While it has been pretty chilly at night, the days have been warm and sunny. All the time I am up at higher altitude I am painfully aware that any moment the snows can arrive at this time of year and with them the closure of paths and routes up to and out of villages. So after a few days of whispered rumours of snow, one night there is an official warning for the next evening. With this news and a heavy heart, I packed my bags early the next morning and said my goodbyes to the lovely people I had met in Rasol.
The hike down was considerably easier and quicker than the hike up and in about an hour I’m almost at the floor of the valley and back in Chalal. It feels like a different world down here after some time up with the villagers in Rasol. Suddenly I see and feel the tourism around me which I had wandered past oblivious just a week earlier. Being up high with the farmers living more traditionally for a short time was truly magical and has made me sensitive to the more negative aspects of tourism in the valley. The loud Goa trance that people seem intent on blasting out at full volume, the casual littering of plastic and the fact that you cant just light up a spliff anywhere you want all of a sudden. It leaves me yearning to get back out of Kasol as soon as possible, but that is going to prove to be harder than it sounds!
After reaching Kasol I check into the Panjtara hotel, a cosy and friendly place with good standards and a really great social area with multiple fireplaces and comfortable chairs. Its time to get some writing done and download some photos. I order a Sweet Lassi, a kind of yoghurt milkshake and get to writing. At the same time behind me out of the window snow starts to gently fall, building and building in strength until there is a full power snowstorm going on. The temperature plummets and the people coming into the building look half frozen and half-drowned. Most Indians not from the mountains have never seen snow or even felt really cold so there are some looks of shock and disbelief on the tourists seeking shelter in the hotel bar. I have taken the most comfortable chair right next to the fire so I am happy and get on with some blogging.
I realised fairly quickly that the snow was going to limit some of the places I can visit. Grahan just outside of Kasol and my next intended destination is already a hard 4-5 hour walk in good conditions so sadly I am going to have to leave that visit for another season. Similarly, there are other places that now have become inaccessible so with that in mind I make a casual plan of where to go next. Now I am just at the mercy of the storm outside, there is no going anywhere until it stops. Visibility is almost zero and the roads and paths are dangerous enough without the ice and slush. So there is nothing else for it but to sit back, make some new friends and smoke a lot of the amazing Charas and cream I have found so far. The nice thing about being the one person who has bothered to get to the further away places and really spend time meeting the farmers is that I have by far and away from the best quality of Charas of everyone I meet.
In the brief windows of clear weather, I venture outside to be welcomed by the stunning sight of snow now covering the lower elevations of the valley and a beautiful mist. The town goes into a kind of hibernation when it’s like this. There isn’t much you can do but get cosy and warm and settled down until it passes.
In this case that is only about 3 days but I awoke early one morning to find the snow in Kasol has mostly melted and the bus route up the valley to Manikaran is open. I pack as quickly as I can and head to my favourite little coffeeshop while I wait for a bus. It is in this coffeeshop that one of those magical moments in life happens.
I’m sitting next to one of the first westerners I have seen in India. He is scruffy, coughing like an old goat and looks very very tired. We start talking and it quickly becomes clear that we have a lot in common. He is taking the same bus as me and knows the area well so I listen to his advice and suggestions happily. Let’s call him Mike the mountain man… It turns out Mike has been living up here for a number of years and his local knowledge is impressive; it’s these kinds of connections which can change everything on a trip like this so I pay attention to what he is saying and write down his suggestions of places to visit.
We are heading to the same first stop so we get on the bus together and the 30-minute ride goes by in what seems like seconds as we chat away like old friends. As we get off in Manikaran we exchange details and make plans to meet later in my trip. For now, I need to find a taxi for the next leg of my journey as the roads are impassable for the buses so this is the end of the line for easy travel.