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Parvati Valley

The Parvati valley is exceptionally beautiful and just a little sinister. It’s a very narrow valley with the mountains rising steeply on both sides, allowing a couple less hours of light than in other areas. It’s famous for its high quality charas production and most travellers who come here are stoners.

In recent years though there have been a number of Western tourists going missing and at least a few confirmed murders. Supposedly disappearing whilst ‘trekking’, there’s a good chance that the locals finally realised that these scruffy, bearded hippies actually walk around with a couple of thousand dollars on them when they go to score a kilo of charas. Anyone born and raised in the Himalayas has a huge physical advantage over your average trekker and it would be child’s play to take them out on the high mountain paths to the charas plantations.

As a result of considerable international pressure to trace the missing backpackers, the Indian police have in recent years climbed the slopes and burnt some fields of marijuana plants. It’s all business in India though and there’s enough money in the charas business to pay off the local police chiefs. The perpetrators of the murders were suspected to be Nepali porters in some cases but it still remains a mystery. For the time being, it’s advisable to avoid walking alone high up in the Parvati Valley.

The other striking feature of Parvati is the river which hurls itself down the mountains at an incredible pace. You can sit by this river for hours and lose yourself in the collage of sounds. You’ll see the Israelis staring at it in wonder, asking themselves ‘How can there be so much more water?’

The Israelis have taken hold of many of the villages in the Parvati valley, in particular Cussole, the main port of entry. Here you’ll hear more Hebrew spoken than Hindi or English. Travelers sit around making chillums and arguing about the finer points of charas quality. Then it’s back to their guesthouses to play techno, smoke more chillums and hopefully get laid if they’re not too stoned.

If Hebrew Heaven is a little too much for you there’s Chilal a little way along the river which is calmer or Manikaran a few miles up the valley where there’s sulphur hot springs. Manikaran is scared to the Sikhs for some reason but the whole town is a little garish and isn’t a place you’re likely to want to stay.

It used to be that the only way up to the villages of Pulga and Kalga was by walking. The Indian government put an end to all that by a mammoth project to build a road up the mountain so that now Indian tourists can drive straight up to these quiet villages in their landrovers and litter to their heart’s content. Pulga and Kalga used to be very basic, spread out villages with plenty of long term Italian chillum fascists and stoners in search of the quiet life. God knows what’s happened now, probably they’ve relocated to the nearby village of Tosh.

Still beyond the reaches of the car is Kierganga, a place of pilgrimage for Shiva devotees up the Himalayas where Shiva is said to have sat and meditated for ten thousand years. It’s not mentioned whether he suffered haemeroids as a result but there are open water hot springs here. Women have to use the covered ones. There are a couple of simple places to stay and a chai shop which is abandoned in the winter and the local sadhus take it to pieces for firewood.

There are spectacular passes to be walked from Parvati, notable into the Malana valley where the best charas of all is grown. The locals in Malana consider themselves a caste above everyone else though and impose strict rules on where you may walk and what you may touch in your time there. Some think that the missing backpackers may have just settled down quietly here and it’s been suggested that the Malana charas mafia have strong connections with Italian charas connoisseurs. An odd one altogether.

When taking charas out of Parvati in the autumn be very, very careful as the police all know it’s harvest time and they routinely search travellers on the mountain paths and in the buses heading down to Delhi. If caught you can expect to pay some considerable baksheesh.