I had heard so much about Parvati Valley from my friends that I knew I had to go and experience it myself. And, so, sometime last year, I packed my bags and headed off to Delhi. Once in Delhi, all you have to do to reach Parvati Valley is get on a bus that will take you to Bhuntar. It is a 10-12 hour long ride, so it’s best to catch an evening bus from Delhi so that you can be in Bhuntar early morning the next day, which is what I did.
First Stop Kasol
The first place I wanted to visit was Kasol. From Bhuntar, it is a 90-minute bus or cab drive to Kasol. The first thing you notice once you are about to enter Kasol are the towering pine trees, and in between the tree trunks, the gushing waters of the Parvati River. The river originates at the Pin Parvati Pass in the Himalayas and she flows with such ferocity that I was forced to contemplate whether she was upset about having to flow in a course that was taking her away from home.
I was feeling tired after the long ride but as soon as I stepped out of the bus, I felt a different kind of energy, sort of difficult to explain, but it helped rejuvenate my body and soul. Kasol is dotted with lots of cafes, German bakeries and colourful shops that have a plethora of things to offer. I found a cosy spot in a place called Art Café where I indulged in a steaming cup of ginger lemon honey tea. If you ever find yourself in Himachal, you must definitely try this tea.
After tea, I walked around the town and made my way to the hanging bridge over the river. On the other side of the bridge is the village of Challal. The graffiti on one of the pillars of the bridge was very interesting: it portrayed a girl with her eyes closed but on her forehead she has a third eye very much like the one we see on Lord Shiva. Parvati Valley has a special connection with Shiva and I believe that contributes to the magic of the place.
Next morning, I headed to the village of Pulga. I took a bus to Barshaini, which is an hour away from Kasol. On the way, I crossed Manikaran which has natural hot springs and a very sacred Gurudwara. Sikh pilgrims from all over the country come here to pay homage to their Guru. After reaching Barshaini, I started my trek to Pulga. The roads are not motorable so the only way to get there is on foot. Taking in the breathtaking view and listening to the bubbling of the river below cutting through rocks while you trek up the mountain is an experience in itself. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to reach Pulga.
For me, it was love at first sight. The moment I entered the village, I found myself mesmerized by the beauty. All the houses were made of wood and the people were very welcoming. There is a forest of tall pine trees in the heart of the village, which the villagers call ‘Fairy Forest’. Apparently, a group of foreigners, many years ago, had seen fairies in the midst of the pine trees one night when they were sitting around a bonfire. The name stuck since then.
At an elevation of 2500 meters, on a clear sky night, you can stargaze to your heart’s content. It was here that I met Oleg, a man in his fifties from Georgia, who has been living in Parvati Valley for more than 10 years. The fact that Pulga can make a person from a foreign land not want to go back home gives you an idea of how special a place it is. During my stay, I also found that Pulga is home to some of the best wood-oven Margherita pizzas, which you can dig into at Devraj’s Café. I stayed only one night at Pulga but walking around the village with a playful stray dog I had befriended is one of my most precious memories of the trip.
The Trip Continues
Next on my list was Kheerganga. The trek was challenging, I along with a couple of other backpackers walked for a good 6 hours with some halts in between to reach Kheerganga. We crossed Kalga village on our way. It was so pretty with apple orchards and sloping valleys of beautiful flowers that I made a mental note to spend a night there on my way back.
Once we reached Kheerganga, we pitched our tents in a favourable spot and started the fire for dinner. My desperation to find nature in its purest form was quenched here. Just sitting there, gazing at the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas made me forget about all worldly pressures.
There is a mythological tale about how Kheerganga got its name. Legends say that Karthik, Lord Shiva’s eldest son meditated in a cave here for over 1000 years and he was so pleased with the place that he replaced the water of the hot springs of Kheerganga with Kheer. Even today, when you go near the hot springs, you will notice that the rocks over which the water flows are white in colour.
On my way back from Kheerganga, like I promised myself, I spent a night in Kalga. It rained that night and I was treated to a special nature orchestra featuring the sounds of numerous different insects and birds, the rustle of the leaves blowing in the wind, the sound of raindrops hitting the roof and the ground. It was like a special track to lull me to sleep and it worked.
The Last Stop
The next morning, I set off for my final destination, Malana. I had to trek back to Barshaini from Kalga. At Barshaini, I took a cab to Jari and from there I started my trek uphill to the village of Malana. It took me about an hour to reach the village.
Now, Malana is not like any other place. It has some very specific rules that travellers need to abide by. Outsiders are forbidden to touch the local villagers and also the walls of their sacred temples. According to legend, the people of Malana are believed to be the descendants of deported Greek soldiers of Alexander the Great. For a very long time, the village of Malana was cut off from the rest of the world. They had their own village council that governed them. They lived in harmony with nature not really knowing much about the rest of the world.
From the seventies onwards, the government brought the village of Malana under the rule of our mainstream democratic government. But, the village still has a feeling of aloofness and the aura of the village is very different from all the other places I visited in Parvati Valley. The villagers are proud of their heritage and they do not want to imbibe the ways and means of the outside world which can overshadow their age-old customs.
Since outsiders aren’t allowed to touch most of the structures in the village, the cafes are situated on a hilltop overlooking the village where travellers spend their nights. In the mornings, just when the sun has risen, Malana is a sight to behold. The rays of the sun find their way through the crevices of the Himalayas and fall on the wooden rooftops of the village and make them gleam. I witnessed this mesmerizing sight from the veranda of Dragon Café. On the other side of the village of Malana is the Magic Valley as locals call it, from where you can see the night sky covered with so many bright stars that if you look very closely, you can see distinct constellations.
The next morning, I bid farewell to Malana and my time in Parvati had come to an end. I travelled all the way to Bhuntar from Jari, where I took a bus back to Delhi. Parvati Valley was an enchanting experience. I had never seen so much beauty together in one place before and something about that place makes me want to go back. I am sure all who has been touched by Parvati Valley’s magic feel the same way.
Words and Photos: Manosha Borah
This article was first published in Eclectic Northeast May 2017 issue