The Kasol Diaries

Kasol

The Kasol Diaries

At last after years of planning, the forethought which started when I was in college and ended two years down the line when I was busy advising clients on how to manage the business risks (yeaa things do sound boring once you enter the corporate world especially the consulting world :-)), I along with my friends finally went to Kasol – a small Himalayan village situated in Parvati Valley, on the banks of the Parvati River. Having spent two years on planning I guess I should be awarded with a degree in “Bachelors of Planning” (I hope someone recognizes my talent and comes up with such a degree :-)). Anyways being a firm believer of “its better late than never” the plan did finally get implemented, though it got stretched to some few years.

En route to Kasol

This fine evening of May 09, 2014 (this marks a historic day for me as such our plan was finally being implemented :-)) I along with my five friends reached Himachal Bhavan in Mandi House (Delhi), to board the Volvo bus to Manali. You see things were so perfect after years of planning that bus tickets were booked well in advance to avoid last minute rush because of the onset of the peak season in Manali. We boarded the bus at 7:00 PM and reclined on our seats as we waited for the long journey to come to an end. Exasperated with the long journey, some peace came to us as we drove in Himachal. The scenic beauty and pleasant weather took away all our frustration and idleness. After a long journey of around 12 hours we reached Bhuntar – a small town nestled in mountains (50 kms before Manali) at 8:00 AM.

We had to specially ask the bus driver to make a short halt at Bhuntar as such we were the only one in the whole bus who were to be dropped at Bhuntar, I suppose rest were going to Manali. The bus dropped us at a local market in Buntar. We were quite exhilarated to reach our penultimate stop from where we needed to further travel a distance of around 31 kms to reach our destination.  At one point it seemed we were the only one in Buntar as most of the shops were closed and we could hardly see any one passing by, except some friendly street dogs which looked less like a dog but more like a bear. We clutched our back packs and walked further in search for a mode of transport to reach Kasol. Just then we figured out a Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) local bus stand that was  a thrown stone away from the market.  There were 2 or 3 odd buses at the bus stop and it seemed as if the buses were just waiting for us as such all the buses were vacant. I just checked with a conductor of one of the buses and got to know that all the three buses were going to “Manikaran”. Just for your info “Manikaran” is a well-known pilgrimage place for both Hindus & Sikhs and its famous for its hot springs. Also, Kasol is on the way to Manikaran, some 4 kms before “Manikaran”. So every bus that goes to Manikaran does pass through “Kasol”. We all boarded the bus and were quite excited to enjoy the luxury of a vacant bus. It was quite reminiscent of my good old school days when the joyous feeling comes in when you are the first one to board the bus. After waiting for around 10-15 minutes in hope that some more passengers might join in, the bus finally started moving taking us and the conductor on board.  Surprisingly, the ride wasn’t that bumpy as we thought. The bus was quite comfortable, actually the comfort level doubled as such we were enjoying the luxury of a vacant bus and to add to it we were enjoying the fresh air coming by the bus windows. And the “icing on the cake” was the nominal cost that we paid for the luxury, the bus ticket was for only 45 Rs. each in all 270 Rs for all 6 of us and within one and half hours we reached “Kasol”.

Tips: Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) local bus is the best mode of transport to commute from Bhuntar to Kasol. It costs 45 Rs per ticket and takes around 1.5 hours to reach Kasol.

Welcome to Kasol

Yes, we finally reached our destination “Kasol”. We got down our bus at the main market and found ourselves altogether in a different world.  A small hill station rather a small Israeli village would be an apt phrase for this beautiful hill station nestled on the banks of raging Parvati River. Israelis men and women strolling on the road, German Bakeries and Cafes boasting of best of Israeli food was what I witnessed at first glance. The weather was pleasant with the sun hiding amidst the clouds. Next, we clutched our backpacks and walked further down the market is search for a hotel.  I did shortlisted a couple of hotels basis the research I did over internet during our journey, so the only task was to figure out those hotels.

Open air sitting area in Alpine Guest House
                Open air sitting area in Alpine Guest House

 

The first one on our list was “Alpine Guesthouse” so we were in hunt for some signage which could lead us to the guesthouse. After walking for around 500 meters or so we saw a signage saying “Alpine Guesthouse” 200 meters with an arrow pointing left.  Walking 200 meters on a narrow track through the forest we reached the guest house. Tucked between narrow band of reserve forest on one side and the roaring Parvati river on the other, stands the Guest House.  The reserve forest forms the buffer between the Bhuntar-Manikaran road along which the Kasol village is located. Thus, the guest house is isolated from the traffic and the hustle-bustle of the village. Also, the guest house boasts an open sitting area adjoining the river. It seemed to be more picturesque than what I had seen on internet. Just an update, we didn’t made any advance booking at this place so the next task was to check for the availability.  Luckily, there were three rooms available and we took two of them which were located on the ground floor.  Both the rooms were spacious double bedded rooms with attached baths and that too we got this at just Rs 2400 (Rs.1200 each) per night. I guess this is the only hotel in Kasol that is located besides the river. After checking into our rooms we freshened up and geared up for the lunch. Mesmerized with the open siting area just in front of our rooms, we decided to enjoy the lunch amidst the pristine Parvati river.

The guesthouse boasts a multi cuisine restaurant, though I would recommend to enjoy the meals in this open area besides the river.  We got the 5-6 pager menu card which boasted hell lot of varieties ranging from Indian to Israeli food and that to at dearth cheap price. Its hard to imagine that in this small Himalyan village you get to enjoy the world’s different cuisines in a café set amidst the pristine Parvati river.  I bet you will have to shell out around 2000 bucks in a five start hotel to enjoy these sumptuous meals. We were all famished after the long journey and quickly ordered some 4-5 israeli food items namely Falafel, Hummus, Pita Bread and Shawarmas. The food tasted great, it seemed as if a great Israeli chief had specially prepared these dishes for us.  Just for you info, this is a peculiar Israeli lunch that Israelis enjoy the most. So if you are an avid foodie like me, do try out the Israeli cuisines out here. Through with lunch, we founded a way down the river. We walked down the muddy path and spent some time amidst the banks of the gushing Parvati river.

Tips: If you are looking for a comfy place to stay that too at a nominal cost, “Alpine Guesthouse” is the perfect place for you. It’s the best located guesthouse in Kasol and offers a great variety of cuisines. Tariff ranges from 600-1500 per night and its bit on higher end (around 1200 or so) if you are coming in the peak season (May -October).  Also, if you are in Kasol do try out Israeli cuisines,  you will get to experience the best of Israeli food.

In Kasol

Gushing Parvati river
                                          Gushing Parvati river

 

Next, we decided to take an hour long nap just to regain the energy to get going to explore Kasol. Before I take you through the Kasol expedition, I would like to enlighten you with some quick facts about “Kasol”. You see after years of planning I had fair amount of knowledge about this place, at times I feel I can start some consulting service for Kasol :-). Kasol (elev. 5000 ft) is a quiet and peaceful village situated 05 kms short of Manikaran in the Parvati valley. Kasol has recently transformed into a hub for backpackers, who are attracted to the scenic valley, untouched hills, low population, and great climate throughout the year. Kasol is also a base for Trekking in the area, to Sar Pass, Yanker Pass, Pin Parbati Pass and Khiriganga. Natural growth of the herbal drug Charas, which is considered to be India’s best quality, is a significant attraction in the valley of Kasol and the nearby villages which are on higher grounds. Its because of this best Charas in the world that the Israelis are making Kasol and nearby villages their home.I guess the above mentioned facts were good enough reason to take a break from humdrum of city life and explore the wilderness of Kasol.

Reclaiming the energy after a hour long nap, we went ahead for a stroll in the main market of Kasol. This is the same market where we de-boarded the bus. Things were becoming more and more magnificent as we moved down the narrow lanes of the kasol market. It seemed as if we were in a hippy world. Yes you got it right “Hippy world”. We have all heard the folklore that how the valley is being taken over by Israelis and how the most commonly used language is Hebrew. Well it is true to a lot of extent. You will find Israeli men and women clad in hippy clothing boasting their long dread locked hair. Some of them strolling on the market and some vrooming on their bullets. Yes this is something that you can hire, a good bullet will cost you between 900-1200 a day. The market is filled with lots of shops – clothes, art galleries, jewelry stores and cafes. All these is a must check as such the shops boasts a different range of hippy accessories ranging from baggy clothes to chillum. Even if you don’t smoke up, you can take these as an antique. We did shopped a couple of items like chillum, crusher etc. from one of the shops, some of my friends are using it as an antique (one of them is me) and some are actually making best use of these accessories :-).

If you enter an art gallery, you will find yourself in altogether in a different world. Unlike the art galleries in Delhi where you find famous modern art depicted by pastel colors, these one showcase eclectic neon paintings which are a masterpiece in itself. You can find lord Shiva in different avatars or some mystique figure which you might take ages to understand what exactly it wants to convey, until and unless you are in a “Trip”. I guess these art forms were the most expensive items in Kasol, paintings range from 1000 to 2 lakhs. The most expensive one that I had seen was a huge paintings of Shiva in a tandav (dance) avatar, costing Rs  1.2 lakhs. Catch is you needn’t spend this amount for the painting, instead just walk into these dark art galleries (especially at night) and witness the neon lit paintings all around.

Having spent some time in shopping and art galleries, it was time to relax and what better way to chill out in one of the cafes which boasts of great cuisines, eclectic ambiance with Bob Marleys paintings all around and trans music strong enough to entice you take you on a “Trip”. This is something that you will find in almost all the cafes in Kasol. Some of them that’s quite popular with Israelis are Stone Garden Café, Shanti cafe, Ever Green, Shalom cafe, and of course, XXL cafe run by an Greek guy called Hristo, especially if he is making the Trout which is a fresh river fish from Parvati river!.Spoilt with so many options, we settled down at Stone Age Café. The live music is its USP. This place will settle you down. Dim lights and ambiance are brownie points. You can perform your jamming with your or their instruments. This place provides you colors to paint your world the way you like. A must visit for sure. We ordered some pizzas, French fries and pastas and I ordered a chilled beer for me while my friends prepared for their “Trip”. Yes it’s hard to believe that one is not into smoking but still he is in love with Kasol, but I guess for me beer plus Trans music is quite a stimulant to take me to a “Trip” and indeed it actually worked for me. One of my friend’s played guitar while we relaxed on couches enjoying the great music. A couple of Israeli too joined in and it was great to know them. This was the evening to remember. Ultimate experience it was. After spending around 3-4 hours in the café, we moved back to our guest house. It was around 8 when we reached our guest. We sat in the open sitting area which was lit with only a single bulb with no other street light around. The river shone in the moon light and the roaring sound of the river actually amplified. Try visualizing this scene; I am sure this will give you goose bumps and will remind you of scary scene of some horror movie. We played some good music around and ordered some Indian tandoori snacks to munch. We spent around 2 more hours here enjoying the booze in the scary cold night after which we moved in our rooms and just dozed off.

Tips: Take a stroll in the main market of Kasol. (It’s hardly a 2 km stretch). Do check out the art galleries and do try out some of the popular cafes like Stone Garden Café, Shanti cafe, Ever Green, Shalom cafe, and of course, XXL café.

Around Kasol

Breakfast @Alpine Guest House
                           Breakfast @Alpine Guest House

 

The next morning we somehow managed to wake up by 10 AM, though we had planned to wake up early and go for an early morning mountain trail. But things actually didn’t work our ways. Anyways, we quickly freshened up as we were to leave for our next destination “Tosh”. (Will surely enlighten you on “Tosh” later). After freshening up, we sat in the open sitting area amidst the Parvati river and ordered English set breakfast consisting of sausages, has brown, toast butter/jam and coffee. Also, ordered cold coffee separately. I must say it was a heavenly breakfast, that too at a nominal cost of Rs. 150 for the English set breakfast (you have options of Israeli set breakfast and Indian set breakfast as well). We were through with our breakfast session by 11:30 after which we took a couple of snaps with picturesque Parvati valley in the background. We checked out by 12 :00 pm  and were all set for our next destination “Tosh”.

Parvati Valley offers many easy, medium to difficult treks. All of them are splendid whether a small half an hour trek to a nearby village called Chalaal or a medium trek to a village called Pulga, which is an hour’s drive to Bershaini and then an one and a half hour trek away. Tosh is another very beautiful and old village which can be reached either via a drive to Bershaini or a direct trek from Kasol to Tosh (Pulga comes in between). We planned to drive down to Bershani and then stay over at “Tosh”. We booked a Tata Sumo to drive down to “Tosh” which charged 1300 bucks. I guess it’s a pretty good deal for a distance of 18 kms from Kasol. The road to “Tosh” was quite narrow and was in a dilapidated state, full of bumps, giving you a proper off-road driving experience. It was muddier as such it rained last night. This off roading experience was complimented by a windy overcast throughout our journey.  As we progressed, the sky became murkier and a thin drizzle started falling. This 2.5 hours off roading experience from Kasol to Tosh was quite enlivening. We reached Tosh by 2:30 PM or so only to be welcomed by heavy rain. The cab dropped us at a dead end from where a narrow bridge lead to the other side of the valley, a small village named “Tosh”.  This narrow bridge was an old iron bridge, wide enough to only accommodate 4 or 5 people at a time. So the next task now was to cross the bridge and enter the Tosh village. This was actually a task as such we had to do all this amidst heavy rain without any rain coats and umbrellas. You see at times unintentionally things get quite adventurous, though we didn’t knew that this will turn out to be “The Adventure”. (You will get to know later why I am saying so). We clutched our backpacks and started moving through the old bridge only to find a herd of donkeys coming by from the end of the bridge. We were almost half way down the bridge at this moment. It felt as if we are trying to enter some others territory and a group of pawns (here donkeys) are on defending spree. You see in this case the opponents (us) were not ready for the battle, instead chose to run back:-).  We somehow manage to reach back (starting of the bridge) only to give a grandeur welcome to our opponents (donkeys). With open passage made for us now, we commenced the “bridge task” (yeaa it was actually a task for us) again in hope to make it up this time. But things weren’t that easy now as it seemed as such the bridge was now full of fresh donkey’s dropping and top of it the harsh rain. With no other option left we slowly and gently crossed the bridge amidst the pulpy and smelly donkey’s droppings. What better way to welcome us in Tosh:-).

Tosh
                                                                                                         Tosh

 

Clothes drenched in rain water and shoes in mix of mud and droppings; this was how we looked after crossing our first task “bridge crossing task”. Anyways, we trekked further through the narrow lanes of Tosh village in hunt for a guest house. Thanks to my two year planning that I knew a couple of good guest house in Tosh, one of them being “Hill top” guest house. So the next task now was to figure out this guest house. As we walked, we came across a couple of small guest house but nowhere had we found Hill Top guesthouse. As we trekked we became anxious only to figure out a slight hint which can lead us to the Hill Top guesthouse. Having trekked around 800 meters or so in the narrow muddy by lanes of the village we found a signage saying “Hill Top guest house 600 meters ahead” and pointing towards left. Exhilarated to see the signage we all geared up to trek for another 600 meters to reach our destination. Hang on, let me tell you this 600 meter not a normal trek, instead was quite challenging as such the narrow by lanes became narrower and narrower and much steeper. The path was very slippery because of the continuous rains, thus we had to be cautious throughout the trek.  Following the signage we finally reached the Hill top guest house.

Paintings @ Hill Top Guest House
                                                                                Paintings @ Hill Top Guest House

 

The name of the guest house is apt as per its location; this friendly peaceful home is located at the top of a hill amidst the snowy summits of the enchanted Parvati Valley. Tosh has a limited number of guest house and not much fancy ones that you might find in Kasol, this one being the best in Tosh. I would say this place was worth the effort.  Here’s a catch, reaching the summit was not the end, we had to check for the availability (Yeaa we didn’t had any prior booking here too). Luckily the rooms were available and we got a good deal @600 Rs for each room, we took two of the rooms. This was dearth cheap preposition. The rooms were spacious double bedded rooms with attached baths and the best part is the rooms open to snowy peaks of the Himalaya’s.  Drenched in water and exhausted with the challenging trek, we quickly freshened up and took a 2 hour nap only to regain energy.  By the time we woke up it was already 7-7:30 pm; the snowy summits of the enchanted Parvati Valley shone bright in the moon light, this sight was so mesmerizing that it literally hypnotized us for half an hour so. All we did was stood in our balcony and just enjoyed this beautiful sight. It was so cold outside that we had to wrap up ourselves in the blankets (provided by guesthouse). Spending around half an hour or so in the balcony amidst the cold weather, we next decided to relax in the café at the ground floor of the guest house. Yes, this guest house boasted a café of its own, located at the entrance of the guest house on the ground floor. This was altogether a different café. Artistic paintings painted on the wall, when I say artistic I really don’t mean the modern art that you may find in an art gallery, but paintings which will make you think. (especially when you are high :-)). On inquiry, I got to know that some guest had painted the walls.  We occupied one of the tables just adjacent to the beautifully crafted walls. It was not the ordinary table couch arrangement but a low height table and comfy cushioned sitting arrangement. The café played some good trans music (as such this is an important catalyst for the “Trip” ) and was full of Israelis (I guess we were the only Indians at that time). We ordered some falafel, hummus, pita bread, chicken pizzas and off course some beers for myself, while my friends prepared for their “Trip”. We sat for good 4-5 hours enjoying good Israeli food, good Trans music and of course the “Trip”. (In my case beer was quite a good stimulant to take me to a “Trip” :-)). What better way to conclude this “Trip” session with some Belgian waffle. Yes this café’s boasts a good variety of deserts as well, of which we ordered Belgian waffle, this being the café’s specialty. This was the best ever Belgian waffle I’ve ever had. Here, I would like to highlight that you can enjoy all these savoury at a very nominal price. This is the USP of this place. I would say Tosh is much cheaper than Kasol. Through with this, we went back to our rooms and just dozed off.

Tips: Unlike Kasol, Tosh has a limited number of guesthouses, the best being Hill Top Guest house though you may have to trek for 2 kms or so to reach the place, but I would say it’s worth the effort.  You may find some guest house in the very beginning (just after crossing the bridge), but still I would say you must go for Hill Top guest house.  Tosh boasts some small cafes (one of them I came across – Shiva cafe) as well, but I would recommend that if you are staying in Hill Top café its better you go to guest house’s café. Also, if you are planning a trip during May –August, do carry umbrellas and raincoat.

Bid adieu Tosh

View from room balcony @Hill Top Guest House
                                                                    View from room balcony @Hill Top Guest House

 

We woke up by 10 am or so only to realize that it’s time to bid adieu to this beautiful place. Yes we had to go back to our mundane city life. (I wish I could have stayed here for a week more).  We walked to our balconies to get a final sight of the picturesque snow peaked mountains. Such a mesmerizing sight it was, the snowy summits of the enchanted Parvati Valley shone bright amidst the sunshine. It was a bright sunny morning. What better way to bid adieu to this beautiful place. We freshened up and ate a heavy breakfast as such we had to trek down to the base (from where we had to board a cab). We checked out of the guest house by 12 and commenced the trek down the base. It was a comfortable trek this time as such the weather was clear now. Throughout the trek we could see Marijuana plant which grows on every nook and corner of the valley. We went in the season when the fields were being nurtured for the upcoming season’s harvest. Burning of the leftover crop. Thus could not see the rubbing process. The ideal time to witness this process would be in the late winters.

Within half an hour or so we reached the place from where we had to board the cab to Kasol. We had asked the guest house to arrange a cab as such no cabs are readily available. We reached Kasol within one and a half hour or so and further booked a cab till Manali. We reached Manali by 6:30 pm and boarded our buses, only to get back to the humdrum of city life.

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