Vattakanal – The Southern Parvati

The new-year eve was approaching and the wait to my first ever excursion to the southern nook of India was rather lengthy as it was increasingly getting challenging to convince my friends for it. Saurav was his usual confused self and Shresthi was fiddling between the ideas of Parvati and Kerala. I tried convincing them to the best of my prowess and eventually booking tickets for no use at all. So, with little options in hand, I packed a few t-shirts and boarded the first train moving towards Trivendrum from Jaipur, unclear in terms of my final destination or initial stops. All I knew clear was that I was going South; Deep Down South. 

Kodaikanal is a popular tourist destination stranded in upper Palani hills on the border to Kerala in Tamil Nadu. It is best known for its scenic beauty and chocolates which interests tourists from all parts of the country, especially, the southern parts. A very few of them actually know about what lies 6 kms north to it in dense forests. My anti-civilizational travel instincts brought me to explore this jewel in the Palani hamlet known to the world by the name of Vattakanal or just Vatta. The name Vattakanal is derived from the apparently circular setting of mountains around the valley with ‘vatta’ meaning round in local language. Vattakanal happens to be the ideal backpacker destination, with a darling mix of ample verdure, myriad mountains, dirt-ridden pathways, welcoming locals and sweet intoxicants – it is a village right out of fairytales. It is placed along a region that is touted as one of the ‘Top 25 biodiversity hotspots of the world’. 

Things to do

Vatta is majorly a spiritual forest and there is not much you can do in terms of adventure except for the transcendental muses and attaining internal serendipity. But if you are laid-back-holiday kind of a person you’ll be amused by the eye-ravishing view-line and ear-soothing bird-chirps given you accompany them over a cup of Nilgiri coffee. The forest is open to explore and the hills are welcome for hikes – Vatai offers a lot of exquisite viewpoints such as the Dolphin’s Nose. The region is lined by a number of unexplored waterfalls and sunset points making it a dream laid-back destination. Four kms away deeper into the forest, there is a century-old observatory, owned and operated by Indian Institute of Astrophysics. Though you don’t get to see the main building, it is still worth a visit. 
Bottom line – Do the Shrooms. This is the best place in this country to get ‘the’ best shrooms. 

Where to eat – Where to stay 

Altaf’s Place is technically the only café in Vatta. There are various other small eateries which provide you lipsmacking local delicacies on the go. While talking about a bed to halt, Vattakanal doesn’t brandish any good hotel except for ‘The Kodai Heaven’. Though it fills that void by numerous homestays like Edwin’s Place, Ruban Cottage, Michael’s Place, Pink House, etc. You can expect a basic-amenities room in one of these at around 300 bucks in most times of the year. 

Altaf’s Cafe is brimmed with large crowds all round the year

How to reach 

By Air: The 126 Km distant Madurai Airport is the nearest Airhead to Vattakanal. It serves daily flights from Kochi, Trichy, Bengaluru and Mumbai. 

By Train: Kodai Road Station is the nearest railhead to Vattakanal at a distance of 86 kms. Due to low connectivity, it is suggested you get down at Madurai or Dindigul and take a drive from there. 

By Road: Kodaikanal is easily accessible by roads from Coimbatore, Madurai and Dindigul. From there, it is a tense 6 km ride to Vatta where road ends abruptly.

Perched at an approximate elevation of 7200 ft above MSL, Vattakanal is your thing if you’re looking to travel to Kodai region and experience it in raw. Bestowed with sharply cool temperatures (owing to its geography), mercury bordered the mean line at the time of my visit on 2016 New Year’s eve. With mist-rolled hills, green valleys and spectacular woods, Vattakanal is swiftly becoming a tourist hotspot of the south. Visit it, before the crowds flock it, and destroy its underlying essence.


Kasaar: Peace, the Bob Dylan – Vivekananda way | The Window Seat

I remember sitting on roof of a local general store in front of Kempty Falls, Mussoorie. As I chilled my spines off my final beer for the night, my mind began exploring for a next stay in Uttrakhand. After travelling to Dehradun, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Mussoorie and Dhanaulti, I already had my complete fill for adventure and mountains. What was absent (and common) in all these destinations was what a nature lover essentially seeks – peace. These were heavily-packed tourist destinations having a distinction on world map. That was when I heard of Kasaar Devi from a locale who had accompained me for the drink. The idea and description seemed apt, I decided to find the reality for myself. I laid rest to my back with my eyes wide open, exclaiming at the mesmerising beauty of the night sky and wandering through thoughts of a tiring unknown journey the following day awaited.

Kasaar Devi is a small village located on one of the narrow ridges of Almora district, 8 kms north of the main town. The place derived its name from the famous Kasaar Devi temple, which is believed to be one of the 108 shaktipeeths in Hindu mythology. In the popular hippie trail to Kathmandu in 70s, Kasaar served as a popular station for hippies from around the world. It was then, this place derived its popular name ‘Crank’s Ridge’. 

As I reached Kasaar, with knowledge and spirits in equal but opposite proportions, I begin searching for an ideal-budget place to stay. Sparsely populated, Kasaar doesn’t offer vast variety of stays to visitors. If you’re looking for a budget stay, Dolma’s guesthouse is highly recommended. A few other budget accomodations like Freedom Café, Hotel Himsagar could be explored along with a number of cafés downhill which provide rooms as cheap as INR 150. Standard stays include Mohan’s Binsar retreat (Great food!), Kasaar Jungle Resort and Imperial Heights resort. You can find variety of food in decent cafés at normal prices.

Although what makes this tiny village noteworthy amongst travellers is not food or stay. Kasaar is famously known as a centre of alternative meditation. Every year, meditators from all globe arrive here for imploring their inner-selves. Kasaar holds the legacy of being the place where people like popular songwriter Bob Dylan, Hindu saint Vivekananda and countless other mystics sought refuge in calmness. One can hear chants of psychedelic hymns as your pass nearby Buddhist Centre. 

So, if you’re a backpacker travelling on tight budgets and crave for untouched nature’s bounty, this place is sure to fill your soul with inner peace. 

Places to visit: 

Kasaar Devi Temple, Buddhist Monastry, Binsar Wildlife Sanctury, Jogeshwar Mahadev Temple. 

How to reach:

Nearest Railway station is Haldwani. Regulars trains move from New Delhi to Haldwani. From Haldwani one can take bus to Almora (90 kms). Shared cabs at nominal prices ply at regular intervals from Almora to Kasaar Devi (only at daytime). If you happen to arrive in Almora at night, you’ll have to book a personal taxi or cover the distance on foot. 

Review: Apple Garden, Pulga 

Looking forward to holidaying in Pulga, Himachal Pradesh? Apple Garden could be your dream spot to stay and chill. Upon entering the Pulga village, you are greeted by a number of cafés on your way across this tiny village. These, coupled by a few homestays, are Pulga’s only means of accommodation and food for travellers. Once into the main village, take a left up-hill. A climb of about 50 mtrs would bring you to the Apple Garden. 

Apple Garden might look like a routine café to the regulars in Parvati Valley but a stay guarantees to distinguish it from the rest. 
The main building is a customary wooden house with a beautifully embellished café. It provides splendid views and can accommodate medium to large groups. Rooms, with tandoor and without, are available at nominal rates. The magnificient wooden house here features a naturally adorned garden in vicinity. If you’re not the one who favours room, go for the deluxe camp. Enjoy warmth of bonfire just outside the camps holding your coffee cup with frozen fingertips. This entire property is layered with a blanket of snow in winter months making the entire scenery breath-takingly delightful. 
Food menu is great, carefully crafted with a vivid amalgam of Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Italian and Israeli cuisines. White penne tastes amazing, so does the cold coffee (if dark is your thing, definitely go for it). 
Apple Garden is a deserving drop in your backpacking-bucket list. Your host to-be at Apple Garden, Pankaj, is a brilliant guide himself for affairs relating to Pulga and around. So if you happen to hit Parvati, you now know a place to definitely go. 

About Pulga: 
Pulga is a small village nestled on one of the narrow ridges of Parvati Valley. It is blessed with unmatched serene beauty. If you’re looking for a run from the heavy crowds of Kasol, your search for a peaceful destination ends here; Pulga is a bliss. 

How to reach : Pulga has to be trekked on foot from Barshaini which is the last point on road network in Parvati valley. Barshaini is a 2 hour drive from Bhuntar Airport via Kasol. It can be reached by Himachal Road Transport Buses or by private coaches. 

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.