Prelude: Before Dawn
It was dark, drizzling, cold and bleak at that hour, early in the morning when we found ourselves disembarked, by the wayside of Bhuntar accompanied by few other co-passengers who also boarded the bus from Delhi and had volition to reach Kasol, facing the dilemma that whether to reserve a taxi (only one in sight) or to tarry 2 hours in the hope of a State Transport bus that supposed to head to our destination. It took us not more than 2 minutes to take the taxi into consideration as we negotiated the fare with 0% discount to 1000 INR, being compelled to outset the journey. We crossed the bridge over the wide rocky riverbed of the conflux of River Parvati and Beas, unfortunately couldn’t figured anything out at that moment because of insufficient light as the phrase rightly states- ‘Darkest hour is just before the dawn.’; the taxi consort with rumbling River Parvati ascended almost the whole way, simultaneously we either hitched for chuckholes of poor conditioned road or tingled by sudden sharp treacherous turns the driver had to make very frequently.
The way the proverbs state : “The journey of a thousand miles begin with one step” , here lies the first step and “Miles to go before I sleep”, so lets not stop here, lets go. Explore.
Starting Point: RK Ashram Marg, New Delhi [ if not HPSTC Bus from IBST Kashmiri Gate]; To: Bhuntar, Himachal Pradesh; Distance: 505 Km; Time Taken: 11 Hours.
Day 1: In Little Israel
One hour later, when we reached Kasol, the small town was in slumber. Longing for sunrise, the empty main road and the small bridge that connects Old Kasol to the New, the closed cluster shops and cafes amidst lush old Pine trees as if trying to touch the sky with a background of shadowy mountain ranges with snow capped peaks creating halo setting around it, altogether resembled misty and murky frames from Harry Potter movies. The still and silence ambience was enriched by oft high pitched tweets of morning birds and the base bestowed by the sonic current of Parvati. We quickly checked in a hotel room having a small balcony facing wall like structured mountain with white pointy heads. Since, we were a little tired for the hectic circumstances we been through, decided to take a quick nap for a couple of hours, later followed by a not so heavy breakfast. We stepped out of the hotel with motive principle of a trek to nearby village nameled Chhalal which was a 45-50 minutes hike by the side of Parvati from Kasol, as first trial before the main- stream KheerGanga Trek, also providing a brief idea to my parents, first timers to approach trekking, that how our trekking experience should be conceptualized!
Bhuntar to Kasol: 38 Kms.; Time Taken: 50 minutes; Kasol to Chhalal: 3 Kms; Trekking Duration: 2 Hours; Difficulty Level: Easy. Elevation: 1580 m.
That was a bright day as we started off, crossing the newly build iron bridge called Mashairon connecting New Kasol to the scenic trail on the huge beveled rugged mountain, in less than a minute I witnessed involuntarily that my father being slipped as he stepped on a rocky slope with full of dusty gravels injured his palm which was bleeding then, since he mistakenly groped a randomly grown thorny brunch to support his balance. Bleeding was stopped by squeezing the wounded place, in a while as everything was back to normal we continued our leisure roaming around the rough terrain among Pine and Deodar trees. Few cafes (as they like to name roadside restaurants) along with apple or orange gardens run by locals were passing by our trail when we finally arrived to the quaint village: Chhalal in an hour’s duration. The quintessential example of village life was reflecting by the sight of stony slated roofs of countable number of huts, bluish smokes coming out of chimneys of food stalls and humble attitude of villagers also their most simplistic lifestyle known later when we encountered them. Worth mentioning that villagers do offer home stays catering to tourists, for those who like to enjoy serene solitariness void of the valley, in reasonably cheap rate.
We had to grab some food before heading back to Kasol. Apart from locals selling delicious momos and thukpas some of the vendors also have hanging Italian Cuisine written placards overhead of their stalls. We had some best Pizzas we ever had with tea. Now look, there’s a thing about ‘Chaay’ in Pahar (hills), Pahari s (residents of hilly areas) do consume and add a lot of sugar in tea until and unless you restrict them from doing so they would be serving customers a full glass of hot light-yellowed tea flavoured syrup. So one (if he/ she wants to avoid the ado) better humbly ask them to add only a spoon of sugar per cup at the time of ordering and before they use handful of sugar per se. The gossip of tea ends with a bowl of sugar placed at every table for customers if they doubt the maker’s hand and feel the need to use their own hand in adding some extra bit. But, the grandeur view and hue of the valley would fade everything and are more than enough to relinquish one’s unsatisfied being to miff at any mess possible.
A white healthy and shaggy dog joined our group of four out of nowhere while hiking back the trail and posing as well as clicking portraits with it the whole way of 3Kms. As per the plan we considered staying back in Kasol that night and explore every inch of the small station before going for bed. The spectrum ranges from trying street foods, to walking along narrow alleys, to sitting by the side of Parvati and enjoy nippy breeze during dusk and inhale deep the valley’s medley salubrious whiff of Hashish (Marijuana) to fathom the rapturous carefree Hippy culture and music which mostly regard peace of mind, encourages to live spiritual life rather than a materialistic one.
Day 2: Where Road Ends
Kasol to Barshaini: 17 Kms.; Time Taken: 50 minutes by taxi; Barshaini to Tosh: 3 Kms.; Hiking Duration: 1:30 hours; Difficulty Level: Easy; Tosh to Kutla: 4 Kms.; Trekking Duration: 4 hours; Difficulty Level: Easy. Elevation: 2400 m.
Next morning, we did check out from the hotel at around 8:20 AM with the intention of reaching Tosh, firstly to Barshaini by Prepaid-Taxi and then to carry out our 2nd trial as planned before the final go to KheerGanga day after. It took us nearly 50 minutes drive to reach Barshaini where we had breakfast at the café by the cliff and clicked a lot of photos of us keeping backgrounds of majestic trans- Himalayas, effluent Parvati below and at times the ‘work in progress’ NHPC hydro-electric power project. Barshaini is also the starting point of handful of treks like Tosh, Kalga, Tulga, Pulga and of course the ‘KheerGanga’.
In Barshaini one can either opt for 2kms long trekking trail that meets the main road 1Km prior to reach Tosh or simply use the main road which by the way gets blocked in winter due to excessive snowfall. Because it was only 3Kms way to Tosh, passing the temple we as wayfarers started to hike with ease. Two wooden poles proved to be as useful as a third leg for parents that they bought from the café as the entire road till Tosh is semi-ascending if not steep. The zigzag course caused palpitation and made parents rest for few minutes a couple of times on the way as well as immortalize memories by taking photos and get magnificent bird’s view of Barshaini Shiva temple along with Parvati and ongoing construction site of the dam encompassed by trans-Himalayas. We could figure a hamlet with bright coloured tin roofed buildings far away as few glittering gems embedded in a gigantic mass of rock when the milestone proclaimed the availability of tarmac road was for only a kilometre more. Yes, Tosh literally is the village where road ends. It was past 12 when we finally reached Tosh crossing a small iron bridge and quickly checked in a hotel and found ourselves out again in an hour heading to Kutla, more solitary than Chhalal, with an intention of having lunch on the way.
The distance won’t be more than 4 Kms. from Tosh to Kutla but unfortunately as we assumed it would be problematic in the dark to head back we decided not to continue our journey any further and stopped at a restaurant, crossing a tottering culvert made of plant stems over a torrential stream at a gingerly pace, called Stoned Age (no, it’s not Stone) for Luncheon, such an expensive one I must admit. It was gloaming on the way back resulting white snowy peaks turn rubicund, at times saffron in colour witnessing which was sensational. We returned back to the hotel with full satisfaction, had freshen ourselves, ordered some tea and snacks, exactly when to my utmost horror I lost my sight, oops!, never seen as absolute dark as this ever before, thank god, at least I had no hearing issue, could listen to my cousin Riya, untold about until now, uttering – “Shit yaar! Power cut”, caused a silent relief in me. Nonetheless, hotel authority assured us by handing over two candles and saying that inconvenience could continue hardly for few minutes that in practical seemed never returning until next morning. Hence, we kept lighted candles inside the room and found ourselves seated in the sombre balcony seeping hot tea and gazing at the star-studded sky, trying to figure out ‘what is what’, amazed, pondering later how marvels of innovation although breakthrough and productive distract human being from nature, in this case electricity. We being victims felt blessed.
Day 3: Record High
Barshaini to KheerGanga: 12 Kms.; Time Taken: 6 hours; Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate; Elevation: 3978 m.
Next morning was the big day. We checked out at 10AM having a bit heavy breakfast, fully prepared for the final trek to KheerGanga, kept the extra luggage in hotel cloakroom and remaining two backpacks were carried by Riya and me, liberated parents from lugging any load at all. We simply descended down straight half an hour to reach a U-turn just before the Barshaini dam noticing an arrow drawn on a boulder directing KheerGanga towards the dusty meandering trail following which we landed upon the small iron bridge over the rocky riverbed of sinuous Parvati. Crossing the power project, there exists another trekking trail starts on the other side of mountain through dense pine, deodar and alpine forest, said to have better scenic beauty than the one we did opt for but steep( I doubt the authenticity of the information). Therefore, the easier option was chosen through the Underwood across the bank of Parvati where it’s current incessantly thrusting into boulders and generating so sonorous and loud bass that we couldn’t hark at each-other’s utterance properly even when shouted.
For an hour if not more the hydel power project would be visible from trekking trail getting smaller and smaller and later unconsciously out of sight, out of mind. The trail seems easy for us- brother and sister, although at times I saw mom panting and tramping uphill with arduous steps. Our pace was slow, covering 2 Kms per hour, reached the first village Nakthan in 2 ½ hours. Couple of food stalls welcome passers-by into the small village, where villagers’ daily lifestyle that any city dweller envisages could easily be encountered with when entered. The proper settlement of Nakthan comprises of a tower temple called Mahamaya en route to the exit of it. We bought few bananas and kept trekking for half an hour until we stepped into the revered place for Hindus called Rudranag. The tiny landscape when we arrived at constrained us by its cold, misty and windy climate to rest at a food stall by the side of a fall named Vasuki Nallah. Dominated by the deafening crescendo of Parvati we headed forward; in a while found ourselves mesmerized by the mind boggling site of milky Parvati, cuts through a deep gorge beneath the bridge we were standing upon, meets the Nallah coming from Buni-Buni Pass.
We faced the real challenge as the muddy trail ascended almost vertically through jungle right after crossing the bridge. The path itself had become a course of splashing water as were greeted by steady mizzle made us care for every step that we forwarded for advancement. Fortunately, it stopped without bothering us much but made the entire plat mucky, somewhere waterlogged. On the positive side, the light rain also made few cascades affluent across the trail lively, a couple of which were rewardingly picturesque, more importantly needed mind games in order to cross without sleeping into the ice-cold water. I sighed and nodded in satisfaction as in this part of terrain our shoes were examined and passed as truly water resistant as promised by company tags.
It was murky and mizzling at around 6 in the evening, we were standing under a hoarding of a hotel which also states “Welcome to KheerGanga”. Well, it was a moment of joy then which at the next turned into huge disappointment for me as we entered I never expected the landscape to be commercialised and filled with countless tents and food stalls decorated using bulbs, boards and what not, as if any sort of fair was in full swing. Ascended another 200 meters uphill to get rid of the bazaar like ambience, we did book a tent for night stay in comparatively sober location from where only low-pitched music from below and rings of bells from Shiva temple above could be heard. Apart from gazing at the crepuscular sky for a while we did nothing much before entering into the tent which proved to be cozy and comforting. Later, unsatisfied I failed to avert my mind from questioning my decision of choosing and bringing my parents all the way from North Bengal to KheerGanga for only that much of trekking experience to achieve but nothing atop after completion!!
Day 4: The Long and Hot Bath
Well, got out of the tent next morning we were at the fore-yard under the shadow of a wall like structured mountain behind facing an open valley and virgin snow capped summits so close and upright that did seem climbable. Few boys we met with on the way the other day while coming were seen going downhill and replied with a NO when asked about taking a deep at the hot spring as were reluctant also didn’t dare to take off cloths in temperature below 5OC. I found it silly and insisted everyone not to miss this opportunity of having an open air bathe at an elevation of more than 13K feet including my father who was hesitant a bit later agreed. Up there, two adjacent pools bifurcated by wooden planks assured for bathing sex wise, located just below the Shiva temple. One must clean self by the water coming out of the pool before diving into it subjected to rules. It was told that the geyser water was high on minerals especially sulphur that helps to heal injuries, dwindles joint pains as well as the extra warm water per se a treat for thigh and cuff muscles. Now, when I bare bodied sat under one of the outlets of the pool, at the left flashpoint on the passage to ladies’ pool flashing my abs and ribbed muscles (pun intended) to the passersby, the fumy water edge as if seared my skin but the virility within did never let them assume the crux of the matter by the body language and expression. And it was more than 70OC of heat I suppose when I deep down my body and sat on the mossy surface of the hot spring, a perfect recumbency, befitted by facing the massive trans- Himalayas’ intimidating structure and listening to Sanskrit- mantras uttered overhead in subconscious mind. In a while, I started to feel this was it, all efforts and struggle pay off through this sanctification, where my regrets washed away and pride earthed by the grace of nature. A good 45 minutes were spent in the pool beating the freezing cold and expectation outside and mind, I happened to resemble this behaviour of us with most northern- living non-human primate called Snow Monkey or the Japanese Macaque as they do the same most of the time of a day by keeping only the head out of geyser water and relax in order to survive the outside temperature of below -15OC.
It was quite late when we started to head back at 1 O’clock in the afternoon. Everything was fine and normal until we crossed Nakthan at around 4:30PM. It was still manageable for more 2 kms. in fuzzy darkness to trek downhill but after that we literally dealt with obscurity being unprepared for night trek possessing only one led torch for four of us. At a time we, struggling to fathom, whether were still on the right trail as that was hell of a long muddy (mixed of Mule’s piss and dung), slippery with steep boulder made steps we couldn’t recall if passed through while trekking uphill. Overcoming the block, to my dismay we found ourselves on the bank of River Parvati lost in the dark jungle, clueless of finding the right path to approach the iron bridge. Undoubtedly, it was risky and we should have been well prepared anticipating situations as such, but the last scene in the jungle, we being lost and vulnerable completes our adventure with a thrill and adrenaline rush just before the happy ending! as after a bit of toing and froing we found our way out through the bridge following cattle poop and footprints. We reached Barshaini trekking uphill, reserved a taxi from near construction site of the Hydel power project and reached Tosh in no time.
Day 5: Hasta La Vista
Next day we started lately from Tosh with no rush, after civilly having delicious lunch, as because we supposed to board the bus for Delhi in the night from Bhuntar. All’s well that ends well, happy but melancholy, time had come when we did ‘bid farewell’ to the valley and thanked for all. Hasta La Vista!!
| Rick Biswas |