My trip to these villages in the Himalaya Mountains left me feeling like I had stepped back in time or just walked into an Indiana Jones movie. They are ancient villages on the verge of modernization.
Our first stop was Kasol, and it took 14 hours by car to get there. We left around midnight and Kirti hadn’t had any sleep since that morning. I was worried about how he would do with such little sleep, but he handled the constant obstacles, construction and pot holes the size of moon craters, like a real pro. Somewhere around the 30 hour point though, with no sleep, and just a few hours short of Kasol, he’d had enough and suddenly suggested I drive!!
Safety was paramount, and with no other option except to sit on the side of the road in the hot sun while he slept, I cautiously agreed. Keep in mind, the steering wheel is on the right here and they drive on the left side of the highway! So not only was I new to driving in India, but I had to deal with all the controls being on the opposite side and a manual transmission to boot. Yikes!!!! Luckily I did alright, managing to avoid cows and donkeys on the road along with falling rocks. Wow! I was driving in India! It was scary but exciting!! I did fine on the highways but as the streets got got narrower and steeper getting into the Himalayan Mountains,it was time to swap spots with Kirti again.
We finally reached Kasol in early evening and I was impressed with the beauty. Snow packed peaks loomed high above river streams and meandering waterfalls. Foreigners from all parts of the globe filled the shops that were jam packed with cold weather gear, marijuana paraphernalia and handcrafted jewelry. We found a modest room in a guest house that had a private washroom and TV for 500 Rupees per night, about $7 USD.
The temperature was very cold that night with a low around 40 Fahrenheit. I was glad I had stumbled across a Columbia Sportswear store at a mall in Delhi right before I left. I felt I was well prepared with my new hiking boots, thermals and dual purpose zipper pants that could also be warn as shorts. Turns out, I wasn’t as prepared as I thought because I was still cold. Meanwhile Kirti was wearing flip flops!
We got to the starting point for Malana around 3:00 PM the next day. The roads getting there were basically a trail with boulders and potholes everywhere. Deep cliffs lined the “roads” and seldom was there a guardrail. It took us hours to go only 30 kilometers!
The “trek” to Malana is straight up hill and basically nothing but stairs for 4.4 kilometers. I’m in decent shape I thought. I go to the gym on a regular basis. How hard could it be? Well, it kicked my ass!!! It didn’t make me feel any better that the Malani people, carrying everything from huge bundles of firewood to construction material, would breezes right on past us. They also are very careful to not get near any outsiders. They step way out of the way, going to great pains to be get to the other side of the stairs, as if we were somehow contagious. They believe they are direct descendants of Alexander the Great and are superior to all outsiders. In fact it’s against the law to touch them or their structures!
We worked our way to the top of the village and several things surprised me along the way. I noticed right away a few Dish network satellite dishes, which means they had electricity and got mail! I also couldn’t help but notice the garbage. It was everywhere, like in Delhi. Here we were amidst the most pristine mountain peaks and smelly garbage littered every path! It really pissed me off! Kirti later showed me some pictures that he had taken only 10 months earlier, and the garbage wasn’t there! Apparently it was a new development, along with the electricity and cable TV. They are an ancient village struggling with change.
There isn’t much to do in Malana but smoke hash, hang out in one of the many guest houses/cafes and marvel at the beauty and weather. We had all 4 seasons in just one day! The storms roll in several times a day. Baby pot plants were growing all over the place. Looking down the mountain I could see rows of propagated land, maybe 6 feet wide at the most, carved into the mountain side, where marijuana would soon grow. It was astounding to think that aside from a little wire trolley, everything in that village was carried up on the backs or heads of women.
Our room was just shy of camping. The bed was elevated plywood with a one inch foam mattress. It contained only blankets and no sheets, and they looked dirty. I can tell you though, with no heat source in the room, I was grateful for those blankets that night!!! The washroom was outside and shared by all guests, typical of most guest houses.
In the morning we trekked down the mountain and headed for the Village of Tosh. The roads weren’t really roads at all and I couldn’t believe that Kirti made it up with only a 2 wheel drive! It was somewhere on that drive, in the middle of nowhere that the oddest thing happened. We came around a corner, and there was a street vendor selling cotton candy!!! We were in the Himalayan Mountains! I had to buy some just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.
We spent one night at the most beautiful resort we just stumbled upon by accident. It was called the Himalayan Resort and was equivalent to a 4 star hotel. The decor was incredible and our suite was huge! It was quite a contrast from our accommodations in Malana!
Tosh was prettier and cleaner than Milana, but also didn’t have as much character. We watched it snow just a few hundred feet above us. Kirti has never been in the snow and I felt bad for him, being so close but still too far away. The view from Tosh was incredible! We felt like we were on top of the world! The air was clean and the sky so blue. The sun reflecting off the snowy mountains tops reminded me of home and was a welcome change from Delhi. It was the trip of a lifetime and a good reminder of why I agreed to come to India.