Kasol stretched along the turbulent Parvati river, the ever-changing kaleidoscopic culture of ‘Little Ihasa’ or Mcleod Ganj, with its vibrant marketplace and beautiful Buddhist monasteries… Priya Chaphekar shares her four-day backpacking trip to Himachal Pradesh
I’d heard many stories of Kasol’s pot-smoking hippie lifestyle, its trance parties and reggae bars with snow-clad peaks in the background, which gave the whole place a fairy-tale vibe. Almost every day, I imagined myself sitting on the banks of a frothing, crackling river, with a glass of steaming lemon-honey-ginger tea in one hand, and Murakami in the other. So I gave my imagination a Tibetan twist and sealed it with the misty ribbons of Dharamshala. The single-digit temperatures during the day when I had chosen to backpack were going to make this a freezing adventure, but I was determined to strike off at least four places I’d never seen before, instead of just one. I donned my entire winter wardrobe and hopped on the evening Volvo bus to Bhuntar.
1 or 2 (pick any one): When in Kasol, book a homestay beside the river. That way, the first things that you’ll experience in the morning are the gurgling sounds of a pellucid river, soothing greens of towering pines and fresh air that brings with it the smell of nutella waffles or freshly baked pita bread.
3 or 4 (pick any one): The distance between Kasol and Manikaran is about four kilometres.You can either hike or hop onto a local bus that blasts music, which oscillates between the loud Punjabi and ’90s Bollywood.
5: The local bus will drop you on the other side of the bridge. From there, you can take a stroll around the old market and age-old temples in Manikaran, while sipping on a litchi drink, if you wish.
6: The candid laugh shared by these two women with their babies on piggy back reflects the uncluttered beauty of their lives. The sulphur-rich hot-spring water.
7: The sulphur-rich hot-spring water in Manikaran is considered extremely auspicious and known to treat illnesses and cleanse the soul. There are two separate hot spring baths for men and women. The guest houses around the place also offer private baths on an hourly basis.
10: When given a choice between Tosh and Malana, I picked Tosh. Located 37 kilometres from Kasol, a private cab to Tosh costs 1,300 to and fro, which included a two-hour wait.
11: In Tosh, trek through the labyrinth of pastel coloured wooden houses and converse with the locals on your way to the top. Befriend a few locals on your way to acquaint yourself with their way of life.
12: Bright colours are considered auspicious by pahadi women. The lady in the picture, Devkala, invited me to her house to click a picture of her weaving a shawl. She claims to have learnt the art of weaving as a teenager.
13: On my way back to the starting point, I got lost and in a small corner, I noticed this beautiful woman, Sonu, weaving a pattu, the traditional dress of women in the region, worn over their clothes during the winters.
14: Home to Tibetan arts and culture, the McLeod Ganj Market is full of handicrafts and souvenirs. It’s hard to miss the bangles with pretty floral designs.
15: In some Buddhist practices, the Tibetan singing bowl is used as a signal to begin and end periods of meditation. Bring one home, along with a hand-held prayer wheel, filled with thousands of Avalokiteshvara mantra Om Mani Padme Hum to harmonise the environment here.
16: Turning the prayer wheels once, it is believed, brings one merit equal to the recitation of the mantras that are filled inside the wheel. Be it in Spiti, Ladakh or McLeod Ganj, whenever I see prayer wheels, I can’t help but run to them and swing them clockwise with gusto.
17-22: The McLeod Ganj market is a shopper’s paradise and you’ll find everything from stone studded jewellery to Buddha statues. Don’t forget to pick out a few of the handmade woollens, which can give the best brands in the world a good run for their money.
23-25: Once you’re done visiting the tourist attractions in Dharamshala, including the Norbulingka Institute and HPCA Stadium, head to the tea gardens for some quietude and a cup of ginger tea. The striking colours of the gardens will also make for a beautiful background for your pictures.