Kasol & Manikaran

 

 

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I meant for Kasol to be a jumpoff point to other neighboring villages that I wanted to see, but fate was to be otherwise. My first night in town, I ate some chicken that gave me the stomach flu. I spent the next three days sick as a dog, my body weak, and my appetite very low. When I finally recovered, I spent two days relaxing in the town. The Parvati Valley is very narrow compared to the valley where Manali lies.  I felt I could have thrown a rock and touched the other side.

Kasol is nice, but just as the guidebook said, it’s overrun with Israelis. It seems odd to me that so many people choose the same country to travel to and most with the same idea; they go to India, stay in Israeli-friendly hotels, eat Israeli food and smoke charras. Some buy a Royal Enfield and road trip around the country. Many Enfields were for sale but all the signs were in Hebrew (and without a price… weird). Come to think of it, many of the signs in the whole town were in Hebrew.

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I went one afternoon to Manikaran, a town just a few kilometers upstream from Kasol. There I visited the Shiva temple that is a pilgrimage site for many young Sikh men. They drive in by twos on their motorbikes decorated with flags of all colors. The temple sits on a natural thermal hot springs source. You can go there and bath in the 100 degree plus water that is loaded with sulfur and other minerals. It’s supposed to be very good for your health. I didn’t bathe the first time I went, but I later returned with and Israeli and an American and we stayed for about an hour in the baths. I felt energized yet calm afterwards. I believe there is something to the healing properties of those thermal baths. I spent some time that day sitting by the river in Manikaran. As with many rivers in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, it was a raging, roaring river. I felt mesmerized watching the rushing, churning water run swiftly underneath my feet as I stood on the bridge. So much energy, so much power.

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Malana village

Not sure where I was going, I was on the bus on the way to Kasol in the Parvati Valley when I met two young ladies from Catalunya. They told me they were headed to a quiet, secluded town and I decided to head that way as well. To get there we shared a taxi to a path alongside the Parvati River and had to hike the rest of the way. The taxi ride was rough, more like 4 X 4ing up the rocky, unpaved road crossing small streams and loose rock. Eventually we made it to the beginning of the path that led up the mountain to the village. I had my full-sized backpack on, while the smart girls had just small day packs. We hiked up a steep rock and mud path for two hours, our breath heavy and sweat steadily drenching our shirts, before reaching Malana village.

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This wasn’t like other villages, Malana people have specific religious laws that they abide by. The majority of the villagers belong to high caste families, and no lower caste or non-hindus are allowed to touch them or their dwellings. There were only two guesthouses at the top of the village, and they had the only two restaurants in the entire village. One day we met a man from Delhi and he told us that the people of this village are believed to be the descendants of Alexander the Great. They avoid touching lower caste or non-hindus to keep themselves spiritually pure. He said that in the whole village, only two houses belonged to lower-caste families and that they had to do the dirty jobs of the whole village. He said it was so engrained in the Indian mind that even he can tell by someone’s mannerisms what caste they belong to. He told us that in spite of their high-caste status, most of the village boys never go to school, wasting their time in the charras (hashish) business rather than developing their minds.

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I only spent two days there, a lot of the time in the guesthouse on balcony eating, playing cards with the ladies and listening to music in my room. Given the laws they live by, one doesn’t just stroll around the village. Even if I did I couldn’t touch anything or else risk the government imposed fine for doing so. One day my friends and I took a hike higher up the mountain via an old goat path, but the heavy slope made any progress slow. We stopped under a tree to relax and enjoy the scenery of the opposite mountain face until lunchtime.

My take on this village: It was an interesting cultural experience. The people here did have a different appearance than other Indians of the region; lighter skin, a different facial structure and hazel eyes. I would agree that they could be descendants of Macedonians and Greeks that passed through the region a little over 2300 years ago. As for the caste system, quite frankly it’s bullshit that two lower-caste families have to do the dirty work of the entire village. Maybe I don’t know enough about the caste system in India, but to me it’s absurd that one is born into his/her caste with little chance of social progress except for the hope that good merit in this life might grant them a better lot in the next. To me this is an ugly little social/cultural box that the Indians keep themselves in.

When we were ready to go, we started the hike down the mountain to the other side to get a taxi. The way day was much less taxing, and we soon arrived, and got a taxi to Jeri where we went our separate ways.

Vashisht, Manali

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Another long, curvy bus ride and I arrived in Manali, from where I immediately took a rickshaw to Vashisht further up river. I chose a hotel high up with a great view of the green mountain on the other side of the river and the distant snow-caped mountains to the north. From my balcony I could hear the rushing of the river amplified by the valley.

I ended up having problems with my hotel. The first night, my room with a great view turned out to have ticks. They changed me to a different room but I when a tick that had been sucking on my scalp fell a few hours later, I decided to change no matter what. The next place was cheap, which was good, but the owner lied. He said they had wifi, when actually he was stealing it from the hotel across from him. He suggested I stand next to that building to use wifi. I didn’t need wifi, but out of principal I changed again. Finally I found a place up the mountain with a great view and a good price, and I settled there for three days.

The town is quite nice. I happened to be there during the time of a festival that happens only every 7 years. I’m not sure what god it was for but I enjoyed stopping by the main square to watch the procession and listen to the music.

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Near the town is a waterfall that’s an hour hike up the mountain on the same side of the river. I went in the late afternoon and luckily there were no other people in that area at that time. I hiked up passing a series of small waterfalls and a stream of cold, fresh mountain spring water. I stopped a few times to splash my face and neck. I got close to the top and made spot to lay with my poncho and just enjoyed the view until the sun disappeared behind the other mountain and I started back down.

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One day an Israeli friend and I rented some Royal Enfields and took a ride to the Solang Valley. We took a ski lift to the top of the mountain and walked around near the summit for a while, enjoying the sunny but cool day in the mountains. When we got down we rode north to the Rohtang Pass. There I felt I really put my recently-acquired motorcycle skills to the test. The switch-back road up the mountain is a one-lane sized road with two way traffic. Trucks and cars took turns pulling to the edge to let the other slide by, the vehicles usually within centimeters of each other. The impossibly high road is devoid of any curbs or guard rails, and oftentimes we were riding near the edge. The whole way up I couldn’t help but be in awe of the scenery. The green and gray mountains looming in the distance made me feel like a speck of sand on a beach. We stopped at the top of the Rohtang Pass and took a walk to a huge slope on the mountain. We sat there taking in the exquisite view before us. By then we felt like we had had enough switchback fun and made our way back down the mountain. We got back to the Manali area before sunset and returned the bikes. That was one of my favorite days of riding.

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