This article was also published in the New Indian Express, Bangalore edition and can be accessed here – http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/528583/The-New-Indian-Express-Bangalore/25-JUNE-2015#page/21/1
The village of Tosh, located in the far end of Parvati valley near Kasol, Himachal Pradesh, is an idyllic hamlet with few thousand inhabitants. The village is no different from hundreds of others scattered through the great Himalayan belt which passes through a major part of North and North-East India. One of the many obscure villages that exist in Himachal Pradesh, Tosh, however is different as it attracts a large number of foreign tourists. A majority of these foreigners are Israelis. The village is also becoming a favoured destination for backpackers and hippies. The reason for this is quite simple. Tosh offers tourists a beautiful view of the surrounding hills, an experience of living in a rustic hamlet without fancy hotels, cheap food, nominally prices rooms for night stay, easy access to hash (which is a primary reason for attracting hippies as well as Israeli tourists) and a passage to Kheerganga – located around 12 kms above Tosh. Kheerganga is of particular significance for worshippers of the Hindu God – Shiva. According to mythological stories, Shiva’s elder son, Karthikeyan, is believed to have meditated here for many years. Kheerganga is also home to a natural hot water spring. The hot water spring is a another attraction for tourists. Many trekkers even choose to trek up to Kheerganga just for the pleasure of travelling through the great mountains and enjoy the diverse scenic beauty the journey offers. The trek offers a view of snow capped peaks, waterfall, tall great trees, rocks, sunlight shining through tree cover, cold breeze brushing past as the sun begins to fade away and a never ending journey ( trekking a distance of 12 – 13 kms through the mountains is a challenging task for most of us city dwellers). Technically, the Kheerganga trek is a distance of 15 kms if one begins to walk from Tosh village. Some people prefer to cut down the distance to 12 kms by choosing to ride down till Bharsheni, the last point where vehicles can go. From that point onwards it is a long walk through the hills. What is unique about the Kheerganga trek is that it is not just a tough, steep and upward climb throughout. Parts of the trek are through large meadow like plains, parts of it are a not so steep climb through walkable terrain while some parts of it are reasonably steep and at times slippery. One misstep in some places and a person could go in a freefall through sharp bushes and steep slopes. The good news is that with a bit of extra care in the tricky places, a novice too can negotiate the “risky spots” without much difficulty. There are around 3 major resting points in the trek where tourists can take a break and get something to drink and eat. It goes without saying that travelers should carry a bottle of water and some eatables during the trek. Some brave folks even choose to carry their own bags instead of availing the services of a porter. A majority of the foreigners as well as enthusiastic backpackers and regular trekkers choose to not opt for porter services. For those who are unsure and not too regular at long treks, it is advisable to take a porter along to carry the luggage. An extra pair of clothes, some warm-wear and a bottle of liqour (for those who love drinking in the midst of mountains after a rough day of physical exertion) and a torch (extremely important) should suffice.
The trek can take anywhere between 3.5 – 6 hours and beyond to complete the uphill climb. The return journey can be shorter by around 30% of the uphill time. Some people even plan to undertake the return journey on the same day. It however is advisable to stay back for the night at Kheerganga and begin start return journey the next day. This will not only avoid over-exertion, but also give adequate time to stay back at the top and enjoy the lovely view the place offers. The hot water spring too functions only till 8 pm in the evening. Those who miss out on having a bath on the first day, can do so on the next day before beginning the descent. A unique feature of Kheerganga is the near absence of lights and electricity. The entire place gets engulfed in darkness after sunset. The cafes provide food till around 10-10:30 pm at night. Tents are put up for visitors to sleep at night. There also are few wooden shacks and dormitories to stay. These shacks and common rooms are completely different from a regular stay at any hotel and offer a unique experience. Needless to say, it gets quite cold at night even in summer.
Break of dawn offers a completely different view of the surroundings. Lush green hills, snow-capped peaks and clouds kissing the mountain tops are a common sight. The beauty of the place lies in its quietness, stillness and remoteness. One feels as if time has come to a standstill. The weather in Kheerganga changes quite drastically during the monsoon season. One moment it might be bright and shining. In a few minutes however, it might start raining and temperatures can drop significantly in such cases. Extra warm clothes however, are usually required only after evening. Food is available in the cafes at reasonable rates. The locals who run the cafes are friendly and amiable. It is advisable to carry your own booze and cigarettes. Those who wish to stay away from their mobile phones, day to day routine and normal city life for a few days with a bit of physical activity may find Kheerganga an ideal destination. The overall trek is of moderate difficulty and doable even for first time trekkers with reasonably decent physical condition and health. This trek can be a good stepping stone for undertaking other more difficult treks through the great Himalayan ranges.