The beauty in isolation

The beauty in isolation

I’m standing here, surrounded by green mountains and snow peaks, smack dab in the middle of a village with its people smoking bidis and staring right at me and my camera. I wonder what they could be thinking about. Do they notice the stark differences between us? Our clothes, our language, and even our skin? I want to talk to them about their history and why they have chosen to live so far away from all of us. But I’m afraid that if I do try, sit next to them and accidently touch them, I will be fined a fee of Rs 3,500. Because I’m in Himachal Pradesh and standing right in the centre of the Malana village.

The moment you step in Malana, there are shopkeepers trying to sell you Malana cream (made from churning cannabis), one of the main reasons why people trek 6 km to reach this village. But I’m more interested in knowing about the secrets of the people dressed in traditional Himachali clothes, women with covered heads and adorning silver jewellery, men wearing the typical Himachali hats and speaking a different language (Kanashi dialect). The Jamlu Temple here is a beautifully carved wooden structure that has the skulls of goats and deer hanging outside, and a signboard warning us to not enter.

It feels like a culture shock looking at how they choose to live. They want to stay away from others, surrounded by the unadulterated beauty of nature, and covered by snow in the extended period of winter. They have their own small school, a panchayat system and their own games to play. It seems as if I’m discovering a new civilisation, learning something new.
We are all fellows of the NGO Teach for India, so we have perks of being a teacher — summer vacations. With a budget to stick to, we have our tickets and rooms in the Nomads Hostel in Kasol pre-booked.

From Mumbai one can reach Kasol by flying to Chandigarh and then hiring a cab. Or take a flight to Delhi and a connecting flight to Bhuntar, and then take a cab to Kasol. Or travel our way...

We reached the capital via Rajdhani Express in the morning, stayed at a guest house of ISKCON, spent the day visiting the Lotus Temple and Qutb Minar and admiring the open spaces and green gardens in the capital.

In the night we had booked a bus of the HPTDC (Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation) from Delhi to Bhuntar, a central town in the state which has the airport. I realised that I wouldn’t need to watch a horror movie anytime soon, because I witnessed our bus driver speeding on narrow roads, barely missing the edge of the curved roads along a ghat route. But, we were on an adventure and sleep was surely not on our minds, so decided to enjoy the drive.

When we reached Bhuntar in the morning, there was a local bus to Kasol waiting for us. The bus dropped us at the Kasol market for Rs 45 per ticket, but our hostel was in Choj, 1.5 km away, so we started walking. Ten minutes of it, and we could hear the gushing of River Parvati and we looked up to see the snow-covered mountains. There were pine trees as tall as 25-30 feet growing around us and many types of birds chirping. To reach the hostel we had to trek down, cross a suspension bridge, and then trek up the hill. With our heavy bags, it took us nearly half an hour to finish a journey meant for 10 minutes. All worth it, in the end, because we had our rooms right in front of the snow-covered mountains and a river flowing below us.

On exploring Kasol, we came across a number of cafes with menus filled with delectable dishes of Israel, Italy, Europe, China and North India. Of course, having heard of Kasol being the go-to place if you need weed or ganja, we were not that surprised when the waiter informed us about the off-menu items. This village is the ultimate destination for Israelis dressed in typical hippie clothes with beanies and loose pants & shirts.

There are a number of villages to explore nearby, and I would recommend walking up to them. They are all within a 4-km radius from Kasol. The roads are surrounded by pine trees and a river flows next to them. Manikaran, which is 3 km from Kasol, has a famous gurudwara on the edge of the river and a hot spring next to it. The village and its market are beautiful to explore, and do not miss the aloo-and-paneer paranthas at Sonu Café.

On the other side down from Kasol are villages like Chalal, Rasol and Katagla. The sense of peace that you feel while walking on the roads leading up to them, isn’t anything like you find in your crowded cities. Every day we walked for 8-10 km but didn’t feel a thing. When it rained it got so cold that you could see your breath clouding, and you could have hot soup or tea at small roadside cafes.

If you need a small vacation in a beautiful cold place, either alone or with a group, Kasol is the perfect place. And when you come back home, sweating buckets and cursing the heat, you will keep wishing to wake up in the cold, warmed by your blanket, and opening your eyes to look at snow-covered mountains with tall trees around and a river flowing in between them.

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