hundreds of feet of rocky river, with fathomless bottoms. Towering deodhar trees carpeted their path and the dominance of nature made their journey dramatically easier and incredible. The sound of Parvati river rushing through the gorges served as a music to their ears.
Around the halfway point of the trek, they came across a huge waterfall with a solitary dhaba café. It is recommended to fill your water bottles here, as the water is clean and pure. Most trekkers take a short break at this place named Shalom Waterfall Cafe and enjoy a Maggi meal or some snacks, before making the final push to Kheerganga.
They took a small break to wait for their friend who was losing his stamina and badly needed a rest. The trekking trail becomes a little difficult after the waterfall; a continuous climb begins which can be testing for first-time trekkers. The path hereafter is well-marked and there is little chance of anyone losing their way. Remember it is not a race and that everyone has their own pace, so walk slow and steady, enjoy the scenery of the forest and reach Kheerganga. The uphill climb is definitely tiring, the good bit is that there are nice spaces to sit in the shade of trees where the cool air helps much in relaxing. Capturing the nature’s marvel into their cameras,
and listening songs on the portable speaker, they trekked for almost 6 hours and reached Kheerganga
by 6 in the evening.
As they took their last step of the 14 km trek, they came across a cluster of tents and cafés near the temple and natural hot water spring which can be covered on a 10-minute walk. Booked a tent over there (Rs. 1500 for a tent of three, as told by Vatsal), and settled down for a bit. The temple and hot water spring pool were located on top of all the huts and campsites.
They went straight to the garam paani ka kund ( hot water spring pool). The natural hot water spring flows beneath the temple of Lord Shiva. Once they reached, they took a dip in the warm water accentuated with the beauty of the open sky, the crisp breeze, and lush green landscape. A hot water bath was something they all were craving for after a five-hour trek.
They spent around 30 minutes in the pool and wanted to stay longer to enjoy the therapeutic effect of the warm water but due to the closure timings drawing nearby they had to make their way out of the water. So they went back to their tents and had
dinner at one of the cafés they don’t remember the name of.
It is easy to find accommodation in Kheerganga even if you haven’t booked in advance.
They were provided tents with sleeping bags and quilts. They can’t stop grinning every time they looked up at the stars blinking in the night sky like glittered confetti. They walked
around the area until the cold wind blew them into their tents. Also, it was getting dark and they only had torches as a source of light, apart
from the brimming lights of the nearby cafés.
Next morning, they woke up at 5 just to catch glimpses of the beautiful sunrise. The drama at sunrise was overwhelming, as the snow-capped peaks turned golden. The tops of the distant mountains suddenly light up as the sun torches the snow peaks.
After getting ready they had breakfast
and went hiking through the forest. They went through steep slopes and caves where a bear was
supposed to have taken shelter. A local café owner told them various stories and gave tips on
tackling different situations out there in forests.
They arrived back to their tent by noon as they planned to cook lunch on their own. The boys got down to the real cooking business and tried their hand at everything ranging from gathering dry wood to cooking a wholesome camp meal successfully. Ready to cook meals saved them from chopping the vegetables. After 2 hours of constant labor and effort, they wolfed down steaming hot Maggi noodles, feasted upon Shahi paneer and dal makhni and took shelter under the trees for some rest.
The stunning and expansive view of the mountains flanked the retreat on all sides. They walked around witnessing a trifecta of colours—the azure blue sky, punctuated with snow-capped tips, and muddy tan slopes, sometimes with a hint of purple.
The new morning arrived and it was time to bid adieu to the mighty Himalayas.
The person managing the tents suggested them to join him claiming he knows a shortcut which could reduce their journey to a large fraction. To their surprise, it was the worst decision they took in this trip and were not so glad about listening to the naysayer and inviting an unpleasant adventure.
But adventure is not in arriving, it’s in the on-the-way experience. It is not in the expected; it’s in the surprise. You are not choosing what you shall see in the world, but giving the world an even chance to see you. It’s like drawing lines from star to star in the night sky, not forgetting many dim, shy, out-of-the-way stars, which are full of possibilities. The first turning to the left, the next to the right… they were on a zigzag way, pursuing the diagonal between reason and the heart. A gentle drizzle began to fall and before it can turn into something more, they quickly retraced their steps to Barshaini.
They were all a bit overwhelmed by the altitude, the day’s events and by how foreign yet homely this place seemed to city slickers like them. The pleasure of travel is in the journey, and not so much in reaching one’s destination. Destinations rarely live up to the traveler’s expectations. And the pleasure is further reduced if you’re checking your watch all the time. In travel, as in life, give yourself plenty of time, so that you won’t have to rush—you miss seeing the world around you when you are in a great rush, or if you seal yourself off in air-conditioned cars and trains, afraid of the heat and dust.