The trip to Tosh was probably one of the worst we have done in India in terms of transport. This time we took a conventional bus for a 650 kilometers (400 miles) trip from Delhi to Bhuntar. We departed at night and sleeping wasn’t easy, even for us who slept under any condition, tight seats, curvy roads, cold, traffic, constant stops, chai sellers and horns, which were creatively customized for every bus, but used all the time can become a nightmare.
After the sleepless night we had a breakfast in one of the several stops in a village. We ate aloo pareta and a chai with parle-g (the best selling biscuit in the world). We couldn’t sleep anymore, but we noticed the landscape was very different from Delhi or the Rajasthan. The north is colder and greener, with big lakes and mountains. People also had more Chinese features and instead of light coats and turbans now they wore colored jackets and hats. Stopping at Bhuntar we took a taxi, a mini-van shared with an Italian guy we met on the way to Manikaran. We went by a road with beautiful landscapes of pine trees and mountains all the way up the mountain. We took roughly 1:30 pm to arrive there.
Manikaran and the Hot Pools
Manikaran is a town in the Himalayas with natural hot pools between Beas and Parvati rivers. It is a center for Hindu and Sikh pilgrimage. Hindus believe that Manu has created the human being in Manikaran after a flooding so it became a sacred place with many temples. We were there for the afternoon only, so we toured the city and went straight to the hot pools to relax a little after traveling for so long. There you can have public or private pools, as we wanted a bit of privacy for the girls (women can’t wear bikinis on the public ones), we got a private pool for 1h. These were like a room with a mini pool of about 1.5 m depth with hot and relaxing water. After cooking for a while in the pool, we got dressed, packed our stuff and ate at an Italian restaurant (yes, they’re everywhere) before leaving. The idea was to get the local bus to Pulga and then climb the mountain to Tosh, our next destination, but we missed the bus and the next would be in an hour. It was getting late so we preferred to look for a cab to take us there. After much negotiation we got one.
Tosh, a village in the mountains
As Tosh doesn’t even exist on google maps you can imagine how is the access to get there. The road virtually ends in a small mountain village called Pulga. The taxi driver wanted to end the ride right there, but Duda insisted on a trail near there he could use. After much discussion we convinced the driver to take us to the end of the trail, he had every reason to not want to go, it was a bumpy and narrow one-way gravel road on the edge of a super high cliff.
After swearing and smoking all the time, he left us on the bridge leading to the village and from there walking was the only way. Definitely not the kind of place for those who like suitcases with wheels :D. After a 10 minute walk we arrived at the “centre” of Tosh, a small village at the footsteps of the Himalayas at 3000 meters (9.8k feet) high with ~200 people. Duda had been there many times and he knew a few locals, who helped us to with accommodation. We rented a small bedroom in a house, something very common in these villages that don’t have any type of accommodation like hotel or anything. To rent these units you have to ask the locals and they will indicate you the landlord. The room was small, unfurnished, the only things we had were some old mattresses on the floor and a tandoori in the middle of the room, ideal to heat the room and baking chapati, something like an Indian pizza. We slept on these mattresses, lined with large cloths common in India well into our sleeping bags. It was almost like camping but with a little more comfort :).
The bathroom was outside, it was just a mini-wooden house and a hole on the ground. Of course you do not use toilet paper here, imagine the environmental disaster that would be 2 billion people using toilet paper with no sanitation. We used water and the left hand, for that reason never shake hands or pay someone with your left hand in India, they will be very offended.
On our first night we had a special dinner, one of the locals had just killed a mutton and invited us to eat a very good stew. During dinner we learned that life at the Himalayas was very different from the desert. The positive side of living there is the abundant access to clean water from the rivers coming from the iced cap mountains. The downside is the cold. Icy winters can cover the villages with snow for weeks, without heaters, insulation, or heating and inconsistent supply of electric power. The villagers work hard chopping wood to keep houses warm and taking care of the livestock made of sheep and yaks.
The animals also supplied a diet richer in protein and fat, leather and thermal insulation of houses. The stables are just below the houses, animals are confined in small spaces in the cold nights to keep them warm, the heat rises and warms the floors of homes that in some cases are very well insulated by the thick stone walls. Not our case though, our room was on the second floor of a wooden house with some big gaps on the walls. To keep the house warm we cut our firewood or bought from villagers at relatively expensive prices, which is fair if you consider they spend the whole autumn to build a good stock for winter.
On our second day we walked around the village. We could see that unlike the big cities of India, people usually had a relatively decent life here. Everyone had shelter, food and water so you do not see people begging or in a pitiful state of misery. Of course it is a very simple life dedicated to work. While we complain to carry a hi-tech backpack of 20 kilos, we saw them carrying a 3x greater volume with ropes and rags waving at us with a big smile. Even the little boy who lived near the house we were, who didn’t have an arm, happily helped us carrying firewood. Living with them for these few day was one of the richest experiences we had, even with less access to the facilities we have they’re always smiling and genuinely happy with the simple life they had. Wherever we went they joined hands and greeted – Namaste. Coming from places where people are materially rich (Brazil and New Zealand – have per capita incomes above the overall average of $6k per year), they can consume what they want, and still complain about life, made us totally change our concept of wealth and happiness.
At the end of that day we went to a mini restaurant, the only one opened in late autumn. The region is busy during summer with tourists escaping the heat of the lower cities. There we ate aloo gobi, a stew of cauliflower and potatoes and drank Coca-Cola, one of the few safe drinks there (yes even here they come 😛 ). The owner invited us to dinner later on. When we returned, we met a bunch of Israelis that had just arrived in the village, one of them had already visited Brazil and insisted on playing a few old axé musicsongs he had in his ipod. He played and started dancing uncoordinated, as we are not fans of axé we watched in silence. Drica did not contain herself and burst out: “Man, turn this thing off, this is the worst song ever …”. To not break the positive mood, I explained we were from the south of Brazil, and this wasn’t a popular genre there. He was a little disappointed, but ultimately it was a big laugh. After that we got back to our little room and we spent the rest of the night telling stories around the tandoori before bedtime.
Trekking in the Himalayas
On our third day we hiked up the mountains, the day was again sunny and pleasant. We walked for hours amongst pine trees, waterfalls and cliffs with snow covered mountains in the background. A landscape that resembles some amazing landscapes of New Zealand or Europe, but with a scale many many times greater. On our walk we had the company of two dogs from the village.
In our fourth and final day we returned from Tosh to Pulga. This time we had to walk, after all there were no taxis available in the village. The 3 km trail was very narrow between trees and boulders, much more difficult with backpacks, it took us 1 hour to walk all the way down. I wouldn’t like to imagine what it would be with wheel suitcases in such a place (I promise is the last time I’ll bother the suitcase fans). Arriving in Pulga we stopped at the roadside and eat some momo with Coke 😛 again and waited for the bus to come.
We rode on the top of the bus (yep, on the ‘roof’), with the bags, enjoying the breathtaking landscape – and scary sometimes, since the road was on the edge of a very very high cliff. Always being careful with the power lines and tree branches after each corner all the way down to Manikaran. A truly unforgettable experience.
After four days without a shower (we had no courage to have a cold shower in freezing Tosh), we were filthy and again rented a pool and shower to clean up. Soon after we took a packed local bus from Manikaran to Bunthar, there we had dinner at a local restaurant and arranged our trip to Dharamsala, the stop for our next post.
- Local bus Tosh – Manikaran RP 15 (USD 0.30 )
- Bus Manikaran – Buthar RP 35 (USD 0.75)
- Hot pool RP 60 / h (USD 1.20)
- House in Tosh RP 25 / person / day (USD 0.50)
- Firewood for 1 night RP 50 (USD 1.00)