Frequented by young Indians and international travelers, Parvati Valley, in Himachal Pradesh’s Kullu district, is known for its psychedelic trance festivals, hippie cafes, and the quality hash grown in its villages (though it’s illegal in India). The scenery is stunning, too. It has tall Himalayan peaks, lush forests, dazzling streams, and waterfalls, all of which are an intrepid playground for trekking, camping, and rock-climbing.
To make the most of your trip, visit in March through June or October and November when the temperature remains a pleasant 60 F or so. Avoid monsoon season, from July through September, as there are frequent landslides. For accommodations, you'll find comfortable hotels, hostels, homestays, and guesthouses in all price ranges. Be sure to carry enough cash as there are no ATMs in the valley's remote regions, except in Kasol and Manikaran. Power cuts are a common occurrence, so you'll want to carry a power bank and flashlight.
Getting to this Himalayan Valley is not as difficult as other remote valleys in North India. Fly into the Kullu-Manali Airport in Bhuntar, and you'll be in Kasol in about one hour by taxi. Alternatively, you can get here by train. The closest railway station is Joginder Nagar. From there, take a bus or hire a cab for Parvati Valley. However, the simplest way to travel to the valley is to board a Volvo bus for Manali from Delhi and disembark at Bhuntar. From there, take another bus or cab to your desired destination in the Parvati Valley.
Here’s a rundown of the top places to visit in Parvati Valley:
Nestled on the River Parvati banks, Kasol has a well-established reputation as a laid-back hippie center, with live music cafes and psytrance festivals held here regularly. It is especially popular among Israeli travelers who have now settled in the area. Fittingly, the village is also known as the "Mini Israel of India." Be sure to sample the local delicacies, including Israeli food at the cafes.
If you’re feeling active and up for an adventure, there are several treks around the village offering phenomenal views of natural landscapes. If you fancy a gentle ramble, explore the nearby villages. If you’re looking for a challenging venture, then go for multi-day treks such as Chandrakhani Pass and Sar Pass; the latter also offers rock-climbing opportunities.
Uphill above the popular Kasol, you’ll find the relatively peaceful village of Grahan, which is dotted with traditional wooden houses that are completely in tune with the natural landscape. The village is accessible only by hiking from Kasol. It takes about four hours to get there, and the friendly locals are happy to show off its unspoiled wonderland. In the middle of the village is the historical temple of the village deity; make sure to seek permission from the locals before entering. Additionally, Grahan's food, prepared with local ingredients, is one of the best gastronomic experiences you can have in the valley. Do not forget to try the local specialty, their mountain-grown honey, before you leave.
A 30-minute walk from Kasol, crossing a cable suspension bridge over the Parvati River, and passing through the lush pine forests will lead you to the quaint hamlet of Chalal. There’s more to this hamlet than just the dramatic arrival, however. Visit between May and October, and revelry is guaranteed. It famously hosts some of the most happening trance parties; Magica Festival in early summer is the biggest event here. On calmer days, the village is favored by birdwatchers, campers, and nature lovers. There’s also a small bric-a-brac market here, should you wish to take home a keepsake of your travel. Plus, many beautiful little cafes will beckon you to enter as you stroll around.
Rasol is famous for its pristine natural beauty and the locally produced hash called Rasol Cream. Visitors can bask in nature, go hiking along the nearby trails, as well as toke, should you wish. The journey to get here is quite an adventure as it requires a three-to-four-hour uphill trek from Chalal, passing through the alpine forests, rivulets, and rhododendron trees.
Tosh is situated at the height of 7,900 feet on a hill near Kasol. The trek to this village can be as arduous or as easy as you choose; many enthusiasts hike up to the village, but there are taxis available from Kasol that will whisk you away to the village in an hour or so. Stroll in the green pastures and apple fields, go birdwatching, and pop into the hippie cafes to savor Indian and Israeli food. Of course, getting active is also on the agenda, with plenty of beautiful hiking routes through the mountains surrounding it.
If you’re looking for a quieter yet equally stunning alternative to the busier Tosh, Kutla is the perfect place to go. It is just a 2-mile hike from Tosh. The first section is quite easy; however, the trail ascends steeply after crossing the Tosh River and spectacular waterfalls, and it’s an arduous uphill hike from there. It’s easy to spend a day or two here trekking through the Budhavan Forest, exploring the apple tree plantations, chilling out in the rustic cafe, or relaxing by the riverside while being surrounded by peace and quiet.
Manikaran is located about 2.5 miles east of Kasol and easily accessible via bus. Besides stunning views of the surrounding Harinder mountains and small treks nearby to satiate your need for adventure, Manikaran also offers spiritual attractions. Among the most touristed is Gurudwara Shri Manikaran Sahib, a Sikh house of worship known for its mineral-rich hot springs and langar (community meal). The Shiva Temple, located adjacent to the gurdwara, is also a must-visit, as is the 17th-century Lord Ram Chandraji Temple and the wood-built Naina Bhagwati Mandir.
Kheerganga can be reached via a relatively moderate and beautiful four-to-five-hour trek from Barshaini, which is about 10 miles from Kasol. You can either take a taxi or a bus to Barshaini from Kasol. The trek to Kheerganga from Barshaini will take you into thick forests, along calm rivers, and through old villages. You’ll also come across a serene waterfall, where you can stop and relax. Once you get there, not only will you be rewarded with an ethereal view of the surrounding landscape, but you’ll also be able to take a dip in the natural hot springs located at the top. There are separate baths for men and women. There’s also an ancient Shiva temple and a cave, which are worth visiting. Although it’s possible to make a day trip out of this, overnight camping is recommended to soak in the beautiful sunset and crisp mountain air.
Pulga, Tulga, and Kalga
Pulga, Tulga, and Kalga are three sister villages nestled a short distance from each other and can only be explored on foot. It’s best to start your trip with Pulga, a gentle 2-mile uphill hike from Barshaini. Wander around the village and see the colorful and traditional-style houses interspersed with a few small shops selling essentials. However, the main attraction here is the Fairy Forest, where you can camp under the gigantic deodar trees and go birdwatching.
Less than 20 minutes’ walk from Pulga is Tulga, which is the least developed of the trio. There’s nothing much to do here but get lost in nature. A 45-minute hike from Tulga will lead to Kalga. It is known for its apple orchards, which are perhaps the main source of income here.
Malana is a secluded village where locals practice extreme untouchability, consider they descended from Alexander the Great, and have laws and language completely distinct from the rest of the country. This isolation is a draw all its own, but what many come for is its locally-grown hash called Malana Cream, which is perhaps considered to be India’s best. The village is surrounded by Deo Tibba and Chandrakhani Peaks, rendering it a picturesque quality. To get here, hire a cab from Kasol to Malana Gate, then walk a mile or two from there, crossing the bridge over Malana River and then following the picturesque riverside path to the village.
Further up lies Waichin Valley. Though easy to visit as a day trip from Malana, fine walk, good food, and some excellent tented accommodation mean that it’s well worth staying overnight.