Sunday, 9 November 2014

Himachal Travel Diary - Part 6 (Kasol)

"We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us" - Anonymous

Our rooms in the Alpine were situated in the old wing. Mrs. Mukherjee did ask us whether we wanted rooms in the new wing but didn’t want to spend unnecessarily for a bigger room when we got all the same facilities in the cheaper room itself. The old wing had two types of room one with TV (Rs. 850) and one without(Rs.600). We chose the one with TV.

The restaurant

Our room was across the dining area and the new wing on the first floor. Going by the price we had thought it would be a very basic room. Bit when we entered the room it was a pretty big one. The room was dimly lit.  It had a wooden sofa and table and a beautiful wooden queen sized bed. The bed had nice fluffy pillows and two thick blankets. The TV was a basic model not an LCD/LED. But we didn't mind that. The room had so much space that easily another extra double bed mattress could be fitted leaving ample walking space. Along with this two camp chairs were provided which we used for sitting in the common balcony. The bathroom was also big enough and had geyser. I was pretty much happy with the arrangement; in fact it was more than what I had expected for Rs.850.

The Dinning area by the river
I took a quick shower in the warm water. It was absolutely necessary as much time had passed since we were fully drenched in the chilling water of Beas and fatigue was setting in. The warm bath made felt rejuvenating. It was already past 2.30 PM and we were pretty hungry. The restaurant had almost closed by then so we asked what was available. The young attendant informed that Chicken thali was available and we ordered the same.

The common balcony
Outside it was still raining so there was no chance of going out. And due to the rain the mercury had gone down. This actually felt like the temperature should be in the mountains – chilly. While we waited for the food to arrive we got inside our respective blankets and watched TV. It was gradually getting so cold that getting out of the blanket was out of question. Soon the food arrived. The Thali had generous amount of food – rice, daal, chapatti, chicken curry, salad and pickle. We had our lunch on the bed only while sitting covered in blanket.
Our Room
The cold weather, a filling lunch and the warm blankets made us sleepy and we decided to take a quick nap. Anyway the rains were going on relentlessly so we had no other option. I just prayed that the rains take a break in the evening so that we can explore the town. We soon fell asleep hearing the gurgling lullaby of the Parvati river.

The alarm woke us up at 5 PM. I quickly checked outside that the rain had stopped. After a few pushing and shoving I could get A up and ready for the walk. We geared up in our jackets and wind cheaters. The weather was still cold and slightly windy.

The hotel premises looked very pretty in the rain drenched ambiance. The greatest USP of the hotel is that the River Parvati flows right through its front. None of the other hotel in whole of Kasol has this kind of magnificent view.  The river was dangerously beautiful. The force with which thousand gallons of water was passing in front of us was awe inspiring. You could hear the river from all over the town, such was the force. And within the hotel premises it was creating a crescendo of the sound.

The canopied eating area was full of boarders. We walked past them towards the reception area. Vijay met us there and asked us for another installment of the trip money. We told him we would get the same from the ATM in the village. The walk down the mud road to the main road was serene. Everything looked so green and lively. We saw a lot of cannabis or hashish plants growing by the roadside just like any common shrub that we are used to see normally.

Shops on Road side
Kasol is a small idyllic hamlet spread on both sides of the river Parvati. Looks some what like an European countryside minus the manicured setup. The rawness of nature is very much Indian. Nature has bestowed the small village with all its beauty and the inhabitants of Kasol have kept it that way. Small wooden two storied shops of medicine, clothes, grocery and restaurants are lined along the main road. The number of shops is very less in the whole of Kasol, maximum of them being food shacks. Kasol is often referred to as “Little Israel” due to the presence of a large number of Israeli population. If you did not know that you are still in India you could easily mistake this as a foreign village. Everywhere you look you can see a couple of hippies chatting, smoking charas, haggling with the shopkeepers or simply lazing out with a book. Young Israelis with dreadlocks and flowing attire remind you of the seventies and the song “Hare Krishna Hare Ram”.

The place is very peaceful; there are hardly any vehicles around, only the bikes and passing cars which are going to Manikaran. That too lessens after dusk. People here prefer to walk and we also did the same. Maybe all the busy hill stations of our country looked the same some 100 years ago when the tourists didn’t know about them. I just wished that this little jewel in the heart of Parvati Valley never loses its Idyllic charm. Due to the presence of such a large population of charas smoking hippies and their regular rave parties, many tourists have a notion that Kasol is not a safe place. Long live the myth and fear, because that’s one reason tourists will come lesser and it will slow down the commercialization of this quaint village. Till the time it’s isolated, unknown it shall remain untouched and pure.

 The village has a number of parallel hanging bridges connecting both the banks at short distances. As we reached the first bridge a short distance from our resort an amazing view of the snow capped mountains greeted us. The fading rays of the sun were shimmering on some of the higher peaks and looked like honey topping on an ice cream! It was simply magnificent. We stood there on the bridge spell bound for some moments simply admiring the splendor. The mountains looked much nearer and beautiful than what we had seen in Manali.

We took the path along the right bank of the fierce Parvati. It was a serpentine dirt road meandering though the mountain. We came across a small food shack named “Art Café” on way. A couple of Royal Enfield, mostly belonging to long distance bikers were parked outside.  Kasol is strewn with such small little food shacks at every nook and corner. In such an Idyllic setup such things add to the romanticism. We lost ourselves in the wet smell of the earth mixed with a heady aroma of pine cones and damp moss.
The girl eating fruit from the branch
At every bend the Parvati appeared to become fiercer. In this part of the town the waters looked milky white. There was a small local girl on the road who was plucking something from the hanging branch of a tree and putting it in her mouth. We thought of telling her not to do so, but the locals who were passing by didn't seem to be much alarmed by it. After all the locals will be knowing the good from the bad more than us.

A dog resting on roadside

We kept walking on and came across a second bridge. This one was made of wood and iron and had a rustic feel to it. Kasol is so beautiful that you will be confused what not to praise – everywhere you look nature has spread its bounty. You would want to capture each and every tiny moment in your camera so you can take a piece of this paradise back with you.
The Second bridge

The path after the bridge became more beautiful. Now we were almost in the level of the water. As we walked we saw a patch of forest area in front of us mostly having towering Pine trees. There was a small clearing before the forest where the river took a left and a right again. There was lot of big boulders and stones on the bank which bore the signs of water erosion. We had read that Kasol was a good place for angling, but we didn't have the angling equipment with us. And we had planned the same for Tirthan where the hotel itself would provide us the angling gear.  This was a pretty scenic spot and a couple of other tourists were also frolicking around, some of them even daring to go into the ice cold water just for the sake of taking pictures. We didn't dare that much and took turns standing in front of the biggest rock to take our pictures. A midget dog also joined us for a while before he went his merry way. It was a perfect spot for overnight camping and spending some quite moments soul searching.

We continued our walk down the forest trail. It was basically an aimless walk, we just wanted to go where the path took us. The journey itself was so exhilarating, we didn't really care for a specific destination,. The pine tree leaves were still droopy with the rainwater from the afternoon shower. Sometimes when they became too heavy or due to a gust of wind the water would shower down upon us. I would squeal like a kid whenever that happened.

Forest Trail
A pine cone
Due to the rains the forest area was covered with a carpet of emerald green moss. It was almost like walking through an evergreen forest. On way we came across a couple of shepherds with their big herd of mountain goats. These goats had a thick coat of fur and curved horns and looked majestic the way they stood on the rocky edges with their head held high. They scaled the steep slope of the mountain with élan while their masters waited below.
The mountain goats
His Majesty
We kept walking and walking. There was really no end to the trail it seemed. By mistake we had presumed this was the path that led to Malana village, another scenic hamlet nearby. A local was coming down the trail and we asked him whether the path led to Malana, to which he replied something in the local dialect which we could not understand.
The snow capped peaks viewed from Kasol
The pine tree covered landscape surrounding us reverberated with the gushing sound of Parvati. Soon we got a patch of clearing, the rim of which touched the Parvati. We walked down to the edge of the place. But there we could only see empty packets of chips and broken Beer bottles scattered all around the place. It seemed like people frequented this clearing for their drinking rendezvous. The daylights had become quite dim within the forest trail and also we had come down far from the main village and especially the presence of broken Beer bottles made us decide to turn back. If we were in a group we could have dared to go further but being new to this place, turning back seemed the best option.

We again crossed the mountain goats way back. They were still busy enjoying their evening meal. As we came out of the forest we saw that the daylight was pretty much present but inside the forest patch it was darker. While coming back we crossed over the second bridge and went to the other side. Mostly the locals were staying in this area. It would look like any other mountain village if it didn't have the face of Chi Guevara and other psychedelic sketches painted all over their walls in vivid colors. From this place the view of the mountains in the back was the most clearer. The road led us to the main market area of Kasol.

Here we came across a slice of everyday life of the Israelis. Dreadlocks, Mohawks, lulus tinted in different colors could be seen everywhere. Even though it was such a small village full marks for the local saloon and it’s stylist! T-shirts with psychedelic motifs, Harem pants, braided woolen caps, Junkie sweatshirts and jewelry, music instruments, Chillam hookah, wooden decor were abundantly present in the shops lining the market. Young pretty Israeli ladies could be seen bargaining in the shops. They looked very much a part of the village, roaming around at ease. In fact we looked like tourist compared to them. Apart from this there were a large number of food shacks, most of them served the most popular dish of the region – momo.  A small German bakery is also present in the village.

We were doubtful of finding an ATM in this village at first by going by the number of foreigners present in the village, an ATM had to be there to sustain them on a regular basis. And when we finally found the ATM it gave us great relief. But soon the relief turned into disappointment, as it was non-functional. Expecting a second ATM would have been too much to ask for but we kept our eyes open just in case!

We took the road left of the market. Actually we had seen a fragile wooden bridge from our resort which had looked quite interesting, and we were trying to find that bridge for so long. The bridge had appeared so near to the resort but we had almost covered half the town and yet no trace of that bridge.

The left road was actually the road leading to Manikaran. It was already evening and yet we saw many bikers with the signature saffron turban heading towards Manikaran Saheb. But the noticeable thing was that though it was evening the sun light was still present. It was almost six and it looked like it was 4.30 PM or something whereas in the mountains it’s a usual thing that day light goes off pretty early compared to the plains. This particular road led to the other resorts of Kasol like Sandhya kasol.Devlok International, Parvati Kuteer. Initially we were about to book either of these but when we saw them in reality our unanimous thought was it was a good thing we booked Alpine instead. The location and look of these resorts were nothing compared to Alpine, they were away from the river. There was one resort (forgot the name) which was playing really loud music and people were seen gyrating to its tunes. It’s a pity when you see people can’t forego the usual city requirements even when they are so close to the nature. I mean what is the logic of playing a DJ inside a forest? If DJ is indispensable for you go to a pub, forest is for enjoying silence not creating a racket.  I really despise of the people who doesn't respect nature and spare a thought for anyone else other than themselves.
Chabad House
As we walked further we saw a building with a big lawn. The board at the entrance said "Chabad house". There are many Chabad houses all over India, providing refuge to the Israelis. Its basically a Jewish community center. According to the net the Chabad House in Kasol offers: "Shabbos meals with a young and enthusiastic vibe, a kosher restaurant that serves thousands of meat dishes every month, Torah studies in the mornings, open nights for joint study and in-depth conversations, as well as a luxurious Mikvah (ritual bath) for the use of the public." It seems the current Chabad house was once a property of the Himachal tourism where Indian travelers could stay. But  after it was turned into a Chabad house, it has become exclusive for the Israelis.

The View Point

We kept walking and found a spot from where the river was really close. There was a viewpoint sort of an area created but a building was also there by its side. We were not sure whether it was some private property but decided to go anyway. If caught, we had some excuse ready. The view from this point was really amazing. Nothing blocking the view in front. The river was flowing with so much force over here that it had created an aura of mist all around. It looked like we have ventured into some mystic fairytale land. We sat there for quite some time before it became really cold due to the presence of the moisture in the mist.

We decided to head back to hotel as we were feeling a bit hungry and had walked for a considerable time. It was about 6.40 PM when we reached the hotel premises. En-route to the hotel we also inspected the area around it. Nothing much, it had a couple of mud paths used by the villagers. The outside dining area was still teeming with people. I doubt whether anyone actually ate in their restaurant area, because everyone preferred this open eating area with a view. We were pretty cold by the time we reached our room. I called up one of the attendants whom you can always find walking down the lawn and ordered chicken soup in the room. We were too cold to sit outside at that moment. We watched the local news and thawed our numb hands and feet inside the blanket. The cold was actually exhilarating. What’s a mountain without some chills!

The chicken clear soup of alpine is something out of the world. You must absolutely try it whenever you come down after a walk outside. It warmed the cockles of our heart, no pun intended. An amazingly potent soup with the richness of chicken and heat of black pepper. After the soup I felt warm enough to go out of the room. A was busy watching T20 match as I ventured outside for an evening stroll. Amazingly the daylights were still there and it was already close to 8 PM. I wondered whether night ever came down upon this small hamlet. The stars were out in ones and twos. The open dining area finally looked a bit empty. I sat on the boundary wall just opposite to our room watching the river. Far from that point I could see the silhouette of a person standing on a rock fishing. Mist had made it impossible to guess whether it was a guy or a girl.  Looked pretty dangerous from here but the person was very much at ease it seemed.

I called up home and had a chat with mother. Even she could hear the river over the phone! The tremendous sound of the river reminded us of the time we had spent in the Rainforest Athirapally. Our tree house was located bang opposite to the majestic waterfall and the entire night we could hear the rumbling sound of the waterfall. It was almost like living open under the nature. The experience at Alpine was equally enthralling. Even how much I praise the view and ambiance it would fall short of the actual beauty of the place. I loved the time spent sitting on the boundary wall listening to songs on my phone and ideating.

I had lost track of time and when A came out to call me did I realize it was already past 9 PM. We speculated whether to have our dinner by the lake or in the room. The open dining area was much more cold due to the proximity of the river and the mild wind. Though some people were having their food out there we were literally shivering. We decided it was better to have food in the room only, if we wanted to prevent ourselves from falling ill.

The dinner consisted of some chicken curry, daal and rice. The curry was more than enough for two people and very tasty. I had also ordered another bowl of chicken soup for me. I was way beyond full post dinner and pretty sleepy. I hit the sack with a novel while A waited till the end of the match.

It was a real pity that we were leaving Kasol the very next day. This place was such that you could spend as many days as possible over here but still the charm wouldn't die out. There was a lot on our itinerary the next day. I don’t know when I slept thinking about the amazing day we had and listening to the lullaby of the river outside.

Continued in Himachal Travel Diary - Part 7.

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