As I recon my brains to write another post about a wonderful place I visited, I start thinking in slow motion. I am writing about a place that symbolizes “chill’um. The words in the title pretty much explain the true essence of Parvati valley and Kasol in Himachal pradesh, India. Chai chillum chapati is Kasol in a nutshell, and also a Bob Marley song.
Welcome to a place that runs in slow motion, ‘high’ above in the Himalyas. Literally. Hidden (not so much now) deep in the valleys of Himachal around 70kms from Manali, off the beaten road is this quaint little village of Kasol. The complete geography of Kasol can be covered on foot in not more than an hour. It has one ‘chowk’ where the bus drops you. From that chowk shoot roads in a couple of directions, which get narrower and enter the jungle as you progress.
The chowk and the surrounding area is a bustling market with a mix of department stores, fancy shops of glow in dark paintings, souvenir shops, chillum shops, cyber cafes, travel agents and food cafes lined on after the other.
What seeps into your senses gradually, once you’re done with sinking into the local atmosphere, is the sense of calm that is omnipresent in this place. There is sound of Parvati river flowing everywhere in Kasol. I guess for most people, like me, this sound of flowing river has a magical, soothing effect on the mind.
There are no traffic signals. Barely any traffic at all. No tall concrete structures. No blaring loudspeakers. No billboards selling you the next unaffordable unnecessary product. I did find greenery everywhere. Rivulets, streams around the corners. Smiling people.Bakeries and cafes everywhere. No branded outlets. No meat shops. Perfect place to unwind.
The road plan :
Its fairly simple. A bus ride from Delhi to Kullu is an overnight fare. Another bus ride from Bhuntar ( near Kullu) to Kasol is the last leg. Lo and behold, you’re in the lap of Parvati valley.
The cafe culture :
The first thing I noticed once dropped at the bus stop were plenty of eateries all around. Now, my idea of a cafe is a fancy place that serves and looks European, accepts credit cards, prints meter long bills on rolls of paper, and charges as much. But here, every other restaurant is a cafe. Like they have replaced the word restaurant with cafe. So you can have Bhoj restaurant and cafe, Shiva cafe, Shanti cafe and it goes on. Also there are five German bakeries, but the one near the bus stop and in Moon dance cafe are the oldest, I came to know.
The cafes here are more like shacks of Goa. Informal ambience, soothing interiors, paintings, tapestries, psychedelic colors are seen, unlike brick and mortar restaurants of the city. They are not super expensive, but each meal may cost you around rs.250 average. Food is generally very good, no complaints about that.
One thing you cannon miss eating is the Shakshuka. Its an Israeli preparation of eggs and tomato with white sauce. Other thing is “set meals”. They’re tasty, plenty full and cheaper.
Most of the cafe are vegetarian friendly and discourage alcohol. Understandably so, in the land of M cream.
Some of my favorite ones are :
- Moon dance cafe
- Bhoj cafe
- Evergreen cafe
- Stone garden cafe
- Mama cafe
- Jim Morrison cafe
- Shiva shanti cafe
- German bakery
- Yes, I ate a lot in Kasol, ha ha ..!
Fri Kasol cafe and the fuss :
Last year broke a news that there is a certain cafe called Fri kasol which only admits firang tourists and declines average Indian joe. I did go to that place but it was closed during evening, though I did see them buying vegetables in the morning. Intriguing.
There is a video on Youtube that interviews the owner of the cafe. From what I understood it, was a mis-conception which sprung out of an incident involving some Indian customers. The story goes that some Indian folks got drunk and created a ruckus. So the female owner banned groups of rowdy men entering, and thus the news started.
So either the place has closed down, or has a secret entry, though I’m still not sure of which country citizenship is preferred. I visited in June 2016.
The Israeli air:
Westerners, when outside their own country are a humble lot, generally. More so because the gush of culture shock, spicy food and chaos is too much to digest, let alone become arrogant about it, in small amount of time. Arrogance takes time to nurture.
Israelis are a happy, carefree bunch of people. Speak when spoken to, they generally live about their lives in pursuit of peace, and privacy. They love their food, love to interact amongst each-other and often like a good smoke to help them with it.
I had a one on one chat with a cafe owner,a late twenties gentleman, living here for almost 4 years, and here’s how it went-
- me : “Hey, that’s a nice cafe you’ve setup here, and tasty food. I wonder what brings you to our country all the way ?
- cafe fellow : ” It has almost become a trend over the past few decades. We compulsorily have to work in the army for a couple of years after school. Almost everyone has stories of violence to tell here. So, once we’re finished with that we travel. mostly India, rest of Asia, Sri lanka.
Life is difficult back home. Too many rules. We can’t buy a house, its too expensive. Not many jobs. Too much government interference.Too strict laws, heavy taxes.
- me : “Ohh that sounds sick, I’m sorry”
- cafe owner : ” Let me explain you” he puts a paper stapler in front of me and assumes its Israel ” if this is Israel, then there are enemy nations on each side” pointing fingers all around the stapler, imagining Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and so on.
- me : (I am amazed at his prompt explanation and clarity.)
- me : “So what do you like so much about Parvati valley, that you stayed here, and not anywhere else?
- cafe owner : ” It’s peaceful here. I stayed in Goa too, but its not as good. The weather is good. Not much government interference. No traffic. Lots of people around. And we love our marijuana”
- me : ” Pleasure talking to you, all the best”
P.S. his cafe had a no wifi policy and insisted on talking, on a fun sign board that said ‘ No wifi , assume its the 90’s, talk to each-other’
The name comes from white flakes that are seen in the hot water springs, the prize of the steep climb of five hours.
I did the rookie mistake of assuming I’m super fit. Though I work out regularly, but irregular sleep, erratic food, dehydration and lots of traveling can wear you down pretty fast.
So I decided to ascend with a bag full of camera gear which would only feel heavier by each step of the climb. After lots of breaks, tons of mental notes of not carrying heavy load on treks, I finally made it to Kheerganga and ticked another destination off my bucket list.
Kheergange is actually a base camp for Pin Parvati trek which takes you deep in the jungles of Spiti valley and opens into Spiti valley on the other side.
I thought I deserved accolades for finishing this grueling climb, but my jaws dropped to see the vast scale of arrangements available at the top, brimming with activities from hundreds of tourists visiting each day. There is no dearth of tents, cafes, shops, almost anything reasonable is available.
I thought the food here would be basic at best, but was surprised to have delicious meals on every occasion. Everything is expensive. But it is no less surprising that continental, Israeli, British, Indian all sorts of cuisine is available and made with full flavor.
The ‘pot’boiler :
Kasol is synonymous with marijuana. Its an open secret. One of the pitfalls of solo travel is that I decided not to indulge much in experimenting with recreational weed. But on the up side I had the opportunity to observe the importance of ‘M cream’ in Kasol, by staying out of it influence.
These guys here not only smoke for recreation, but also its a culture here. By culture I mean that lord Shiva is less of a God and more of a role model to pot lovers.
People try to adhere to the qualities of ‘Bholenath’ in everyday lives. Of the few natives I spoke to, they believed in strong family values, monogamy, vegetarian diet, alcohol abstinence, peace and harmony and overcoming anger as qualities to be achieved, like ‘Bholenath’ did. I am puzzled why such a drug is banned. And weapons aren’t. Deep eehh? need a drag ?
Thanks to the weather some of the best ‘maal’ in the world grows here. Malana village which gives its name to Malana cream, or M cream is the home of the best ‘stuff’. It’s a two day trek I was told, from Kasol, but I ran out of time. Besides, Chalal, Tosh, Rasol and many other quaint little villages around Kasol have cafes and smoking dens for you to score.
Here are some songs that I enjoyed, and they capture the essence of Kasol air in full power, to set you high and swaying.
- Chai Chillum Chapati – Bob Marley.
- Ganja gun – Bob Marley
- my recent favoutite, Opar Opar Renn De– Tanishq
- Because I got high – Afroman
- Free Tibet – Highlight tribe
- Babaji – Mohit Chauhan
- Babaji ki booti – Anand Tiwari
- Banao banao right now – Papon
So, wrapping it all up, Kasol is a must go destination for adventure lover of every kind.
Let me know your stories too.
Thanks for dropping by 🙂