Shojha-Jibhi-Kasol: Tirthan & Parvati valley

#1 Mar 5th, 2018, 22:46
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We – J and S – wondered where could we go in the second half of June (2017), because although R would be back home on summer break by end of April, my (J) own vacation couldn’t be assured before mid-June. That being the first monsoon month it would either rain or be extremely hot in most parts of India. Thus we zeroed in on Himachal, which being the western most state in the Himalayan belt before Jammu and Kashmir, gave a good hope of finding good weather during that time frame. In the early stage of planning a friend of mine recommended Tirthan valley which helped us finalize the plan – Tirthan valley, Parvati valley and Manali - all together about ten days and two more days for Delhi to socialize with old friends.

Bookings:
Railway tickets being the most tricky thing we first booked those for both sides much before deciding about the exact destination. Kolkata-Chandigarh by Kalka mail (16th June’17 6:20 pm – 18th June’17 3:00 am) and Delhi-Kolkata by Sealdah Rajdhani (1st July 4:25 pm – 2nd July 10:25 am).

S, as usual, took the lead to search for appropriate accommodation, which is probably the most tedious and time consuming thing, especially if you are a budget traveller like us. Both Tirthan and Parvati valleys, named after the main rivers in the respective territories, are large areas only part of which can be covered in such a short trip as ours. They come under the Unesco identified Great Himalayan National Park.

We selected the Sojha village within Tirthan valley and the small town Kasol in Parvati valley as places to stay in. Sojha has very few options. There is a homestay of Elu Ram who isn’t registered under any big name like AirBnB, but he lets out a few rooms of his own house. We called up and booked there. This being the high season, the charge was Rs. 1300/day/room with an additional Rs. 200 hundred if any extra bed was to be requested. Finding a suitable one in Kasol seemed increasingly difficult, but finally we could stumble upon some facebook post in which Mr. Arvind’s Siddharth homestay was mentioned. We called up and the charge, he said, was Rs. 800/room/day although it was worth Rs. 1,500, he emphasized. Knowing the craze for accommodation here during this time of the year and having stayed out there now I must admit that Mr. Arvind wasn’t really blowing his own trumpet. We deposited Rs. 500 in Mr. Elu Ram’s account as a token money for pre-booking; no such thing was required for Kasol.
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#2 Mar 6th, 2018, 00:22
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Size:  27.0 KBReaching Sojha:
We were doubtful about Kalka mail’s punctuality. Starting from Howrah on 16th evening it was scheduled to reach Chandigarh as early as three in the morning of 18th June. The route to follow was Chandigarh-Aut-Banjar-Sojha. Aut is on the Chandigarh-Manali highway. We had eyed for the 8:30 am Volvo. On the Himachal Pradesh Transport service website there was another ordinary bus at 6:10 am which, considering the average 2-3 hours probable delay of Kalka mail, we thought won’t be possible to catch. These buses can be booked in advance through net, but we were afraid of losing a hefty sum in case the train got late. For the same reason we hadn’t pre-booked our stay with Elu Ram on 18th. Not sure exactly how far we would be able to reach before the night fall, a list of possible night shelters with phone numbers was compiled (Aut, Banjar, Jibhi) that could be used depending on the exact situation. Fortunately we didn’t need any of these, our train reached on time. We booked a Uber car for Rs. 150 that dropped us outside the Sector 43 bus terminus, the one from where the Himachal Pradesh buses start. We were there by 3:50 am, much earlier than what we had anticipated.
Himachal Pradesh buses start since early morning. One girl who was waiting there told that she had come for the 4:00 am buses which all start in a group (4 in number), but those had left by 3:30 am because those became full half an hour before. These buses are local and can’t be booked in advance and probably that’s why they don’t show up in the HP Transport list. The next bus we were told would be at 5:10 am. As soon as the bus pulled into the platform an agent started selling tickets from the corresponding low-walled open kiosk and people who were already waiting there all at once chaotically gathered in front of him without any queue. Ticket up to Aut costs Rs. 346 each. Our three seats were two rows behind the driver’s seat. Again the bus started by 4:30 am which we gleefully cheered because sooner we could start climbing the hill it would be easier to escape to the heat. The bus halted around 7:30 am at a roadside dhaba where we got excellent alu paratha with curd. We reached Bilaspur at 8:30 am. By this time we were sure that we would be able to reach Sojha by the end of the day. So we called up Mr. Elu Ram to check up if he could accommodate us today as well. He said it would be fine. At Sundarnagar we were asked to board another bus because they said this one would go for servicing. We occupied the same seats in the other one as well. This time there was a young local couple with their child over the seat in front of us who were extremely nice, friendly and cooperative. When we were struggling for space to tuck our two large backpacks, the gentleman removed his own bag from the space near the gear box to accommodate ours. He said they would get down at Mandi, about forty minutes’ ride from there. He kept talking cheerfully until his place came and we got to know many things from him. The road to Aut, he said, would turn scenic after a while and a three kilometer long tunnel would come just before Aut, at the end of which we would have to get down to take another bus towards Banjar that would again travel back through the tunnel. It was exciting to travel through this very long tunnel. We reached Aut around half past twelve.
River Beas near Aut
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Thereafter the route is:
Aut-Banjar: 22 kms (1 hr)
Banjar-Jibhi: 7 kms (half an hour)
Jibhi-Sojha: 6 kms (half an hour)
#3 Mar 6th, 2018, 22:50
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Soon came a bus that we were told by a shopkeeper was the one towards our destination. It started around 1:00 pm and reached Banjar at 2:15 pm. The conductor said that the bus would halt there for more than one hour before resuming its journey. We later came to know that the day being a Sunday there were shortage of buses because many of the government buses were not plying. It would be ideal time for lunch we thought and after enquiring people arrived at a nice glass-walled small food joint which was about a hundred steps away from the bus stand, parched in one corner, to be accessed by a flight of stairs. The look of this joint was a kind of mismatch with the other shops of the dusty bus stop. At that time there was only vegetarian thali available that consisted of roti, dal, paneer and kaali dal – eat as much as you can. After the long journey the hot roti was tasty.

After the hearty meal we returned to the bus that was almost full. The travellers were mostly local people returning home. And they were so friendly! This bus would go to Balgusiani via Jibhi where we would have to change for Sojha. An important thing to note is this road thorough Jibhi-Sojha-Jalori pass leads to Simla although, not being in good condition, it’s not one of choice. From Banjar up to Jalori pass it’s a continuously upward sloping path rising from an altitude of 4,500 ft. to 10,400 ft. within an eighteen kilometer stretch. Our bus started at 3:30 pm. The road is narrow and whenever two vehicles cross each other it needs some maneuvering which often mandates one of them to move backward up to a point where the road is slightly broader and if there are a few vehicles in a row then all of them need to do the same – which is time taking. At one stage we were stuck in one such situation with a few buses from the other side having made the situation very complicated. The driver instructed the passengers to get down. When we were alighting the conductor sent us back to the bus. In this pandemonium the driver looked tense. At one stage the wheel of our bus came so near the cliff that the passengers started shouting nervously. The driver was sweating. The situation must have been really difficult and very risky. On the hindsight, now I am not sure why had the driver asked us to evacuate - to make the vehicle lighter or was it a kind gesture on his part to reduce risk in the event of extremity. When we were dropped at Jibhi around 4 p.m. there was a very warm goodbye from the people we had struck up conversations with during this short journey – very cordial people they are.

From there we hired a local taxi which charged Rs. 400 for the remaining 6 kilometers of the path to Sojha. The road is very steep and probably that’s why the charge was non-negotiable although the distance was relatively short for the fare. Finally our two day long journey came to an end as the car pulled into the road level parking terrace of Mr. Elu Ram. His son Vijender was playing cricket on a patch of grass with his cousin Chhote and some other boys. We were warmly greeted and escorted into our room.

Sojha:
Amid a handful of humble village cottages Raja Guesthouse stands prominent beside the narrow winding road. It’s a three storeyed house with the top floor at the level of the road. The lower level and some rooms of the middle level are used by the host family while the rest are let out.
A corner room where we were shunned had two large windows offering different views – one towards the valley with the mountain on the opposite while the other canvassed the green valley edged by the turning road through which once in a while the vehicles passed silently. Although the condition of the road is not good this offers a shorter route between Manali and Simla (in the direction of Jalori pass from Sojha). Lying on the bed even at night occasionally you will see some wavering beams piercing the darkness as the vehicles pass by. It’s charming to walk up and down on this almost traffic-less road to see the fading sun, the light glistening over the abundant green and over the slate tiled serene village homes. One interesting thing to do I believe would be to walk down through the village and approach the valley below. If you walk a little up the road from the lodge, in 3-4 minutes you will reach a hairpin curve of the road at the corner of which there is a utility store. Adjacent to that there is a large vacant room with a few tables to serve the same purpose as in any eating joint. We found it always open but vacant. Tea and basic snacks were available. The lady of the store prepared ginger tea on request and we sat in that quiet exotic glass-walled cafe with a view that if any urban cafe can provide they will charge the heaven. Here, however, a large glass of ginger tea was just Rs. 20. It’s so serene that we often walked up there to sit. The view of the valley, full of elegantly tapering fir trees was captivating. From the corner of the utility store you may take a walk into the jungle. However, it’s advisable to return before the dusk.

The large oblong road-facing room at the front of Raja Guesthouse is used as dining hall where we assembled for breakfast and dinner during our two and a half day stay at Sojha. The basic vegetarian food is good and they make superb egg bhurji, we had read from our predecessors’ travelogues, they aren’t as good at non-vegetarian stuff. We stuck to the advice and were quite happy with the dishes. Alu paratha is good, mixed veg was great. Matar paneer that we ordered on the last day wasn’t as good. Overall the food is simple and good. By the way, their veg pakaoda is excellent – a platter of different types – alu, gobi, onion, chili – the charge is Rs. 60 only – it’s great in the evening after a good day’s walk. The service is prompt.

The room size is reasonable and the bed is big enough for three. The toilet is spic-and-span and the electric geyser works fine but has a control switch outside; so if it’s not working despite the electricity being there then ask them. Mr. Elu Ram and his family are very friendly, happy people. The gentleman is well known among many people outside Sojha also, we found later.
#4 Mar 6th, 2018, 22:53
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Jalori pass to Serolsar lake trek:
From bright weather we had entered a cloudy zone somewhere before Banjar. On the first morning we woke up to an overcast day. The first local bus towards Jalori pass is at 9:00 am. After having stomach full of alu paratha as soon as we came outside with still five minutes in hand the bus came up chugging. We realized that in these routes one needs to come ten minutes before the scheduled time because the bus may come a little earlier as well. Had we missed this then the next bus would have been at 10:30 am. It was a government bus and the conductor took fourteen rupees, break up being Rs. 6/male and Rs. 4/female. We were impressed. A five kilometer twisting ride along an upward sloping road brought us to Jalori pass. On your right you will see thick vegetation of tall fir trees with huge trunks that made the valley look dark. At Jalori pass there is a Mahakali temple, another of the same, we were told, is located on the hilltop that many walk up to.

The sky wasn’t encouraging, nevertheless we set out on the track that begins from near the temple, keeping it on the left. The trail, lying over a wide stretch of land between the hills on the left and the valley on the right for most part of it, is benign and is an ideal route to initiate one into trekking. It’s scenic yet not very challenging. With thickets of cloud below over the hills it was a charming walk as we continued. All along there were trees but those were sparsely spaced. Interestingly we found many big trees on the way whose trunks had turned hollow with only the thin outer layer supporting those huge torso. Some of those had big gaps on exactly two opposite sides making it a see-through tunnel. The last one-third part of the trek was through more uneven rocky path with downward slope, at some spots the path being as narrow as to allow only two persons to walk sidewise. The lake is like a hidden gem in the folds of the hills that remains invisible until one reaches near the bank. And it’s beautiful - certainly worth the trek! With the water hole in the middle, its grass covered boundaries elegantly slope upward on all sides. On the other side, beyond the green grass, the space appeared thickly populated big trees like a jungle. If you have a car at your disposal then it might be fun to spend some time walking around the lake along the pathways over the grass or venture a little into the jungle. As there are leopards and other animals in the forest it might be quite natural for them, I guess, to visit this spot at night. Beside this auspicious lake is Mata Budhi Nagin temple which attracts many local visitors as well for religious purposes.

After some photo shoots we wanted to return because the last bus from Jalori pass towards Sojha was supposed to be around 3 pm. However, we knew that if we missed the last bus for some reason then we could call up Mr. Elu Ram to rescue us from Jalori pass with his car. Also, the road from there to Sojha was downward, so if worse came to worst one could walk down those five kilometers, although it would have been very hazardous in our case due to the foul weather. Within two hundred yards of the lake there were two-three shops. The one we halted at was run by a young couple who hail from another village a few kilometers away. They have been running this shop for eight years. When it snows here they return home. The table and bench tops were made of hand cut stone slabs without geometric refinedness which made us guess that probably those were made there itself. We had ginger tea, juice and some tidbit. During conversation it was unveiled that the lady was Elu Ram’s granddaughter in some relation although Elu Ram is only a middle aged gentleman. She told us that this year the rain had started quite early and it had been raining every day. The number of tourists for the peak tourist season, she told, was much less this time due to the excessive rain. The friendly co-passenger of Mandi had told us that there it had been raining once in four-five days on average. Here at the height of Jalori pass the clouds are denser. Later Elu Ram also confirmed that this year’s rain had come unusually early and the downpour was regular. There was a nice tent beside the shop which they rent for Rs. 100/person to a group or for Rs. 1,000 to a family. We had seen many tents over a nice meadow while coming towards the lake, not far from Jalori pass. Later we came to know that those were also for hire.

Pitter-patter raindrops had started since we were near the lake. As we left the tea shop, not far from there, the path was full of cloud. It was surrealistic to walk through the dense cloud. Visibility was very poor. Soon it started raining, first in drops and then in buckets. We opened our umbrella, but those fancy ones were reduced to toys by the torrential downpour. Anyway, we kept walking in the rain with soaked shoes and trousers shielding the head as far as possible. Our pace was reduced. The rain stopped about half an hour later by which time our condition was no better than the wet crows. Anyhow, we continued and reached the Jalori Pass around 2:25 pm. Among a few shops the one we entered belonged to Puranchand Thakur. His delicious Rajma Chawol was heavenly in that soaked condition. Later S and R dried themselves sitting beside his wood oven. Puranchand loves to talk. He knew Elu Ram too and gave us all his family history. We were told how he had managed to torch the wood amid complete snow. When the 3 pm bus arrived we bade him goodbye.
#5 Mar 6th, 2018, 22:55
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Raghupur fort trek:
Our shoes were entirely heavier after we returned from yesterday’s rain drenched walk. Wearing such wet shoes with socks in Kolkata would have definitely got us down with cold and fever. But the magic of high altitude prevented any such thing probably because although it’s colder here the microbes causing those ailments were probably were comparatively thinner to take advantage of such opportunities. We had tucked in some newspapers overnight within each one of those. The next morning those were almost dry. The newspapers have a great quality of soaking up the moisture out of the shoes and thus prevent the subsequent malodorous phase. Also, out of the context if I may mention another use which I had come to know from a friend, tiny shreds of newspaper put into bottles filled with water, can remove the water sediments over the inner walls when vigorously shaked. The lesson is, Indian newspapers can come handy in many such extraordinary situations even though you might be skeptical on those for the news per se.

Again alu paratha and then wait outside since 10 minutes before 9 am. There we met Nupur, a cute Bengali girl from Nagpur, a solo traveller, who would easily pass as a second year college student unless told that actually she is a practicing doctor from Nagpur. She had come to Delhi for a training wherefrom she planned this trip. She had arrived the day before and after two nights stay she was to travel to Andretta, an artists’ colony. Today the bus came half an hour late. From Jalori pass Nupur followed the lake route while we proceeded towards the fort.
When we enquired in Puranchand’s shop about the direction, there was one person in the shop who said that his village was in the same direction, so he could show us the path. We happily went with him. Again, as expected, a very nice chap. Karan worked in Manali and once in two-three months he visited his family at home. He seemed to love his hills but it was job that pulled him out of this beautiful abode. When we asked him to recommend some Himachali food, he said Siddu, it’s a must have. After probably little over a kilometer trek, first on plain trail which later climbed through the hill, at one point our paths divided and we had to say bye. Karan took the left one and we the other one. Keep going up, he said, and you would make it. In the morning there wasn’t anybody else to ask for direction when we were left on our own; neither was there any directional board. The trail, covered with vegetation, was sometimes obliterated. Actually people seemed to walk up in different ways. At one point we went up in a wrong direction and reached a local peak with nowhere else to go. Then we traced back and continued. The mantra is keep going up and somewhat left. This confusing part isn’t too long. Then you will reach a clearly marked nice walking trail that stretches over the same level. At the end of it, suddenly, without any prior hint, you arrive on a spectacular, naturally landscaped, vast meadow over the mountain top, entirely covered by lush green grass, without a single tree anywhere. Neither was there any trace of the fort that we had come for. So, what next? No one to ask, no directional plate and a huge pasture land where some cows were grazing leisurely. In the front, quite a distance away there was only quarter of a pillar visible, no one knew, of what. Anyhow, marking this point carefully we proceeded towards that only hint. But coming closer it appeared as a mere concrete frame of who knows what purpose. From there, however, we could see the boundary of the fort afar and so jubilantly proceeded towards that goal.

Before the fort there was a puddle which many visitors referred to as a natural pond. Maybe, during the rainy season it somewhat gets the appearance of a pond. The fort itself wasn’t any wonder. Inside there was a temple kind of small abode over which there was a chime. As the wind blew the music went on, it was too sweet for this forlorn place. There were two water reservoirs. Karan had told us that the water of the square one was very tasty and amazing for stomach – all one would have to do, according to him, was to clear the top surface before drinking the water or collecting it in a bottle. We were too scared of infection, maybe a little paranoid, so didn’t dare venture it.

All together the trek took us three hours for up and down. The distance was about three kilometers each side. When we were leaving a few more people came to the fort and we met a large Punjabi group after we crossed the meadow and started descending. Interestingly, one lady in the group said that she had gone to the fort seven years ago. The elevation of the fort is 11,350 ft.
#6 Mar 6th, 2018, 22:58
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Sojha To Kasol via Jibhi:
Initially we had plan of four nights at Sojha. But Elu Ram was unable keep us there on the last day because some bikers’ group was to come. He had proposed to shift us to some equally good lodging but we thought why not explore another place. So he arranged us at Om Shanti lodge. Charge he said normally was Rs. 1,200 but with a discount we would have to pay only Rs 1,000.

We stood prepared for the 8 am bus, a bit too early, but there wasn’t much option if we were to travel by bus because the next one would be at 11 am. Nupur too was on her way to Aut where she would change bus to her destination. The bus came late and was crowded. Anyway, our journey was only for 6 kms, so somehow we squeezed in. Piles of stones were stacked up at various places by the roadside apparently for repair work. At one such point the stones had slid down from the pile thus blocking a large part of the road. The driver came close and nodded disapprovingly. He stopped the engine and asked the passengers to help clear the stones. It took us about fifteen minutes to make the road broad enough to let the bus pass. Finally, after another snacks break of ten minutes two kilometers before Jibhi we got down at ten. Roshan came to pick us up. His lodge was just one minute walk from where we were dropped, Jibhi check-post.

Again the next morning we were packed and ready to leave by eight. After a long wait finally the same bus from Balgusiani that had dropped us at Jibhi from Banjar, picked us up. Banjar being the Tehsil town many people come there in the morning for various businesses. The whole crowd got down there and with some new passengers the bus ran alongside the beautiful Tirthan river. Once again we crossed the long Aut tunnel after joining NH21 (Chandigarh-Manali highway). We alighted at Bhuntar; a few steps down from the highway was the bus terminus wherefrom we took a bus towards Manikaran that would take us to Kasol (4 kms before Manikaran). Within twenty minutes the bus pulled off. Jibhi-Bhuntar was about two and a half hours and Bhuntar-Kasol was about two hours. Before entering Kasol there was a long traffic congestion. The journey was alongside the Parvati river. Everywhere in this part of the country we saw apple orchards. There were a few trees at Elu Ram’s place also. The fruits were at the moment one-third the size of a full grown one, so it must be some more time before they mature. All along the river belt too there were apples hanging below green leaves. One interesting thing we observed was, in many places there were long metal wires across the river, starting beside the road and reaching different spots on the other side, some even leading up into the mountain where there were a few houses. Trolleys run over those with the help of mechanized pulleys that fret goods to and fro - a simple yet very effective method. Overcast weather followed us everywhere, Kasol being no exception. Siddharth Homestay of Mr. Arvind was located behind hotel Devlok. It’s really only a minute’s walk from the bus stand as we were told by the homestay owner. We called up from near Devlok and Arvindji himself came to welcome us. We were shown a nice cozy well-furnished room inside his house. He at the moment was expanding his lodging facility and carpentry work was in progress. Beautiful place indeed, hidden from the city bustle but really close to the center. It’s a gem and considering the charge – unthinkable!
#7 Mar 6th, 2018, 22:59
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Jibhi:
It’s a sleepy tiny town from the middle of which it looks surrounded by hills on all sides, painted blackish green with the tall fir trees. The roads enter and exit as if thorough some invisible folds of the mountain. There is some mysterious magic about it, the aura of a forgotten place, which until now is preserved as it hasn’t yet become a popular tourist destination, apart from a handful of travellers like us including some groups of foreigners, mostly drawn by others’ travelogues. The thin Tirthan river gurgles gently by the town with the two banks connected by numerous bridges along the length of the town – none exceeding 25 meters. One can descend from the road to the level of the river through a few short trails running behind the houses. Soon after checking into the lodge we walked up to the waterfall. On the way there were a few theme-park type of small wooden bridges going over the tiny stream that came out of the fall.

From Jibhi there are numerous mountain trails which would be exciting, I guess, if one stays there for a few days. We had thought of visiting Chini Kothi, a temple built in Chinese architecture. But the plan had to be abandoned due to bad weather. The thousand year old multi-storeyed wonderful structure in the earthquake prone Himalayan belt stands till date as a testimony of an ancient architectural wisdom. The sky cleared in the evening and it was all filled with golden sunlight. We walked along the road. The Jibhi Camp, opposite Om Shanti lodge, apart from its nice camp-kind accommodations also has a nice rustic restaurant. The delicious lunch of baked trout with french-fries in the resonating heavy rain under its tarpaulin roof was unforgettable as was its mouth-watering country-chicken curry with steaming rice for dinner.
#8 Mar 6th, 2018, 23:01
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Kasol:
A town on the bank of the fuming Parvati, it attracts a large number of tourists of three types – pilgrims, mountain lovers and hashish freaks. Four kilometers up the road towards Barshaini is the second largest place of pilgrimage for the Sikhs at Manikaran, beside the same river. Working its way up through a nasty long inward traffic jam when the public bus dropped us at Kasol bus stand it was drizzling. The excellent condition of the room at Mr. Arvind’s homestay cheered us up and soon we came out to have our lunch as it was already quarter past two in the afternoon. Across the street we got into the restaurant Buddha. A stream flows by its side that feeds into the river Parvati within a hundred meters and the gurgling sound gives a nice atmosphere. The sandwiches were good although it seemed over-priced in comparison to most of the other restaurants around.

Challal is a close by village which is famous for hashish, located on the other side of the river, about one and a half kilometer away. The walk starts by crossing the river through a bridge hidden behind a row of buildings at the bus stand. A large uncovered portion of the bridge invoked scary images as what might happen to the unmindful youth absorbed in their mobile, thousands of such cross every day. The trek alongside the foamy river dancing over the rocks elevated the mood as we set out in the overcast afternoon following the light lunch. All along the path there were young backpackers. At the entry of the village there were a few small stalls selling snacks and tea. We saw some cute school children – four to six years old. “Which cafe are you going to?” they asked. In Challal it seems every house is a cafe and they provide accommodation too, some of which can be booked over the net. All around the village you will see hashish plants grown in abundance. The common houses turned cafes have a relaxed look with chairs in the front yard and music spilling onto the lanes. Interestingly, many world famous DJs visit Challal. Musical carnivals are always on, being hosted by some cafe or other. Sometimes such events are organized in the forest. It would be a great experience I guess to be part of such a thing in such an atmosphere. We saw posters of a three-night music concert starting that day.

Malana is another very interesting village that can be reached by an hour’s trek following a 20 kilometer motor drive. I wish we could go there. It sounds fairylike to believe the stories about the small village of merely one and a half thousand residents who claim themselves to be the direct descendants of the Greek army of Alexander. They uphold their pride of purity of blood by maintaining an orthodox lifestyle untouched by the flow of civilization outside this tiny place that they have known as home for over two millenniums. The village has its own senate and they don’t consider themselves governed by the Indian law. Financially the residents are entirely dependent upon the trade of Malana Cream – a locally grown hashish. “Malana Cream’s high oil content makes it among the most expensive hashish on Amsterdam cannabis menus, and in Delhi, dealers claim their goods are from Malana so they can quote high prices. A tola, or 11.66 grams, retails for $16 in Malana, $40 in Delhi, $70 in Goa and $250 in Amsterdam,” writes Sambuddha Mitra Mustafi in a New York Times blog. We heard an intriguing story from Mr. Arvind. The people of Malana have a community based living and all their money is kept in custody of their god, Jamlu. If someone needs money, he puts his hand blindly into the treasury and takes out whatever comes his way. After demonetization, told Mr. Arvind, an elderly villager in unclean clothes came from Malana carrying a heavy sack, packed with piles of old notes which would be have been worth a fortune just a few days ago. He was helplessly asking passersby what could be done. None of them has any bank account.

The atmosphere of Kasol has a carefree tone set by its large number of young visitors including many foreigners. Many cafes along the main road serve continental food at a very reasonable price. We loved the Israeli food of ‘King of Falafel’ which made us come back. There was a large dining area with low tables where people ate sitting over mattresses. One evening, lured by the long dining area of the cafe ‘Silence’ alongside the Parvati river we went in. The set up was excellent but not the coffee. This made us crave for a good cup of brew and we pulled out the name ‘Jim Morrison Cafe’ from the net. It’s hidden up in the hill that can’t be seen from the road. We had to walk up and down a few times before we noticed its first signboard – a small handwritten one attached to a tree. We followed the amateurish directions over the trees and stones as though hunting some treasure. At this rate when we were thinking whether to give up we found it at the end of the trail. Ambience of the cafe was highly relaxed with comfy mattresses spread over the floor and low tables, some people were engaged in board games. Smoke in the cafe was ubiquitous with a stringent smell of hashish, probably. R had to step out as a precaution to keep out of any breathing trouble. The sandwiches were good and coffee okay; most importantly it added to our experience. Downhill from the cafe we got a glorious view of the Himalyan peaks under the mystic evening glow. The best coffee we discovered was the next day in a small private library that keeps only Hebrew books for the Israeli tourists. One problem in Kasol is the scarcity of ATMs - only one is hardly enough for its huge number of visitors and the locals. Most of the cafes there don’t accept credit cards, probably for obvious tax hassles. However, cash can be obtained by swiping credit/debit cards at private shops as we did in the same library cafe the following day for an additional 5% transaction charge.
#9 Mar 6th, 2018, 23:05
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  • joman is offline
#9
Trek to Tosh:
Barshaini took us about an hour and a half by bus from Kasol. From the bus stand there was an upward trail that we followed. Soon it became wider and went meandering through the cultivation land. The path was almost straight. At one bifurcation we got diverted in a wrong direction which was fortunately pointed out by a lady working in the field. She also told us what lay ahead which turned out to be very useful as we didn’t come across any other person to ask for direction. We went through some gate and came out at a point wherefrom a road started going down. The journey so far of about two kilometers through green fields in the backdrop of the snow covered nearby peaks was a highlight point of our whole trip. On the way we met a friendly dog and a stubbornly aggressive cute calf. The day was sunny and beautiful. Don’t take the downward road otherwise you would land up in Barshaini again. Instead keep following the trail and you would go past a camping site with a small adjacent cafe. Behind the cafe the trail joins the tar road to Tosh (from Barshaini). We followed it upward. Perhaps another kilometer or a little more it was from there, but that stretch in the hot afternoon sun was tiring as we trudged along the road. Without a second thought we settled down in the first restaurant after entering the village. Through its wide front glass wall there was the massive captivating snow peak covering the whole pane like a full wall drawing room scenery. Tosh is a beautiful village – inaccessible and incredibly scenic. There are some trails going out of Tosh. It would be a great experience to stay in this tranquil village for at least one or two nights. A number of cafes operate 24x7 in this small village which has a German Bakery also. On our way back we hired a taxi for Rs. 300 to Barshaini and then took a return bus.

Trek to Pulga:
The traffic condition was horrible on the next day probably because it was a Friday and a long weekend. The bus to Barshaini turned back from Manikaran because the conductor said it was running late by several hours. One good thing in this route is availability of taxis from the stand at a fixed rate. We hired one from Manikaran to Barshiani for Rs. 500. The car dropped us near the dam. After half a kilometer the trail took off from the road and climbed upward. It was a nice walk under the shades of the trees for most part of it. At the village entry point we met a friendly dog which kept us company for the next hour or so until we took leave for lunch. We bought some biscuits for it. On one side of the village is the Fairy Forest. That can be approached through farm lands and in some places walking through backyards of some sparsely located buildings. As we went past a wheat field suddenly our new found friend stepped inside and started rolling frivolously – a hilarious sight – probably the poking stalks over her coat brought a great therapeutic sensation – some kind of acupuncture. The tall fir trees in the Fairy Forest are wide apart and the underneath area is covered with grass creating a large canopy which is nice to walk on. This village is a popular destination among the Israeli tourists and so the smallest of the eateries here offer Israeli food. Some of them come and stay here for months and even pick up Hindi to converse with the locals. It must feel great to be in this cool place away from their desert-locked homeland. Some of the houses on the way to the Fairy Forest had an abandoned look – probably those were put on long term rent to foreigners, I guess. “Only breakfast menus will be available,” said the owner of the small cafe with two tables when we entered there at half past one. For the exotic dishes served by a small roadside cafe the food was excellent. While we devoured within our friend too became busy outside feasting on loads of Parle G. This particular brand of biscuit being neutral is safe for my hyper-acidic digestive system but I find it heavily filling. So I wondered how our friend would feel after consuming one large entire packet of it. Maybe she would keep rolling over the wheat field for the rest of the day without having to bother about her stomach. As the bus services were irregular during the day we teamed up with two other couples to share a Sumo up to Kasol for Rs. 1100.

Other Treks:
We heard a lot about the amazing Kheerganga trek from Barshaini but unfortunately couldn’t undertake it due to certain constraints. Most of the tourists come to Barshaini for the Kheerganga trek. Kalga in another village on the way to Kheerganga which would have been good to visit. Arvind was telling that a nice trek would be the circuit Barshaini-Kalga-Pulga-Barshaini, probably around four hours. This gentleman was a professional trek guide in his younger days. He told that on crossing the river at Kasol near the bus stand, the rightward trek route (opposite the direction of Challal) upstream the Parvati river leads to Manikaran.
#10 Mar 6th, 2018, 23:10
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  • joman is offline
#10
To Manali:
The traffic condition had been normalized but we weren’t sure about the regular state transport buses. There are some direct buses to Manali at specific times. We had to wait for two hours before a bus to Bhuntar came along. In the mean time we had a hearty breakfast at the upstairs canteen wherefrom one gets a nice view of the full stretch of the road. They make delicious stuffed paratha of alu, gobi, egg - name anything. From Bhuntar we came to Kullu and boarded a Manali bound bus. Bhuntar is where Kullu’s airport is located. Kasol to Manali took us six hours including the change over time. Our booking was in Old Manali, on the Manu temple road. An auto rickshaw from the Mall road dropped us there. This part of the town attracts a high number of foreign tourists. The Old Manali road is teaming with restaurants and has an incredible atmosphere. We loved it. Our room was above one such restaurants called The Olive Garden. During our three days stay we visited at least eight to ten eateries. All were good and some superb. The party goes on till late into the night and the laid back road is in no hurry to wake up early.

Contacts (if you need):
Elu Ram (Sojha): 094185-50549 / 094590-17592
Mr. Arvind (Kasol): 094182-82026
Roshan (Jibhi): 094184-93295

P.S.: The photo attachments gave me great trouble and so after repeated attempts finally I had to give up. Maybe, if I can figure out later, I will attach them. I thought, at least let us put up the bare information.
#11 Mar 6th, 2018, 23:31
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Quote:
Originally Posted by joman View Post P.S.: The photo attachments gave me great trouble and so after repeated attempts finally I had to give up. Maybe, if I can figure out later, I will attach them. I thought, at least let us put up the bare information.
Resize the images to 1024*1024 and then upload them.
#12 Mar 7th, 2018, 08:43
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Thanks. I will try.

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