One of the most amazing things about traveling to Himachal is the small villages that dot the valleys. And each village is packed with its customs and stories. I was in Parvati Valley which has steel for such stories. Nestled in the Kullu valley, cut by the enchanting Parvati river, the area follows some old set of customs. The river Parvati is an orienting landmark of the valley, and the towns and villages settled in an uncanny vicinity to the river have had their share of stories of crimes, supernatural events, and unregulated hash trade tucked up mountains on high-altitude meadows accessible by steep trails, with names such as Magic Valley or Valley of Devils.
However, enticing, I had not set off in search of these stories. I had come to Parvati valley to spend lazy days soaking in bright sunlight on the chilly mornings of December in the far-off villages. And I had chosen the Pulga village as my base. Settling in Pulga provided me with easy access to the nearby villages of Kalga and Tulga, and an easy connection to Barshaini which connected me to Kasol. A bus ride of approximately one hour will get one from Kasol to Barshaini, and from there one can choose to take a cab to Pulga or hike for about 40 minutes and reach the village entry point. There are many guest-houses in the village to settle in.
As I reached Barshaini, the clouds laid down their welcome on a platter and it began to drizzle. I trekked on the muddy, slippery road to Pulga, with a thought of basic amenities in the setting winters hung on my mind. I looked up and could see the signs of impending snowfall. The temperatures had started to dip in. I reached Pulga with the hope to find a well-heated room to stay in.
The guesthouses are well equipped with tandoors, are aesthetically designed, and the locals are extremely hospitable. I didn’t take much time to prepare myself to take a stroll around the village. I stopped at Devraj café to start my day with an Israeli breakfast and a tumbler of tea. And over the four days that I stayed in the village, I grew too fond of that tumbler of tea, which I condignly started calling ‘the pitcher’. Over days I would relax and chat with fellow travelers in the café beside the tandoor, and slyly make my way to another favorite stop in the village – the ‘Bodhisatva’ for their cakes and pies. And I learned that the owner, Mayank, is also a spiritual healer and counselor. That made for long, interesting conversations.
And then there is the famed ‘fairy forest’ – a dense jungle of age-old pine trees just a short hike away from the village. A hike through the fairy forest offers excellent views of near and distant snow-covered peaks. A walk through the forest to some farthest areas of the village and some fancy cafes proved a rejuvenating experience.
There’s no ‘to-do’ list in Pulga or any specific places to cover. I spent four days in the village lounging about, engaging in cross-cultural talks with the foreign travelers that I learned had been staying in Pulga for months, devouring Israeli dishes, and when nothing else to do – sipping on my pitcher of hot tea. During the afternoon when the temperature used to get a tad better, a little liveable I went about quick detours in the valley with the Fairy forest being my usual pick.
One of the days I made a plan to Kalga – a half an hour walk from Pulga. Kalga is an artsy place and you get a vibe of being in the midst of an apple orchard. Also, it is a tourist village, which means Kalga is developed and maintained for tourists. Kalga is a hidden gem with its idyllic mountain beauty and traditional Himachali houses (most converted into homestays) making it a destination for travelers looking to unwind. For most parts of it, Kalga remains a sleepy village with the income from its apple and apricot orchards and tourism.
We took to a café for our lunch and supply of hot beverages. I was told there how Kalga has come to a village for travelers, and Tulga is a residential village. This happened after the announcement by the village priests who were said to have received the summon from the local deity. Since then this system came into place, and Kalga became the village for travelers with homestays and cafes.
No doubt it was surreal there, taking a long and easy walk across the village capturing the beauty of the hills, and stopping at random cafes for long chats, tea, some snacks, and to heal ourselves. And something that would stay with me for a long time was the fleeting conversations I had with fellow travelers by the tandoor in the cafes. I met an advertising guy, a scriptwriter from Hyderabad, and a digital marketer. We all had our stories from our travels to share, some long and some that came by as epiphany, but we realized we all had a bunch of stories that remained unshared. One of them was staying in Kalga for six months. I had earlier met a person in Pulga who had been staying there for the last two years. I wondered what keeps them there. The answer was simple – the freedom to isolate oneself from the world, and a good network to connect the next moment. There was a strange sense of contentment in making this fleeting interaction. A random meeting, a seemingly never-ending talk, and then you go separate ways. And while you may never meet again, a memory is made at that moment.
It grew dark and we made our way back to Pulga, and straight to the Bodhisatva café to content ourselves with some pasta, and apple tarts. There was such content at the moment. My eyes lit seeing the neatly done tarts. I smirked at the thought that while I might have left the city, but not the luxuries. I munched on that thought.
The followed a similar pattern during the four days that I spent in Pulga – wake up lazily, waiting for the sun heartily, savor the tumbler of tea lovingly named ‘pitcher’ (and a needed one in that cold weather), break into random conversations, go on long walks just to ensure my legs haven’t gone numb, and think of all possible ways to warm oneself. Ah! Sometimes I opened my laptop to finish the pending work too. But I realized the deeper meaning in the simplicity of the life I lived in these four days. And the conflicting need to connect and isolate – sometimes at the same time.
To reach: Take a bus from Kasol to Barshaini. From Barshaini one can take a cab to Pulga or hike for about 40 minutes to the village. Kalga is a hike of 10 minutes from Barshaini and then a road uphill.