Cannabis, trance parties and falafel: the new Goa in the Himalayas
The mountains aren’t the only thing high in Kasol. The little village in Himachal is turning into the freewheeling new Goa these days. No bikinis and beaches but you can make a side trip to meet the descendants of Alexander's army.
We had Kasol fever, and we had it bad. Three Delhi girls with overweight backpacks, anxious to get far from the madding city crowd, and curious to know why friends just couldn’t stop waxing eloquent about a little village on the river Parvati in Himachal Pradesh. The spontaneity of translating thought into action in a matter of a few hours, made the ‘idea’ of just taking off all the more exhilarating.
After a back-breaking, and bum-flattening 16-hour bus journey, I wanted to stab spontaneity where it hurt most. The bus dropped us right in front of Little Italy — a restaurant that serves everything but Italian. It is famous in all of Kasol for dishing out the best pancakes and the yummiest falafels. We found comfort and solace in food, and a place to crash for a few hours at a nearby guesthouse.
Over the next 48 hours, we were serenaded by a London boy living off saved unemployment wages; offered a mind-boggling variety of drugs (from MDMA to hashish); stopped by sadhus eager to teach us how to channel our inner zen; danced to the tunes of a retired American journalist who looked like Dumbledore; and inevitably… were invited to the biggest Psytrance party.
Pegged as the new Goa by many, sans the beach and the bikinis, Kasol is the new go-to place for foreign backpackers, young Israelis fleeing army recruitment and home-grown tourists like yours truly looking for places off the beaten track. The shift of the Psytrance festival from Goa to this little village is just one more sign of Kasol's newfound status.
With the Goa government intent on rescuing the state's image, the police is now severely cracking down on raves and drugs – making freewheeling Kasol the new destination for those looking for the next high. The streets are dotted with marijuana plants, growing fresh and green, and there’s not a cop in sight. Except for a hydro power project close by, government presence is near minimal. Leading the migration are the Israelis whose presence is everywhere, from the banners and signboard in Hebrew to the ubiquitous presence of falafels and laffa on the menu.
Kasol is bang in the middle of Malana and Manikaran; three dots on an axis that encompasses a universe of contrasts. On one end is Manikaran a pilgrimage spot which houses a sacred hot spring and a gurudwara. On the other is Malana, the mother lode of the famous Malana cream, the highest quality cannabis resin in the world.
We witnessed its effects first-hand thanks to the American journalist – aka Dumbledore – who now called himself HuHa Baba (that's right, HuHa). He sang, danced, and played an odd-looking musical instrument made of lambskin, insisting we put our ear against the instrument to hear the sound of the ocean. A magical experience, we suspect, that's available only for those on magical substances from Malana.
Legend has it that people of Malana are descendants left behind from Alexander the Great’s army. Yet the residents speak Kanashi, a unique dialect with Sino-Tibetan and Sanskritic roots which is understood only by the villagers.
We never did make it to Malana, turning back after a leisurely trek because we arrived late in the day – and it was considered unsafe for women to enter the village at night. All I can offer are tales of more daring travellers who talk most about the no-touching rule. "Apparently you cannot touch humans, plants, children, or animals. In case you touch, you have to pay a fine of Rs 1,500, and if you touch a plant you have to pay a fine of Rs 2,500," says one of Dumbledore's friends. "They are a close-knit community and since they date their history back to 326BC, they feel they are above everyone and superior in all form and nature."
Himachalis believe that the tales about Malana are just a figment of an overactive tourist imagination, and drug peddlers/smugglers trying to scare the living daylights out of outsiders. Guess the only way to find that out would have been getting to the village. And if Malana Cream and ancient villages aren't your thing, stick to Kasol. Breathtaking views while you hang on the hammock – it doesn't get better than that!
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