April, Winter has almost faded away in Delhi and Mercury slowly beginning to rise. Joy, who was at the end of his intern period wanted to enjoy snow before he went back to south India. The problem was most places in Himalayas was still snow covered . At night temperature would dip below zero. Without proper sub zero sleeping bags, we would risk hypothermia. The only safe option was Kheerganga, a spiritual place of interest . it’s about 50km east of Kullu in Himachal Pradesh district. It is on the Parvati valley. This time, adventure enthusiast Dhruv joined us in the quest to hit 3000m.
The Drama started even before we boarded the Bus. We were right on time but the bus was nowhere to be seen. This is India, no bus or train starts on time. The officials confirmed that the bus left minutes before we arrived. After 10min of frantic wild goose chase, Dhruv found the bus. It never left, It just had been parked away from platform. Cursing the officials, we scrambled inside we dreamed the entire night.
Morning at 7am we reached Bhuntar and it was raining. Dhruv and Joy was not equipped for rain. To mitigate the issue, We made a makeshift poncho using large polythene sheets. Then after having humongous Aloo parathas at shop, we took a bus to Bharshani. en-route we were informed that the bus will not go past Manikaran . Apparently, landslides from heavy rainfall has blocked the road.
We managed to get on top a sumo taxi going towards Barshani. Oh, I literally meant, on top. As the car went up and down each pothole, we held on the luggage rack. It felt like i was riding an angry bull.
Yet another intimidating local
I guess we are cursed to meet intimidating drunk locals. This time it was a hippie look-alike local. He told that Dhruv wont survive walking though snow on his running shoes. I was concerned about the same but i knew that it was just a matter of small inconvenience for him. But the encounter was not entirely fruitless. Dhruv decided to buy a new pair of shows from a shop nearby. Although he couldn’t find one, i managed to get my hands on a pair of excellent wool socks. It was a bargain for 100Rs for each pair.
We Hit the status of “i have no idea where to go” within minutes of crossing the town. Luckily we met with a local who offered to guide us. Generally, I’d say no to such an offer but this location was very confusing and so I had no choice but to accept.
We had to cross the Tosh river climb steeply from the base of the Parvati Dam which was being constructed. I started panting after sometime. I guess it was due to the medication I was on at that time. I thanked the local for his help and told that we’ll manage on our own from now. He advised to move quickly if we had to reach a village before the daylight breaks and shot ahead.
Just as the sun’s last rays escaped the valley, we reached Nakthan. A small town alongside the valley. It also happened to be the last town on our route. After a tea break here, we slogged ahead for another 40min till we reached Rudra-Nag.
Camping with the Gods
Rudra-Nag is yet another spiritual place for the Hindus, the serpant like formation you can see there is what gives the name. We camped alongside the temple there. The wet wood was extremely hard to ignite and so, a hot dinner was out of the question. We munched on packed extra aloo parathas from Bhuntar.
We woke up at around 8 while a gentle rain was wetting the valley. As we were packing we met up with Varun, a solo adventurer targeting Kheerganga. After exchanging pleasantry, we decided to go ahead together. Carefully threading along the mushy edges, we reached a wooden bridge to the other side of the valley along which a steep trail ahead was seen.
Reaching a clearing, we noticed a tarp tent and smoke. A local couple was busy living their life there. We decided to take their help to kindle a fire for us to cook our Breakfast. The guy was more than generous, he did not stop with letting us cook on his stove but also gave us diesel so that we may start a fire ourselves later. We felt sad that we are using up his precious resources and we offered him money to which he declined saying that he has done nothing for it. It took us quite some time to get him to accept that. Such a kind guy he was.
This clearing was also where we saw a proper covering of snow and we took our time having fun by throwing snowballs at each other, taking photos, getting our ass chilled.
The Trail ahead was a mixture of both mud and snow but within an hour we reached our destination, Kheerganga. Our Pupils dilated as the whiteness of the snow blinded us. In the meanwhile, our mouths were opening to say wow. A vast stretch of snow lay ahead of us. Even though the thin air caused us to pant, we mustered every bit of energy to get to the cafe there and drink a cup of tea. Yup, you heard it right, Cafe. Although not very popular in the times of snow, Kheerganga still receives a fair share of adventurers, hippies and people who want to smoke up.
The night we stayed at the cafe instead of pitching a tent. The heavy snowfall made it impossible to stay in a tent without getting buried under the snow.
Dawn broke and I woke up the others. It was time to hit our target. The cafe was at 2800m. Taking just my camera and trekking pole, we ventured towards the extremely steep slope. There was no trail to follow and the snow was treacherous. My feet would sink at least a foot under the snow before I could get a firm grounding to take the next step.
There was areas where it would sink till my knees. In such cases we used to spread out and find alternative routes. It was funny that just to climb 200m it took us just more than an hour. With my GPS reporting 3030m we turned back to get a glimpse of Kheerganga where we could see some people enjoying the hot water.
Now that we hit our target, it was time for fun. What better way but to slide down. And slide down we did. With no prior experience in snow, i just let my instinct play out and with nothing but a piece of stick to use as brake, I leaned back, let my back rest on the snow and with a gentle push, I propelled myself down. It was slow at first but soon everything started to go behind in a blur. The plan was to slide down some. 150m till we reached a cave where yet another temple was made.
Digging my trekking pole deep into the snow, I came to a complete halt. After everyone had their share of fun sliding, we visited the cave temple and while coming out, a crazy idea hit me. It was something like this “The snow is at least a meter deep, there should be no reason to get ourselves Hurt if we jump from a reasonable height”. Eyebrows raised in skepticism I shared the idea with others.
“Wicked” was the response. I was going first, but as I stood on a ledge, the 5m drop below was intimidating indeed. Logic said that I already checked the snow depth, but a tiny voice in my brain kept being pessimistic. Joy booed at my hesitation and I challenged him to go first. He joined me, and he too was in the same dilemma I was in.
Plop, was the sound with which Joy landed, unscathed he shouted “Balls of Steel”. Indeed he had it. Emboldened, I followed. That microsecond, heart was frozen, legs braced got the worst, eyes battling to close, hands in a defensive position to break my fall. Plop came the sound again and I was in ecstasy. It was a simple jump, but had the best burst of adrenaline ever. Dhruv and varun soon followed. I even jumped second time for the video.
After another spell of sliding, we were back at the cafe level, and by some rotten luck my shoes came undone and the snow was touching my bare legs. I thought it would not be a problem as the cafe was only a minute away. That was a costly mistake, by the time i reached the cafe, I lost sense of my legs. My leg was out of control, it just kept walking trying to save itself. I was steering with my pole and hands. The moment i burst into the cafe i propped my leg on the nearest stove i could find. But we were not resting, we had the hot water spring to jump into.
The Hot springs
Kheerganga was not just famous for this spiritual place and hash, it also had some relaxing hot water Springs. It was into one of those springs we dipped after conquering 3000m.
Managed by a Dharamshala, it was Just like any other swimming pool, we had to shower outside. As I dipped, the world seemed to be turned upside down. It felt hot, it took me a couple for minutes to be in balance with the sudden change in temperature. The warmth ironed out every wrinkle of tiredness in my muscles. I realized that this hot water is in contrast to the snow covered areas around. Spending half an hour of swimming and floating and chatting with a local we dried up and then prepared for the journey back to Manikaran.
The spiritual importance of Kheerganga arises from the belief that Karthikeya, son of Shiva was meditating here when his mother, Parvathi lovingly brought him hot Kheer. Unfortunately, the Kheer toppled down the valley. Using her powers Parvathi conjured up a river of Kheer for her son to relish on. It is this river which is this hot stream and it was due to Kaliyug that the Kheer is now just water.
The trail downhill was not very eventful but we did meet up with two dogs who joined us till Nakthan. They were very helpful more than once correcting our path. We returned love by treating them with biscuits.