Kasol – for the free spirit.
Being a South Indian, North India was somewhat like an uncharted territory for me. I often joke about it saying, “To boldly go where very few South Indians have gone before!!”. Indeed, it was an endeavour in itself- the fact that a trip to the North would take more than a week implied that we needed that many days of paid leaves working a corporate job. This was hard to come by unless you were able to save up all your leaves from the very beginning of the year. That meant working on all the other public holidays which was frustrating to say the least.
Then again, lets say you do accumulate leaves- what next? Well, hope that your leaves are approved and at the same time don’t end up shelling out a bomb in terms of flight tickets. Yes! I know, why do I have to mention all this- everyone goes through this, right? But, come on, I was just trying to build up the excitement; sort of like foreplay for something that rhymes with hex. OK! Leaves approved, flight tickets booked and a good two months spent on chalking the itinerary. Initially, I had plans to visit Leh-Ladakh, but Nazeef convinced me otherwise- said we can plan something bigger next year. So, I decided to visit locations not too far from the “land of high passes”.
It was decided that we would go to Kasol, Manali and finally to Dharamshala (also covering McLeod Ganj). This brings me to the part where I say that this travel diary will cover everything you need to know about Kasol and places around Kasol. There may be certain aspects of this journey which I cannot divulge for (ahem ahem) personal reasons. My travelogue to Manali and Dharamshala (including McLeod Ganj) will be covered in subsequent blogposts- independently. Kasol has favourable climate throughout the year and you can plan your visit depending upon what you want to experience. If you wish to see snow then the time to visit is between December and March. If the intention is to explore and the best way to do that is on foot, you should visit around April-May; this is when the snow starts to melt. June-July is when you can see the snow capped mountains and at the same time see a lot of greenery -spring time is from August to November.
How to get to Kasol?
Normally, people would fly either to Delhi or Chandigarh and then catch an overnight bus to Bhuntar- from here, you will have to travel by a local bus to Kasol. Personally, travelling to Delhi didn’t make sense to me as most of the buses that depart from Delhi go via Chandigarh and so the ideal way was to fly to Chandigarh and book an overnight bus to Bhuntar. We booked an Air Asia flight from Bangalore to Chandigarh and then an overnight bus to Bhuntar. You have the option to book either private bus travels or HRTC Himsuta (reservations can be made on RedBus.in). Most of the buses have their pickup location at the petrol pump opposite the Sector 43 Bus stand, Chandigarh.
The journey from Chandigarh to Bhuntar via Mandi/Bilaspur should take roughly 4-6 hours and if you take the last bus (which is approx 11.45 pm), you will reach Bhuntar at 7 am. One more thing- if you book via a private bus travels then ensure to coordinate with the driver because they tend to say 11.45 pm but end up coming only at 1 am or so (please make a note of this). Once you get down at Bhuntar, you should be able to find the local bus stop (about 2-3 mins walk). The bus journey from Bhuntar to Kasol should take another 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Tickets from Chandigarh to Bhunatr will cost you between INR 600-900 and another INR 50 per head from Bhuntar to Kasol.
Where did we stay in Kasol?
We reached Kasol at approx. 10 am which was good since hotels have check-in time around 11 am and check-out around 12.30 pm. While in Kasol it is imperative that you find yourself the best accommodation- preferably with a view to die for (slightly exaggerated). Nazeef’s brother Nihal had been to Kasol on more than one occasion and he insisted that we stay at the Alpine Guest House. Located along the banks of the mighty Parvati river, Alpine Guest House has the best view in Kasol (see pictures above). They also have a decent in-house kitchen which is open from 8 am to 10 pm.
What to do in Kasol?
- Walk to the famous Manikaran Gurudwara famous for hot Sulphur springs, which is about 3 km from Kasol. (pics above)
- Look out for party scenes (actually, you don’t find a party- it finds you) and if so find out when and where?
- Trek to Malana Village. (Will be covered in a separate blogpost)
- Visit Evergreen Cafe, Mama’s Cafe, Morrison Cafe, Little Italy – good places to eat.
- Trek to Challal which is across the bridge and while you’re there, make sure to visit Rider’s Cafe. (pics below)
If you prefer to take a cab to the Gurudwara, it will cost you INR 300. The trek to Challal will take you about 60 minutes if you walk at a decent pace and here you will also find other “things” you might need to make your stay at Kasol more peaceful (if you catch my drift). The cafes mentioned above are definitely the best places to chill and dine. Except for Rider’s Cafe, the rest of them are all within the city limits of Kasol. Another cafe that I would like to mention is the Free Kasol Cafe (run by Israelis) to which unfortunately Indians are not allowed. If you visit Evergreen Cafe, try the Mediterranean dish- Shakshouka.
Kasol is one of the most picturesque villages that I have seen in my life and it owes most of this to its location. Kasol is set in the Parvati Valley along the banks of the mighty Parvati River. The laid-back attitude, freedom to do what you want and being able to gain access to whatever it is that you need to galvanise your mind makes this village have a special place in my heart. My only advice- besides all the nature tripping, whatever it is that you indulge in- make sure you do it low key and not go overboard. To me, this is one of the last few places where the sort of freedom is absolute and should not be taken for granted.