The KheerGanga Pilgrimage in the Himalayas

If you want to feel like you’ve left this world and gone to another planet, go to the place where Shiva meditated for 3000 years.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.  Maybe you’ll even soak up some of his deep thoughts in the hot springs while you’re there.

But, where?

In a land far, far, very far away. . .in the state of Himachal Pradesh. . .near China and Kashmir, is a place almost 10,000 feet up in the Himalayas in the Parvati Valley called Kheer Ganga.

From Goa, it only took us TWENTY-SIX hours on a train, a TEN hour overnight bus ride, a THREE hour local bus ride, and a FOUR hour hike to get there, but it was all worth it.  By my calculations, I think that makes it a true pilgrimage.

So, there I was again in good ol’ smelly Delhi.  It’s not a place I like to linger, especially since the last time I was there with my husband his wallet got picked, but all roads lead to Delhi, it seems.  We timed it just so that when we got off our 26 hour train ride from Goa we only had a couple hours in Delhi before we jumped on an overnight bus to Bhuntar.  It was just enough time to eat at a fave restaurant and pick up some warm clothes for evening temperatures in the mountains.  I even picked up a random Turkish traveler, Cem, to join us on the pilgrimage.  He had a wanderlust in his eyes and a backpack on his back and he gladly accepted the spontaneous adventure.

The three of us gathered our gear and followed a man through the stinky streets until we were told to wait at a certain spot for the bus.  It was a classic scene where groups of travelers were herded into clumps waiting for buses to different places.  Like usual, we waited, and then waited, and waited some more.  Indian Standard Time.  What to do?!

Travelers beware: When you book a bus trip in India, it will often come at a much different time than promised, and may even be a completely different kind of bus than advertised.  Heh heh.  As they say, Ye He India!

I did, however, manage to catch some good shots from the bus window. . .

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We settled into our seats, watched the crazy world of Delhi through the windows, and after another chunk of IST, the bus finally moved.  We passed the infamous garbage mountain on the outskirts of the city–burning and smoking like a scene from some apocalyptic movie–and shortly after, I fell asleep.  I didn’t wake up until the bus stopped for dinner time.

Around 7am the next morning, we reached Bhuntar.  It was grey and raining and the thought of trekking in that kind of weather wasn’t looking too good.  A whole group of us got off at the same stop and haggled for a long time with a guy offering a taxi ride, but then we all decided to go cheap and take the local bus instead.  All the seats were taken, of course, but the roof was an option if we wanted to sit with our bag. . .in the rain.

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The next 3 hours were on a bumpy, windy dirt road that went up and down through mountain villages.  It was picturesque and the loud Hindi music reminded me of riding the buses in Nepal.

We got off in Barshani.  A lot of people like to stop in Kasol.  It’s a really good option to do last minute shopping if you need warm clothes or other things before going up to Kheer Ganga.

The weather was still grey and rainy and we were totally exhausted from non-stop traveling.  Food first was our mission before we made any arrangements or plans to do the hike.  Aloo paratha with yogurt, veggie chow mein, and some really strong chai helped, but the 3 of us still weren’t convinced about the hike.  Do we rest and try the next morning or do we just keep going until the end?  Was it even possible in our current state?  And what about the rain?

In this moment of uncertainty, another group of travelers passed us, and by chance, one of them was a French woman Amit and I met last year in Australia,  Nikki.  The world is truly a small place.  Once you get out there, you can’t believe how often you find the same people all over the world.  Anyway, Nikki was on her way to Kheer Ganga, too.  Her presence was enough motivation to shift our energy and give us some oomph to get our butts back in gear.

Other than trekking to one of the most beautiful places in world for a great adventure and some outdoorsy time, we were also on a mission to get to a little thing called a Rainbow Gathering.  Do you know what that is?  It started in the USA in 1972 as a gathering of people on National land to create an intentional community of peace, love, and freedom.  These gatherings happen all over the world in most countries and attract people from every class, creed, culture, and color.  It’s a great place to meet the global family.  We call it Home.

The hike to Kheer Ganga is known to be quite intense so it’s pretty common to hire a porter for your bags.  I was a bit shocked at the idea because I’ve never done a hike with such a strange luxury, but it didn’t take more than 2 seconds to convince me.  For 850 rupees, I got to “enjoy” the hike.  Plus, it helped the local families earn an income.  Win!

And the journey continued. . .

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Now, I’m a fairly experienced hiker and have visited many mountains, but fifteen minutes into our hike, I was so freakin’ glad we had our amazing porter.  The trail was steep!  The air was hard to breathe.  The views were breathtaking.

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Our amazing porter practically ran up the trail ahead of us.  His fitness level was nothing short of incredible.  Along the trail, there’s little villages filled with chai shacks.  If you need water or snacks or toilet paper, it’s there.  Our porter would wait for us to catch up with a chai in his hand and a big smile across his face.  I think he got a kick out of watching us not-so-in-mountain-shape people huff and puff our sluggish bodies up the mountain.  He’d give us a nod, wait a few minutes, and then take off up the mountain again.

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If you can’t tell from the pics, the trail spends a lot of time drifting along a precarious ledge. . .filled with huge rocks. . .and steep hills to fall down.  We walked through orchards, passed makeshift fabric shrines, Indian families dressed in gorgeous outfits with pretty shoes, and a waterfall or two.

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The above adorable little girl actually turned her head when she saw me take out my camera, but you can still see how cute she is.  This village had amazing wooden structures set amidst the greenery along the cliffs.  It looked like a postcard in every direction.

Just when we thought the hike couldn’t get any steeper, we looked ahead and stared UP at a wall of green and rocks.  Heh heh.  Yep, that’s a trail.  At this point, I was really really really glad to not have my pack because I thought for sure I’d be using all fours to get up this part.  Whew.  Kheer Ganga better be good, dammit!

On top, the views were stunning. . .

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By now, we were on the home stretch, but it didn’t get any less challenging or beautiful.  We crossed a waterfall and the incline was relentless, but we kept at it. . .slowly, slowly, as they say around here. . .and eventually we made it to the top.

Kheer Ganga isn’t much of a village. It’s actually just a handful of restaurants with lodging accommodations on the side of a crazy steep hill.  The infamous hot springs sit at the top, so just when you think you’ve reached, your Stairmaster experience keeps on giving.  Prepare to work every muscle in your mind and body to get to this place.

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Rather than hiking straight over to the Rainbow Gathering. . .which was about 30 minutes over in the next valley. . .I thought we should all treat ourselves and our muscles to a much deserved soak in the hot springs water after such a grueling journey.  The men’s side is open and the women’s side is boarded for privacy.  It’s nice to not get the stares and have the option to soak nude.  There’s also a separate section in both areas to do your laundry.

The soak was ahhhhhmazing!  Afterwards, I felt like I was tripping from being so exhausted, so we decided to stay in one of the restaurants for the night and head to the Rainbow Gathering in the morning.  It was a good decision for all of us in our delirious states.

While the hot springs are a main attraction, Kheer Ganga is also famous for being a stoners’ paradise.  It’s a mecca for the world’s best hash, or as they call it ‘charas,’ and the restaurants are designed so the entire floor is cushions with low tables and anyone can lie around, get stoned, and order food and chai.  In the night, they bring out pillows and blankets and the whole restaurant becomes one, big, sleepover party.  It’s pretty cool.  It reminded me of a bed-in, but without the protest.

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With red eyes and no energy, I passed out in my cozy sleeping bag in the middle of the evening shennanigans, but oh what a sleep I had!  The next morning, I woke up fresh as a daisy and without sore muscles thanks to the magic of the hot springs.  And after chai and some breakfast, we continued over to the next valley to get Home.

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