After spending several hours gleaning the advice of Malanan locals we decided to ignore most of it and hike to Rashol (also spelt Rasol) without a guide, because how hard can it be, right? I mean, as you stand at the top of the village and look towards Rashol Pass you can kinda see where you need to be. Turns out it’s very fucking different when you’re wandering aimlessly around a pine forest and you have the sense of direction of a jam sandwich. We got the earliest start possible taking into account the whole needing to eat thing because breakfast needs to be consumed in order to avoid incidents such as murder, and the guy at Chand guesthouse had agreed to open the kitchen for us so we could shovel some food into our chops and get some aloo paratha to cart with us up the big bastard hill. Then once you’re fed it’s a simple case of walking back out of Malana to the road the way you came with your hands thrust firmly in your pockets, then you veer off the road into what could easily be your imminent doom.
You don’t immediately end up in forest. There’s a reasonably well defined track at first which you can follow through fields and fields of weed, and by weed I don’t mean the pesky perennials your granddad laments with a trowel in one hand and a bottle of Round Up in the other. Parvati Valley produces a fuck tonne of cannabis, but from what I can gather as someone with lungs as pure as the driven snow (as long as you discount the several years I spent inhaling as much tar into my lungs as possible) they turn it all into a squishy brown hash called charas by rolling it in their hands until the crystals on the plants, which are apparently the good bits, become aforementioned squishy smokeable goodness. Tis a time consuming process which only happens once a year. In the meantime, the only obvious course of action is to photograph yourselves and each other frolicking in these fields because the novelty takes quite a long time to wear off.
Don’t ask me how the fuck we got through the forest because I haven’t got a fucking clue. We basically wandered around until we found something that could pass as a trail, lost it, found it again and lost it. We eventually stumbled upon a house inhabited by a woman who we proceeded to shout, “Rashol?” at in suitably quizzical tones. She’s probably used to visitors getting hopelessly lost in these woods. She directed us with arm waving and expert pointing back down and around where we managed to pick up some manner of trail, albeit a confusing one, through the pine trees. Basically as soon as you see anything resembling a proper trail it’s cause for celebration by this point. We did indeed celebrate with snacks before following a lovely, defined path to a stream where you could go left and up, or there was a handy dandy white arrow painted on the rocks directing your into thick, dark, seemingly impenetrable forest. Well what could possibly go wrong? There’s an arrow, guys. An actual arrow. We debated how trustworthy these three strokes of white paint were before concluding that Rashol was probably the only place to get to from here, and crossed the stream into the woods.
Don’t heed this arrow. This arrow wants you to fail. Following this arrow resulted in I don’t even how long, felt like fucking days, of climbing over fallen trees, trying not to stack it down steep embankments, arguing amongst ourselves and generally not having a fucking clue as to where we were going. We kept seeing humans in the distance but they were too far to catch their attention. We talked about heading back to the arrow but Jess was dead against it, not wanting to waste all the time we’d spent getting to here, which as far as I could see was absolutely nowhere. Eventually a group of women walked close enough to us for Theo to get their attention and shout our destination at them. They shouted back in their language and gesticulated wildly, and we deciphered their arm waving to mean something like, “Go back the way you came, you absolute nut-jobs!” They were heading that way too. Jess wanted to try going up a bank on account of her utter dislike of doubling back on herself, but me and Theo didn’t want to risk it. As we made our slow way back to that bastard, bastard arrow we saw the women again and they kept pointing us back the way we’d come. Back at the stream I glared at that arrow and I swear it was mocking us.
What you’re meant to do is head up and up and up, and there’s a bit of a path to stick to. I’d consistently proved myself to be the weakest member of our trio, I love hiking, I’m just not very good at it, like bowling and bouldering and basically anything that isn’t eating too much cheesecake and feeling a bit sick. I’m pretty unfit, very slow, and I like to stop and take lots of photos. Back home, when me and the mrs hike together, she works out how long it’d take her on her own and adds about three hours. Jess and Theo made it up the hill and waited for me where we chilled a bit because there were loads of flowers and it was pretty. Then we continued up. And up. And up. Sometimes there was a path, sometimes Jess just looked at Maps.ME and we tried to head in the general direction of Rashol Pass which was the only thing marked on there. You could be forgiven at this point for thinking that Rashol Pass was a fucking myth. Some parts now were so steep they were more like scrambles, and we were still in pine forest so you couldn’t see through the trees to any manner of end point. We scrambled and walked, and as we scrambled we noticed some discarded toilet paper, and you know what discarded toilet paper means? Apart from disrespectful arseholes? Foreigners had been here! Which meant we must be going the right way. Unless said foreigner was also way off track and their remains were currently rotting in a ditch several metres to our left or something.
Whatever. We continued on until we were suddenly out of the woods, and it was one last small uphill walk to the pass. Rashol fucking pass. Finally. We slumped down, as elated as we could be at this point, and shovelled paratha and snacks into our faceholes and took a crap tonne of photos. At 3180 masl it’s not like we were sat there weeping into our diamox but guys, this was hard work! Not that we thought it’d be easy, nothing in Himachal with the word “pass” in it was going to be a piece of piss. And getting to the pass only means you’re halfway too and here’s a fun fact: I can’t walk down hills. Ok, so I can, but I find it very difficult and often have to sit down and slide down on my arse. I don’t know why but I’ve always had this issue. I can watch a hundred people walk down a steep hill with no issues, and one of them still has to come back up and take my hand to help me down it. The pass to the village of Rashol is, of course, all downhill. At least the way was slightly more obvious. There were a couple of times where we weren’t too sure where to go but we figured down would be the appropriate course, until we finally saw the village. Oh sweet joy of joys! We sat and looked at it for a while before a small lad walked past and lead us down into the village itself, which consists entirely of hills, mostly of the stupidly steep variety that exist purely to cause injury or death. But finally, nine bastard hours later, after lots of bickering, sliding down hills on my arse, wondering at what point did we ever think this was a good idea, and generally regretting every single life choice I’d ever made which had lead me to this moment, we limped into Rashol.
There are a few guesthouses here which is surprising given the size of the village so we split up and headed to one each to find out prices. I went to Dola, at least I did once I worked out which slip slide of mud I needed to get down in order to get there. The bloke there showed me a room with a double bed and a mattress on the floor, perfect for three humans, and told me it was ₹80, but this was foreigner price, not Indian price, and we weren’t to tell the Indians what we paid because he charges Indians more. Iiiiinteresting… so this was new. I confirmed the price with him as ₹80 each and he replied no, that’s ₹80 for the room. The whole room. Literally the cheapest accommodation I’d ever stayed in. Obviously we went with Dola, I can’t remember what the guys said the other places were charging but for 26.66 recurring rupees each we got a room, a balcony with a pretty stunning view over the valley when it wasn’t pissing rain, and a shower that was even hot as long as there was electricity for the boiler. And we were even allowed to touch things. Perfect. We’d only been here half an hour and already I preferred Rashol to Malana.
It pissed down rain quite a lot whilst we were in Rashol which is fair enough really on account of it being the rainy season an’ all. When it wasn’t raining our view alternated between a lush, green valley which would also be our route down to Kasol when we finally got around to leaving, and a thick, damp mist. Everyone was hitting bongs and chillums on account of that being what you do here, apart from me, because I’m a smug ex-smoker whose lungs are a temple to fresh air. Freshish air. Ok, air with a hint of smog. Not here though, you can’t get to Rashol by any manner of vehicle apart from jetpack, you have to walk in either from Malana or Kasol, but it didn’t stop the Greek chap that was staying here complaining about the mist.
“It gets on your chest,” he moaned, “and makes it difficult to breath.” He took another hit of his chillum. Haha, yeeaahhhh… I think the mist is the least of your chest’s worries right now, mate.
You’re allowed to touch pretty much anything you want in Rashol apart from the temple, if you get your greasy little paws on that it’ll cost you ₹5000. I’m not sure if goats just cost more in Rashol or what, but it’s much easier to avoid touching the massive wood and stone structure adorned with skulls and antlers. The deity here is Jai Mata Renuka, I think she’s a Hindu goddess but if I’m honest I’ve no idea. Me and Jess had a wander through the village and it’s pretty surprising how quickly and completely the no touching rule of Malana had embedded itself into my brain. I literally had to reassure myself that it was okay. Not that mauling humans or their possessions is a hobby of mine but I’m not gonna lie, Rashol is way less stressful than Malana in that no one is going to run screaming from you if you wander within a couple of metres of them, and no one is going to have a spiritual breakdown if you accidentally brush against their house or use a fence to steady yourself resulting in you being relieved of a lot of rupees that you had beer-related plans for so a poor goat can have its throat slit to appease some manner of deity who apparently doesn’t like outsiders touching his things.
There was some manner of celebration going on in the village that day which seemed to involve horns, drums, fire, and a lot of awkward line dancing. We watched for a while and back at the guesthouse we were told by the Indian lads staying at Dola that it was probably a wedding, we’d been able to hear the horns since about 6 in the bastard morning and they were still going on after dark. Don’t these people ever fucking sleep? We wandered back down a bit later on too and some random old bloke gave us sweets. Seriously though, Rashol is awesome. The Indian lads were lovely. One of them, Man, watched me struggle with my chai. I swear, I’ve no idea why they serve a boiling hot beverage in a glass with no handle. Since I got to India, when my chai isn’t served in a little plastic or clay cup, I can’t hold the fucker without burning my fingers. Man chuckled and told me there was a technique; you just place your thumb on the rim and your fingers underneath the glass thus enabling you to enjoy your sugar saturated nipple juice with a hint of tea in comfort.
You’re shitting me. How had I not realised this before? All those months of wondering if I should have the tips of my fingers replaced with asbestos and damn the consequences. They also helped me embrace the culture of the region. I’d wanted to get in on this smoking action but I didn’t want the tobacco they were mixing the charas with so they fashioned a bong from a water bottle and crumbled some hash into the bowl for me. Aw, bless them. I took one hit and nearly deposited a lung on the floor. Not even a full hit I don’t think. Half a hit. I coughed for a little bit and by coughing I mean I wasn’t sure if my insides would still be on the inside by the time I’d finished, felt a bit weird, and tried to go to bed but I couldn’t actually sleep. Probably a lot to do with the images of spiders everywhere, I wasn’t sure if they were hallucinations or nightmares. Yep. Smoking is definitely not for me.
We’d ended up staying here for longer than intended because I was convinced that the rain would have turned the route down into a terrifying mud slide of death. Theo and Jess grudgingly humoured me until they insisted we left because all we were doing was playing cards whilst staring a a lot of mist, and I photographed moths. Lots of moths. There are many bugs here, since Manali we’d become increasingly irate with the metric fuck tonne of flies that you can’t escape from. They fly around at night as if they’ve got fucking megaphones strapped to their wings for maximum irritation. There are also spiders. Huge fucking spiders. Seriously Rashol, you can either have spiders the size of my face or flies hell bent on getting into every head hole I have. Not both. It’s not fair. But eventually we had to leave, I could practically hear a bottle of Kingfisher calling my name all the way from Kasol, and we had a lot more of Parvati Valley to explore which we wouldn’t be able to do from the balcony at Dola Guesthouse.
Rashol (or Rasol), Parvati Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India
Stayed at: Dola Guesthouse