07/10/2008 - 17/10/2008
Kheer Ganga - Heaven on a hill.
We awoke on wednesday morning to more biting cold and a light drizzle. Needless to say, we went back to sleep. Upon waking at 10 though, the sun was out, and the cold was disappearing. We walked outside to an incredible sight - we could see the whole of Kheer Ganga's grass and rock hillside, surrounded on all sides by the majestic pine forests, barren cliff faces and towering snow capped peaks. At the top of the hill shrouded in a veil of steam was the temple and baths, their naturally hot spring water cascading down the hill in creeks, steam rising in the morning sun. What a stunning part of the world to be in! We had certainly made the right choice in coming, this being the most beautiful and serene place i have visited so far. Maybe now our 4 days will turn into more...
Encouraging us to stay longer also, was the fact that we had secured a room at the Ashram. There was a mass exodus of Israeli's headed to Kasol for Yonki Por - a jewish fasting day to do with the new year. So after that one damp, cold and miserable night under a tarp, we now had a room; complete with a personal tandoori, split firewood everyday, chai's to the room and of course, a real roof, floor and walls. Very rustic and simple, but also effective and functional. And to top it all off, the questionable weather suddenly turned into six days of glorious sunshine; clear and crisp autumn days, where the only clouds looked like a puff of smoke from Shiva's chillum. We had met a fantastic group of long term India-addicts: Ade and Roberta from Italy, Shakti from Germany and Ed the mad Scottsman arrived the same day as us, also planning 3 days or so up the hill. Their Indian friend Charman had walked them up, and was staying also. Instantly, we all got on, and were soon sharing dinner, chillums, bongs, spliffs and baths. So with good company also, leaving wasn't something anyone wanted to do.
I simply don't know how to describe either my time in Kheer Ganga, or the place itself. Words, and especially my words, fail to describe the beauty, the serenity, the calm, the quiet... To sit alone in a hot sulfur bath atop a grassy and sunny hillside surrounded by forest, cliffs and the snow capped Himalayan mountains; it is an experience i couldn't seem to get enough of, and will certainly never forget. If i thought my soul was calm in Kasol, here my incessantly chatting mind has all but stopped. With nothing to do but eat, sleep, bathe, explore the forest and smoke copius amounts of charas, i think that Kheer Ganga has taken the prize for the most shanti place i have ever visited. And believe me, it is not ALL about the smoking.. Although that is the way of life up here, it is the majesty of the area, the isolation of the habitation, the stunning beauty of the mountains and the unhurried way of life which gives Kheer Ganga its charm.
And it was this charm which ended up keeping us all there. Didi and i had planned to stay 4 days, but had extended our plan to 6. Ade, Ed, Shakti and Roberta, packed and ready on their 4th day, suddenly (with a small degree of convincing by Didi) decided to stay another day. Charman had already headed down the hill a couple of days earlier. After all of our false starts, broken plans and indecisions, we all stayed for the full moon, keeping us there for a total of 10 days. Charman even came up again to make sure the others were OK! We got to experience both the warming, incredible sunshine and the cold, damp rain and fog, bringing the snow line down to the trees, a mere walk away. We played outdoor pool (yes, there was a pool table up there - no slate of course), ate incredibly good fresh food (brought in by horses every 3 days), took walks in the forest (Didi and i spent 7 hours exploring up the valley further - breathtaking in so many ways), enjoyed time with new friends, time alone...
Again i will say that no mere words can express to you the peace i feel after my time here. They say that Shiva's son did penance here, meditating for thousands of years. Shiva struck the ground with his trident to protect both the area and his son, and it was then that Kheer Ganga began to flow. Maybe it is the hundreds, if not thousands of years that the people have held this place in reverence that i can feel; maybe it is the natural beauty; maybe my soul just resonates with the area. Whatever it is, i know already that i will be back here one day. I would love to explore even further up the valley - to the natural rock bridge over the river, which in winter turns to an ice bridge; up to Mantalai - a mountain lake at 5200 meters fed by glaciers, and in turn feeding the Parvati River. Whatever life throws at me, i know that eventually, i will return. I have felt something very special in these mountains, and will treasure my time here forever.
In the end, forcing all of us to leave was a lack of cash - with no roads, power or phones, you can guess that there was no way to get money. In the end i traded our way out with a combination of $US, $AUD and rupees.. The others all chipped in to help eachother out, and by lunchtime on the 17th, we were ready to leave. The weather had turned nasty too; it not being a good day to walk. An ongoing paradox - when the weather is good you can't leave because it is so nice. When the weather is bad you can't leave, being forced to sit by the tandoori, drinking chai and smoking spliffs... But with no money left, it was time to break the paradox. We convinced our one porter to go even after his protestations to stay, and left 'heaven on a hill' the same way we arrived - in the cold and wet. Our host Ashu and our cook Anush had declared that in one more week they too would go - shutting up shop and going to work in Goa, or somewhere else for their season. Kheer Ganga has left it's mark on me in ways i can feel, yet can't describe. It has been the highlight of my trip, and i will sorely miss it. It was really a sad farewell, all of us looking back over and over until our grassy hill was out of sight.