We’d been assured that the path down to Kasol was easy, “You just go down down,” and it was more used than the Malana to Rashol pass and a guide most definitely wouldn’t be needed. We set off in the morning and it was indeed down down. It’s slightly less simple than anticipated on account of there being more than one option for down on a few occasions. We’d stand there and look for footprints which betrayed the more used path. Maybe all roads lead to Kasol, we’d no idea. At one point we stood at a junction on the verge of a bit of a bicker when I noticed a thick, black cable running through the trees. My girlfriend is into navigation. Owns a compass and everything. I remembered her telling me that if in doubt, follow power lines, because power lines always lead somewhere. Right, that’d do then, we’ll call it a power line and follow that. It’s definitely a more inhabited walk, we were followed down part of the way by a couple of dogs, we walked past donkeys and a section of forest which had been fenced off in honour of Mahamai Mata who “helps a person in hard days and give contentment to everyone who prays Her by heart.” You’d have a bloody hard day if you strolled into her forest though, that’s a ₹5000 cash fine for ya.
Kasol seemed like a pretty chill place but we were only passing through at this point. We found a place to crash that hadn’t long been open and had all manner of quite cool artwork on the walls. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called, mind. Me and Jess left Theo with all the bags whilst we scoured the town for the cheapest place and we managed to get a deal on this one. All we really did was play cards, and locate what was probably the most badass Hello to the Queen I’d ever had the pleasure of attempting to induce type 2 diabetes with. We found a place down by the river which sold beer and shalom-le-malkha which I’m guessing is supposed to mean Hello to the Queen. It also sold an ABC sandwich which is apparently apple, beefrot and carrot. Yeah I think I’m okay for beefrot, thanks guys. Just bring me that pile of biscuit and banana and chocolate sauce and cashews and motherfucking ice cream. It well and truly defeated me. I’m not sure my digestive system will ever forgive me for this.
This is where we’d be parting company with Theo, he was going to head back to Manali to grab his stuff, we’d all left most of our crap there, and back down to the plains. Me and Jess had more of the valley to look at so we jumped on a bus to Barshani then walked up to a little place called Kalga. Up. I was slowly coming to terms with the fact that excessive consumption of aloo paratha wasn’t any manner of preparation for all the hills. This wasn’t even an epic hill, this was a practice hill, a hill for children and people with one leg. And here’s a word of advice, when you meet a local woman who shows you the way, do not follow her because as she strides up the muddy embankment in dilapidated sneakers, you will have to claw your way up it on all fours and curse the day you decided that planning lots of hikes around Parvati Valley in the rainy season was a fabulous idea. Ah, the rain. It rained a lot. A lot. I guess this is what makes it so lovely and green and lush, at least when you can see it through the fucking cloud. If you are visiting Parvati Valley at this time of year pack a head torch and batteries, flyspray, a healthy love of moths, and all of the waterproofs. All of them.
We stayed at Snow Line on account of it being one of the first places we found. He offered us a decent price on a room thus eradicating any need for endless wandering in search of a place to get warm and dry and remain so for a comfortable amount of hours. First though we checked out Kalga. It’s a small, quiet place with homes and guesthouses scattered amongst apple trees. It’s also where you could probably pick up a guide if you wanted to do the Pin-Parvati Trek that takes you from Parvati Valley, over Pin Pass, and into Spiti Valley, which I’d kinda had my little heart set on despite consistently proving I had the fitness levels of a sloth on smack, until all my online research pissed on that bonfire. It was way out of Jess’s price range so she couldn’t even consider it. I might have been able to do it if I cut my trip short a month, but I didn’t want to do it in my sad little group of one. You could probably find a bloke in Kalga who would take you for much less than the companies I contacted by email, but what those fuckers didn’t tell is that one of the first bridges had been washed out. They got around this with ropes thus rendering the already brutal hike a partially technical effort. I found that out in Kalga. I’m really rather glad my bank balance merely raised an eyebrow and made kind of a “pfft” noise when I checked it to see if funds would allow.
We ended up meeting a couple of blokes that were trying to set up a guesthouse with a restaurant attached, but only half heartedly. They were more interested in meeting people and getting stoned. I’m sure that eventually they’ll get their shit together but in the meantime they seemed happy enough. We hung out with them for ages just chatting, and they told us where we needed to head when we wanted to hike up to Khirganga which was pretty helpful. I liked Kalga. It’s a cute little place, I don’t think much happens here. We headed back to Snow Line as the sun started to go down and spent the evening sitting so close to the woodburner in the communal room it nearly took the top layer of skin off my face, and emptying cups of hot milk and Nutella into our faceholes. Oh. My. God. Where the fuck has this simple joy been all my life? Why have I never even considered combining these two things of wonder? Life. Changed. Right there. I could die happy now, even if I did die because I got stuck in some mud whilst trying to get up a fucking hill in torrential rain.
So if you’re in Kalga you might as well check out Pulga which is another small settlement by some woods. You have to walk all the way down to the road then up again. It seems a bit bigger than Kalga, there are more homes closer together and there are actual concrete paths in parts as opposed to the ankle deep mud that make up most of Kalga’s walkways. I think it’s more of a place for locals to live rather than a place for visitors to stay but it has its fair share of guesthouses. It was just a nice, casual stroll really. We had some food and tea on a guesthouse rooftop then made sure we had a look at the forest because some chick in Manali had told us it was, and I quote, magical.
Weeellll… she was quite stoned to be fair. It’s… well it’s woody. It’s got trees. They’re nice trees and all that, but they’re definitely just trees. Nothing particularly Harry Potter about them. We also had to make sure we avoided a ₹2000 fine by staying out of the section of forest dedicated to “Narayna God”. I’ve no idea how they decide which sections of forest belong to which deity, or how much to charge people if they step out of line. But there’s plenty more forest to enjoy without being a dick about locals’ beliefs. We also made another dog friend, he’d followed an Indian couple into the guesthouse we ate at. Himachal dogs are very different from dogs on the plains. Dogs downside have no interest in you beyond sharing their fleas and perhaps a spot of rabies with you. Himachal dogs seemed to have realised that if they follow tourists for long enough, biscuits might occur. They usually do. I’ve bought a lot of biscuits since I got to Himachal and none of them have been for me. I’m possibly solely responsible for the poor diets of a significant proportion of Himachal’s canines. I wonder if they worship me as their deity?
Anyways. Pulga seems to be the more popular option for places to stay. We wandered into another guesthouse just to chill and drink tea, and there was a large group of people who’d obviously been there a while. They had very little interest in interacting with us though, they kinda just eyed us suspiciously as they passed the chillum around. I kinda feel like I’m missing out on something up here. Everyone smokes. Everyone. Foreigners, the majority of which are Israelis, and Indians alike, they all just sit around in this stupor, loading a chillum then touching it to their forehead as a sign of respect to Shiva before taking a hit and passing it on to the next person with the word, “Boom”, which is also something to do with with worship of Shiva. Everyone knows Shiva likes a smoke. Sadhus all over India smoke chillums in Shiva’s name. I think he’s the most powerful of the Hindu Holy Trinity, the god whose hair flowed down from the Himalaya to form the sacred Ganga River. I’ve no idea if the foreigners here give any shits about Shiva or of they just want to get more baked than a burnt loaf, but it doesn’t stop them performing the religious ritual of Boom Shankar. Yeah, so conversation here can be quite sparse, it’s generally a room full of people who lack the basic motor functions to do anything beyond veerrrryyyyy slowly loading a smoking device and drooling a lot. I’m not judging, if you want to wrap your brain in a blanket of fluff and smoke that’s none of my damn business, I’m just jealous that there’s no deity that’s into what I’m into. If I tried touching a shot of Jägermeister to my head before downing it I’d probably end up with a very sticky face.
Kasol, Kalga & Pulga, Parvati Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India
Stayed at: Some manner of unnamed place in Kasol & Snow Line Homestay, Kalga