It was not planned. How can it be? I mean with an 8 year old child, nobody would want to trek 13-17 km one-side and certainly not to a place like Kheerganga infamous (or famous) for its own reasons. But it happened! We trekked up to Kheerganga and trekked down to Barshaini on the same day with our little daughter. Rest is history!
I had been reading about Kasol a lot and the place attracted me for its varied culture, cuisine and abundant natural beauty. Kasol is famous among backpackers and people who love to stay high (Charas or Marijuana). The place offers a fabulous blend of Israeli culture, quaint landscapes and unspoiled nature. Though it’s not a great destination for a family holiday but you can’t deny the gratification you get in doing something out of the ordinary. There’s a beauty in the unusual!
I planned the 4 days itinerary covering Kasol, Katagala, Manikaran, Malana, Chalal, Tosh and Barshiani (Watch out for my next blog post about these places). Kheerganga was out of question. I and hubby didn’t have any trekking experience and we were sure that it’s next to impossible with our little daughter who can’t even walk up to nearby market without complaining about her leg pain.
Almost 14 hour journey from Delhi to Kasol was incredible wherein we witnessed two prodigious rivers (Beas and Parvati) snuggled between the Himalayas. Beas River accompanied us all through the journey from Mandi to Aut tunnel and once we crossed the Aut tunnel, Parvati River became our constant companion. Highlight of our road journey was driving through the 3 km long Aut tunnel, which is one of the longest road tunnels in India.
Parvati Kuteer on the bank of Parvati River was our home for next 4 days in Kasol. All the places in our itinerary were covered in 3 days and 4th day was left free intentionally because what better way to enjoy the nature than just sitting by the river surrounded by the mountains and tall Deodar trees. But destiny had its own plans that didn’t match with ours.
My daughter curiously questioned,” why can’t we trek up to Kheerganga?” I explained the difficulty level to her and how it’s inappropriate for her age. She announced that she wants to experience it, maybe 2-3 km trek and then come back. I was apprehensive and scared. We enquired about the trek with the localites and they felt that it’s pretty conceivable. It was, of course their version based on their own stamina and experience.
We had our own car and driver. One can either take a taxi or cab from Kasol to Barshaini or opt for a budget-friendly bus ride.
So, the plan was to trek up to Kalga, relax, have tea and snacks and come down. There are two routes to reach Kheerganga from Barshaini:
1. Through Rudranag (13 km) – Difficult to climb, easier to come down and offers ravishing views (ideal for photography enthusiasts). It has less trees and vegetation; more of tiny hamlets on the way so a bit exhaustive during bright sunny days.
2. Through Kalga (15 km) – Easier to climb, difficult to descend. Thick vegetation and dense forests make it best suited for bright sunny days. This is lesser known route and people generally avoid it for there are chances of losing way due to dense forests. Ideal for first-timers and low on stamina trekkers like us :)
We obviously took the Kalga route. 15 to 20 min trek lead us to Kalga and we were stunned by the beauty of this quaint little village emitting the serenity every one of us crave for these days. We sat at the local cafe and sipped in hot tea while our daughter enjoyed Maggi with breathtaking views. People of Kalga were welcoming and cheerful. They encouraged us to trek to Kheerganga with our daughter as according to them it was not wise to leave such a beautiful place unexplored when you are so close to it.
With no arrangement for the journey ahead and little kid with us, it was eerie. We only had a light backpack with a bottle of water and an extra pair of clothes for our daughter. Water, food and accommodation weren’t a problem though because there were plenty of cafes on the way to Kheerganga and numerous places to stay at Kheerganga. Problem was the journey. With so many questions unanswered, we resigned to our daughter’s will and continued our journey to Kheerganga from Kalga.
It seemed easy at start with open grounds and lush green forests until we crossed a bridge made of wood logs. The trek became more demanding after 5 km walk. We made it a point to ask for the right way at every cafe on the way so that we don’t lose our way. There were fallen trees and rocks on the way and it became scary as we proceeded further. And then came this warning!
It scared a hell out of us! Good thing that we were more cautious now. As if that wasn’t enough, it started raining heavily. Tracks became muddy and increasingly difficult creating slippery walking conditions. We regretted and blamed ourselves for bringing our daughter here unprepared (no raincoats or ponchos). There were no kids, no families on the way; only boys’ gangs (typical backpackers and seasoned trekkers) and sadhus (saints). I’m still getting goose bumps while I’m writing about it. Few boys on the way warned us not to go further as it’s not safe in this kind of weather and there are only hippies at the Kheerganga.
But it was too late to move back as we had already trekked more than half the distance. We took a shelter in a tent on the way and waited until the rain eased off. A British couple waited with us in the same tent and having a chit-chat with them relaxed us. We started again while it was drizzling continuously. It took us 5 hours to complete the trek, however, locals and cafe owners whom we met on the way reached Kheerganga in less than 2 hours. Imagine the stamina these Himalayan guys have. They trek up and down every other day without any exhaustion and fuss.
We drank water from the waterfalls on the way to Kheerganga and believe me; I have never tasted water with such a sweet and delicate flavour, full of oxygen, naturally cold and digestible. It felt heavenly. We have travelled in India and abroad; experienced so many things but for the first time in my life, I literally realised that journey is more important and beautiful than the destination.
It’s absolutely a beautiful trek where physical pain or exhaustion feels like a breeze. Once we were at Kheerganga, we forgot the stress of the journey and soaked in the other-worldly views of the dream-like surroundings. Lush green meadows, clouds descending down to the valley, natural hot water spring surrounded by snow covered Himalayas. Would you ask for more?
How one feels? Serendipity. Euphoria. These are the words. Virgin nature makes you high, yeah, high on happiness and Shiva temple at the top makes you high on spirituality. Felt close to Mother Nature and to God at the same time. I was speechless as I entered the temple of Lord Shiva which holds a great religious significance.
There are two different legends that explains the origin of Kheerganga – One says that Lord Shiva meditated here for thousands of years and another says that Kartikeya, son of Lord Shiva and Parvati meditated here and the natural spring was emerged when Shiva struck the ground with His trishul on Parvati’s request as she was worried that her son wouldn’t get anything to eat here. This spring was kheer (Indian sweet dish made of milk and rice) in Satyuga (Golden Age) which was later turned into water during Kalyuga (Iron Age) by Shiva on Parshuram’s insistence.
Whatever it is, Kheerganga is certainly a miracle, water as white as milk, flowing in all its glory and its streams gushing into Parvati valley. Bath in the sulphur rich hot water spring is so relaxing and healing. There are two sub-sections of the pool – one for the men and the other for the women. It’s believed that drinking the water from the spring cures all kinds of gastric diseases and taking bath in it washes all your sins. We, as everyone, filled our bottles with the holy water to bring it back home.
Plan was to book a camp or room and stay overnight which changed later on taking into account certain factors not suitable for kids. It was 3:40 p.m. and we started trekking down with our fingers crossed. Calculations indicated that if we walk continuously without taking longer breaks, we would reach Barshaini by 8 p.m. It takes comparatively lesser time to trek down. We took the Rudranag route while coming down because it was told that the route is shorter and less steep than the other one.
Trek starts with walking through the thick pine forests and then suddenly landscapes change into fields and villages once you cross an iron bridge over the raging stream.
One of the fascinating, exhilarating and worth-mentioning features of Kheerganga trek is that the rumbling water stream and mighty waterfalls flow all through the trek. We crossed several streams on foot. The thunderous sound of the water reveals the dangerously beautiful side of the nature. It was scary and soothing at the same time. We really felt small in the face of nature. The trail gets narrower as one progresses further.
We stopped at Rudranag temple to offer our prayers. A waterfall was coming down from the mountain top with evident snake like shape and thus the name, Rudranag. People were taking dip in the water near the waterfall but it was too cold to handle for us. We moved further as it was getting dark.
Small villages on the way attract you to stop and admire the beauty in the simplicity. Villagers are so simple, helpful and cheery. One of the ladies at Nakthan village greeted and offered us to rest in her house for some time when she saw our tired little daughter but we politely turned down the offer saying we can’t afford to take a break. She blessed and applauded our daughter.
Kids coming back from the school, women bringing wood in a basket on their shoulders, people chit-chatting randomly; I felt like spending my life here! That’s how life’s supposed to be! A life so uncomplicated bereft of the harshness of the modern world.
4 km left, dog-tired, legs refused to move, almost vanquished, a mountain kid boosted our spirits. He moved gracefully from one stone to the other, swinging on the narrow paths, singing Himachali songs, no trace of panic; obviously it was a routine thing for him. But, his assurance (it’s just 20 more minutes and you’ll be down) and carefree attitude re-energised three of us and we followed him.
It was dark when we reached Barshiani. Our driver was waiting for us. Amazed at what we have accomplished (technically, we walked more than 25 km in a day), we retired and slept in the car while coming back to our resort in Kasol.
What had we gained? Well. We rediscovered ourselves. Connected with God. Connected with ourselves. Connected with nature. You never know what you are capable of until you have no choice. If given an option, I wouldn’t want to return to this false world of self-gratification and remorseful judgements. The trek left me with a lot to reflect on.
Things To Keep In Mind If You Are Planning To Trek Kheerganga
1. It’s better to start a trek early in the morning because it normally rains after 2 making it difficult to walk.
2. Carry light backpacks with a pair of flip-flops, torch or headlight, light towel, poncho or raincoat, warm jacket, swimwear, travel soap, toilet paper, tissues, and cash
3. I would recommend, don’t trek up and down from Kheerganga on the same day as it can get pretty risky and tiring. Better, chill and enjoy the fairy-tale like surroundings for a day.
4. Last but not the least, Respect nature. Be a responsible traveller and tourist. Don’t throw your trash anywhere. There are dustbins installed at all the cafes on the way for you guys to use it. Carry all the disposable waste in your bag and dump into a dustbin later. Don’t spoil the serenity of the nature by being a clamorous tourist.
This was our first ever trekking experience. Have you ever tried trekking with kids? How was your experience?