Chapter Kalga: the himalayan stories

The best incidences in our life happen by accident. One such accident occured when I was sipping my coffee at Aunty’s cafe in Barshaini, googling for my next stop in Parvati Valley. The cafe seemed more like an old wooden box with the fragnance of Indian curries locked in. I had already paid visit to almost all major villages in vicinity and was thinking of heading back home. Halfway down the coffee cup, lady who owned the cafe enquired, “Bhaiji” she said, in a crisp Nepali accent, “Kaha Kaha ho aaye?”, translating to where all have you been around. I bothered not to tell her as it was my maiden trip to Parvati lands and I was a bit reserved to people asking random questions. “Kalga gaye?”. Have you been to Kalga, she added, with a smile that looked so permanent on her face. I nodded in disaproval. She handed me a card that read ‘Holy Cow Cafe’ and strongly suggested a visit. From the small window of her cafe, I peeped and looked towards a small village made up of a few wooden huts on the opposite side of river. It was Kalga, she informed. I couldn’t help but show more intrest in what looked like a rather more peaceful settlement then ones I’ve earlier been. I grew curious, a calm breeze waved my senses. “Kya hai wahan dekhne laayak?” I asked, shedding away my restraints a little. Her answer made me rather amused and more curious, “Sab kuch hai” (Everything). She continued to smile. I paid my bills, gathered my belongings and left immediately for Kalga. 

Kalga is a small village located approximately 18 km north of Kasol, in Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, India. A road from Bhunter lead us to Kasol, followed by Manikaran and Barshaini. Barshaini being the last point of that road and the last point where buses regularly run. From Barshaini, one has to cross the river and trek uphill for about 20 minutes to reach Kalga. 

Kalga is situated on top of a hill with relatively flat terrain. Upon arrival, Kalga is a fair treat to eyes as one is welcomed by Apple orchids, beautiful farms, tidy wooden houses and some great picturesque surroundings. White coloured flowers adorn the whole village in springs and it looks like a perfect replica of what heaven may look like. The local people are helpful and greet every visitor that passes through their farms with an astounding smile. Sounds of river flowing tumultously, combined by the giggles of kids, chirping by mountain birds and the feel of fresh air, makes up worth more than all the effort put in the trek. 

There are a handful of cafes in Kalga that provide cheap and comfortable stay. Food, as everywhere else in Parvati is delicious. Other than that, Kalga has a few dozen houses and two departmental stores keeping amneties of daily use. The primary occupation of people is farming and livestock breeding. A very few tourists make up to this point (untill now), most of whom are Israelis. 

THINGS TO DO : Go strolling around the small mud lanes, play cricket with village boys, or let your imagination handle it, Kalga offers you great amount of freedom and inner peace. Holy Cow Cafe is a must go place if you happen to drop here. Pulga and Tulga are villages in vicinity with Pulga having pretty decent cafes to visit and stay. Rest assured, I’ve been here more than a couple of times and Kalga never fails to surprise. 

HOW TO REACH : Though Kalga is not accesible through roads, nearest route is Manikaran-Barshaini road. Buses from all major metros of North India ferry tourists upto Bhunter via Chandigarah-Bilaspur-Mandi. From Bhunter one can easily find buses and taxis upto Barshaini. Nearest Railway Station is Chandigarh. Nearest Airport is Kullu Domestic Airport, Bhunter. 

Imagine yourself being on top of a hill, with a handful of people around. People who form nice company to sing songs with, and chit-chats over experiences. Or you could just gaze up at the night sky, cozying in your quilt, with a warm coffee to sip and literally no one to disturb your gaze! Kalga truely dissapoints no one and is an experience of a lifetime. 

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Manali : How your favourite childhood dream is not equally fascinating today

Manali is one of the few stops in mountain state of Himachal Pradesh that has turned out to be a  household name. From honeymoons to full-family trips, people from all parts of the country visit the mountain clad beauty for a stay in cozy hospitality this town offers. Whether it is about escaping the summer heat, or celebrating a snowy new year, Manali always retains a favourite spot in visitors’ cookbook. But is Manali still the same abode we grew up listening praises of? Is Manali the very same ‘India’s best hill station’ as many still entitle it? This blog tries to answer these questions and tries to find if we need to revisit our summer trip plans! 

Manali is a busy town in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, India. Located 40 km north of the district headquaters, Manali can be reached by road from Chandigarh via Bilaspur-Mandi-Kullu. Thanks to the heavy tourist turnout, regular buses ferry tourists from almost all major metro cities in North. 

So where is the problem with Manali? The problem lies in the same heavy tourist turnout every year. Every year, tourists come around in large numbers to enjoy a week or two in Manali. The numbers increase manifolds in summers when people seek refuge in mountains from the scorching sun across the country. Manali, being the tourist sweetheart, attracts an overwhelming amount of visitors, just to overcrowd the streets further. 

This has lead to heavy commercialisation of this place-electronic shops, routine cafes, cloth market, eateries, Manali looks like just another Indian tourist town. The heavy commercialisation has taken the very natural charm of Manali from it leaving back large marketplaces and luxurious hotels. 

The markets are becoming a costly affair with every passing day because everything from eatables to garments have adjusted their rates to the tourist fanfare. Garbage and rotten food can be seen around the main town even after hard work the people of Municipal Council put in to retain cleanliness. In the end period of June, the streets are so full with people, one might hardly get a place to walk freely on the main Mall Road Square. People, who are rather more intrested in clicking selfies then admiring the scenic beauty and attaing mental peace the place once used reverbrate. 

It definitly concludes that you might want to alter you travel plan if it includes Manali. Himachal Pradesh is an abode of sceneic beauty and many new destinations await to be explored. 

The haunted lanes of Kuldhara

The vast deserts of Thar are full of stories. Stories of valor, hard work, irreplicable courage and unmatched sacrifices. But along with the folklores of great proud men and women, there are a few mystries that have remained unsolved over time. Stories that are percieved as haunted by common people. 

One such tale is of the ancient town of Kuldhara. 

Kuldhara is a clutter of abandoned villages 30 kms south to Jaisalmer. It beholds a thousand odd houses, a few temples, a small fortress, a lake, a seasonal river that flows throught it. Despite the sorry state of houses and other buildings in Kuldhara, the magnificient architechture of those times on yellow sandstone is still evident. Once on the terrace of village headman’s house, one can easily makeout the neatly laid houses, lanes and vastness of the village. 

But today, sadly, all of it is in shambles. In a glimpse, Kuldhara is a devastated ruin that lies beneath the scorching sun. But what led to the extinction of a town that was once bustling with culture and activities? Where are the people who made and inhabited this great town vanished? 
A popular folklore tries to answer these questions. It is said that Kuldhara was once a large town with many nearby villages dependent on it. It was headed by village chieftain who was a ‘Paliwal Brahmin’. It is said that about 200 years ago, the evil diwan of Jaisalmer state, Diwan Singh, set his eyes on the chieftain’s daughter. Diwan Singh warned him of a massacre if he refuses to lend the hand of his daughter in marriage. Fearing of the worst possible outcomes, the entire populace of Kuldhara is said to have migrated to distant lands overnight. Leaving behind no jewels, no belongings, but only empty homes and a curse- that whosoever tries to inhabit their ancestral village would die! Since then, no indivisual spends a night in Kuldhara fearing wrath of the curse. Locals who have tried to do so have heard horrible noises, disturbances and unusual negetivity around. 

A team of Paranormal Society of Delhi visited Kuldhara and are said to have experienced unsual activities. Diluting shadows, distorted voices and sudden temperature drops were some of the many irregularities that the team experienced. One of the team-member said he felt a touch on back of his shoulder only to turn back and find no one! It could seem like the script of a bollywood drama but the Paranormal Society of Delhi really had a terrible night at Kuldhara. 

In mornings, Kuldhara is just another tourist spot, managed by the Archaeological Survey of India. The government of Rajasthan is planning to convert Kuldhara into a full fledged tourist spot with all facilities for tourists. Although, even the gaurds at the village gates warn against staying in night. 

HOW TO REACH : Kuldhara can be reached by road from Jaisalmer-Sam road by driving 20 kms on the main road and then taking a right to rugged village road leading straight to Kuldhara. Many taxi options are available from Jaisalmer. 

EXPLORE : Kuldhara is near to the popular desert circuit of Jaislmer and one can visit nearby Sam sand-dunes for great desert experience and parasailing. The heritage city of Jaisalmer is also worth a one time visit (atleast). 

The local kids at Kuldhara will narrate you the whole story of Kuldhara in 10-20 rupees and the narration style will surely give you a chill off your spine! 

Kasol : the hippie himalayan base

Himalayas are truly a land holding exquisite beauty and hidden heavens. The land holds the distinction for having some of the world’s best picturesque sceneries that behold the visitor’s breath.

One such heaven is the small town of Kasol, located in the steep terrains of Parvati Valley, 30 km north of Bhuntar in Kullu district, Himachal Pradesh. It is soothingly located on the banks of river Parvati, a tributary to Beas. The town has basic facilities for tourists, viz, a medical shop, an ATM, a few internet cafes, cheap stays and not to forget, the centrally located booze shop on the main square!

Hanging bridges, Evergreen tree cover, enchanting voice of flowing waters and what not, Kasol is the darling getaway for nature enthusiasts, backpackers and peace seekers.Yet, until recent, the town was not particularly famous with the mainland Indian travelers due to remoteness and harsh terrains of Parvati Valley. Though, the scenario has changed recently in Kasol as it has made into the bucket list of many people, thanks to the hippie trail and foreign tourists. 

Talking about the hippie trade, lets first talk about what makes this place more peculiar  than the other small-town-hillstops. Kasol boasts of high quality ‘hashish’ which attracts tourists and hipsters from all around the world who are looking for the famous ‘indian cream’. This hashish or ‘charas’, as we Indians call it, is availed from the nearby hill villages where most of the farming is done. This has now become one of the major sources of livelihood for the valley-men and people coming from nearby villages.

Though stereotypes convey heavily that Kasol is only for cannabis trade, one realises only after a visit the scenic beauty this place beholds. The serene atmosphere and the tumultuous waters of Parvati here takes a person into everlasting tranquility.

THINGS TO DO : There are a couple of things to do in and around Kasol which are a travelers’ delight. Go around trekking to nearby mountains for mountain berries (No, not all of ’em are safe) or sit with strangers on the bank of river Parvati near the Chhalal Bridge. You can go for a 15 minutes walk to the beautiful Chhalal village across the river (Places recommended : Maya Cafe, Camp stay in Katagala) or could just walk around the market of Kasol for a few souvenirs or hippie clothes. Kasol also offers a great deal of variety to foodies and Oenophiles. The cafes in and around Kasol serve some of the best Mexican, Israeli and Italian foods. Everything foreign, from Humus Pita, Bruschetta, Quesadilla, and even our very favourite Pizzas taste so good (pronounced ‘heaven’) at most of the cafes (Give a sure try to Jim Morrisson Cafe, The German Bakery). Though, try avoiding Indian food (It tastes dull). These very same cafes also provide cheap stays or you could opt for staying in camps by the river side. The local made fruit wine is a must try.

EXPLORE : There are many scenic treks and places to explore in the vicinity of Kasol. Rashol is another beautiful hill-top village located at an extreme 3 hour trek from Kasol. It is only recommended if you are a seasoned trekker or a really fit one! Also, you can easily get cabs from Kasol to Manikaran, Jari, Tosh, Kullu, Manali, etc.

HOW TO REACH : Kasol could be reached by road from Chandigarh via Mandi-Bhuntar in 7-8 hours ( Well that depends entirely on weather and traffic). Nearest airport is Kullu Domestic Airport situated in Bhuntar, nearest railway station is Chandigarh, from where a taxi or bus is suggested.

Kasol is best in springs when it is devoid of excessive tourist traffic of summers and also, the harsh winters. Though it rarely snows in the main town, it is not advisable to visit in peak winters as the temperature dips negative to the scale.