If the green grass, the blue sky, the snow-capped mountains and the sound of gushing water are the requirements, then Parvati Valley is the perfect destination. The Valley has developed a reputation for its wild and cultivated crops of charas along with its natural beauty. It has been home to many hippies since the age of the Beatles. The enigmatic hills allure the wanderer in its web of fairy-tale stories.
Every year, the Post-Grad students of Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi go for an educational trip. This year it was my responsibility to organize this trip and after lengthy discussions and deliberations we zeroed in on Kasol-Malana. The rest as they say is history. Since the trip had to be organised for 40 people (and to a slightly off-beat place), I outsourced the entire trip organisation and management to Shoes on Loose. The itinerary that Shoes on Loose chalked out for us involved us to leave Delhi by 16 seater Travellers at 7 pm on a Thursday evening (from Hauz Khaas). We would reach Kasol on the following day around noon, following which we would head to Manikaran. Saturday would involve a day long trek to Malana and camping at Malana for the night. On Sunday we would head to Kullu for white water rafting. By 3 pm we would start our return journey.
Day 1, Friday: The Himalayan Guest House
After a 14 hour long and tiring journey we finally reached our destination around noon. The view that awaited us from our guest house alleviated our fatigue. The guest house is situated near the Malana Hydroelectric Power Project’s power house. It is conveniently located: at a distance from Old Kasol and New Kasol, en route Malana, on the banks of the Parvati river and has rooms with a view! More importantly, the guest house is run by the Negi brothers who are not only quite popular locally but also have complete idea about the region as they do a lot of trek and rescue work around the region. They are non-Malanese who claim to have family relations with the Malanese. The food at the guest house is home-cooked, it is simple yet fulfilling. (One of the Negi brothers-Shera Negi can be contacted at 09805105800).
Day 1 continued: Manikaran
About: Located between the Beas and Parvati rivers, Manikaran, well known for its hot springs and landscape, is a drive of approximately 20 minutes from the Himalayan Guest House.
Manikaran is a pilgrimage center for Hindu and Sikhs, with the Hindus believing that Manu recreated human life in Manikaran after the flood and the Sikhs having their own legend going back to Guru Nanak associated with the place. There are many legends associated with Manikaran. The name Manikaran, which translates to mean ‘Jewel from the Ear’ is derived from another Hindu legend according to which a giant snake stole earrings from the goddess Parvati while she was bathing and then snorted them out into the ground which released the hot springs. There are various versions of this story that the locals will tell you, but all of them have the goddess, the gems and the serpent in common!
Our Experience: Activities around Manikaran revolve around the Manikaran Sahib gurudwara (along with the Raghunath Mandir and the Naina Devi Temple). The hot springs have been utilised to create a half-spa with bathing rooms which involve separate facilities for men and women. With the therapeutic properties of the water, those of us who decided to visit the bathing are came out quite refreshed.
After visiting Manikaran, we stopped at one of the many cafe’s that dotted New Kasol. The cafe owner, as was the case with most of the people in this region, was visibly stoned. When we placed our order he refused to serve food saying that it was not possible for him to get food cooked for so many people- that is Kasol for you! (Joints were available, of course.)
The bonfire arranged by the Guest House at our camp sight was the venue for all the standard camp games that continued well into the night (till the bonfire lasted). Post that we went for a stroll. There was a marriage happening in the village because of which we were warned not to stray too far away from our guest house. Even Lonely Planet advises tourists to not be adventurous and always be accompanied by a guide who can potentially steer away natural and human hazards (a lot of tourists have disappeared from the Kullu and Parvati Valley either on account of getting too deeply involved in the high-stakes local drug trade or by getting fatally injured during trekking.)
Day 2: Malana
About: The mountain village of Malana started off as an isolated collection of wood and stone houses. The villagers have their own caste system and unique rituals which have given birth to a plethora of stories surrounding Malana. Visitors need to obey a litany of esoteric rules such as the rule that forbids any visitor to touch any of the villagers or their belongings which includes the homes and temples located in the village.Our guide, Mr. Negi, gave us a nice insight into the local traditions and explained many of the extant rituals. Going to Malana with a guide is highly recommended, if not for anything else then for the purpose of avoiding fines and sourcing Malana cream.
Our Experience: With incredible views to keep us company, we started our long trek to Manala at 10 am. On account of the presence of people who were going for a trek for the first time, our speed was slower than expected. Moreover due to a landslide we had to start trekking 5 kms before the actual point of commencement. For the uphill trek we took the longer but less steep and less treacherous route. The only difficult stretch involved traversing what our guide called a ‘glacier’ right before the village. Slipping on the snow, watching villagers cut wool from their sheep and with a dog who decided to escort us to Malana, we finally reached this enigmatic village at 3 pm. Most of us were horribly cold in our feet. Trying to soak up whatever warmth we could from a miniscule bonfire, we huddled around each other in the arrangement made for our halt. The weather had taken a turn for the worse. While we were supposed to camp near Malana for the night, heavy snowfall the previous night implied a last minute change of plan. We had to go back to Kasol the same day. With an imminent snow-storm brewing, we hurriedly finished our share of Maggie and started our trek downhill at about 4 pm. Fresh snowfall had begun and darkness had started setting in. We were all without snow shoes. There was an element of panic and fear when we started our descent. But gradually we got accustomed to the conditions and our own fear. We had barely covered one-fourth of the distance when darkness set in. With just our phone-torches we did a night-trek downhill. Thanks to a lot of good luck and our ‘Head’ guide, Mr. Shera, we managed to reach our guest house safely. There was a lot of scope for things taking a turn for the worse, and as an organiser of the trip I am glad that nothing untoward happened.
Day 3: Kasol to Kullu
The final day saw us going for a walk along the adjoining river bed. Post that we walked around the village and the Negis took us to their own museum: a collection of tools and objects used by the local people.
We then proceeded towards Kullu for white water rafting in the Beas. It was quite an experience. With the standard competition among teams taking place, the acme of this experience was the plunge that most of us took in the ice-cold waters of Beas. (Keep in mind that this trip happened in the month of March, 2015). With full enthusiasm we took the plunge without taking cognisance of the shivers that lay ahead.
The time had come to make a move for Delhi. Thanks to the destination being Kasol and Malana, to our dismay we figured out at night (with a raging thunderstorm in the hills) that our driver was stoned and could not be relied upon with our lives. But we had no choice and decided to risk it anyway. The series of adventures finally came to an end the next morning when we all reached the ISI campus safe, sound and intact!
While a lot of us were exhilarated with the snowfall, the weather conditions were quite bad during our stay. We had to face really low temperatures. Moreover, going to the Parvati Valley in March rules out the possibility of a trek to Kheer Ganga. Going to the region when the weather gets warmer is recommended- my pick would be the month of April or May.