Backpacking Adventure in the Himalayas- Kheerganga Trek
Nestled in the lap of mighty Himalayas, Kheerganga is a tiny hamlet that offers more than a standard adventure to those who come here!
There are some journeys that change the way you look at the world and trek to the absolutely gorgeous Kheerganga did this and more to me. Nestled in the Himalayan lap at a height of over 2900 meters (9514 ft) above sea level in the State of Himachal Pradesh (India), Kheerganga is a place you have to see to believe!
Before this trek, I was always what you would call a ‘pampered’ tourist. Holidays to me meant luxury, more luxury and even more comfort! Then my brother came back from trek to a place called Kheer Ganga. Pictures, descriptions and the fact that he did not stop talking about the place for months together convinced me and my husband that we should give it a shot. We chose May end for making this journey which we were pretty excited about. I could see an opportunity to do something new and I could not wait to get there. I, my husband, brother and sister-in-law were the partners in this journey.
Our plan was to stay at a small village called Kasol for the night and start the trek early in the morning. On Wednesday afternoon we reached this tiny hamlet near Manali just a few miles before Manikaran. As our van took the diversion to Manikaran, under the dense shade of fragrant deodars we came to be intoxicated by the beauty of this place. A few miles on and we found ourselves in Kasol which is popularly referred to as the ‘Israel’ of India and is still a little known place (No! we ain’t complaining!). This is also one kickass place I would give our readers a great bit about, in coming days but as of now Kheerganga is my destination.
From Kasol to Barshaini
Friends on the way
Next day, as per our plan we DID NOT start early for the trek. In fact we were so busy sinking our teeth in the Lebanese and Israeli breakfast, not to foárget the drool worthy chocolate laden crepes that it was 9.15 in the morning when we realised that a trek awaited us! Sometimes I hate the foodie in me and this was one such time. We carried our mini backpacks and took a cab to another village called Barshaini which is about 12 kilometres from Kasol and the place from where the trek to Kheer Ganga begins.
The road to Barshaini was the kind which made us regret the heavy breakfast that was now rolling and pitching inside us. 90% of the entire stretch was debris on which the tyres of our cab skidded, inching towards the deep valley and we held on to our dear life! After ten minutes of watching the valley with a cover of coniferous forests and picturesque villages we sort of forgot the dangerous drive. After an arduous 40 minutes ride (definitely some kind of speed record considering the road!), we were at Barshaini with huge smiles on our faces. Virgin snow covered peaks melting into verdant expanse on the lower side of grand mountains greeted us with open arms and we just stood looking at them…..until a big stinky herd of goats made their way ignoring us!
Trek to a Nature Lover’s Heart
Well, we could not ignore the goats, especially the smell and tried to get to the side of the road which we did with great difficulty. The dusty road led us to a slope that we had to climb down to get to the foot of the next hill. Once there, we again stood staring at the view of nature’s grandeur and no, we were not even high! It was already 10.15 and the piercing sun was on our heads as we began the unknown and exciting 12 kilometer (7 mile) trek to Kheerganga. As a warning, last 5 kilometres feel like 10 and to us they felt like 20 for reasons you will uncover as you read on.
The beginning of the climb takes you through farms perched on each other in staircase style which is common in the hilly terrains everywhere. Colors in these areas of Himachal are projected in HD! A surreal feeling takes over as you make the climb while soaking in the brilliant blues, calming greens and glaring sun. Our surroundings were so quiet that each chirp of the birds and rustling of dry leaves under our feet could be heard clearly. The calm was occasionally interrupted by trekkers who would pass a smile and say hello. These people were world’s friendliest for sure! Four of us had our own talking to do so the couple of miles were spent admiring aloud and of course selfies and pics.
We reached a tiny quaint village where fellow trekkers (read hippies) were taking rest at an eating place. We filled our bottles with water and after stopping there for five minutes resumed the climb. In this cute village you can rent rooms for some 100-200 bucks in the homes of locals. I really wanted to do it but well we were on a timeline. The climb was becoming increasingly steep and there were times when we were negotiating a narrow path on the edge of the mountain. Talking had stopped because we had to conserve our energy and more importantly concentrate on the path lest a vertical limit might have happened. On the way a dog had taken a liking to us and began walking alongside. We named him….Boozer! In my defence my brother came up with this name.
The precipitous climb had small water streams on the way with inviting cold water. A splash of that on your face would refresh you beyond any energy drink you have had. After a walk of one hour from the last village we reached another small landmark called Rudranag. All you could see here was a green clearing with a dilapidated dharamshala on one side and a shelter kind of wooden structure on the other. But what would actually catch your attention is a gorgeous waterfall here. The trail of this waterfall that gradually climbs down the mountain looks like a meandering tail of a snake and the fall itself resembles the hood of a Cobra, hence the name. This is a holy place for Hindus and shoes are not allowed around the fall.
There was another thing about this place that struck our ears- the loud churning of water and it was not coming from the waterfall but somewhere beyond. About fifty meters (164 feet) of walk on our trek, we discovered the source of the sound- Parbati River. The way it gushed in whites between the openings of rocks had us all thinking- what if someone fell in there! While we brushed off this thought, it came back as a solid slap as we looked upon a small, rickety wooden plank over the river that we had to cross on our way to the next climb. Many people were crossing over it and some were even getting the pictures clicked. That gave us loads of confidence and we hopped, skipped and jumped over the plank while getting one good look at the dangerous yet hypnotising sight of the Parbati River under our feet.
The final climb……errr…run
As we crossed over to the other side, we looked at the almost vertical climb that faced us. With our stomachs finally rumbling with hunger we began this climb and my brother promised us a Maggi treat right after the climb. Thankfully for us, he was right and a small shanty with polythene shelter and some chairs and tables greeted us. This was one charming place to eat at, with a small stream gurgling past us and lush greenery enveloping us from all sides. We ordered for piping hot tea and Maggie. The temperature we observed had fallen quite a bit and before we could finish our cuppa, black clouds were hovering in the sky. The Maggie was forgotten instantly and hunger ignored. The lad at the Maggie shop promised he will serve us Maggie on our way down the next day! With a heavy heart (I was so hungry that my husband looked like a Maggie packet to me) and heavier breath we made a run for it along with rest of the trekkers who like us had been looking to rest here.
There was still a long trail of 4-5 kilometres left and we were at a height where air had thinned down considerably. Slight drizzling had started as we made our way through dense alpine forest which was becoming darker with every passing minute due to clouds. Thunders could be heard and everyone was in a panic mode. At that height you did not want to get wet or stranded. The whole scenario was scary but very funny. The macho guys on the way were calling their moms and some of them looked like they would pee in pants!
I on the other hand just wanted to sit and catch my breath which my brother would just not let me do. One more time, the thought of WHY the hell my mom dad decided to have him crossed my mind. As I leaned on the deodar tree to stand for a bit amidst the frantic shouts of my beloved family members, a creaking noise caught my attention and I realised that the wind was so strong up there that there was a real possibility of trees falling on us. With that thought I decided to give it one last nudge and ran. My mom’s shoes that I was wearing were slightly big for me were now completely wet and made my progress slow- a big mistake I thought but there was no time to think. We all ran like mad dogs….panting breathlessly. Suddenly my husband’s voice reached my ears that said- we are here. The joy of hearing those words was immeasurable as I was really stretching myself to my limit now.
I literally climbed the last few metres on my fours and as I reached the top, suddenly the entire landscape changed, almost like magic. A huge green meadow stood majestically in front of me. Snow peaked mountains surrounding this meadow look so close that a feeling of stretching and touching them vibrates within you repeatedly. This was not the beauty of a dazzling damsel who is proud but that of a saint who is aware of his aura. Mountains have a special place in my heart but this one stole my heart from the word go. By the time we crashed in one of the huge tents, sleet was settling on the vast green expanse on Kheerganga. We were fully aware of the cold conditions for the first time since the start of the trek. One more thought struck at the time- we did not have any warm clothing, only a shawl! I wanted to curse my brother yet again but I wanted to catch my breath as well, besides this place had calmed me down completely.
Still trying to get our rhythm back, my brother announced that this was not our final destination. We had to reach a small complex of cottages of a Dharamshala behind the tent about 50 metres ahead of us- the slope that awaited us looked like Mount Everest at the time. But his assurances of a cosy room with blankets and bed motivated us and we dragged ourselves like war wounded but absolutely happy soldiers. This was also the point where “Boozer”…..our temporary pet dog for the trek left us finally. As we reached Dharmshala, we finally got one good view of this place due to its height. There were a number of tent strewn across the meadow with smoke coming out of their chimneys. This place boasted of a very few permanent structures, one being the dharamshala.
Rooms were indeed tiny with just a place for a small sized double bed. The mattress was for namesake and there was pile of blankets. I was elated. A luxury hotel with all of its comforts could not match this place!
Hot Water Springs
We were all freezing so my brother suggested that we take the dip in the natural hot springs Kheerganga is famous for. Again a mini trek of 20 metres took us to the two springs- one in the open for the gentlemen and the one with a wooden wall on the sides for the ladies. As me and my sister-in-law got into the pool of hot water, it was a feeling of being reborn….reincarnated! We sat in there completely taken in by the glorious picture god had painted here. Snow capped peaks that looked carefully crafted by the hands of almighty and the overwhelming feeling of being one with nature was so profound here. I still remember words of an Israeli traveller whom we met here when she said “this place shows you your place as human beings and asserts that we are all equal and so small in front of the nature”.
As we returned drenched in the glowing warmth of the hot water springs our tummies reminded us that we had deprived them of any nourishment for quite some time now. While we wondered that we will get to eat here, my brother winked that know-it-all wink and asked us to follow him. We entered one of the big tents where hordes of people were sitting on the carpeted floor- smoking and generally chatting up. We moved outside to find an adjacent space by the side of the tent where some tables and chairs were propped up. Again getting surprised by the beauty of the views, we made ourselves comfy on the chairs. Few waiters appeared from somewhere and gave us blankets to cosy ourselves up and handed the menu cards. My eyes literally popped as I took a look at the gourmet spread they had in there! Rohtang pass in Manali which also lies at around the same height as Kheerganga but commands much larger tourist traffic only has Maggie on its menu and that is what I expected out of Kheerganga too.
We settled for Cream of Mushroom soup (the best I have ever had), pasta and stone baked pizza. While we relished our food we chatted up with a few other travellers there. We met this Indian chick who proclaimed her love for travel and specifically for Himachal. She was writing a travel book and confessed that she ended up spending 3-4 months every year in Himachal. The sun was going down and we all retreated to Dharmshala. All four of us sat in blankets in our room and talked. In some time the caretaker of Dharamshala bought steaming hot rice, kadhi and rajma for dinner. We polished off all that food as well. Outside our room the temperature had reached freezing point but the sky above gave spectacular view of the stars in our galaxy. A few minutes of looking up gave you the illusion of floating in the space. Next day morning after a relaxed dip in the pool again we made our way to the Shiva temple here before climbing our way down.
As we began the trek back, there was a feeling that you get when you leave home. Kheerganga is a place that embraces you like a mother. It has been quite a few months since my trek to that place but the beauty of it still fills my eyes. Every time we all sit to plan for our holiday, Kheerganga always comes up in the plans. This place is a camper's paradise and i would love to go there again and pitch my tent in this beautiful place.
How to get there
By Air: You can take a flight from Delhi to Bhuntar Airport located in Kullu Valley which is about 45 kilometers(28 miles) from Kasol. You can rent a car, take cabs or local buses from airport to Barshaini or Kasol.
By Road: From Delhi, a number of interstate buses run to Manali. You will have to get down at Hathithan bus stop before Manali at the diversion that leads to Manikaran Road. Huge number of cabs and local buses ply on this route that can take you to Barshaini or Kasol.
Tips for the Kheerganga Trek
Start the trek early in the morning, preferably around 7 AM so that you have enough daylight on your hands;
Carry water and keep sipping on it to avoid dehydration since the glare of sun is extremely strong here due to the height. Though there is no need to carry food but biscuits and wafers would prove to be handy;
Keep yourself covered even if it gets hot while climbing up. Skin burns from sun are very common here. Apply sun protection and sunscreen lotions profusely before the trek begins;
Keep your luggage small and light. Pack only essentials which should include a woolen jacket for the night and a thin sweater for day;
Pack flashlights since there is no electricity in Kheerganga;
If makeshift toilets and only bare necessities being available are not your cup of tea then shun the plans to go to Kheerganga;
Wear comfortable and preferably waterproof shoes for the trek. A windcheater is also a good idea.
Do checkout our awesome Travel Store to buy all the above listed things and more for your next adventure.
So, this was my takeaway for you free-spirited people. I am still not done with Kheerganga; next time I want to stay there for one full day. Spend time just sitting, relaxing and staring at the gift god has left here for us ‘lesser mortals’ to see and feel. It’s a beauty that cannot be described in words or even pictures. As I said when I started out, you have to see it to believe it!