Kasol is the Goldilocks of Everest – not too cold, not too hot. Not too high and not too low. It is just right at the middle or at least quarter from the rise of the Himalayas. To begin with, you may not be much of a climber but that should not be a hindrance to reaching heights and this picturesque space is worth checking out at least once in a lifetime. The trip starts in Delhi and savouring all the scenery, slowly climbs up to the peaks!
After a 3 hour flight from Chennai to Delhi, there is immediately a rush to get to the Delhi station to catch one of the 7 trains to Pathankot on a journey lasting about 6-8 hours. Although the district belongs to Punjab, Pathankot is at the meeting point of the three northern states of India – Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. On the west, just like in the movie Udta Punjab, Pathankot shares a strict, defined border with Pakistan. But border tensions and the various army barracks, shouldn’t be an obstacle to exploring this lovely town with picturesque foothills of Kangra and Dalhousie, the river Chakki flowing close by. With shop signs in English, French and sometimes Portuguese, it is no wonder that the city is often used as a rest-stop before moving up towards Himachal. From here one can catch a taxi ride to the next stop that is Dharamshala.
Dharamshala can be defined on a map but certainly not on land. A terrain made of ups and downs, Dharamshala contains many a district, each more scenic than the other. The first stop is McLeod Ganj – a district in Dharamshala and the base for several treks.
From Dharamshala, the beautiful Bhagsunang waterfall is located only about an hour away at 22 kilometers. Surrounded by rich greenery, the falls is located near the Bhagsunag temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. At a height of approximately 20 meters, the falls are a huge scenic attraction for tourists. Dharamshala has a bunch of other tourist spots including the Gyuto Monastery, Bhagsunag Temple, Jwalamukhi Devi Temple, Norbulingka Institute and Tea gardens.
Welcoming you to the snow-laden peaks by the horizon, Tibetan prayer flags aplenty decorate the place all the way around. A place where it is difficult to identify who is of which nationality as everyone greets everybody in English with a bowed head as a tribute to the various exiled Tibetans around. One is immediately inspired to bow heads too because the land is revered not just for being spiritual but because the place doubles as the residence of Dalai Lama if he chooses to visit the country. The longest stay for this trip is McLeod Ganj as it serves as the rest stop to several different places, treks, and scenic areas. Pink House rated high on Trip Advisor, is one of the best places to stay and at rather reasonable rates, one can easily choose to reside here for a week or two.
Devoted to his holiness Dalai Lama, the Dalai Lama Temple is located right in McLeod Ganj and is definitely worth a visit to see where the highest spiritual leader of Tibet resides when he visits. Known as the Tsuglagkhang Complex, it consists of 2 serene and scenic temples built under the influence of Kalachakra Buddhism. It does wonders to start a meditation early in the morning after which one can breakfast on Tibetan special bread and tea.
Located right near the Tsuglagkhang Complex, the Tibetan museum showcases the history of Tibet from their origins to the exile and the flight of several Tibetans to India. Showcased here are arts, artifacts, and relics from the Tibetan culture that one should definitely study to get a grasp of how diverse our country can be. Twice a day (11 AM & 3 PM) documentaries about Tibet culture are played here.
Namgyal Monastery inside Tsuglagkhang complex belongs to the 14th Dalai Lama. Consisting of the Namgyal Tantric College, the education revolves around prayers and tantric practices dedicated to Dalai Lama. Housing over hundreds of monks, the students undergo vigorous training for more than 13 years. Once the training is complete, they get the seal of approval from the presiding Lama himself.
Numerous trekking sites have their base at McLeod. The highest of them is the Hanuma Ka Tibba, a peak at 5,638 meters. The trail begins at Mcleod and ends at Triund, thus earning the name Triund Trail. Punjab’s finest fields and the valley of Kangra decorate Triund making it the ultimate overnight trek! At 10km, this is the easier trail with slower uphill slopes. For non-trekkers who want to cut down on the climb time, one can take a taxi cab to Dharamkot village and trek a steep slope of 2100m.
Shopping and food
Some of the best places to shop in an around are Jogibara road and Kotwali Bazaar. Rainbow colored bohemian tunics and cowboy hats hanging around the streets. Tibetan handicraft shops are aplenty and if you prefer not to buy from the roadside vendors you can head to Divine Buddha Handicrafts for statues of Buddha, prayer bowls that resemble mortar and pestle, gongs and footprint arts of Buddha. Antique shops are also available and one of the oldest, dated to be 154 years old, is the Nawrojee and Sons General Store which still houses German, Irish and Portugal artifacts.
When it comes to food, McLeod Ganj is heaven! For a meager INR 30, one can get a steaming plate of non-vegetarian (meat of your choice) momos with spicy sauce and an accompanying clear soup at any street corner. Moonpeak Cafe with its free wi-fi and authentic European dishes is quite alluring that you would have to visit twice to get the full essence of the place. Read a magazine or update your social media status with a bowl of warm Indo-Euro Chicken tikka with rice and finish off with carrot cake and buttercream frosting. Seed Cafe down the road to Pink House serves some of the best Maggi in the country with a little extra spice. This is the only cafe to be open very late so if you get the hunger pangs after 9 pm, this is the place to go. If you have a sweet tooth, Chocolate Log is the ultimate choice, with some delectable handmade pastries from the European host herself.
If you are craving adventure, head on down to Dhauladhar, one of the best-known spots in the country for paragliding. Also, housing two villages that appear to be straight out of a painting, Bir, and Biling, there are several monasteries here as well as activity camps for trekking and hiking if you are a little group. If the forest is more your cup of tea, Barot can be your destination for some lovely bird calls and chirpy noises amidst waterfalls; don’t forget to take your binoculars! For couples, Chamba and Khajar double up as honeymoon spots and are locally known as mini-Switzerland.
With an early rise in the morning, you can head up to Kasol with your choice of transportation. A taxi ride of about 7-8 hours covering a distance of 222 km passes via Palampur (NH 154), Mandi (NH 3), Bhuntar then finally Kasol. If you are looking for a cheaper option, you can take a bus from McLeod to Palampur then switch buses to ride to Mandi then once again switch buses to reach Malana or Kasol directly.
Situated in the Parvati Valley, Kasol is an unforgettable experience and a memory that will stay forever. Snow-capped mountains surround you like a blanket of white fairy dust. A haven for backpackers, clear water springs rush about on the ground and the patches of greenery (depending on the season) are so bright they look like they are made of glass. Made of sheer, natural beauty Kasol is every bit worth the hype. Even the least interested of trekkers end up making the climb for that breath of fresh air.
You can loiter around in the snow during peak season or simply rest in the eternal dew-filled grass any time of the year. You can opt to do a little meditation or follow group tours that do yoga together. Take a bath in the hot spring on top of the hills or work up a sweat chasing furry yaks and gigantic sheep. Whatever you want to do, let loose your inhibitions because Kasol is where borders are not recognised, everybody greets everybody with a smile and the international community comes together.
Head on next, to the region’s infamous Shiva Cafe. Customers lay in trance around coffee tables due to narcotics and psychotropic substances freely available in the area. For those who don’t want to experiment, good food plus a cup of nice Tibetan honey tea on mountaintop feels like bliss. Art covers the walls and the place as ukulele or guitar music is ever present with one of the regulars of the cafe playing it. Shiva Cafe is famous for its Chocolate Nutella pancake and if you are hungry you can order for one of their excellent sandwiches. Almost all cafes host Israeli food such as the Shakshouka, Bureka, and Israeli lemon cakes. Other famous cafes in Kasol are Jim Morrison cafe, Stone Garden Cafe and the Alpine Guest House Cafe along the river Parvati.
Stay overnight at Kasol in one of the forest department pitched tents. Costing INR 150 during offseason and almost double during peak season (May-June), the tents along the Parvati river on the valley will make your night unforgettable as millions of stars come into greeting goodnight; a view that can never be experienced in any metropolitan. After a peaceful night’s sleep under the stars, you can wake up to have breakfast at the Cottage Cafe to play a little volleyball or go for one of the archery activities famous in the region there.
Tip: Don’t forget to take medicines for altitude sickness at Kasol!
As the trip comes to an end, one has to catch the next taxi cab out to McLeod Ganj and then a bus directly to Delhi from Dharamshala. For tourists looking for a more spiritual end to their journey, you can travel from Kasol to Mount Kailash further up ahead known to be the resting place of Lord Shiva to Hindu pilgrims. It is not just beauty that attracts tourists to Kasol every year but the fact that one can finally find peace with fellow beings from different parts of the world and set aside differences to just appreciate nature at its best. After all, going to the highest tip of our country is no small feat but an achievement to hold dearly forever.