The red-and-white mobile telephony tower stands right at the edge of the river that divides Old Kasol and New Kasol. You see poetry in this too. That’s the problem with these hills. Combined with a river cutting through them, they turn you into a compulsive romantic, and mostly a bad poet.
Kasol, if you are unaware, is a town concealed in Parvati Valley of Kullu district in Himachal. (For directions, use Google.) So small is the town that you may as well mistake it for a set of inns and restaurants meant for pilgrims headed for Manikaran Sahib, a Sikh shrine barely three kilometres ahead. There is religion in Kasol too, but of a different kind.
The drive from Chandigarh is a tad long, especially if you’re someone looking for wonder on the way.
It begins with two tiring hours through the industrialised part of the ‘land of gods’. This is when you curse the governments, using the usual rhetoric about environment and your seasonal concerns.
Then, you encounter the wooden houses and tiny villages on both sides for another two hours. This is when you start off with your undying love of nature and the desire for a simple life. Cameras are pulled out.
And, before you know it, you meet the Beas and its many tributaries merging on the way. The three hours with it are about caressing the curves of the river, stopping to savour the moment and to have tea, and thinking of how pointless life is.
From Bhunter, you ditch the Manali road and follow the Parvati for an hour, on a life-threatening road dotted by potholes and pilgrims of many kinds. Some photographs and many painfully beautiful sights later, you reach Kasol. The familiar and friendly Baba Manigiri is sitting at the same place, at a teashop where you left him some months ago. He must have moved, but it doesn’t seem so.
The peace of mind is jolted slightly as you walk around and find a cheap hotel by the river. Once you settle in, the disqu disquiet of a raging Parvati sounds like a hum. The imposing hills crush your arrogance, and humility comes into view. The air carries the sweet smell of wood and vegetation, way too generous for your lungs battle-hardened by the city’s unfriendly fumes. And, finally, after you have carried out the hazy rituals associated with the place, religion finds you.
The way religion should.
Among the devotees, you will find mostly Israelis. From the looks of it and their peaceful disposition, these guys are not like their countrymen who see no wrong in killing Palestinians by the dozen. These Israelis seem harmless, and high. Who knows what they actually believe, though.
Here, they are too busy ‘scoring the right stuff ’. The term ‘joint family’ takes a whole new meaning when you see them sitting around a table, passing religion around in a chillam, taking two drags at a time. Atheism and its many versions go up in smoke.
You will want to eat, a lot. The food is mostly from the Middle East (or is it West Asia?), and bland at first. By the third bite, though, you discover something common to food and life: Peaceful coexistence of all ingredients is so much better than all the ingredients fighting a self-defeating se battle for supremacy.
As for shopping, it seems like cheap therapy that you no longer require. And sightseeing is too commercial a word to describe the time you spend here. This is not the urban centre Shimla, nor is it McLeodganj, where people are busy Facebooking the hell out of the experience.
The point of Kasol is in how your lips form a smile without you realising, how your breathing slows down to just the right pace, how you can jot down your thoughts undisturbed at a café filled with people, how your fingers move in sync for once, how your eyes light up every time you raise the lazy lids and observe the clouds, how your walk becomes languid and aimless, how your knees hurt but the heart no longer aches for some peace, and in how you write down a brief resignation, then chuckle at yourself and save it in Drafts as a lasting memory of the trip.