Our hike down from Khirganga finally finished at Barshani where there are dhabas so you can rapidly replace all those calories you just burnt before your body thinks you’re attempting something healthy and goes into shock. Our next stop was going to be Tosh which is up a hill. Quelle fucking surprise. You can walk up to the village through the woodland from Barshani but we’d walked up so many bastard hills recently you could stop bullets with my calves so we figured a taxi up the last 4km would be the appropriate course of action. We’d just met this bloke who was asking everyone if they’d seen his group who were on the Pin-Parvati Trek from Spiti Valley and he’d not heard from them for a couple of days. He was meant to meet them here today to drive them back to Manali but so far no one had shown up and he couldn’t get hold of them. Not an ideal situation, anything could have happened, it’s a very hard trek at very high altitude… oh well. Meant he had time to offer to take us up to Tosh which is kinda against the rules on account of him not being an authorised taxi, but we didn’t have an authorised taxi and he didn’t have any tourists so it was a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Turns out it’s an absolute cunt of a road and taking an authorised driver would probably decrease the chances of having to frequently get out of the vehicle and push because it’s stuck in a pothole the size of China again. It took way longer than 4kms should but when he pulled into the car park at the bottom of Tosh, around 2470 masl, we offered him payment he declined it and told us all he wanted was our friendship. Bless him. Half his suspension is probably spread out along the Barshani to Tosh road and he just wanted to add us to Facebook. For some reason that currently escapes me, Jess wanted to stay at one of the guesthouses at the other end of the village so we trekked through it and, after checking out a few places, we settled on a place called Energy Cafe which had wonderful views of the valley. Orrrr at least the cloud that shrouded the valley anyway. We got the occasional glimpse of the dam across the way which gushed water, and sometimes the mountains over yonder would make a brief appearance, but generally it was what we’d become used to and weren’t that bothered about. The hiking was still exceptional and when we did get views it made the permanent dampness of my feet worthwhile.
Anyway. We were all checked in and beer was required, the bloke who ran the guesthouse told us he could go get us some tasty cold beverages for ₹120 each so we were happy to go with that option on account of it not requiring us to go anywhere. Then when the Indian lads who were also staying there were out of earshot he said, “Actually it’s ₹100 each, I just didn’t want them to hear. We charge Indian tourists more because…” then he rubbed his thumb and fingers together. They’ve got money. This was so fucking refreshing, all over the plains you’re charged that little bit more because you’re foreign and to be fair you can afford it so you pay it. But as a backpacker you’ve often scrimped and saved, you’ve quit your job, and now you’re trying to travel as cheaply as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very very aware of how privileged I am to be able to travel. My background allows it, my lack of debt, I have no responsibilities, I’m in a position back home to put money aside every week. I work like a dog, I earn it, but I’m incredibly aware that not even a lot of British people have the opportunities I’ve had. But still. It’s nice that in the north they kind of recognise this, they know we want to pay less to travel longer and domestic tourists are generally more willing to part with the cash.
That night we drank that awful extra strong beer that’s so popular over here and systematically implodes braincells ones by one over the course of the evening, scoffed pakora, and made the Indian lads, Ankit and Rahul, teach us the worst things you can say in Hindi. Jess wanted to learn so she had something to yell at men who groped her. I don’t get groped on account of them thinking I’m a bloke, I just wanted to learn because I thought it’d be totes hilar. So apparently one of the worst things to can say to a man is “sister fucker.” I didn’t write that down but the lads said it was awful. The closest thing to “mother fucker” they could teach us was aapni maa chudaa, which translates as “fuck your own mother.” Another one was teri maa ki chut which accuses the recipient of your slurs of actually being his mother’s vagina.
“Because mother is god!” Rahul told us. Insulting a dude’s mum is one of the worst things you can do. Telling him randii kay beej kinda insinuates his mother is a whore, apparently it means “you came out of a prostitute’s vagina.” I was never gonna remember any of this through my 6% beer haze and the fact I don’t appear to have a storage compartment in my brain for languages, the only reason I can repeat it here is because I wrote everything down, but we did learn a nice, simple, one word slur: Gaandu. They told us it meant “asshole” but if you put it in Google translate it reckons it means “fucker.” To be honest, either would have the desired effect.
After a lovely, profanity filled evening with the boys we got a relatively early night as we all wanted to trek to a nearby glacier the following morning. I woke up to the sound of rushing water and sighed. It was gonna be another wet one. I stumbled out of bed in search of tea, flung open the door and was greeted with blue skies and sunshine and gorgeous snowcapped mountains and the dam over the valley which was, quite obviously now I was vertical and almost functioning, the source of the water noise. Amazing. This is a rare thing during the wet season and you only get a small window of opportunity to spread all of your soaking wet possessions out along every railing you can find and enjoy being dry for a while before the clouds roll back in, the heavens open and your shoes fill with water again. The weather actually held for most of our hike to Kutla glacier. I wondered if someone somewhere had sacrificed a virgin to the sun god. It’s a relatively easy hike with not too much scope for getting lost until you get to a particular place with buildings and stuff. The guys called out in Hindi for directions and we were pointed the correct way. They called everyone bhai or bhai-ji, the former meaning “brother” and the latter being a more respectful term. You can stick ji on the end of anything to add respect, I think it means “beloved” but I could be entirely wrong. Uncle-ji. Bhai-ji. Baba-ji. You hear it a lot. I decided that I liked it and was going to use it at every available opportunity.
There are two types of treks in Parvati Valley during monsoon season; There’s the kind where you spend a significant amount of time huddled inside a tarpaulin dhaba, consuming chai and instant noodles, just waiting for the pissing rain to ease up just a little bit so you’ve got a chance of getting to your destination without drowning. Then there’s this kind, where it takes forever to get anywhere because you have to constantly stop and exclaim, “I can’t believe how fucking BLUE it is!” whilst taking the 356th photo of the sky that day as the sun silently relieves you of your top layer of skin. Of course I did what any self respecting Brit would do at the first glimpse of sunshine in two weeks; I went out and got myself suitably burnt. Altitude is beautiful but it gives no fucks about your lovely base tan. So a lot of this trek is flatish with inclines and declines being some of the most manageable we’d seen since we got to the valley, then you come to the river crossing where, unless you were planning to fly over, required walking down a particularly muddy hill, over a bridge, then up another hill. We strolled through a field of blue flowers flanked by towering pine trees and eventually, just as I was wondering if it had already fucking melted, we reached the glacier. Well we’re not talking the next ice age and I’m sure it’s way more impressive straight after winter, but it was a lovely walk.
Jess and me just hung out and chilled for a bit as the boys went over to the other side. We weren’t bothered about trying that on account, I wasn’t sure if my insurance would cover me for breaking limbs after falling through a melting glacier because I foolishly thought it might hold my weight. If you walk right up to the top, across, then down the other side keeping as close to the edges as possible it’s doable with little risk to your general bone structure but we figured it wouldn’t look much different from over there and sitting down was a fun and rare activity these days. Once they’d gotten it out of their system and we’d taken enough selfies to last Facebook a lifetime we headed back. The weather began to resemble something that wouldn’t look out of place in the north of England so we added layers as we walked until we got back to Energy Cafe and decided we wanted more beer. The lads weren’t up for a village jaunt so me and Jess headed in, checked out some sights, refrained from mauling the temple thus avoiding the inevitable ₹3000 fine, located and consumed the cheapest thali we could get our greasy little non-temple touching paws on, then headed back with a case of beer for a night around a little bonfire.
We were both up for a chilled one the next day and the weather wasn’t too shabby either. We tried and failed to find a big waterfalls so we settled for gawping at a little cascade, and found our new favourite restaurant in Tosh. It had electricity! Energy Cafe never had bloody electricity, I just assumed it was the whole village that was nearly always without as is entirely feasible in this region, even though we’d look out over the village at all the lights. I guessed they just had generators. Now I figured that the guesthouses at the top of the village went without power more than the rest of Tosh. It’s not the end of the world to be fair, it means there’s no WiFi but we had books to read and cards to play. The shower in the bathroom was heated by electricity but they guys at the guesthouse were always happy to heat water for you for no extra charge. You’ll see these water heaters throughout the north, they’re genius. The best I can describe it is, it’s a metal container with an inner bit where you put the wood, then there’s an outer layer around that with enough of a gap to fit enough water to fill a standard bucket. So water goes in the layer surrounding the fire which is in the middle. Water heats up then you unplug the spout at the bottom and hot water comes out. I’m pretty sure there’s an actual name for one of these, I just don’t know what it is.
Finally, after three nights in Tosh we headed back down the hill, on foot this time, to Barshani to pick up a bus back to Kasol. We sipped chai while we waited which could have been a mistake given that there are no toilets in Barshani and we were about to catch a local bus over some pretty rickety roads, but chai is what punctuates your day here. Whether you’ve just woken up, are waiting for something or someone, are at a loss for something to do, or just want to sit in quiet contemplation. Chai is the done thing. You just have to get used to pissing in bushes in populated areas is all.
Tosh, Parvati Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India
Stayed at: Energy Cafe