Parvati Valley-Kheerganga Trek
Travelling for leisure or adventure in India and by Indians elsewhere has been the pet preserve of Indian men or the proverbial Hindu undivided family. But the winds of change are steadily moving towards women with wanderlust! .
Two young men have set out to be drivers of this change. Jugni the women-only budget travelling group is the brainchild of the dynamic duo of Rohit Khattar and Nitesh Chauhan. These two 20 something guys are a case study in how opposites attract.
I was a frequent leisure traveler and sporadic trekker until some debilitating life events took their toll. Since my move to the NCR region a couple of months ago, I had been on the lookout for travel company among like minded individuals. Jugni was a word-of mouth recommendation from an acquaintance who had done some a couple of trips with them since the inception in January 2015.
A little online research and the gut feeling of the vagabond inside me, made me sign up for their 5-7th September trek to #Kheerganga. Honestly, my intention was to test the waters and Jugni did not disappoint.
We started out journey, a motley crew of seven, from Mandi house station on the night of 4th Sept. With a couple of stops for replenishment including the famed Sukhdev dhaba, we were at Kasol, Himanchal Pradesh fourteen hours later. Post- monsoons the 530 kms can be a choppy ride due to broken roads and infrastructure development work, but Jugni’s co-founder, Nitesh was our jester on demand. He happens to moonlight as a stand-up comic at several venues including our mini-bus that night.
In the morning our eyes opened to the milky Parvati river flowing beside us. Huge chir pine trees provided shade through the meandering roads. A lavish breakfast, ablutions and change of clothes at the Moon Dance cafe in Kasol, had us refreshed for a further forty minute ride to Barshaini, the base of the Kheerganga trek.
Over seasons of trekking, I have developed some simple rules: walk at your own pace, never compete with fellow trekkers, stay with your group no matter what, the journey is more important than the destination so always research your route in advance. But nothing had prepared me for what followed in the next six hours of our 13 km trek to the top. I must confess that In my eagerness to explore trekking companionship, I had forgotten to research my trek route. The kheerganga trek is not a difficult one and can take between 3 to 5 hours depending on your speed and daylight visibility. Several sweet water rivulets flow underneath thick roots and dense foliage. As we inched our way along the route, co-trekker Sheel plucked apples and made friends with village kids on the way. We glanced with envy as old and young women skipped through the heavily pebbled route with ease and we struggled to find a solid footing here and there. The air was quite festive as we met local folk on their way back after making offerings at the Shiva temple on the top.
By evening we had covered a little more than half distance.We stopped frequently to enjoy the scenic beauty of the Deodar covered hills, floral delights and of course to take group and solo pictures on bridges and waterfalls. Night pounced on us almost suddenly as we entered the last leg of the trek which was a dense forest of deodar and pine trees.
Five Jugnis lit the jungle that night, with their torches and brave spirit. Conversation had dropped down to a trickle as we all focussed on our step. Nitesh keot the air alive with his witty one liners although I suspect most of it was to suppress his fear of the dark! We used all our light sources including my kindle, that I had initially been advised not to carry. Our eyes and ears sometimes played tricks on us even as the moonlight played hide and seek through the trees and the sound of insects made their presence clear everywhere. On our way up we did come across a couple of brave souls who were doing the downward trek at that late hour.
We reached the top at around 9:30 pm, exhausted, elated and famished. Night-stay was quickly arranged at Shiva Cafe, a simple log house with community sleeping arrangements. A warm fire welcomed us as we sat around and each took a swig of Old Monk to warm our parched throats and chilled bones. The rajma, chawal, sabji,roti and achaar set in front of us tasted divine. We let the hippy-like atmosphere sink in a bit and before we knew it, we were dreaming away to glory.
When I look back on that mesmerising night-time trek, a first for all five jugnis, I feel that if there was one firefly that shined the brightest that night, it was Rohit Khattar. I have rarely come across a more sensible head on such young shoulders. Rohit is a veteran of some of the toughest trekking trails in India. He is the reason why your trekking or travelling experience with Jugni will turn out to be one of the most fruitful outdoor learning experiences of your life. This guy has a mountain of patience and skill and rightly calls himself an “outdoor educator”. His watchful gaze makes sure that you are taking your steps right. He has the kind cruelty of a surgeon when he rations the amount of water one is allowed to take during a trek. I owe him a huge thanks since he almost handheld me for 45 minutes during the night trek and Nitesh did the honours for the remaining 15-20 minutes to the top. Sonal rechristened him as “Shravan Kumar” for his chivalry!
Like a military sergeant, Rohit woke us up at 6 the next morning. About a 100-200 meters further up, we came to the famous hot-springs. Locals have created hamam-like structures for community bathing. Dunking our tired legs in the hot water was pure nirvana! For the religiously inclined there is a shiva temple to visit nearby. A couple of hot aloo parathas with pickles and refreshing glasses of chai prepared us for our return trek to Barshaini. We started at 9 am and reached base at around 2-2:30 pm.As we boarded our ride to Kasol, we all looked back across the hills we had befriended in the past 24 hours, at the tumultus Parvati river and mentally congratulated ourselves.
After this trip, I am a diehard Jugni now, yearning for my next sojourn to lands unknown, with trusted company.