Up The Hill And Down Again

On account of the fact we were already in Kalga we started the hike up to Khirganga from here, and it wasn’t even raining. We headed off as soon as we could to take full advantage of the lack of wet stuff falling from the sky. There are two routes up which eventually converge and you can sometimes see the other trail over yonder, leading up from Barshani. It’s actually not too difficult of a walk. It’s even flat in parts, giving your poor, abused calf muscles a bit of a break as you make your way along muddy paths, staying as far away from the edge as possible. At one point you come across a sign in memory of a young man who, at the age of 24, fell to his death in 1999. I glanced down at the trail which consisted predominantly of a substance which didn’t exactly have the best track record for keeping people upright. It wasn’t going to win any non-slip awards any time soon. Eventually, of course, the heavens opened and it started to piss it down. We got into our waterproofs and carried on over bits of wood lashed together and dubiously referred to as bridges, past a stunning waterfall, then up a steep, steep hill to a random dhaba fashioned from wood and tarps. My favourite kind! Where there’s a dhaba like this there’s tea and noodles and basically anything that can be carted up a big hill and heated on a stove.

Sun’s out! Quick! Walk up a big bastard hill!

Purveyors of chai and Maggi over yonder. Saviours.

We decided to just chill here for a bit in the hope the downpour would ease off as we sipped chai and scoffed Maggi noodles, and Jess continued kicking my arse at Rummikub, the game we’d been playing throughout the north. I fucking love this game so much. As soon as I’m home I fully intend to teach it to all of my friends and make them play it with me until they start making excuses about why they can’t come over. Apparently you can buy it as a tile game if you have an Amazon account and a spare £20 knocking around, but two decks of cards with two Jokers will do just fine. The rain carried on. We ordered more chai. A group of Indian lads came down the hill and took shelter, they didn’t even have any waterproofs although one of them was brandishing an umbrella. I’m not even shitting you. They were soaked. We asked them how far we had to go and they said it wasn’t far but it was “very difficult” from here on up. Great. Nothing I like more than scrambling up a bitch of a hill in the rain. Though to be fair they considered us “very strong” because we were walking up the very easy to follow track with no guide and no porter to carry our shit so I wasn’t sure we should put too much stock in what they considered difficult.

It took both my walking poles and lots of slow, terrifed shuffling to get me over that bridge.

It got to the point where we had to accept the fact that it wasn’t going to stop raining, probably ever, and some bloke somewhere was building an ark and two of every species was making its way to him. We left the dhaba and carried on. I was expecting sheer fucking cliff faces from the way the lads were going on, but it wasn’t actually that awful. Yes, it was steep in parts, and it was muddy and slippery, and the whole of Khirganga itself is just a big hill with a small temple, some hot springs, and bunch of places to stay spaced out around it, but it was very doable. One of the first places where we could actually find any humans to offer us a room was Ice & Fire. We checked out a few other places before grudgingly accepting a room with them because they had the best price.

Things you will need when sheltering under a tarp.

Khirganga. Isn’t it gorgeous?

I say grudgingly, the bloke who worked there was a complete and utter prick. At first I was wondering if I was just a bit grumpy at the whole world because I was piss wet through and had enough water in my shoes to sustain multi-cellular aquatic life. But no. He’s a knobhead. He was generally an obnoxious twat to everyone who walked through the door but we eventually won him over with string and he stopped being so sarcastic towards us. Yep, string. In between thrashing me at cards, Jess had been teaching me to macrame since McLeod Ganj and we were stampeding through North India leaving a trail of waxed string in our wake. Dickjockey took an instant liking to the little bracelets we were churning out so we made one for him just to shut him up. Then he wanted us to make them for everyone so Jess started charging and managed to rake a few rupees in.

The women’s hot springs.

The temple or shrine where you can worship and leave offerings, but the hot springs are also considered a temple.

After a lengthy battle with Fucknuts about whether we could dry our shoes by the wood burner or not, we just chilled here for the rest of the evening. They have a restaurant, and the common area was quite large and the whole floor was covered in cushions. I believe that, should you so desire, you can pay very few rupees and sleep in the common areas in most the guesthouses instead of getting a room, but this isn’t recommended for female travellers regardless of nationality. You can also bring a tent and camp but fuck that for a game of soldiers. Rooms here were in a separate wooden shack, small but totally fine, two beds and a small wood burner which cost extra to use and Jess was having none of it anyway because she didn’t want to melt in her sleep. Despite the near constant rain it wasn’t freezing cold, just a little bit nips, nothing an extra layer wouldn’t sort out. Toilets were in another wooden shack down the way and if it stops raining for any length of time you have to nip out for a tactical wee, regardless of whether you actually need to go or not. It’s the only way you can stay whatever passes for dry in this region and still keep your bladder happy as you binge drink chai and that concoction that could only have been conjured by angels with the sheer and utter joy of mankind in mind, hot milk and Nutella. I think I shall be leaving India with a small sugar addiction.

Just bolt for it in between downpours.

Khirganga, also written Kheerganga in Latin script, is a holy place sacred to Hindus. It’s said that Kartik meditated here for thousands of years because he loved it so much. Kartik is the son of Shiva and Parvati, y’know, the one Shiva didn’t accidentally decapitate then reassemble with whatever was to hand which happened to be an elephant head. You don’t tend to hear much about Kartik as an uninitiated foreigner. So anyway, he was up here meditating and his mum probably thought he might be hungry or something as mums are wont to do, so she brought him some rice pudding which, in Hindi, is kheer. You see where this is going? The pot fell over thus spilling the rice pud everywhere which is sacrilege because rice pudding is one of the most joyous things known to man, but because Parvati is a powerful as fuck goddess she used her powers to collect it up and a spring of kheer came from the earth. Which I guess is the hot springs. According to the information provided in the guesthouse, “The spring of Kheerganga was born from 14000 years of Kartik’s meditation and the power of Parvati.” The hot spring could wait though. We had a lot of sitting down to do after our soggy trek up the hill. Future us would be all over that shit.

Another bridge designed to terrify those of us with no balance.

There ain’t much exploring to be done in Khirganga if you’ve no intention of going any higher. We hadn’t. Nope. No more uphill for us. You can walk to the snow line if you want but I like snow about as much as I like having hot pins inserted into my eyelids. This is actually the first leg of the Pin-Parvati trek which I’d really wanted to do and was quietly glad it ceased to be an option once I found out the cost. As much as I love the idea of walking from the green and lush Hindu Parvati Valley into the brown and sparse Buddhist Spiti Valley, I like not having to camp in a tent after spending several hours walking up a hill in conditions that would be considered positive for webbed footed waterfowl. I’ve done that before. Roraima. I think I use Roraima as a benchmark for all misery. The 2960 masl of Khirganga would do just fine, thank you. We spent a couple of hours checking out other guesthouses for Nutella and milk, wandered down the hill to a little dhaba which we’d heard did good momos and had done a fantastic job of turning the hole in the ground that passed as a toilet into something vaguely civilised with the cunning use of metal sheeting, then figured it was time to check out these hot springs.

Men and women are separated of course, but whilst men get to bask in the springs with beautiful views of trees and nature and stuff, us chicks are holed up in a shed. This kinda sucks but without it we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the springs unless fully clothed and even then we’d be stared at as if we were stark bollock naked anyway and had three tits. It’s common practice to separate the genders in many situations in India for, y’know, reasons and stuff. Despite being holed up in a wooden shack covered with a sheet of plastic, the springs are still amazing but be very fucking careful you don’t stack it. The concrete floor is slimy, and concrete tends to hurt a lot when it rapidly comes into contact with pointy parts of the human anatomy such as knees and elbows. We hung out there for ages as the drizzle tapped against the plastic sheeting above us. I don’t mind being this kind of soaked. This was nice. The shit part about this was having to get out again and get dry enough to redress just so we could go out in the weather and get the kind of wet we were both very fed up of being.

Dog’s shoes for dog only. Do not attempt to steal dog’s shoes or you’ll not have any feet to put them on.

Aaaand nearly back to Barshani.

You could spend longer here if you wanted to, it’s chilled and out of the way, but two nights did us. The hike down was uneventful, when the paths split we took the road to the right into Barshani. No fear of getting lost either, someone has painted arrows on rocks, arrows that don’t fucking lie for once, as well as friendly warnings not to pick the apples unless you want a ₹1000 fine. Fuck me, that’s an expensive apple. That’d be the most overpriced apple you’d ever eat even if you shopped exclusively from Waitrose’s super organic ethical range. It’s a bit of a nicer walk than the one from Kalga, you walk past a couple of waterfalls and over raging rivers and through a little village called Nakthan where you can have a cuppa at a restaurant and make use of their facilities, because there’s really nowhere to nip off to the side for a cheeky piss anywhere along this trail. Everyone can do this trail, it really doesn’t matter which route you take either. A lot of people said the Kalga trail was steeper and harder which worried us a bit, and maybe it is, but for all the scaremongering, even in the rain when the ground turns to slush and failure, it’s totally fine and doable. Get it done. Have a cuppa on the way up. Go hang out in the springs. Khirganga is worth the steep, soggy little detour.

Bonus photo: This is the homemade toilet at the bottom of the hill. It’s genius. Though I’ve no idea where it flows to…

Kheerganga (or Khirganga), Parvati Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India
Stayed at: Ice & Fire

Ice & Fire Guesthouse. The building in the foreground to the right is the huge common area and restaurant, and the smaller building to the left is a few small but comfortable rooms.

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