Mountains always do the magic for me. And, this was a long awaited trip. Kasol had been shelved for about couple of years, when suddenly it sprang back in a WhatsApp conversation and before we knew we were on a very uncomfortable bus after an argument with the buswalla to Bhuntar from Delhi. The journey was essentially uneventful and heavily delayed so instead of morning we arrived in Bhuntar at mid-day. Bhuntar is the place where you leave your cushion-y (not so cushion-y in our case) Volvo (not a Volvo in our case) bus to get on to private overcrowded mini buses which takes you to the mountains. It was raining when we arrived in Bhuntar, and along with the cold, it took away any sort of excitement that was left in us after the 12-hour long bus journey. Thanks to the fire kept outside a shop, we mustered our courage back to get on to that bus. This leg of the journey was way more painful than last night, but the sight of snow covered mountains had actually made us impervious to any trouble which the two-hours long bus ride we took standing & being thrown around on every turn.
It was still raining and we were frozen by the time we arrived in Kasol. Sleep deprivation along with cold and hunger isn’t good for anyone. We rushed in to the first food joint we found and we ate till we could not eat anymore. Hot food makes everything look good. Even the weather opened up, it stopped raining and we weren’t wet anymore. A twenty-minute cab ride got us to the drop off point called Dev Nullah from where we walked in to the woods of Katagla to reach our forest resort. If I am ever given the project to redesign heaven, I am going to copy a few things from this place. Katagla lies along the Parvati River, a light forest cover with mountains on the other side. The rapidly flowing emerald blue water and the quietness of the wood around induce a tranquility unmatchable. Our stay, the Katagla Forest Resort is a modest place with great staff and very homely feel. They also have an in-house restaurant called Café Mari Vanna (nice word play!)
We spent the evening toying with our cameras by the river side, under the overcast sky gaping at the snow covered mountains at the distance. A filling dinner from café Mari Vana did the trick for us and the weariness of the whole journey resulted in a very good night sleep despite of the cold.
Next morning was exactly the kind of day one would want in the mountains. The sky was clear and the sun was out. After hogging on heavily buttered parathas, we headed out to Tosh. Tosh is the pinnacle village on this side of the mountains. Motorable road ends just before the village starts. Since it was snowing for few days the road was open only till Barsheni and from there it was a walk of about 3 kilometers snow covered road. On our way to Barsheni we were literally ogling at the mountains while Narayan, our driver told us how poor we are (that is for another story!). Before we started climbing the white road, Narayan told us we won’t make it to the top and should just go a little ahead and come back while he waits. We proved him wrong! Snow is not good for walking on, it’s even worse when it has started melting and there is thin slippery layer of water on top of it. It took us a lot of time to get to the top, but every bit of it was worth. Every turn opens you to a view which supersedes the last one. At one point we had to consciously decide that we will not take any more photo stops; nobody followed that decision. After about an hour and half since we started we were in Tosh impatiently waiting for our Maggi.
The village is across a small bridge build over a tributary of river Parvati. The colorful houses on the white of the mountains looked like a painting; the view here was one of my best in the Himalayas, as much I have seen. Same unfortunately could not be said for life in that place at that time. Because of the heavy snowfall both water and electricity wasn’t there and much of supplies had not reached this mountain village. Those who had decided to board here on those dates were having a tough time.
We were faster on our way back. Next stop was the temple town of Manikaran. Narayan by now had become a sort of friend, who told us how the hills on the upper side is full of wild animals – leopards and bears, and foxes and wild dogs are commonplace even in the forest below. Obviously that time we didn’t know we were due for a visit later at night.
Manikaran is a small temple town and is like any other temple in the mountains except for the way it is dotted by natural hot water geysers. Steam rises from everywhere in the town. They use the hot water in house and thus even drains and sewers are fuming all the time. We had to rush here as rain came back.
After a short halt in Kasol town, we headed back to our stay in Katagla. Rain had stopped by now and the sky was clear. As we started walking off the road in to the Katagla forest along the river, away from city lights we witnessed another canvas opening up to us. One in complete contrast with the white of the mountains. I had never seen a sky so dark and dotted with so many stars before. Night was set for photographing the stars. But, my camera failed me here. After having a sumptuous dinner by the fireside, around midnight we headed out to the river front to get those starry sky shots. I tried best to my skill and camera’s capability, we both fell short. While we were at it, in my peripheral vision I saw a small animal run across about ten feet from me, which soon was followed by barks and howl of dogs. I remembered what Narayan had said about foxes and wild dogs. It was time to get back to the resort. The next morning, the resort owner confirmed that there were foxes in the area.
On our last day, after checking out, we decided to take the road less traveled to Kasol. We were told that trail along with river after a couple of kilometers reaches Kasol. We asked the staff at the resort and he told us even he has heard so, but has never taken that route. Not what you want hear from locals before starting on an unknown trail. But after jumping over a fallen tree, climbing up the rocks, being forced to the side of the road by a train of horses and crossing a makeshift bridge over the river we did make it to Kasol. It would have been a regret we would not have known about, had we not taken this trek. Forest in the morning talks to you, at least this one did until it merged in to a more popular trek route known as Chalal – Kasol trek. Before leaving Kasol, we had lunch at the famed Evergreen Restaurant. Let’s just say café Mari Vanna was killing it with the food.
The minibus, on which this time we got seats dropped us back to Bhuntar. We had booked our return bus with the same company which we did while going. In comparison our journey from Delhi to Bhuntar was a sweet ride.
Our journey to and back Parvati Valley is probably one of the worst, but was totally worth it. Also the ‘Sandwiches’ here were just amazing! (HIMYM anyone?)