Nestled in the heart of the Parvati valley, Kasol, once the centre of the hippy and traveller community is a sleepy little place. Stretching along the valley floor alongside the Parvati river, huge pine trees dominate the town and the steep hillsides tower above to either side of the river. The view from town is framed by the stunning mountains off in the distance at the head of the valley. It really is a magical place and when the first westerners started to make their way up here 50 years ago they must really have thought they had discovered nirvana. The fact that the entire area is home to cannabis cultivation on a scale that is almost impossible to comprehend probably helped many with their decision to stay and make this place a semi-permanent home.
Made up of Hostels, cafes and an unfathomable number of bong and head shops, Kasol is having a bit of an identity crisis. where once the westerners were the major demographic, now the hippies have mostly moved on and the western tourist numbers have been steadily going down year on year. In their place over the last 5 years a massive upsurge in young Indian tourists have started to arrive. Tourism in India; once the preserve of the foreigner and wealthy has now opened up to a huge local market, keen to explore their own country and experience what brought the hippies to the magical mountains.
Kasol and other parts of the Kullu region are struggling to adapt to this change in tourist demographic and in parts just the sheer numbers now arriving from around the country. That being said, it is a very welcome development that Indians are now getting the chance to see their incredible country for themselves. Solutions to the inevitable issues of pollution, waste collection and disposal and the impact on ancient local cultures will have to come soon and until they do the environmentally sensitive valleys are going to experience a difficult period of transition.
If you come to the Parvati valley, you are inevitably going to stop in Kasol, it is a good jumping off point to get to the different villages which spread out in every direction from the town centre. The hostels are plentiful and range from cheap dorm rooms, mid-range hotels with hot water and terraces with wonderful views of the mountains, up to the very comfortable and up market Panjtara where you can sit looking across the river while sipping on cocktails and smoking a hookah pipe. Food options are varied, the local food from the smaller cafes is excellent and will keep you going as you are burning off those calories trekking in search of hash, there is still a strong Israeli and Italian influence in most cafes so if you need something a little more familiar they have you covered here. Oh, and yeah, cakes!! They have a lot of cake shops here, there is even a 4×4 mobile cake shop who arrives I’m sure strategically when he thinks the munchies have probably kicked in for most people!
Signs of the valleys real attraction are everywhere; cannabis plants peak over walls and sprout from cracks in walls. Even this late in the season the milder climate of the lower valley allows plants to keep growing.
Every café and hostel I went into was smoking friendly and more often than not you will be offered hash as your buying a coffee or checking into your hotel! The prices for charas in Kasol are much higher than outside in the smaller villages and the quality is lower. You certainly won’t find anything resembling ‘Cream’ here unless you are willing to fork out large sums of money. I was quoted 8000 rupees and up (£100/$130 per tola/10 grams) for top quality, 4 times what you should be paying.
Of course, I have to point out that hash is still illegal here even though the valleys have a very relaxed approach and smoking seems tolerated everywhere. Anywhere there is a road there is a chance of police checks and I had heard numerous reports of people being searched, especially on the way out of the valley. Cafes are occasionally checked but the further from the main road you are the less chance of interference. The advice I was given is, never carry more than a small amount when walking around, don’t smoke on the street, head for the smaller villages if you really want to relax and smoke freely and use common sense. All pretty obvious really but it is important to remember that although it feels like hash is legal when you are up here just due to the sheer openness of everyone selling and smoking and the plants growing all over the place, it isn’t and if the police want to hassle you they will. Just head away from Kasol and the road and these issues dissipate with distance.
The reason for being here is to find the best quality traditional hash and see if there is still a noticeable variance from village to village and the only way to do that is to hike out of Kasol and head up higher; much higher!
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All the hostels and hotels will let you leave you larger bags with them when you go off trekking, so I packed what I needed for a week into a small backpack checked out, walked over Kasol’s little bridge and struck out through the ‘Trippy forest’ for a short walk to Chalal , the first small enclave away from Kasol and the waypoint for the much longer trek up towards Rasol, the lesser known twin to Malana.