After a hiatus of more than 3 years, I finally got the time to resume my travels. Last 3 years have been really hectic on a personal and professional front and I’m glad that phase is over and I can get back to living my life. Regardless, I just returned from a small but cosmopolitan Himalayan village as a part of a long planned and well deserved break from life and the rest of the world, and I couldn’t be happier to write about it on the blog.
Kasol, when you hear the name, what comes to your mind? Hills, treks, Israeli people, Mediterranean food? Or something notorious that region is known for? Well, a disclaimer; my intention to head there was not for that *something notorious*, but to soak in the cosmopolitan, hippie vibe of the place, to meet some Israelis and most importantly to try their amazing bland/non-spicy food.
Oh wait, I didn’t explain the Israeli connection of Kasol. Situated in the Parvati Valley, the small village of Kasol is the hotspot for Israelis-young and old-in India. Many young Israeli men and women come to Kasol to relax after their mandatory conscription (the cost of carving out a country in the Middle-East surrounded by hostile neighbors). Some like it so much that they find the place like home and end up staying there for a long term; whereas some seasoned travelers spend their 6 months of summer in Kasol after living and working in Israel for the previous 6, thus living on saved money, and they repeat the cycle. It’s all a game of exchange rates. Some Israelis I spoke with said that it’s cheaper to vacation in Kasol than to live in Israel; in effect they save money while vacationing. Now who wouldn’t like that!
Throughout the town, even the signs on the streets are plastered in Hebrew, and at some places, solely in Hebrew.
So, nestled in the heart of the Parvati Valley, to reach Kasol is a task in itself. No direct buses head there from Delhi and one has to get down at a bigger town and catch the local bus to Kasol. It’s that remote.
In the Parvati Valley, apart from Kasol lie some other villages such as Manikaran, Malana, Grahan etc. and breathtaking treks, such as ones to Malana, Chalal, Rashol etc. I didn’t go to all of them as the plan was to relax in this break but I’ll definitely cover the entire valley when I go there next, which could be pretty soon considering that I have moved to Delhi now. Yes, my Bombay days are over. I’m a Delhite now. More on that some other time.
The months of April-October are the right time to go to Kasol if you want to avoid the snow and the extremely chilly weather (though I would advise to visit in the months outside of the above-mentioned window just to enjoy the snow), yet the summer of Kasol is like the winter in the planes; the temperature dipped to 3 degrees one night while I was there. Though it doesn’t snow in Kasol in summer, yet you can see the snow covered peaks of the Sar Pass which are at a higher altitude from the valley.
To get to Kasol, you have to take a bus from Delhi to Bhuntar. Bhuntar is on the Kullu/Manali route so any bus that’ll be going to either of these places will drop you at Bhuntar. As during my last time backpacking in McLeodganj, I again took a Himachal Road Transport bus from Kashmere Gate ISBT in the evening, and after about 14 hours, I was in Bhuntar. The bus navigates through Haryana and Chandigarh before it enters Himachal and the landscape starts changing beautifully from the plains to the mountains. The cities covered on the way include Sonipat, Panipat, Karnal, Kurukshetra, Ambala and Chandigarh. On the way there are loads of roadside Dhabas serving scrumptious Punjabi food in quantities fit for a king. But then, when around Punjab, you have to eat like a Punjabi.
The outline of the mountains early in the morning from the bus while on the way to Bhuntar.
From Bhuntar one heads to the local bus stop to catch another bus to Kasol. That is the prettiest road to navigate through with the Parvati river flowing with fervor in the valley down below to your left and thick Deodar forests on the mountain to your right. This being a local bus is also frequented by the local Himachali village people, who I maintain, are the sweetest people I’ve observed in this country; so polite, so courteous, and so welcoming towards the travelers. Wherever I’ve met them, in the town, on the hikes in the woods, on the road, they’ve all been genuinely friendly.
The main street of Kasol. Yes, that’s how tiny this village is. So tiny that there’s just one ATM which caters to all the locals and travelers, and which is usually out of money (thanks demonetization) or out of power.
I had booked a hostel for my 8 day stop but due to its renovation, they shifted us to a hotel nearby, sadly I missed out on meeting more travelers on the trip, however I was rewarded with wonderful views of the valley and the night sky from the rooftop of the hotel; and when it rained there, the clouds literally descended on earth. Rains also bought along with them chilly evenings and nights. Imagine the Indian summer during May, and you’re at a place where sometimes the temperature dips to as low as 3 degrees during the night. Delightful!
The closest treks to Kasol are the ones to the villages of Grahan and Thunja. Located around 9 kms uphill, the twin villages are accessible only through a trek via the Deodar forests replete – all uphill – with difficult terrain, and with wild animals like bears and leopards. What’s more? During the winters, they’re not accessible at all because of the snow. Yet there are people who live there, and many make the trip to Kasol and back couple of times a week for supplies and trade.
So it goes this way. The trek I made for leisure and adventure, they have to make it out of necessity multiple times a week. And it’s not an easy trek at all. It might be just 9 kms, but leading to the difficult path, it easily takes 4-5 hours to get there, and the path is so narrow at some places that only one person can walk through it, else there’s the valley on the other side where you can slip in. I feel privileged AF!
Met this young family on the trek to Thunja who gave me some insights about the life in the village.
Nevertheless, the path is beautiful. Almost throughout the trek you hear the gushing sound of the Grahan river (which eventually merges with the Parvati in Kasol) flowing down in the valley as your music. Here are some beautiful images from the trek.
You also encounter the Grahan river on the trek. As it flows directly from the glacier, continuously in the summer because of the melting snow, it has got the clearest water you’d have ever seen in your life. At some places where the depth is low, you might feel like drinking the cold water; and that’s what I did. Filled it up in my bottle, and I’m not exaggerating, it was the sweetest water I’ve ever tasted; flowing straight from the Himalayan glaciers.
On a random hike around the town one afternoon, I met a bunch of young Israelis who, like their compatriots, were fresh out of conscription. We got into talking and apparently ended up discussing politics of the Middle East, life in Israel and India travel destinations, and yes, availability of beef in India. Nevertheless they were a really nice bunch of folks, and ended up offering me Israeli coffee prepared from the river water on their mobile stove. And the coffee was not bad at all!
Coming to the food. One of my major motivations to head to Kasol. For a Mediterranean food buff, this place is a heaven in India. You get anything under the Israeli sun in Kasol. Ranging from the basic Falafels and Hummus, to the exotic Sabih and Shakshouka, you get such variety that you won’t even get in a Mediterranean restaurant in Bombay.
Did I mention the dogs? The Mountain dogs, stray or pet, are the friendliest and the calmest of them all. Over a week spent in Kasol and not one dog I found who growled at anyone.
Even when you have food, they just calmly follow you, sometimes for kilometers on a hike in the woods as well. Some may look fierce but pet them and you got their tails wagging.
4 kilometers from Kasol is the village of Manikaran. Known the most for the Sikh Gurudwara, Manikaran also has many hot water springs. In some within the Gurudwara premises, one can take a dip as well. It’s exhilarating to realize that on one side you have the freezing cold water of the Parvati river while on the other, the boiling water of the hot springs. The water is so hot that even the rice for the Langar at the Gurudwara is boiled by dipping the container in the spring. Don’t be surprised while roaming on the streets of the village you see smoke coming out of the corner of the pavement. It’s just nature at work. Oh, and this town has an ATM, so if the one at Kasol is not working, walk 4 kms along the pretty road to Manikaran and get your money.
On my last day at Kasol, while waiting for the bus near the main square, I got to see this traditional Pahari dance called Naati performed by locals for some forest department event. Such a wonderful end to the trip.
Oh, and did I mention that I’m going to retire in the hills? Well, you never know. 🙂