Enjoying The Himalayan Highlife

Trip Start Jun 13, 2011
Trip End Jun 12, 2012

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Flag of India  , Himachal Pradesh,
Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Getting to the Parvati Valley proved to be much less straightforward than we had anticipated - in fact it ended up being one of the more stress-filled days we’ve had! We tried to make the journey as straightforward as possible, so to start off we went for the more expensive but much more comfortable and reliable option of taking a taxi to Hardiwar (800R), where we were taking the train from. The town itself was a sweltering dump, and we were glad to take our seats for the journey to Chandigarh (200R, 5hrs), which was to be the final train ride of the trip - no bad thing after spending the entire time being besieged by local nutters and ‘beggers‘. Completely out of the blue, as we were getting off the train, a lovely Indian guy who’d obviously seen how harassed we were came up and gave us a note saying ‘I am sorry on behalf of whole India for bad experiences you have to suffer because of some idiots. We respect our guests like God, so please come again’ which gives you a real boost to see how wonderful some of the locals can be. Unfortunately, the good feeling didn’t last too long as we got even more than the usual hassle while trying to find a tuktuk to take us to the bus station - they seemed intent on ripping us off until one brave guy spoke up and offered us a lift for the standard price. At the bus station we attracted the normal crowds of guys surrounding us with the sole intent of staring vacantly at us, and as we were boarding the bus one guy even spat on my foot - urgh! We were glad when a semi decent bus turned up to take us to Bhuntar (11hrs, 650R).

For some reason the bus ended up sitting in traffic for over 3 hours throughout the night, but we eventually arrived at 7.30am and jumped on a local bus for the final leg of the journey to Kasol (2hrs, 30R). Barry was feeling terrible by the time we got there, so I left him nursing a ginger, lemon, honey tea while I sorted out a place to stay. We ended up going for the Alpine Guesthouse, which was a bit rough round the edges and needed a general freshen up, but was situated in a lovely peaceful spot right next to the roaring Parvati river and had massive rooms and a decent restaurant. We spent our first couple of days there just unwinding, catching up on sleep and enjoying the peace. Kasol itself was a nice enough base for the area - there wasn’t a huge amount to do in the town (very ‘smoker‘ orientated), but it was in lovely spot with a few nice places to eat and drink - ‘Bhoj’ in particular was a great traveller hangout joint with cosy seating, a nice rooftop, free wifi (when it worked)!, a pool table and pretty superb food - their Magic Salad was truly a delight. It was a shame that there were no other people there apart from masses of Israelis - which we have absolutely no problem with what so ever, other than the fact that they barely even acknowledged our presence so we ended up feeling a bit like the outsiders - luckily the two of us had a great time together regardless!

After a couple of days chilling out we were ready to face our final adventure of the trip - a hike through the Parvati Valley. There wasn’t much info online, and the travel agents in Kasol didn’t seem to know much more, but we set off nonetheless! It ended up being without a doubt one of the best walks we’ve done of the whole trip - challenging enough to keep it interesting, but incredibly peaceful with real jaw-dropping vistas - it felt like you could almost reach out and touch the Himalayas! We started off by taking an incredibly hair-raising bus-ride to Barshani (2hrs, 30R), then luckily bumped into some fellow trekkers who pointed us in the right direction. The walk started off pretty tough, but evened off after about one and a half hours, where we had a break near a little village. It took about the same again to reach the next little tea-house, where we had a lovely apple juice before the final (gruelling) one hour ascent of the day. We definitely could’ve done it quicker if we’d wanted, but the peace and beauty that surrounded us just enticed us to take our time! Arriving at Khir Ganga was one of the most amazing and surreal experiences we’ve had - it’s location literally took our breath away - it’s on a meadow encircled by stunning snow capped peaks in every direction, but the whole place is nothing more than a shanty town set up for the couple of months a year where it can be accessed (the only way to get there is by foot). 

We sorted out a ‘room’ (read; mud-floored lean-to) at the lovely Lonely Planet ‘guesthouse’ (200R), then cosied up by the wood burning stove with the best thali of the trip while the heavens opened outside. Barry had forgotten that he’d left his stinky walking trainers outside the room, so when he discovered them once the sun had decided to put in a final appearance he decided to dry them out by the stove - it was only when one of the helpful staff mentioned that the burner could get quite hot that he realised he’d actually set them on fire - classic!

We set off the next morning for the village of Pulga, so we headed back down to the wee tea house (which was thankfully downhill this time - but slightly more precarious due to the previous day’s rainfall), then headed into the forest towards Kalga. The walk was definitely a bit tougher than the day before, but we were glad to be going from Khir Ganga rather than to it, which would’ve been hellish with all the climbs. Altogether it took about 4 hours, and we were again lucky to have fantastic weather during the walk and managed to arrive in the village just as it started spitting with rain. It was a completely different set-up to Khir Ganga - very much a traditional Indian rural village - wonderful. We got a fantastic room at the Marigold Hotel (400R), which had really friendly staff, cosy rooms and possibly the best view ever - we woke up to the sun rising over the Himalayas from the comfort of our comfy bed each morning. 

We stayed there for a couple of days, just soaking up the authentic atmosphere, aided by the wonderful Apple View restaurant (although slightly hindered by the ignorant, ridiculously noisy Israeli travellers who insisted on shouting to each other all night right outside our room - until Barry got them told - my hero!). It was a real wrench to drag ourselves away, but all good things  must come to an end! The bus journey back to Kasol was just as terrifying as on the way there, but we checked back into the Alpine in one piece (just!). 

The rain set in that night and didn’t let up for the next couple of days - but we were glad we’d had such nice weather for our walk and it was quite comforting just to cosy up in Kasol. We had another look round the shops to see if we could start picking up some gifts to take home, but the selection on display was pretty poor - a mixture of over-priced tat and dirty, musty knit-wear - we decided just to wait until Delhi! We had decided to have one last pamper before we left, so we both booked in for a two hour session at Aarti Massage Centre. Unfortunately, it was possibly the worst treatment I’ve ever had. I lay there freezing, my hands and feet going numb - and when I mentioned this, the best they could do was to put a wet hand towel over my legs, which only made it worse! And the massage itself was horrific - the first girl was so bad I had to ask her to stop - her lacklustre poking and prodding was irritating at best. When the other lady took over to give me a slightly firmer massage that I’d asked for, she basically straddled me and proceeded to stick her elbows into my ribcage and press my arms so hard into the wooden bed frame that I ended up covered in bruises - I just had to get up and leave! Poor Barry had a slightly better time with his Shirodara, apart from the fact that they started off burning his head - which was right at the front door so he was getting disturbed with  freezing cold air and people walking past every 2 minutes - he decided to give the rest of the treatment a miss too!

We had a last dinner at Bhoj before heading back to our room for a slightly drunken night of final packing (which we’d planned to do the day before but couldn’t as the hotel had given all our laundry back to us soaking wet!) and discussing the Dalai Lama’s philosophies with a fab book that Barry had bought me in Mcleod Ganj - just the average random night ala Barry and Lou!

Our final treat before heading back to Delhi was a couple of nights at the sublime Parvati Kuteer, just outside the main town but feeling like a million miles from anywhere. We had a beautiful cottage all to ourselves which was a bit pricey at 2000R per night (including breakfast), but  was worth every penny. The staff couldn’t have done more for us and the home-cooked Indian food was spectacular and very reasonable. The weather was still a bit up and down, but we made great use of our gorgeous digs which included the luxury of a bathtub where we whiled away the time (in-between fighting off massive spiders and scorpions!). It was so nice to get some real quality time together before facing the madness of Delhi, and just what we needed as the trip was drawing to a close!
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