The Holi long weekend was around the corner, winter was about to go, and thoughts of walking in the late snowfalls of Himachal fiddled with my mind. We, the three of us were ready to take up this four-day unplanned venture to the high peaks and the untouched valleys of the Parvathi and The Beas.
The day arrived and we left to catch our Volvo, we encountered a queue long as I had ever seen on the terminus Huda Metro Station. We had to board the Himachal Tourist Service bus at 'Majnu Ka Tilla' (most of the private bus operators for this route start here).
Somehow, the infamous delay of private operator saved us and we boarded our SUPER_LUXURY_BUS just in time; and so started the trip which would later end with the remark 'Too much in too little time'.
Good to Go - We caught a private operator bus which took about 16 hours to reach Bhuntar, delay on this route is common, so take a spare day if you are planning a trek.
The bridge(1) to nowhere: Sitting and relaxing in a cafe at Kasol, we enjoyed the views around; to reach out and touch the snow was the only agenda, but the plan was yet to be decided.
The Map - The map we found in a store at Kasol - shows a number of unsung and untouched treks in this region. These treks range from easy 1 day hikes like Kheerganga to strenuous 6-8 day high altitude treks like Sara Umga La.
The footbridge(2) to Chhalal- We decided to head to a short trek to a nearby village to Chhalal, which is mainly known for its beautiful campsites beside the roaring Parvathi river. The narrow minimalist bridge was the only connection to cross the river.
Pristine landscape and the snow capped- It had started drizzling, and the sweet aroma of the wilderness was already taking over our senses. The scenes in the valley were in a subtle transition as if nature was welcoming us proud of its uncouth, undisturbed beauty.
The image on the left side shows the hills blanketed in snow at the top, which indicated that it had either snowed recently or, might still be snowing in the upper regions of Tosh and Malana.
The campsite- Dusk was not far, and we decided to pitch our tents and settle down before it got dark, we got permission to pitch our own tents at Rs. 100 each. Whereas stay in the normal 4-men big tents cost Rs. 600 for the night inclusive of food and music.
Pristine Valley- The milieu was enchanting and the scenes were dreamlike, we strolled around the place as the ringing flow of the river played like some melancholic track in the background.
On the way to Tosh- After hiking in the misty woods of Chhalal, we left the wet aroma of the valley behind. The next destination was Tosh, a place famous for its carefree ambiance and the hippy style cafes. We were delighted to see that we were headed towards the white peaks.
The entry bridge(3) to Tosh- Arrival at Tosh didn't disappoint us, the landscape was abundant in fresh snow and the temperature dropped significantly.
Peaceful peaks- The omnipresent panorama from Tosh, it was way much better than I could express in words. So, just relish the click.
Holi hai!!! As it was the Holi long weekend, we got a chance to witness some Pahadi folk colours amid the white peaks. I danced too with them on the Garhwali song.
Tosh and Malana are two mountain villages turned hippy's resting place, throughout the year, foreigners, especially from Israel, are equal in proportion to locals. In the above image, the colourful houses in the background are mostly small cafes, with minimalist's ambience- music, couches, ash trays on tables, and dim lights. The place is so simple and luxury is nowhere near, still so lively with the majority of the travellers being youngsters. Recreational drugs like hash, the local special Malana cream, etc are as common as cigarettes here.
There are still other villages less crowded where you can visit by taking small trek routes like Kulga, Pulga, Rashol, and the one mentioned initially- Chhalal.
The cold night- After a lot of toil and sorting, we got room to spend the night, it cost us INR 500, and was entirely made up of wood. The night was cooler than expected with minimum temperature in double digits below Zero (precisely -11-degree Celcius). We had to cover up in all we had, wrapped in our sleeping bags and two layers of blankets, our toes still felt numb.
On the right, you can see the effect of the night which delayed our morning plans to afternoon, every drop was frozen and looked like 'diamonds melted from rooftops and taps'.
To somewhere in some direction- After a lot of debate, while we lazed in our sleeping bags with the luxury of a glass full of pahadi masala chai (as we couldn't develop the courage to leave our room). We concluded that the previous day was less eventful and we are still to walk over deep snow.
We decided to go in the direction which was visible from our window, towards the high peaks that covered the landscape from all directions.
The waterfall- This landscape which does not seem so big, can be reviewed after seeing the two guys who hike (hunting for snow) in the left camouflaged by the shrubs.
The bridge(4) to Kutla- We were headed snowards (towards snow); after reaching the mini waterfall, we crossed this bridge. Across this bridge was a snow covered steep trail, which locals said goes to a village called Kutla, and further leads to a longer trek to Tosh glacier.
Dreamlike- Finally to our sigh, the hike ended, and just beyond a bump, what we saw was pure bliss. Later, we turned back to read the flag with a mini temple which read Kutla Village, elevation 9000ft. It was a perfect landscape to pacify our desire with more than 6 ft deep snow.
What a surprise- Reminiscence of a dream trip, with the two ever ready travel buffs... The surprises we had were countless, but this one has a special place... After climbing for hours in the show without meeting a single human being, We walked some more on the trail, which had been badly troubled by snow.
Out of nowhere, this landscape suddenly confronted us with few guys enjoying snow board... Then what �
U just have to ask the right question u know..... We got a chance and we snowboarded �
Making a snowman- Yes! why won't we? After all the tiresome steps to reach this mighty piece of paradise, A Snowman is a duty. And we worked together, had fun and fights with the snow swords. This one cant sum it up though...
The snowman at Kutla- We know we could have done better, and there is some scope for improvement, but keeping in mind the limited resources and time, this is NOT BAD.
We talked to the locals and came to know that Kutla itself was the route head to two big treks, the Tosh glacier, and the HA 7-day trek Sara Umga La.
We had a great time at Kutla, but we decided to depart back to Tosh the same day (Although there were some great cottages to stay at Kutla cost around 500-1000 INR). Dusk was looming over and we had a good distance to cover. We decided to race down the trail until the gradient became steep. Running in deep snow was a pain, but we managed to keep up with time.
PS: This place is a good option for both couples and friend-groups, it is an accessible trek, and has some beautiful and cheap options to stay which would make Manali look meagre. However, the scene is totally green in summers.
The looming dusk- As we turned around to move, this scene stole my heart. No words
Snailing up; Juggernauting down- Throughout the initial climb, I was worried about the fact that both my buddies had ordinary sports shoes and the trail was a mix of slippery ice and wet snow. Descent back was imperilled. But, an idea clicked and made the descent fun. We slipped down the snow in minutes...
Forged Gold- The scene I ever waited to snap, caught my eye as we completed our trek downhill (about to reach Tosh). The last rays of sun forging gold deep in the Himalayas. And the hills smiling proudly bestowed by the blessings of the sun.
By the time we reached Tosh, it was almost dark. We decided not to waste one more night there, and lead by any means straight to Bhuntar, so that we reach Manali by late night.
But thanks to Jayant who suggested to stay at Manikaran Sahib Gurudwara overnight and enjoy the hot springs. Things shifted in favor as we decided to move, and somehow infact comfortably, we reached Gurudwara Sahib in time.
Profound peace @Gurudwara Sahib- As soon as we reached the Gurudwara Sahib, the milieu had changed, the air had some easing moisture coming from the hot springs and the aroma of freshly boiled rice. This image of Gurudwara is a Merger of the late night view and the early morning view.
What is it like to stay at Manikaran- One night stay at the place spoke volumes about the nature of the Sikh, the food was sumptuous made with grace; they offered decent balconies with enough bedding to stay comfortable in the biting cold. And last but not the least, the hot springs were healing pools of heaven, one dip - 5 minutes and all the fatigue and headache disappeared.
NOTE: Aspirational budget travellers can base themselves at the Gurudwara, and explore numerous trekking options at the nearby villages like Kutla, Kulga, Pulga, Chhalal, etc. throughout the day. And eat and sleep under the blessed ceiling of the Gurudwara Sahib.
Bid-adieu over the bridge(5) to Gurudwara- Packed up rucksacks, full stomachs, and a pristine feeling. We were ready to burn the rest of the fuel within us...
Back to the Valley- The surprises offered by the high altitude localities were plenty, and the Parvati roared cutting its way through the valley, we moved to the lower regions with a lot of cherishable memories.
We boarded a local bus headed to Bhuntar (the diversion point for Kasol on the Delhi Manali route). It was early afternoon, and we contacted a few agents for River Rafting. We finalised a deal at 600 INR/person. The rules are a bit more favourable here as they don't load your gang in a raft with strangers (although that's fun too) to utilise the raft full-house like in Rishikesh.
The rafting experience was ordinary for me as I had done level 4 rapids in Rishikesh, but for my friends, who were trying for the first time, it was definitely fun. The twin river rapid at the confluence of Parvati and Beas Rivers was a good one.
For me, the adrenaline part was body surfing, the water was chilling (probably a few degrees below zero) and the weather was cloudy with a cool breeze. Those were the coldest 4-5 minutes of my life till date.
Smile please- The ride lasted for almost an hour and we had only a couple of major rapids (level 3) due to the season we selected.
We had the best tea of our lives shivering in clothes draped in freezing water. Once, we got ready, it was decision time, we had our train booking from Chandigarh, which we didn;t want to miss, so we decided to reach Manali quickly and spend some time there before we leave for Chandigarh.
We boarded a roadways bus, and by the time we reached Kullu, we had realised we are running late. We decided to stroll around in the small town (won't call it a hill station). As there was not much to do before our 8 PM bus to Chandigarh, we decided to roam around in search of some good eating options.
Kullu- A small peaceful town near Manali surrounded by the Pir Panjal and the lesser Himalayas.
We had a brief stay here, and this town had something that we would remember for a long time.
See next pic...
The last supper- Although the food at Gurudwara Sahib was simple and refreshing; our fatigued bodies longed for heavy Indian dishes. And, this was what Kullu had saved for our farewell - Unlimited Awesome Desi Food.
We ordered a 'special thali' at Zayka Restaurant (Near the SBI bank 1.5 km from the main bus stand) and the food was delicious. It won't be injust to say that you can stop at Kullu for this one meal.
Winding up with Vital suggestions:
1. Always take up 1-2 spare day and plan to reach one day before the trek schedule, as this frequently suffers delays and jams.
2. You can use Manikaran Sahib as a base for the night stay while you spend your days trekking around the quaint villages in the region.
3. On a serious note, be very cautious if you are planning to smoke Kasol's speciality; try to avoid much consumption or it may spoil the fun.
4. In peak season, transport is an issue; so pre booking would be a good option if you want to travel with all the comfort.