Kasol, Malana & Tosh: Mecca for Hash Lovers

I had been lusting after a solo-trip for quite some time now. I know I should have had my fill before having a baby, but the desire to just hop on a bus to nowhere, away from everyone and everything doesn’t really leave you, does it? Kasol in Himachal Pradesh seemed like the perfect getaway for me – small, inconspicuous, quiet and not easily reachable, it was just the kind of place I was looking for. Not to mention the hippie vibe, which always warms me up with a sense of belonging.
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Of course it took a lot of cooperation from the husband (who, as always didn’t disappoint) to take 3 complete days off from home, family and more importantly, the kid. Pepper sprays were bought online and of course, there’s always the loyal Swiss Army Knife I carry with me every time I travel alone.
Since I currently live in Bathinda, I had to take a bus to Chandigarh before moving upwards into Himachal. Luckily for me, I got one of those Mercedes buses and my God, are they comfortable or what! It felt like I was on a flight or something, except with a lot more leg space. It was a superbly pleasant ride and I had my books, music and munchies for company, because what else does a human really need?
I got off at Chandigarh and had to wait a couple of hours to board the next bus – an overnight one to Bhuntar. Bhuntar, by the way, has an airport so if you’re not for butt-crushing bus rides, you can always take a flight upto there and then a cab onwards to Kasol. This bus wasn’t half as comfortable as the previous one. Sadly, there are hardly any Volvos from Chandigarh to Bhuntar, only tacky semi-sleeper buses. It had AC so thank heavens for that. From Bhuntar, I could have taken a comfortable cab but since I was in backpacking mode, I took the local bus. Not the best decision, but fun nevertheless. Chatting up with locals and other backpackers (mostly Isrealis) is an experience in itself, even if you can’t feel your legs anymore.
On reaching Kasol, I began wandering aimlessly through the streets. I didn’t have any bookings – I’m a little commitment phobic when it comes to travel and don’t like being tied down with an itinerary. I browsed around a few guest houses (also called “family homes” around the place) and checked into Rainbow Guest House because I wanted to be somewhere in the center of the town, with easy access to everything. There are plenty of guesthouses around the town square – it is a tiny place really, not even a kilometer across – and all of them come pretty cheap. I paid Rs.750 a night for a clean room with hot water and bug-free blankets. If you want something more fancy or a room with a view, you could go to Sandhya Kasol which is slightly off the main town square or Alpine Guest House, which is a quaint homestay. The rooms there would have better views too.
I chose to lunch at Little Italy because I had read good things about it on TripAdvisor. Grilled Himalayan Trout (because how can you miss that if you are in this part of the country) with a side of salad and fries, and a bottle of Blackberry Breezer to wash it down. The Banofie Pie I ordered later was totally unnecessary because I had no space left for it, but what the hell anyway. I carried it back to the room, to dig into it later at leisure.
A short nap later (only because I hadn’t slept well in the bus, what with a Sardarji making himself comfortable on my shoulder) I set out to explore the place. The place is packed with colorful shops selling all kinds of trinkets, bongs and whacky stuff. You can shop for psychedelic tees, rasta accessories, hand-made paintings in bright neons and trekking gear. 
But that’s not the best thing about this place. Kasol is where you get some of the best weed the country has to offer – the famous Malana Cream. If you are a connoisseur, you will instantly pick up the subtle, calming aroma of premium hash the moment you set your foot in this town. It’s everywhere – you can’t escape it even if you wanted to. I bought myself a silver nosepin, a silver pendant and a chillum from one of the Kashmiri guys before I planted myself at the outdoor area of Rainbow Café to roll myself a fat one. I also helped myself to a large plate of steaming momos from a roadside stall on the way back.

Rainbow Guest House has a café (Rainbow Café, Kasol) attached to it which is an easy, chilled out setting with floor mattresses and low tables strewn about. The outdoor sit-out is right next to the stream and you can spend hours there on a cane chair with a book in hand and not a soul to disturb you. The evening was well spent with local Himachali guys playing the guitar and singing local folksongs, with some old and new Bollywood numbers thrown in between. They were a wonderful lot, really –courteous to talk to and immensely talented.
The next morning, like a spoilt memsaab I took a cab because enough of bum-breaking bus rides already, and headed for Tosh, which is a tiny Himachali hamlet an hour away from Kasol. The road is a little rough but every turn offers breathtaking views of the Parvati Valley. The village is a pleasant 10-minute trek away from the parking area, with colorful little houses and maize drying out in the sun in every courtyard. It’s a nice place to sit down and chat with the locals over a cup of syrupy chai.  
Manikaran falls enroute and has a rather famous Gurudwara, if that interests you. It was a short day trip and I was back in Kasol for a late-ish lunch. 

I walked into Moon Dance Café to help myself to a huge serving of Chicken Sipudim (c’mon you can’t come all the way to Kasol and not have Isreali food!). For the most part, you’ll get above average food everywhere around this place and a variety of cuisines too. Italian, continental, Isreali, Greek, Indian, Chinese – you name it and you’ll most likely get it here.
Kasol is a good place to be if you feel like experimenting with your hair. The village salon – there’s only one – does dreadlocks, braids, mohawks, lulus and the works. I had a few hours to spare so I got mine braided Jamaican style. 
 
Evening was relaxed as usual, alone by the riverside with a book and some Malana Cream for company. I woke up freakishly early by vacation standards the next day, mainly because I was hungry as an ogre. None of the places had opened up yet so I had to settle for Maggie and omelet at one of the inconspicuous shacks, which wasn’t bad at all. I had a bus back to Bhuntar at 4 PM so I decided to take a cab to Malana – the Mecca for weed lovers. But somewhere along the way my cabbie told me that it’s an hour-long trek to the village and then sheer laziness took over. We took a detour and headed to Pulga instead, which is another Himachali village, similar to Tosh in look and feel but the scenery is vastly different since it is on a completely different axis. There’s a dam under construction enroute so all the concrete and dust flying about was a bit of a mood spoiler but hey, development is necessary too. The dam site is also the starting point for the Kheer Ganga trek, which I’d have loved to do if not for the lack of time.
Back in Kasol, I got my last fix of Himalayan Trout at Little Italy and picked up a huge piece of carrot cake and lemon cake before boarding the bus (or rather, series of buses) back home.
Kasol isn’t the place for you if you are one looking for a lot of activity or “things to do”. There’s little to do here except relax, soak in the scenery, do some soul-searching, eat fabulous food and get trippy. Eat, Pray, Love – to put it succinctly, which incidentally was what I was reading through the trip. Does that sound too cliché? J
Bon Voyage if you’re tempted to head to Kasol and Boom Shankar!
October 24, 2015 by Shuchi Singh Kalra

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