A handful of travellers visiting Kalga is perhaps the prime reason why it remains a top-notch destination for those seeking a taste of the unconventional. Beyond the settlement of Barshaini near Kasol in Himachal Pradesh, the tiny Kalga village is off the beaten tourist trail and a find for anyone looking for mountains, quietude and sunshine.
For the few travellers that know of Kalga, it is one of many small villages scattered across the Paravati Valley, the gorge that runs eastwards from the confluence of the Parvati and Beas rivers. Getting to Kasol is the easy part – get on any of the comfortable HPTDC overnight volvo buses that leave from Delhi to Manali, and get off at Bhuntar. Next, hop on to one of the shared jeeps or local buses available there that connect Bhuntar to Kasol. Hire a taxi from here to Barshaini, or wait for a shared one if you have plenty of time. It is only much after Kasol (beyond Manikaran) that the roads get uneven and the drive becomes bumpy. Tough roads, however, are usually the measure of a good offbeat destination; the bumpier the road, the lesser the probability of tourist traffic at the end of it. From Barshaini, a forty-five minute hike up a somewhat steep slope lands you in Kalga.
The most striking characteristic of Kalga is that it is unlike typical Himachali hamlets this side of the province. It lacks the hustle and bustle of village life, for a lot of the old houses are abandoned. What it definitely doesn’t lack is alpine beauty, of which there is plenty. A bowl of mountains topped with powder-white snows cradles the village. Small patches of flat land are dotted with an odd house or two, and a multitude of apple trees. Some of these houses serve as guesthouses, and are the only stay option. But the atmospheric solitude of Kalga makes up for its dearth of upmarket accommodation, and that is a great bargain for a travel-hungry soul.
Again on the upside, it is an opportunity to stay in a distinct local house. Wooden stairs, open landings and small windows add a quality of timelessness that goes with the slow pace of daily existence here. It is the simple things that bring much joy here – a wish for mint tea translates into plucking fresh leaves from the kitchen garden and enjoying a conversation with friendly guesthouse boys as the water comes to a boil; reading a book as afternoon light filters through tree leaves and bounces off yellowing pages; walking up obscure paths, identifying rose finches and blue rock thrushes. Kalga inspires one to dig out old paintbrushes, pitch a tripod all evening to capture sunsets and wake up early to wander outdoors with a bird book. It’s enough to spend your time staring at golden dawns and pink peach blossoms.
Kalga is also the ideal place to break the journey to Kheerganga, a day-trek from the village that takes you to the natural hot springs Kheerganga is famous for. Similar idyllic villages such as Tosh are scattered in the vicinity of Kalga, and can be explored for overnight getaways. However, these are slightly more popular with tourists, and, hence, not as empty as Kalga.
Good to know
Kalga is definitely not for those looking for an activity-packed getaway, but instead those who want to escape it. Also, the luxury of attached bathrooms is not available here. Guesthouses are traditional houses now used by travellers, and the bathrooms and toilets are outside the main structure. The creation of a huge dam in Barshaini is in full swing, and the sights and sounds of construction mark the entrance to Kalga. But don’t let this deter you! There’s no price for the breathtaking views the place can afford you.
Where to stay
Sunset guesthouse run by Sanju Negi is a lovely, maze-like house. He also looks after Holy Cow and New Hope guesthouses. All are old houses that have been refurbished a bit (charge: Rs 1,200 per person per night inclusive of three meals).