Kasol has little allure for me as a traveller- a realisation I came to after spending 2 days at the hill station. With strong undertones of marijuana, blaring psychedelic/house music, Kasol lacks everything that one seeks in a peaceful tucked-away-in-the-mountains experience. Accommodation options are shady and tired, there are no views of the hills or the valley to speak of (unless you’re a distance away from Kasol) and the river is surrounded by filthy banks. Dirty and commercial, Kasol doesn’t offer anything that warrants such a long and exhausting drive from Delhi. The one thing it does offer though, is a spectacular trek to Kheerganga, and good food in the form of its many cafes.
The drive to Kasol is tedious at best, and unlike the drives in Uttarakhand where the first sight of the hills brings with it the fresh mountain air and a pleasant drive through its lush green turns, the drives in Himachal Pradesh are lined with trucks that pump out polluted air until it becomes unbearable enough to make you roll up the windows. It passes through stretches of villages, much truck and bus traffic and during the summer months- a significant lack of cool air. The drive gets better only when the river comes into sight, and from then on the view only gets better as cloud-covered mountain peaks reveal themselves to the view-thirsty traveller. Almost 280 kilometres in the hills and 7 hours along winding roads later, one arrives in the commercial hill town of Kasol.
Watch the video from my Kasol-Kheerganga trek:
Where to stay:
Most accommodation options in Kasol are limited to 2 and 3 star hotels, the best of these being the Sandhya Hotel which comes at a price too steep for the budget traveller. You could opt for the Turquoise Cottage instead, which overlooks the river and offers two different types of rooms- the first kind priced at 1,000 per night (per room) and the other at 2,000 per night (per room). Surprisingly, our room was much better than I had expected after the quality of rooms I had come across in the area. The place gets filled quickly and easily, specially on weekends, and the higher category rooms are few in number so it helps to book in advance. AirBnb has no comfortable homestay or hotel options for Kasol at the moment.
What to eat:
Kasol is famous for it’s cafes and many are run by Israeli immigrants who offer elaborate menus that offer a mix of Israeli, Indian, Italian, Chinese and finger food. From my experiments with pastas and pizzas, I recommend sticking to Israeli cuisine and basic finger food. The various cafes include Moondance, Evergreen, Bhoj and Little Italy, the many options making it difficult to pick where to eat in Kasol.
Lemon Ana is a recommended mocktail, the Kasol version of a strong virgin mojito served mixed with crushed ice. You could mix it with Old Monk for a refreshing DIY cocktail but virgin or doused in alcohol- it’s a good drink to try. Another Kasol staple is a dessert called “Hello the Queen” which is a serving of sliced bananas with ice cream, chocolate syrup and a few other things I haven’t yet been able to identify. Both are available at Moondance and Cafe Bhoj.
Kasol is surrounded by Tosh, Kheerganga, Malana and Chalal. The trek to Kheerganga (15 kms) and Tosh (1 km) begins from Barshaini, with Kheerganga being the most invigorating of all. Malala (an hour’s walk from Kasol) ‘s known for it’s marijuana and is famous for being inhospitable, remote and sometimes hostile. Many tourists opt to stay in Chalal in order to escape the crowds in Kasol.
The trek to Kheerganga has been one of my favourite experiences in the area and it comes with many spectacular views of the valley, the river, many waterfalls, rainbows and an exciting yet breathtaking walk up to this remote little hill top. Unfortunately like many other things, it has fallen prey to commercialisation and is no longer as beautiful as it once was. With over 500 tents and many occupants, mini-cafes and their exorbitantly priced menus, and the animal excreta lying about every 5o meters, the beauty of Kheerganga has been compromised. Still, the trek is worth the experience and is a beautiful one even if the journey is far better than the destination. Without this minor issue of over-crowding, Kheerganga has many an awe-inspiring landscape worth breathing in, with the clouds descending on mountain peaks, crisp nip in the air, tents that open up to a view of the waterfall, mountain dogs that happily give company in exchange for a little petting and hot springs that solve all of life’s problems in one dip.