Himachal Pradesh is one of the most beautiful places I have ever layed eyes upon. I had gone from Goa to himachal, and the change of scenery and culture and people was definitely a pleasing one.
The thing that struck me the most when I went to Himachal for the first time was how much it reminded me of Afghanistan.
I have only been to Afghanistan one time in my life, around 12 years ago but I could vividly remember every detail of that trip, and himachal was giving me some serious deja-vues.
The snow capped mountains, the valleys flowing with rivers, surrounded by grazing cattle and donkeys; the streets littered with colorful clothing and curious eyes meeting mine. I felt at home somehow.
I couldn’t help but jump at the chance to return for another trek when the opportunity arose, months after I had visited for the first time.
With barely anything left in my bank account, and only a few weeks left until I was departing to France from India, my friend suggested we return to himachal before leaving. She knew it was my weak spot and I wouldn’t refuse. She wasn’t wrong.
After ignoring all and every red flag in the planning process (barely any money, no idea about transportation, accommodation, or return plans) we came up with a rough plan on how we would miraculously accomplish this feat. Needless to say, we accomplished it.
She started off by leaving to explore other northern states in India, while I ventured further south, into Trivandrum, to conduct and finalize my research I had been doing on skill development programs and the caste system.
We finally met up in Delhi (albeit after an extremely complicated, scary and eye opening experience) and took a 16 hour overnight bus to himachal Pradesh.
The second we reached Himachal, my heart raced in excitement. I had been groggily attempting to sleep while the bus shook back and forth on the unpaved roads. I opened my eyes as I felt the sunlight hit my face and I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the Himalayan mountains outlining the sky in the distance. It felt like I had returned home somehow. The chai tasted better, the air smelled delicious, and my heart was just so very happy.
We transferred from our first bus in Parvati Valley to make our way to Kasol with another bus. Finally, right before dawn, we reached our stop and hiked our way up the village and into the trees on a hill, where our hostel stood. The gorgeous yellow hostel overlooked almost the entire valley, and the peaks of the snow capped mountains were visible in the distance. It was breath-taking.
The thing I love about hostels are the people. Everyone is a traveller and almost everyone is friendly. Each of them have a story to tell and I loved to listen. We came across a group of friends who were planning to trek up to tosh the next day and spend the night at a cozy home stay on the very tip of the village in Tosh.
The hostel was providing transportation and discounts for big groups, so we paired ourselves with them and set off the next morning in a rented car towards the next gorgeous village we were going to explore.
On the way, I wish I didn’t have to blink because I wanted to take in every single moment and internalize it for the rest of my life. I had found my heaven.
Once we reached the main lot where car and bus drop offs occurred, we set off with our bags towards the top. The entire village was placed on a mountain, with cobbled streets and stairways leading the way up. The streets were narrow, and littered with donkey and bull dung, and going through them was an adventure in itself.
Every few minutes we would come across a local, leading a herd of donkeys up the steps of the mountain, each donkey carrying loads of goods probably 3-4 times their weight.
I marvelled at the lives of the locals there. The tourism industry played an enormous role for them and it seemed as though majority of their income came from hosting tourists and visitors from India and other countries in their little village.
Prices were much higher in places like these, where a bowl of noodles or a chocolate bar would cost 2-3 times as much as it normally would. It made sense though, I didn’t blame them. Transporting goods around a village on a mountain like this one took an enormous amount of effort, time, skill and patience (and donkeys).
As we hiked our way up, complaining about the weight of our bags and stopping every once in a while to take in the scenery (and low key take breaks without looking like wimps while the locals effortlessly moved past us), we were greeted by locals and other fellow visitors alike.
The village became our home. The little children playing near the streams would spray water towards us and giggle, the donkey herds would storm by, with their bells jingling as we stood aside to make way, and the local women would smile at us, amused at our fascinated faces and phone cameras always out- ready to snap anything that looked interesting (which was literally everything).
As we were about to reach the top, I paused to take another final look behind me at the village that was sprawled underneath us. The colorful rooftops made the whole scene look like we were in some type of game or cartoon. The snow capped mountains in the distance towered over us and for a minute, it didn’t feel like I was on earth. This was something else altogether. We finally pushed through and after around 2 hours of hiking, we made it to our little home stay on top of the mountain.
It was definitely worth all the hype. The rooms were spaced out like a motel, with little porches lining the front. They didn’t have any sort of heating system, which meant either taking showers in freezing cold water, with no place to warm up afterwards, or just giving up and using wet wipes for another day (I am ashamed to admit, I chose the latter.)
We spent the night feasting in the little hostel kitchen with our new found friends while exchanging stories and experiences. The next morning, after having our chai with an amazing view, we bid our goodbyes to our friends and made our way back down towards the first village we had come from.
Our final days in Himachal were spent indulging in Maggi noodles by the riverside at another hostel, while we explored the little shops in Kasol, speaking to other travellers and breathing in as much of the air as we could while taking in as much of the beauty as we could.
I don’t remember leaving Himachal. I just remember being back in Kerala and having 2 weeks left in India before I had to leave to France. Needless to say, I was not ready to say goodbye.
While every state in India is beautiful and unique, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala definitely have a soft spot in my heart.
Here’s to more adventures, more travels, and more flights leading me back to India, and towards the snow capped mountains, on which I once looked upon and drank chai while laughing with new found friends.