I’d been hearing a lot about Kasol. Being one of the most popular tourist destinations in Himachal Pradesh, getting bits of information to piece together from friends who’ve travelled there came easily.
I’d pictured a haven for backpackers sporting dreadlocks and wearing Bob Marley T-shirts. A Mecca for young Israeli tourists in search of inner peace who’d smoke ‘charas’ during the day and hop in to one of many trance parties at night. It would embrace a fair share of people simply searching for inner peace, alongside boisterous North Indians who decided to trade the sandy shores of Goa for the turbulent Parvati River and mountain fringed backdrops.
It seemed quite similar to Goa on the surface… Arambol and Vagator to be precise, and when I finally made a trip to Kasol, I realized that it wasn’t much different. In fact, when most locals and Israelis I spoke to in Kasol got to know I was from Goa, they jumped at the opportunity to practice some of their Konkani.
WHERE TO STAY IN KASOL
When in a backpacking paradise, expect tons of cheap, no-frills accommodation. Sadly, the really low-cost accommodation here (Rs. 500-800 category) is no place I’d like to lay down for a night. The ones in convenient locations, right in the middle of Kasol, are old structures with terrible hygiene. Given that these rooms still find takers among budget travelers, the management couldn’t be bothered about things like washing sheets.
If you’re willing to stretch your budget, I’d suggest Hotel Vansh, at the very entrance of Kasol. This new guesthouse is spacious, bright, airy and super clean. But if it’s luxury you seek, The Himalayan Village will give you the feel of living in an ancient village in Himachal Pradesh! It is one of the very few luxury resorts in Kasol.
WHERE TO EAT IN KASOL:
Like most places in these parts, Kasol is small in size and easily walkable from one end to the other. A single road runs through the village, having both, stores selling dream catchers, hippie-bags and chillums, as well as cafes and the best restaurants in Kasol. The places I tried out were:
Evergreen Café – Go here for breakfast! They do great pancakes, omelettes and excellent hummus and pita (as well as other Israeli items). I don’t know if I should be praising something as simple as a lime soda, but even that was the most refreshing, well balanced one I’ve ever had!
Little Italy – After hearing so much about it, I decided to check it out and was not impressed in the slightest. The menu features Italian, Indian and Mexican food – I’d suggest opting for Indian. I went the Italian way, thanks to the name of the restaurant, but the Pizza I ordered had a base that was so thick and chewy, it was like eating mouthfuls of unpalatable gunk. Despite the generous amount of clumpy toppings, the sauce was so bland, it failed to make its presence felt. This was compensated for by an overdose of jalapenos in every bite. Maybe the chef had a bad day, or maybe Kasol needs a better ‘best pizza joint.’
Jim Morrison Café – All good things in Himachal Pradesh come at the end of a trek, and this one was no different. I slushed through puddles and slid on slippery rocks on my way up to this funky café in Kasol, but it was worth it from the moment I saw those massive sunflowers in the garden. Orange walls with paintings of Janis Joplin and legends of that era painted on, cozy floor seating and great music made it an ideal spot for me to spend an entire afternoon working on my laptop. The restaurant only serves organic, vegetarian food, made from scratch; hence orders may take a while to arrive. Sip on one of their delicious shakes while you wait.
German Bakery – There seems to be one of these in every location here in Himachal Pradesh, and I’m not complaining. Indulge in a Nutella croissants, Bhaksu Cake or homemade cheesecake.
THINGS TO DO IN AND AROUND KASOL
If you smoke, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that Kasol and its surroundings are known for the best quality hash/charas/cannabis in the world. And this ‘good stuff’ literally grows like ‘weed’ (pun intended) everywhere you look. If you’re anything like me, and the high of being in the hills beats that of sitting with a joint in a smoky cafe, there are lots of things to do in Kasol:
Get dreadlocks – Because, why not! I got a string of beads attached to my hair for Rs. 300/- since my curls are too short to have them braided. Visit a local barber shop to get that 70’s vibe on! While you’re at it, you could also visit the local stores to buy some dream catchers, hippie jewelry or clothes, sling bags, prayer flags or décor.
Visit Manikaran – Situated on the opposite banks of the Parvati River, Manikaran is a famous Sikh pilgrimage site. Cross the bridge and walk down through a narrow street bursting with shops on either side until you reach the Gurudwara. There are several hot springs in the area in which Langar (free meals cooked in the community kitchen in a Gurudwara) is cooked. Visitors can even bathe in specific hot springs. The water is boiling hot all through the year, and the steam makes this place pretty humid. The main shrine inside the Gurudwara is gorgeous, and every inch of the walls, pillars and ceiling of the shrine are covered with tiny mirrors!
Visit the world’s oldest democracy, Malana – Located close to Kasol, Malana is a village where the inhabitants are governed by their own rules, not by the Indian government. The folks here believe that they are direct decedents of Alexander the Great, and are superior to all others. Differences are settled without any outside intervention and it is for all these reasons, that this is a fascinating place to visit. The bad weather prevented me from making the 4 km trek up to Malana, but if you do happen to go, remember to follow specific paths and not touch inhabitants, their houses/temples or even take photos of predefined structures, or you will have to shell out a hefty fine.
Embark on the KheerGanga Trek – This trek is one of the most popular things to do, for those who love trekking. If you follow me on Facebook and Instagram, I bet you already know how much I hate to walk, and I obviously gave this a miss, too. Kheerganga literally translates to ‘river of rice pudding,’ thanks to the milky waters of the Parvati River. The strenuous 11 km trek takes you through lush farms, steep hills and dense forests, all while treating you to ethereal views that I’m told are unlike any in Himachal Pradesh.
Pro Tip – Remember to carry cash with you, since Kasol has only 1 ATM, that is either non functional or out of money. Also, paying by card means you have to shell out a 5% surcharge on your bill.
Hope this helps you plan your trip. If you’ve been to Kasol, let me know what you think about it in the comments below. I’ll tell you about the other little villages in Parvati Valley, Tosh and Pulga, that I spent some time in, so stay tuned for that!