The Kheerganga trek draws quite a large population of tourists every year. The locals believe that Lord Shiva meditated here for over 3000 years. The place gets its name from the ‘milky‘ appearing water of the rivers flowing through it, resembling ‘kheer‘, an Indian milk-based sweet.
While the hot springs, at the top alone are worth a trip to Himachal, equally awesome is the trail. The peak lies at an altitude of about 3000m, a 12-km trek. To get here, take a bus to Bhuntar, the start of Parvati Valley. And another bus to Barshaini, via Kasol.
If you’ve reached later than 12:00 pm, you could spend the day at a cosy homestay in Tosh, just across the bridge from Barshaini. And leave for Kheerganga early next day.
When my friend, Nadia, suggested we add Kheerganga to our itinerary, I didn’t care to check what it actually was. In my imagination, it was a place you could drive to by car, get off, and jump into the hot springs.
Once we actually started trekking up the first bit of stairs, I was in for a shock!
I love the outdoors, but steep climbs intimidate me. It’s not the ascent, but the thought of descending those 70 and 80-degree bits that put the fear of God in my otherwise agnostic mind. Well played, Nadia!
There are two routes to the top, one via the forest and the other through a village. We took the forest route. The shade of the enormous, ancient trees made climbing much easier.
The initial half hour was hard- and cold. But once we got used to the incline, we started taking in more of the amazing panorama around us.
The forest and I
We were accompanied by a local cook-cum-guide, Sanjeev, a know-it-all. Nothing that we silly city-dwellers say impresses him.
I, being a slow walker, was slacking. I urged Nadia and Sanjeev to carry on and stop only if there’s a diversion I might miss.
So for enjoyable long stretches, it was just the forest and I. An expanse of green everywhere the eyes could see, the sound of gushing waterfalls in the background. The water here is delicious, by the way.
Friendly mountain dogs would stop us and demand to be petted. An occasional group of trekkers passing by, and that’s about it.
I now knew what Rudyard Kipling felt about the mountains. This was like love (clichéd, but true). Like discovering your favourite song for the first time. You need to keep reminding yourself that it’s real, because it doesn’t feel that way!
Reaching the top
The trail is classified as easy. But for non-trekkers, there can be a few challenging manoeuvres. Exciting, but nothing too intense. Also, remember to keep your jackets on at all times to keep your body temperature even. If you halt and begin to sweat, you may start feeling the unpleasant chill.
3 km short of the peak, we stopped at a café to devour some bread-omelette and piping hot chai. The people of Himachal seem to prefer their tea extra sweet! Not sure if it was the fatigue, but that omelette tasted damn good. Note – Carry extra cash on you because the food here is charged at a premium.
Climbing on a full stomach was slightly tedious, but we somehow pushed through. We took around 5 hours to get to the top, with several breaks.
This was it- Kheerganga. And what a sight! There’s a reason Kheerganga is known for its campsite- Wallpaper-worthy green meadows. Far down below, we could hear the mighty Parvati River. There were horses grazing, a gentle breeze accompanied us to our tents.
Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a wonderful world’ was playing in my head.
October being off-season, the place had very few campers. Good for us! We had rented tents here, which saved us the trouble of getting our own equipment. We hurried to the main tent, where all staff members and guides are put up.
Himachal houses have a traditional ‘tandoor’, to keep residents warm. Helpful- as the now evaporating sweat made us feel quite chilly. I sat as close to the tandoor as I could without burning myself. The very kind owner, a Nepali immigrant, offered us food at no extra cost, sensing we were short of cash. The people here actually help you out with no ulterior motive- hard to believe!
Too tired to even walk up to the hot springs, we decided to sleep early and visit them the next day.
Soaking in the warmth
For some reason, the tents felt like they had a heater hidden inside them. Quite a contrast to the biting winds that had begun making the environment outside unwelcoming. Even at that altitude, because of the warmth of the tent and the fuzzy blankets, we were literally sleeping in just t-shirts.
We wanted to sleep-in, but after several days of rising with the sun, it becomes a habit. We woke up around 7 to a breathtaking sight. When you open your tent on a bright morning, with cold winds and the sun’s rays hitting you at the same time, and you face the mighty Himalayas, the feeling is quite surreal.
After some lazing around, we walked up to the much-anticipated springs, to the ladies section. You are required to take a shower and clean yourself before you step into the pool- seems right.
And dear God!
The first step we took into the pool felt like a piece of heaven! The water was warm and smelled nice too- nature’s spa! There’s some moss on the floor, so watch your step. I don’t know about the holy part, but all our fatigue from the previous day had melted away.
You imagine you’re going to be there for hours, but after 15 minutes, you don’t know what to do. Beyond the half-hour mark, you’re just staring awkwardly at each other’s faces. So we finally decided to step out. You feel a little dizzy as you step out of the steaming water, this is normal.
Smelling all floral, after 2 days of not showering, and a plate of Maggi later, we began the descent.
Trying not to die
If I haven’t already made it clear, descents scare me. One of my biggest fears is losing my footing and tumbling down from some cliff. I tried not to look at the valley below. We took the other route this time, via Nakthan village. Slightly more even ground.
Himachal locals went running down effortlessly- not helpful! Sanjeev kept wondering what wild animal he could let loose after me to make me speed up! Nice try, Sanjeev- I’d rather become a bear’s meal than move fast on those slopes.
Late in the afternoon, we reached Barshaini- alive! When I look at some of the videos of me walking on the narrow, winding paths, I really can’t believe I had attempted them. Yet there I was, marching along without a care in the world!
PS- Okay this is not true. I was actually quite freaked out during the descent. But thankfully, I had constant encouragement from Nadia. And also Sanjeev’s threats of leaving me alone!
The Kheerganga trek opens up again in the summer. March to September is the best time to visit. Even during peak season, you can enjoy large stretches of solitude, amidst the unparalleled beauty of the Himalayas. Nothing to interrupt your thoughts there, you can day-dream for as long as you like!
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