“Trekking girl or party girl?” asked the 30-something firang from behind his shades, with a suggestive twitch of the mouth. Leaning back in his chair at the open café in Kasol, he waited for an answer.

Taken completely unawares, I looked at him trying to conceal my surprise at his directness.

“Trekking girl.” I replied with feigned coldness, though I must admit I wanted to say ‘party girl’ and take my chances.

I, along with a friend, was looking for a nice hotel by the Parvathi river in Kasol. And this was how we were welcomed in the small district of Kasol, 42 km from Kullu. Kasol is a haven for drug pedlars and consumers. Oh and it’s also a base for trekkers, like me (okay, wannabe trekker).

Chilly waters

Restign in the lap of hills, with the cold waters of the Parvathi river cutting across it, it is just the ideal place for a quick and quiet retreat amidst nature. The touristy area is crowded with cafes, lounges, and hotels offering a riverside or mountain view. Lots of nice Iranian cafes and good-looking Middle-eastern guys around. Getting hold of the famous Malana cream, said to be the best hash in the world, is not difficult here. Just wear a hint of a smile on your face, spring in your step, chin up, and someone is bound to accost you saying, “Madam, do you want to party?”

A different kind of backpacking

But actually the most adventurous and hilarious brush we had was right after we landed in Kullu and hired a cab to Zari village where we had booked a hotel over the phone. Riding through the narrow dusty streets, we reached a single-floor building on a hill. It did look romantic, I must admit.

The owner, a petite man dressed in a three-piece suit in the heat (yes, it was burning there!), came out and greeted us with such joy we thought he had mistaken us to be somebody else. Entering the peach-tiled structure, we saw a most beautiful sight—wooden interiors, full-length glass windows overlooking the valley, and snow-capped peaks in the far distance. It was the restaurant of the hotel. Empty. Quiet. The only sound that was audible was the consistent noise of the white frothy brook down below. We sat down. He served us tea—we hadn’t ordered any and tried to protest that we didn’t really want it, but gulped it after we saw his face changing colour.

Overlooking heaven

“I am just coming from a shoot. I help these filmy people shoot in Manali.” He said in broken English as soon as we settled in the balcony overlooking the river and the valley. We noticed his chest and shoulders didn’t seem petite anymore.

“Arre wah, toh aap bhi acting karte hain? (That’s nice. So, do you act as well?)” We asked.

“Yes, I am the hero (here he paused to note our reactions)…hero’s security guard.” he said.

One of my friends lit a cigarette. Local Hero’s eyes were also lit at the same time.

“I can arrange party for you guys. You have come to party?” he said dropping his voice to almost a whisper.

“No, we are here for trekking. We haven’t come to attend any party.”

“Han, karni bhi nahi chahiye (Right, you shouldn’t party). These firangs have spoiled the culture here.Very good.Very good.” The change in tone was quick.

A middle-aged lady entered the hall.

Local Hero bared his extra-white teeth and greeted her, “How was the night, madam?” he said with a glint in his eye.

We couldn’t catch the lady’s reply.

Anyway, he then drove us to where our rooms were—a different building uphill, around a kilometer away from where we were. We had to trek through a village to reach the place.

We entered a hall—all wooden, psychedelic posters with dragons and ‘wild horse’ logos stuck on the glass windows. Half a dozen empty liquor bottles lay strewn beside the huge music system.

“I will be back in a minute. I have aroused the caretaker from his sleep; he will join you in a while.” saying so he went out.

After 5 minutes, a guy walked out from one of the rooms. Tattooed legs, hands, shoulders, parched white lips, he looked in our direction and tried to smile but his lips were so dry they stuck together. In the next 15 minutes, two more people came out from two other rooms.

After waiting for almost 25 minutes, we decided to go out and look for Local Hero. We did see him. Standing over the wash basin, shaving foam on his face; he was (un)dressed in a shirt and umnn…boxers is a decent word for it. The pants had been conveniently parted with.

I had a hard time suppressing my giggles.

We realised we had to slip away. But we did not know the way back. It was a desolate trail through a scarcely-populated village we had made our way through. There was no other settlement in sight.

The Local Hero’s maid came forward, “Let me show you the rooms upstairs.” We went. Said a polite thank you and turned back.

So our fist trek involved us briskly making our way through the path we had come by. I took out an orange from my bag pocket and started nibbling on it as I tried to catch up with my friends.

“Guys, but I liked the white horse poster.” I called out.

Before my friend could reply, we saw the orange restaurant. Local Hero’s right hand man was standing at the gate and called out to us, “Madam, kya hua? Room pasand nahi aaya.” (Did you not like the room?)

Still no car in sight. A long way ahead. And the only human settlement was this orange concrete inn. We realized we couldn’t avoid him. We hadn’t paid for the tea; he had insisted it was on him. We went inside and offered to pay, while telling him that we found the room too small for 5 people. He refused to accept the money, and instead offered to drop us to town in the hotel jeep.

Our reply consisted of words like ‘trekking’, ‘healthy walking’, ‘backpacking’. And this is how we found ourselves walking the path from Zari through Malana to Kullu. In the scorching sun. With our backpacks hoisted up our backs. But the breeze was cool. And the snow-capped mountains were in sight. The river was very much with us. And there were little waterfalls spurting from crevices between the cut mountains on the side of the road.

Stopping to smell the river

Fresh mountain oranges (not that they were substantially different from the ones we get in cities, but we liked to think they were juicier and healthier) and chilled clear water from the waterfalls—it wouldn’t have been this exciting and overwhelming had Local Hero not bared his legs.

In tune

Snow-capped motivation

Next was Kasol and Malana, where the residents don’t let you touch them because they think they are the descendants of Alexander’s army. We were to get the world’s best hash, see rave parties with psychedelic music throbbing throughout the valley, drink more water from fresh springs, and walk miles before we could even think of sleeping. Watch out this space for the more of Malana exposés.

Nishi Jain

Nishi Jain spent some precious years of her life studying English literature, editing novels, and writing newspaper articles. Then one day, as she was sitting under a tree with no branches, a rotten pancake fell on her head from the window above and she had her Newtonian moment. From then on, all she does is eat pancakes, write, and profess fake love to pastry chefs.

Nishi Jain – who has written posts on WAH Blog.