Around the end of May 2016, I was dangling somewhere between being upset about the end of my college life and thrilled about entering the corporate world as a lawyer. I had a few weeks gap between these two, which I called the ‘transition period’. Like every other lawyer-in-making, I had anticipated a really hectic life ahead and so I decided to not make any travel plans for my transition period. I wanted to just chill out these few weeks, walk my dog, play golf, cook, watch the television, obsess over Game of Thrones etc. The chilled out life.
As my joining date for my job at a law firm was approaching, I began to realise the importance of this nothing-to-do phase (or maybe boredom got to me, anyway). I felt the urge to drag myself out of my comfort zone and explore. Explore different towns, places, people, atmosphere, thoughts and most of all a better weather. My city Ahmedabad recorded the highest temperature in the country and I was fed up of the ‘orange alert’ situation that the local news channels exaggerated about. So, I decided to go for a trek. I wanted to climb the mountains, spot rainbows (which I did, by the way), admire the forests and listen to the fiercely gushing water. You see the picture that I painted in my head? Its too goddamn pretty. And therefore, it superimposed on my lungs plea to go for an easier trek. After a bit of reading (mainly googling, but we lawyers like to call it research), I decided to go to Kheerganga, Himachal Pradesh.
A friend of mine joined me for the trip. We packed our backpacks and left for Delhi on June 6, 2016. From Delhi, we boarded a bus for Bhuntar that very night. Bus services are pretty decent on this route and one can easily book a Semi Sleeper Volvo online for about Rs. 1000-1500. We reached Bhuntar on 7th morning and took a local bus from Bhuntar to Manikaran. We met two amazing people at Manikaran who wanted to go to Tosh too, so together we all hitchhiked and managed to reach Barsheni. From there, we trekked our way up to Tosh, the infamous hash land (with luggage, which we later regretted). We stayed in Tosh for two nights at the Pink Floyd Café, which is the top most place where they rent out rooms. Tosh is a small village near Barsheni. As you enter the village, its quite unkept and dirty and your entire idea about the beautiful mountains and the forests and the rainbow will come crashing down on you. But that’s the beauty of it. That village tests your patience. As you climb up and reach the top most point of the village, it’ll render you speechless. Its so picturesque that you’d never want to leave that village. The locals are such warm people, they’d make you feel at home. We altered our original plan of one night stay to two nights stay in Tosh. Others putting up in the same café were travelers too and proved to be really good company. Infact two of them joined us later for the trek to Kheerganga too. When in Tosh, we went for a little trek to a near by waterfall. It started to drizzle while we were on our way and it added to the fun. We found a small hut next to the waterfall, and they served us some hot tea and Maggi. Pure bliss. Stargazing from the Pink Floyd Café is so satisfying. It’s like a double cheese pepperoni pizza for your soul. I don’t think I have ever seen something as beautiful as the night sky in Tosh.
After our stay in Tosh, we left for Barsheni early in the morning. We dumped our big backpacks in Barsheni at another café. They charge Rs 50-75 per night for a bag for safekeeping. We took a porter with us, as others who joined us for the trip wanted the porter to carry their luggage for them. Yes, that is an option too. Anyway, we began our trek at 10 am sharp. It was sunny and warm. As we climbed for the first fifteen to twenty minutes, my lungs started to abuse me subtly by not functioning very properly, followed by a similar revolt by my legs and spinal cord. To be honest, it got quite uncomfortable by the end of half an hour. That’s when I asked the porter how much more time to go, and he said about 10 km. out of the 11 km. trek is left. He derived sadistic pleasure out of the fact that we weren’t even half way through. And then, after a few minutes, it all got magically better. Suddenly, I could see the high mountains gleaming at me, like I was some celebrity and they were cheering for me to climb up top. No, I wasn’t smoking anything funny. It really wasn’t that exhausting once you find your pace and your body gets used to all the pain. The trail was physically challenging but the view compensated for it. We had the Parvati River flowing by on the right side, dense forest on our left, sun peeping through some clouds above and a decent trail that went through small villages and lush green farms. We took quite a few stops in between to admire the beauty surrounding us, and mostly to catch our breath too. We crossed a small village called Naktan, where RudraNag is located, a holy place. It was by a waterfall and looked right out of a fairy tale. After a small pitstop, we moved ahead. The trail got steeper and more difficult as we had to climb through the forest. The porter told us that there are bears in this forest and they visit the stalls alongside the trail sometimes. He also mentioned that the bears rip off only the male humans and not the females. They carry the female back to their cave. I can’t conclude what’s better, being ripped off into two or being a bear-babysitter. Fortunately, we didn’t spot one. The porter also told us about the historic significance of Kheerganga and the Parvati River. Apparently, ages ago, a lot of ‘kheer’ was prepared for the poor and for those who starved. Owing to pity for the poor, Lord Shiva blessed the place with perennial supply of kheer. Hence, the name – Kheerganga.
After a lot of storytelling, slipping off rocks, mock bear frights, drinking from the waterfalls, we finally reached Kheerganga around 2:30 pm and it all seemed worth it. The cramps and the panting like dogs for oxygen (which is not a pretty sight..strongly advise to not go with your boyfriend/girlfriend because half way through, you’d look like a caveman), it was all worth it. Even my lungs seemed to agree when they could breathe the fresh mountain air. Kheerganga is located at 13,051 feet above sea level. Apart from the sense of achievement that you get from the trek, you also get a sense of being pampered by nature. Because after that gruesome trek, comes the hot water springs. What more do you want at this point of time than a free jacuzzi. As soon as we dipped ourselves in, it sucked the exhaustion out of us right away. It was magical. There are separate enclosures for men and women and they are super clean. You could feel the cold air gushing by your head while you are dipped in hot water with the Himalayas to add to the view. You’d feel like you are in a valley with a 360 degree view of the Himalayas. It’s basically surrounded by snow capped mountains and gushing waterfalls. You’d find me overly irritating by now for using the word ‘beautiful’ (and synonyms) for the hundredth time, but there is no other way to describe this place. It was serene and majestic. The kind of a place you’d want to keep to yourself and not share it with anybody else. Though it looked like a perfect painting, it was sad to see some youngsters throwing around some plastic bottles with other wrappers and waste. It amuses me how trekkers/travelers would dirty a place like this, or for that matter any place that is inhabited by other people and is someone else’s home. If at all you intend to go for any trek, carry garbage bags with you where you can dump your plastic waste. You will find dustbins around to dispose off those bags at regular intervals.
That night, we stayed put in Kheerganga in one of the tents. We met a lot of people from all around the world who had come there for an event called the rainbow gathering. All in all, good people, good place to stay the night, good food and good vibes.
The next morning, we went to the hot water springs again for that one last rejuvenating experience before we begin descending towards Barsheni. The trek back to the base wasn’t as tiring but was very tricky. It started to rain heavily and the entire trail was really slippery. We would take pitstops in small stalls that were set up along the way, sip a cup or two of hot tea and then get going. As we finally reached our base camp, all we could remember about our trek up to Kheerganga was the scenic beauty we witnessed, the soothing hot water springs and the good people we met up there because it completely overshadowed the discomfort of climbing and the resulting body-ache.
If you are looking for a trek that would challenge your physical comfort zone and leave you with some amazing memories for a lifetime (including some bruises here and there), then this is where you should be and this is what you should do.
(Photographs clicked by me)