Travel Hiking in Dharamsala & Kasol
If I had to choose a word to summarize these days would be happiness. Happiness is the absence of fear. I still have some fear, at the Google Earth zoom for example, but we are so happy that even other people tell us. How we got here was a cluster of casualties. Instead of taking a night bus that took us from Rishikesh to Dharamsala in a 14-hour road trip, we took a night train to visit Amritsar first.
We were going to spend two days in Amritsar, where the golden temple of the Sikhs is located. We wanted to sleep there one night and learn more about this religion. I already mentioned that the social work carried out by this religious group is really admirable and even more so in its most important temple.
Thousands of people eat daily, including foreigners all thanks to the volunteers who scrub pots, cut vegetables, prepare food or clean the floor. It has dormitories to welcome all who want to spend the night there. Finally we did not eat or sleep there, but it did not matter.
To get to Dharamsala, also called Little Tibet, we had to take a 7 hour bus and reach the destination at night. It was still a heavy trip and arriving at night to look for a room did not appeal to us at all. We decided that we would take an afternoon train and sleep in Pathankot, for the next day to take a 1 hour bus to Dharamsala. It was the second change of plans.
I was very sensitive, very emotional and more spiritual. Not only that, some convulsive times awaited me emotionally speaking because when I am traveling, Christmas and the change to a new year make me reflective and even melancholic. I had to decide well the itinerary of my next weeks, to safeguard myself from the most chaotic Indian facet and to give myself space to digest those intense days of introspection.
Day 1 - Dharamsala
At 8 o'clock our car arrives. We arrange all the luggage and we start a nice trip along the highway where we see the real India. I hardly speak. We stopped for breakfast in a restaurant and sat at a table outside to sunbathe. The breakfast lasts two hours. But it could have been two more. We chat quietly, talking about our lives, and the great decision to travel.
We decided to resume the trip, without hurry. During the journey, as we ascended, the landscape changed and the temperature became more pleasant, which we appreciated after so many days of suffocating heat. We enter the state of Himachal Pradesh, with a landscape very different from the one we had left. It is very mountainous and beautiful, full of valleys, torrents, forests and snowy peaks.
And we arrived at McLeod Ganj at Dharamsala, 10 km away. It is about 2000m high, surrounded by mountains and beautiful landscapes. We thought we would find Tibetan houses and a typical mountain place, but the surprise on arrival is that we ran into congestion of cars that did not stop beeping.
There are restaurants next to each other and the main square looked more Fifth Avenue in New York, for its illuminated signs and the movement of people. It is not a pretty town and has lots of kiosks that sold chocolates, shops, bars, hotels, travel agencies, and exchange houses. There is too much tourism that when concentrated in such a small place take away some of the magic.
We even did a mini-trekking of 2 kms to the town of Bhagsu to see if the New York environment changed but it was not so. However, as I always say, you have to find the positive side of things. We had come here with the idea of feeling the Tibetan atmosphere. We see the women with their typical striped aprons preparing momos in the street. We have delicious fried momos to gather strength.
It is true that we cross the street with monks and Tibetan people, which already gives the place a physiognomy different to any city in India. Here the Dalai Lama resides and the majority of the population are exiled Tibetans. We love the atmosphere.
We reach the hotel. The receptionist gives us the best room they have. The town has a special charm. The locals set up their stalls in the street with fresh fruit, and it is full of cafes and restaurants of different types of food. We tried a Japanese restaurant that the Himachal Pradesh travel guide recommended. The food is delicious and very cheap. I delight in an okonomiyaki, a blessing for the palate.
Day 2 - Bhagsu
We got awake at about 5 in the evening and it was bitterly cold. The city, at the foot of the Dhauladar mountains, was half asleep, except for some monks who had started with their Tibetan prayers and to repeat the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum that reached my ears like a murmur filled with silence.
I walked a few meters to the main square that surprised me. There was a small group of tourist hunters who waited to seduce them with their hotel offer. I decided to approach the only open place where they sold chai to warm my hands and body.
Time goes by slowly when I wait and it's cold. So between one chai and another I started to chat with the men who came for their morning dose of spicy infusion. One of them told me that he owned a hotel and that he gave me the best price in the whole area. As I had time and had already drunk 2 chais, I decided to go with him to see his hotel.
It was almost at the end of one of the main streets, down the slope about 300 steps. The room was not bad. It had private bathroom with hot water and from the balcony there were some incredible views. The price also seemed unbeatable and he promised to give me a breakfast at those inhospitable times. So I changed from my earlier hotel.
I spent many moments on the balcony of my hotel, looking around the snowy peaks. We had an espresso coffee with which we almost get the tears of how good it is. As soon as the city woke up, I went out to meet her. I was hoping to continue my spiritual journey on the roof of the world.
On the street we meet a Buddhist nun. She has beautiful green eyes and a voice so sweet that talking to her is relaxing. Her hair is shaved and makes her look stand out more. She takes my icy hand and holds it for a while to warm it. She utters Tashi delek, the Tibetan greeting to wish someone similar to Namaste.
We go to Tsuglagkhang Complex, which houses the residence of the Dalai Lama, the Namgyal Monastery, where the future Tibetan monks are prepared. There is also the Tsuglagkhang Monastery, a simple pavilion painted yellow, with a stage and three Buddhist images. From here the Dalai Lama delivers his speeches, when he is in town.
We also enter a Tibetan museum. In the thangkas, the paintings framed in silk Buddhist deities are represented. They are a traditional art form. In one of the rooms, Tibetan men and women dressed in their reddish-hued tunics pray. They repeatedly prostrate themselves before the Buddhas while reciting the verses of the sutras, which are the writings of Buddhism.
Upon leaving the room are the Prayer Wheel. They are a characteristic element of Buddhism, with the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum written on them. The study of Buddhism includes modern studies of Tibetan and English language, study of texts of Sutra and Tantra, and Buddhist philosophy.
Children also learn manufacture of butter sculptures, torma (presentation of offerings), sand mandalas, games of various ritual musical instruments, ritual songs and dances. It is a serene environment, despite the imposing Buddha figures.
On the altar of the Tibetan monastery we see, in addition to the deities, several ritual bowls, lamps and intricate butter sculptures, a prayer bell and a scepter that is used during prayers and official rites. There are also among the offerings, boxes of cookies, honey, and candies. In a corner a monk recites prayers or mantras and tells us where to walk.
At the center of the McLeodganj, we visit a Buddhist temple that differs in some ways from the Tibetan temple, although both have the same basis and promote the teachings of the Buddha. On a road, 3 km north of Mcleodganj, we reached Dharamkot, from where we can enjoy a great panoramic view of the Kangra valley. In the same direction but downhill is Baghsu falls.
I realized that if I wanted to continue my process of introspection I had to get closer to nature and less to the besieged streets of stores and vendors. The excursion to the falls is not very long, but we go at our pace. We arrived at an area where there is a bar and we lay down on some mats to rest. We continue higher, where no one climbs. The path between the stones in a little complicated. And in a certain place, we stop.
Our guide bathe in the river in the frozen water and says it's good for the skin. In the end I encourage myself and I give myself a baptismal bath. After we bathe quickly we dry in the sun lying on the rocks, just enjoying the place. I recite an Om. It's like being in another dimension. We are in the midst of oak forests, cedars and pines. There is a beautiful landscape and a fresh and rural environment.
I went back to the hostel to have lunch. In the afternoon, we meet a couple of Koreans in our hotel. They have been traveling for a year and a half. At first it was only going to be a year for their honeymoon but they are lucky to continue traveling. They tell us their route, advice, and how they live.
We tell them about our trip, our jobs, our customs. They are very nice. They work together making computer animations and teach us their work. We love. They are full of creativity. We are surrounded by artists! We dined with them in a Korean restaurant with sushi and spicy tofu with rice.
After we had tea in a cafe we got out together. I do not stop talking and I'm so happy and so confused chatting that I almost fell twice. We took the opportunity to go for a hot chocolate and dinner. Here people have dinner early. We ordered some chicken momos.
We decided to move and go to settle in Bhagsu, small village next door. The atmosphere is really nice, and above all, much more international. We arrived with barely enough time to install the tent as the clouds came to cover the sky, and a few drops fell, followed by some hailstones, under a burst of quite impressive lightning.
We froze all night, even by squeezing against each other. The winds from the Himalayas cooled our bones. Later in the night, the clouds have given way to the millions of stars that have surrounded the sky with their splendors. In the darkness of the village we can see all the stars. Our guide says that sometimes one can see shooting stars.
If I saw one at that time I could not ask for a wish. I feel so happy that I would only miss the family's embrace to complete that happiness. I will never forget this moment! We met a band of Tibetans who were boozing to keep themselves warm. The goats were strolling, and the chai, a drink faithful to the people, was like the icing on the cake!
Day 3 - Kasol
I put the flip flops because the cold on sharp pebbles tears the skin! We had some omelettes and went for a walk along a path that led from the city and would take us to Pong Dam Lake, about four kilometers away. We did not have much time since at eleven o'clock we had to be back to go to Kasol.
The road extended towards the north of the city and was meandering along the slope of the hill. Some crows gathered to eat in one of the corners and monkeys walked everywhere. We walked quietly taking advantage of the fact that the day was beautiful and the panoramic views of the city of Mcleodgang were unique.
After seeing Dam Lake we returned walking quietly. I leave to take my bus to Kasol, a small village of Parvati valley, 300 kilometers from Bhagsu. We stop at Mandi and take the opportunity to visit the Shiva temple on the banks of the Beas River. We take the road to Kasol, hoping that we will go faster.
The road is still in poorer condition. Fortunately, the ordeal will not last too long and we arrive at the heart of the Parvati valley, tired and dusty but under a radiant sun and the snowy mountains. Verdant like a Swiss valley, the Parvati Valley with its paths lined with a green as well as fragrant grass is an invitation to walk and dream in front of sumptuous landscapes.
We arrive around 5:30 in Kasol where 90% of the tourists are Israeli. We see numerous guesthouses and riverside cottages here like Chandra Paying Guest House, Om Shiva Paying Guest House, Chandra Place Guest house. Alpine Guest House, Purnima Guest House, Parvati Kuteer, Hotel Sandhya among many others. After we arrived, we landed in a guesthouse. They welcomed us very well!
Around 6, we decided to go for a walk. A man in his fifties advises us on the villages to go around. All restaurants offer Israeli dishes and some shop windows and menus are translated into Hebrew. It is a holiday resort town where the consumption of charas is totally unbridled, under the nose and beard of the authorities who do not see or do not want to see. Moreover, it is not uncommon to see it grow on the side of the road.
We still find, in all this mishmash, a guide who seems to be able to show us the secrets of Parvati valley. We eat at a restaurant. The welcome is nice and the atmosphere very cool. The room is lit by the candle. In addition, our dishes were delicious! We do a little window shopping in small shops. We go back to the hotel.
Day 4 - Parvati Valley
We are awakened by a bird that bangs in the window of our door that opens onto the balcony. It sounds like someone is hitting. We get up quietly around 7:30. We get ready and we check out. We have a nice breakfast with hot milk and coffee on the terrace. While we are having breakfast outside, we meet a group of Israelis who have been staying here for 1 month. They leave for Rishikesh. The owner's wife advises us to visit Manikaran and Chalal in the area. We leave for Manikaran, a small village in the heart of Parvati Valley 4 km from Kasol.
The road is nice and we go through natural hot water baths. Then we pass a Sikh temple. The streets are very narrow and full of shops. We walk a little and then we land in a small dhaba to eat. The meal is really delicious! We go out, and then we cross another bridge to get out of the city. We continue on a narrow road and
then we land near the river.
We go back to Manikaran. There must be a party, a wedding surely because there are music and a small procession. We return quietly to Kasol. We arrive at 1 pm at the hotel. We leave the hotel and decided to go to Chalal, 20 minutes walk from Kasol. It's a bit of a hassle to be shown the right route but with a little trouble and back and forth, we get there.
We walk along the river, it is very pretty. It is a small haven of peace wedged between the mountains and the Parvati River. Beyond and around us, we can see the eternal snows. We are invited to drink local alcohol. In any case, we can tell you that it smelled strong (a little like brandy) but that it was not strong in taste.
We finish our drink and then we make the way back quietly, getting lost a bit, hearing music on the other side of the river and discovering bones. We cross the small bridge. We set course for Tosh. Then, from Barshani, we pile up in a jeep that drop us directly at Tosh. It is one of the last villages overlooking the valley. The view is beautiful, and despite the capabilities of my Canon, the photos do not show anything compared to what my eyes see.
At the village a handful of wooden houses and a few guesthousers await us, wrapped in the sweet smell of charas, the powerful Indian hashish. Upstream, there are the Kutla, the hemp fields from which the best quality of smoke of the planet has been obtained for centuries, perhaps millennia. Discovered in the sixties by the hippies, the real ones, the valley is now a pilgrimage destination for western hedonists in search of lysergic pleasures and others guided by purely commercial purposes.
Night has fallen, and it is very cold. Likewise, at night, the sky is filled with stars. Welcomed by the master of the place, a young hippie in his twenties, we enter a room that offers us immediately the hippie atmosphere that is the particularity of this valley. The storm ceases and allows us to appreciate the places and to enjoy beautiful views of the snowy peaks lit by the full moon.
Returning to the hotel, we ordered to eat in the room, with a good soup and pizza and then we go to bed around 11:30. We soon fall into a deep sleep despite the hardness of our mattresses.
Day 5 - Manikaran
In the early morning, we awake in a good mood. From their balcony, we discovered the great plain filled with apple trees, walnut trees and giant shots of wild Marijuana. Only a few houses were dotted here and there in the greenery. We decided to make our way to Kheer Ganga (a plateau with sacred hot springs). We swallow our breakfast, cereals or porridge, and we start hoping to reach a ridge above the village to enjoy a beautiful view of the snowy peaks.
With the bags firmly on the roof, the little car sped against the wind, towards the Parvati dam, near which a small path led to the Kalga village. After only 800 meters, we found ourselves stuck that would last two good hours. In front was two tourist buses, face to face, each refusing to move. We quickly reach Kalga in the pouring rain. We take refuge in a pink guesthouse and we warm up with a stove and a good cellar!
It was a magnificent two-storey traditional wooden building, whose rooms were served by narrow balconies, and even smaller stairs. We then enjoy great views of the surrounding mountains, still snowy, in a surprising sound when you're in the mountains (music as in full concert).
The goal of the day is the kheerganga trek. So we go to Nagthan and take a break to get off and eat a little. I order a bowl of noodles. We deposit one of our bags at a guesthouse where we intend to spend the night to lighten and we continue our way. On our way, we meet as in the rest of the valley many grandmothers.
We pass a sacred waterfall then cross a rudimentary bridge to cross the river and start a long walk in the forest. The path is well traced but we cross a number of ravines and passages made a little tricky. On the edge of the paths and in the ravines, we have to our surprise some discreet inscriptions painted on the rocks asking not to pollute, not to throw plastic and to respect the nature.
Cliffs, waterfalls, and forests had to be traversed, climbed, and traversed, and we made an effort to overcome the many obstacles. We finally arrive at the exit of the forest, in a more snowy and snowy area, with some huts and houses. Then we reach the village of Khir Ganga after 6 hours of walking. We suddenly hear a deafening noise, turning around, we see a large avalanche of snow and water at a waterfall on the slope opposite.
There are clusters of restaurants and devotees pompously call them ashram where the community life is summed up to the sharing of the omnipresent charas. The source of the men, cradled in an outdoor pool, gave a splendid view of the peaks of the surrounding mountains. While that of the women offered a superb panorama of the large dead wood fences which framed it.
The only real interest of this camp lies, apart from the magnificent sight on the mountains, in its slightly sulphurous hot springs and relaxing after a day of walking. The long-awaited plateau turned out to be a mountainside on which artificial terraces sheltered a few tiled huts. Upstream, a small temple sheltered a source of hot water whose deities had donated to mortals.
Most groups only go to Khir Ganga. For us, this trek takes place normally, the landscapes are magnificent and we discover the joys of trekking. Not far from there, a camp with multicolored tents and a happy and hygienic life, was occupied by some members of the Rainbow family. The guide of the day tell us that these were the incarnation of an Aztec prediction, and that they were the prophets who would save humanity from the apocalypse by the force of love and sharing.
In the midst of the two neighboring communities, between the tents, between the huts, between the cafes and restaurants, love was also felt among the bovids with rites and incessant warriors. Later, it turned out that it was actually a flock of fertile bulls. In the twilit twilight, we decided to drink a snack with who appeared to be the opium smoker of the house.
It was actually a small shack separated from the main building, which housed six long coffee tables, and the double of benches lined with fluffy bolsters. In all, a double dozen people could sit there. The intimate candlelight atmosphere offered absolute comfort.
During the descent, after a lemon tea in a hut of a grandmother, I go to see what a guest house looks like a little on the heights before the village of Nakthan. The path is indicated by inscriptions of directions and other more original and philosophical. There are also inscriptions asking not to pollute or not to steal the apples in the trees!
We return to the guest house. It starts a little raining. We watch the TV we have in the room. We go out to eat. We spend a nice evening around the stove, discovering the stories and legends of the valley with two Nepali men. In the evening, we have a typical Indian meal of dal, rice, chapatis that rewards us for our efforts, before falling asleep in our big duvets, because the nights are still fresh at 3200 m. The meal is super good. It ends with techno music super loud in the background. We return to the room to finally fall asleep around 1 am.
Day 6 - Kheerganga
We order sandwiches delivered to the room. After a lot of preparation and a hearty breakfast we thank our guests. They show us before our departure different stones and remarkable crystals that can be found in the surrounding mountains. We go back together to explore the mystery of fairy magic. We advance on a very steep path, where the rocks slipped, and the clumps of land collapsed at the slightest step. We went down to what appeared to be an abandoned quarry, separated at its center by a river reaching further the Parvati.
Below, four old men carried pebbles and sand on their backs, while behind the bushes, old rusty panels still showed the inscription "Blasting Zone" adorned with skulls. At the bottom of the crevasse, a little rusty and twisted bridge, which seemed to hold only a thread over the rapids, was not reassuring.
After that, a path of earth and rocks still skirted the mountain, crisscrossing, climbing, descending, to the next dwellings. The threatening sky hinted at the rumbling Indian deities, and heavy clouds clung to the mountain ridges. It was under a fine rain, but gradually thickening, that we increase pace. When we arrived at Pulga, we already rejoice at the idea of a welcoming refuge.
Only a few steps away, the first houses were waiting for the travelers to pass. We rushed into the narrow streets, darkened by the weather. Under a porch on their right, the back of a squatting man was slowly drawing. As one approached, his deformed face revealed a jaw hanging from which dripped a stream of drool. His eyes were of abnormal size, one big and light, the other small and dark and were separated by a tiny nose, depressed at its center.
After the rapid acceleration, a growing unhealthy feeling seized us under the raindrops, now heavy and close together. The site visit turned into a quick search for a welcoming place that would protect us from the elements and the horror. Everything was becoming strange when a high manor appeared in the shadows. A sign indicated a cafe on the terrace of the building.
No matter how cold it was in this place, we took refuge there for a few hours. At the end of the fall of the waterspouts, we decided to leave without return. After sinking, barefooted, into a deep, new-born pool of mud, we saw a sign pointing to a strange cabin. Intrigued by the legend of a fairy forest, we decided to follow the little path, and found ourselves on a green plateau, where other travelers invited us to a big party the next day.
The forest of the fairies was so named, because in the darkness of the night, trees with phosphorescent leaves, saturated with sunshine during the day, illuminated and danced in the breeze of the winds. The end of the day was sunny. Preferring the sweet sound of ice cubes to unbridled wetness, we then gathered in the warmth of a room.
With beers and chai served as a coolant, with the tandoori to warm us up we ordered a feast, which lasted and lasted. Nighttime temperatures varied above and below 0 degrees. I've never felt such a cold for so many hours. I had no more sensibility in some parts of the body despite being covered with heavy clothes. At one o'clock, we went to bed in the Himalayan sheets. One of the best things that the hotel had were the beds with blankets in heaps.
Day 7 - Malana
In the morning when I wake up I find myself out of the world, in the purest of nature. And then I plunge into the hot tubs of natural baths of Gauri Kund, under a sun very close and with a unmatched view. The day before I would have never imagined to find myself there, in that corner of paradise on earth. I forget the fatigue and the unexpected of the trip, and I let myself be lulled by the boiling water, naked, on the roof of the world.
We will not be able to go to Bhojtunda, second camp before the pass. The path leading to it is too dangerous and still snowy in some places. So we go back to Khir Ganga. Not being able to go further, we return towards Kasol, after 4 hours of sporting descent.
We take a local bus to Jari, a village presented in the guides as a base for treks to Malana. Malana is the most famous town in the Malana Valley and was an important destination for travelers in the past years due to the excellent reputation of its Charas, the Malana Cream.
But we do not find any accommodation. Although not recommended by locals we decided to camp in a field in Waichin at 3200 meters above sea level above Malana. The risks are the frostbite, the snow leopard, the tiger, and the bears. But smoking a cycloom of Charas matured a year together with the inhabitants of Malana with the Milky Way to brighten the field by day is an almost mystical experience.
I do not know how many times I thanked these people for continuing to carry on the Charas tradition! The only tourists flaw with their trance music almost all night. But then if one is not able to grasp the poetry of the flow of the waters of the Malana river at the bottom of the valley, it is not a fault but a deficiency.
Day 8 - Bhuntar
We resume our trip to Bhuntar, finally abandoning the Parvati Valley and its treks. The stop in Bhuntar allows us to cut a bit this long and difficult journey that we share with a kid. We took a car to Manali. The curves were becoming steeper and the slope steeper and steeper. That was another story.