As I reached Kasol I realized that it’s no more a dreamy small town where mornings start with mushroom thukpas and evenings extend to accommodate endless rounds of ginger tea with lavish displays of cakes from the German bakery. It has turned into a busy, touristy town, but still holding onto that quintessential Himalayan village charm. There are rows of cute cafes now, and an eventful show of gratified food trucks and carts dishing out the Kasol’s essential ‘momos and thukpas’. The Kasol’s menu card has extended beyond the Tibetan and Israeli cuisines – it now has much chubbier, crispier, and ready to be relished picks. The wheeled, easy on the pockets kitchens have emerged and become the dependable features of the Kasol’s touristy roads. And interspersed between these comfortable cafes and novel eating out places are numerous souvenir and woolens shops. There is a feeling of comfort and indulgence on both sides of the road.
I realized that what Kasol offers is indulgence in some extremely gorgeous settings, and what Kasol misses now is the tranquility and gay abandon of the hills. For the latter I chose to hike to the village Chalal – a soothing half an hour hike through wooded lands stretched on the sides of the Parvati river brings you to Chalal. Chalal has of late emerged as the choice of campers and hikers who wish seclusion while staying close to the city.
It was an easy hike from Kasol to Chalal situated on the other side of the river. Thundering clouds greeted me as I started for Chalal. Soon it started to drizzle. The wind carried the hint of the impending winters. On the bridge, the ominous roar of the Parvati river as it meandered its way through the boulders, sounded threatening. The other side was a patchy green with a well-marked pathway to the village. The huge rocks on the path doubled up as roadway signs and advertisement boards for the camping sites and the cafes in Chalal. And then there were some signs of the ‘Parvati Pirates’ and ‘Parvati peaking’, the former is a dance party and the latter a music festival. Both stand as signs of Chalal being more than a tranquil village, and in parts imbibes the shades and colors of Kasol. I was happy, walking among the pines in the slight drizzle on flat terrain on my way to Chalal. The resplendent shade of green was soothing to the eyes.
On my way, I was joined by an old local who ran a camping site beside the river. And with that conversations started on Himachali life, politics, and on changes, the little village has gone through. The advertisement boards for homestays and cafes were clearer, bigger, and more aggressive as we reached the village. From much before the village started, rows of tents by the river, and homestays and lodges on the other side dotted the place.
By this time, I was drenched in the drizzle and famished. And more than the food I needed some hot chai to rejuvenate and then explore the village. I had also realized that by chance I would be able to continue up to Rasol, a two-hour trek from Chalal. Going further in the rain in December would prove detrimental. I stopped by a small place as I entered the village, sat by the fire, and savored hot tea with momos. I needed that. But by now my plans were dead. There was no option left to go further from the village.
Now well settled in the vibe of the village, I went on to my hunt – the Freedom Café, probably the most significant tourist landmark in the village. Though a lot of new cafes have mushroomed as tourism picked up in the village, Freedom Café has its legacy. It is vintage and hosts the ‘Pirates of Parvati’ parties. It is an important addition to your hippie checklists for the Parvati valley. But there are three constants in any of the cafes you choose to go to in Chalal – homely but trippy vibes, delicious food, and opportunity to get your hands on some Israeli food, and good quality hash.
Some conversations and I went on to explore the village. The village lanes are a hub of activity – the village hubbub, where jams mean a herd of mules passing, villagers call you to share a cup of chai with them, and the comfy cafes double up as landmarks. But the real steal is the humble Himachali-styled houses – double-storeyed, and heavy use of wood – the quintessential Himachal look to ensure a lot of sunlight to the rooms. I stayed in Chalal for some hours before heading back to Kasol. And though the length of my stay was short, Chalal managed to allure me with its hypnotic tranquillity and welcoming feel. Chalal seemed an assurance that nice things wait for people who take some pain. Though in this case, the hike was more pleasure than pain.