To understand why the grass is always greener on the other side, visit Kasol in Himachal Pradesh. This is where tourists are always happy, the very air intoxicating. An ideal place to vacation in the lap of nature. Parvati valley, located 30 km north-east from the town of Bhuntar (which also has an airport), is bound to enchant with its luxuriant pine forests, untamed Parvati river and some of the most sought after hippy cafes.
The river accompanies you from Bhuntar (the place where it meets Beas) along the winding roads right up to Kheerganga, touching Malana, Kasol and Manikaran. The trek from Malana to Kheerganga (2,960 m high) is ideal for backpackers and nature enthusiasts.
Earlier, it was foreigners, who made a beeline for the place but now young Indians are visiting in large numbers. From the 1980s Israeli tourists started habituating Kasol in huge numbers. The city also has a Chabad (prayer place) for the Israeli community right opposite the Evergreen Cafe. Non-Jews too are warmly welcomed in this holy place. Israeli travellers make this place their home for a few months before moving to some other destination. Most of the signboards outside restaurants and cafes are in Hebrew and this place has been dubbed mini-Israel.
Spread out along the Parvati river with mountains on all sides and adventure in sight, Kasol has an ambience of tranquillity. Visitors can go for trekking and trout fishing, and also river rafting in Kullu and Bhuntar. Frequented by tourists and hippies, Kasol has everything from riverside bars to cheap guesthouses and quaint cottages with tents next to the ferocious Parvati
Kasol township, though really small, is split into "old" and "new" through a paltry bridge. Most of the cafes here offer Israeli food. The smoking dens also serve as hippie hangouts. One can sit quietly and watch the river flow and bite into some "kio" and other lip-smacking dishes that each of these cafes has to offer.
Seriously recommended is Evergreen Cafe, with its open-air seating options offering breathtaking views of the Himalayan hill slopes. The German Bakery is one place apt to be recommended for its delicious ~ contradictorily enough ~ Italian pastries.
Most of the places have crayons and colour pencils on each table, inviting the visitor to let loose their creativity. Bright artworks adorn the walls in most of the cafes. Not to forget the delicious momos or freshly-rolled noodles at one of the Tibetan stalls ~ also one of the must-try places.
The Kasol market mainly offers a variety of t-shirts, mostly sporting Bob Marley images, with shopkeepers claiming he visited the place. One can buy hand-painted stone chillums along with yoghurt and dry fruit.
From Kasol, cross the Sikh holy town of Manikaran en route to Barshaini, from where one takes the 24- km up-and-down trek to Kheerganga. Other treks are to Sar Pass and Yanker Pass, though considered slightly difficult. There are two trails from Barshaini: One is via the village Kalga and the second is through a Shiva Temple. There are options of wooden cottage homestays en route, a variety of flora and abundant plum trees. As one approaches Kheerganga, the pristine forests get denser.
The Kheerganga trek is itself memorable. One need not worry if one is a solo traveller: there are many others. The moment one reaches Kheerganga, one gets a feeling of exhilaration. On the other side of the mountain is the Lahaul Spiti valley. All of a sudden, there is a huge land mass with no trees but greenery everywhere. A bath in the refreshing hot water springs, also known for their medicinal value, washes away all weariness in one go.
The green meadows in Kheerganga are also utilised for yoga and meditation. Far away from the clutches of technology, this place has the potential to melt the heart totally. Then there is Chalal, the party place for tourists in the Parvati Valley. As Kasol is perceived a tad crowded, loners and those who seek peace escape to the quiet and quaint Tosh for its soothing serene scenery.
Tosh remains snowcapped in the winters. There is the mysterious Malana, whose people believe that they descended from the army of Alexander the Great and impose fines on visitors if they touch them or their belongings. The people are friendly but outsiders should keep their distance. Almost half the hippies flock to this valley to explore its peculiar traits, like houses with each storey having a specific name and purpose.
All these tiny quintessential villages host music festivals and rainbow meets. Be it for school reunions or romantic weekends, Kasol is a grassy getaway where one can relax and live the Himalayan experience.