Parvati Valley: Kasol, and the Undiscovered

| JUNE 2017 |

 

In the lap of the beautiful Parvati Valley, along the banks of the Parvati River in Himachal Pradesh in India, sits the very popular weekend destination- Kasol. While this place is very famous among hippies all around the world, I had to opportunity to discover a place not many people know about- the little village of Pulga. This is the village where the very challenging, yet equally rewarding trek to  Pin Parvati Pass starts from.

My friends and I started from Delhi in a bus that got delayed for more than an hour and later halted at a dhaba for dinner in the middle of the Karnal- Ambala Grand Trunk Road on NH1 at around 11 that served food which was barely edible. After managing to gulp down chapattis with a little dal, we stocked up on some chocolates and chips for the way, and boarded the bus again. All was going well as I fell asleep while chatting with a fellow traveller- only to be woken up by a shudder and a screeching noise at 2 am, followed by the bus stopping with a jolt. Stranded with strangers in the middle of what Google Maps told me was Pinjore- Swarghat Road, just out of Chandigarh, with the axle of the bus broken, did not seem like the best thing to happen in the middle of the night- until it became a good story to tell. We were now asked to fill up the seats in the buses following up behind us and only after waiting for an hour and a half, and being fed to mosquitoes ruthlessly, did I find a seat in a bus which was smaller but at least had a working axle. The kind woman seated beside me made sure I had my fair share of the seat even though she was practically hanging out of it, thanks to her five-year-old daughter who was sound asleep, sprawled across the little seat. Although I had barely managed to get any sleep, by 5 am we had entered the hills and my groggy, hungry self forgot all about her problems as soon as the mountain air hit her lungs.

After reaching Bhuntar three hours later than expected, we found the little cross-section of roads that is supposed to be a bus stand and boarded a local bus headed to Kasol. For just 45 rupees, I covered the 30 kilometers. The two-hour bus ride was nothing short of a Grand Theft Auto episode. At Kasol, I had lunch at the very famous Evergreen Café. The chicken schnitzel took away all my travel fatigue. The walls of the café are adorned with psychedelic paintings that glow in the dark and the lovely ambiance, surrounded by lush green mountains was everything I had been looking forward to.

Upon eating to my heart’s content (and my pocket’s discontent), we hired a taxi till the Parbati Hydroelectric Project construction site in Pulga. This construction site is the last place as far as the road goes towards Pulga. There is a small shop that doubles as a taxi stand, right at the bottom of the hill. The closest one can come to civilization in Pulga is the small village which can be accessed after a 40 minutes trek, uphill. My first pit stop on my way to the top was the Pulga waterfall.

The water from the Parvati river cascades through a series of rock steps, forms a small pool, and then continues to flow further, under a bridge. I sat on rocks in the little pool and smoked some of the wonderful hash (hashish or charas) ball that my friends had previously scored from Café Hill Top in Tosh which cost 1700 rupees for a tola (T). We then resumed my search for the Blue Heaven Family House uphill, as was suggested by people in Tosh.

A lot of rocks bore the directions to this guest house in blue paint, which took us through a very steep trek upwards to our destination. Tired and out of breath, we found Blue Heaven to be completely occupied with no vacant rooms. After resting for a few minutes there, our search for other guest houses in the area landed us upon Blue Diamond Family House.

This is located up ahead of Marigold Family House- which seems to be quite popular from a quick Google search. Blue Diamond is right beside the beginning of the beautiful Fairy Forest which is home to innumerable pine trees and moss-covered rocks.

We reached our destination at 7 pm, well past sunset, but the deal we got on the rooms was unbelievable. From 1000 rupees per night, we could negotiate and bring down the rates to just 400 rupees a night.

The guest house was not more than a few months old (as of June 2017) and had only 4 rooms in service, the rest of which were still under construction. It had a very cosy common room- great for the whole group to sit together comfortably. The milk used there comes from yaks and thus the taste seemed a little odd from what we are used to but the food was fresh and well cooked nonetheless. There were no telephones in the room and if you want to order for room service, you must go downstairs to the reception and give your order.

The next day we basked in the glorious sun in the balcony outside our rooms and took in the breath-taking views provided by our guest house. The stunning silence paired with greenery as far as the eye can see made the tiring trek uphill all worthwhile. We also befriended the lovely massive German shepherd, “Tiger” that the guest house takes care of.

Later on in the evening when the rain had come and gone, we decided to make a trip to Kasol since we were very short on cash and the Pulga village has no ATMs or card service. The only way to procure cash is by going down to the travel agency in the village market, and exchanging a swipe of your card in his machine for cash, at 6% service charge.

After making our way downhill till the construction site, we further trekked till Barsheni, the nearest town from Pulga. From there, we made an hour-long cab ride till Kasol for some 700 rupees. Here we shopped for some trinkets, stocked up on some nice Old Monk for the night and went to eat dinner at a small café called China Town. It was a dimly lit place setup on a wooden extension, overlooking the river Parvati. Even though we couldn’t see the water in the dark, the calm gushing sound of it went well with our quaint meal of chicken momos and noodles.

Owing to the Manikaran traffic (Manikaran is a popular site among Sikh pilgrims who visit the Manikaran Sahib Gurudwara to take a dip in the holy water of the hot spring in the temple and wash away their sins), we could reach Pulga by only 9:30 and then we started our journey uphill. Even though a full moon had gone by only two days ago, the waning moon was covered by clouds and mist and we covered our entire journey in utter darkness.

We had remembered to buy two torchlights from Kasol and these helped us gauge our way otherwise it was impossible to tell the trekking trail from the mountain edge. The silence was almost eerie and there was also a silent fear of mountain bears pervading all our minds, which none of us spoke about. By 11, we made it to the top and the view of the night sky blew our minds. The clear view of the stars against the pitch-black sky seemed like a wallpaper well within our reach. The towering pine trees of Fairy Forest made it seem exactly what it should have- magical. Upon making it to the guest house, we found the host to be kind enough to set up a small bonfire for us outside in the yard to help us relax after our frightening, yet exhilarating trek.

The next day, we started back for Delhi. While on our way downhill to the taxi stand, I realized my wallet was not on me. Once I had recovered from my bout of a panic attack, I started back uphill in search of my precious. But it all turned futile. On my way back, I kept my eyes glued to the ground, hoping to find my beloved dropped on the ground, while cursing the people who must have found it but could not bother to return it. I soon realised how uncalled for my negativity was. The old man at the taxi stand had safely kept my wallet in his shop when I must have dropped it the previous night before starting the trek uphill in the dark. I chided myself and made a mental note to never mistrust mountain folk and their warm hearts. Once we finally boarded a local bus to Bhuntar, the funniest thing happened. An hour into the journey, the bus jolted to a sudden stop and the driver found the axle of the bus broken. Waiting for other buses to come and take us till Bhuntar, we were losing precious time and so I decided to hitchhike and hailed mini truck and got in. The next hour passed with a great breezy drive through the mountains, along with some soulful conversations we had with the driver about politics and God and the history of Parvati Valley. This served as the perfect goodbye gift we could have received, cherishing it all the way back till Delhi.

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