I was returning to Parvati Valley in 2018 after a year long hiatus; chiefly because of the crowds that I’d seen around Kheerganga on an earlier trip. I must have thought of Kalga though when a trip was planned with friends. When we boarded our HRTC Himsuta Volvo from Delhi to Bhuntar, there was no decided place in our mind for where to go. And yet, since it was early morning in Kasol – and someone threw the name Grahan at us; we decided to give the 3 hour long hike/trek to Grahan Village a go!
Our plan was flexible and the course of action depended on the time of our arrival in Kasol from Bhuntar. It was also complicated that the time of reaching of all 4 of us travelling from different parts of the country to reach Bhuntar could have been different. Luckily, our buses reached Bhuntar at the same time and we met at a small dhaba and had chai. The weather was chilly with the cloud cover and rain and we almost froze! After a hearty breakfast of aloo paranthas and more chai at the local dhaba, we boarded the next bus to Kasol and thus began another journey to Parvati valley.
We got down near the bridge in Kasol; it was only 9 am and it was important to finish the morning duties since we had an 8 km hike coming up. Its not a nice idea to hike 4 hours with an unpleasant stomach. There was a new public loo in Kasol that came to the rescue. We decided to hike to the hidden village of ‘Grahan’ which is at a distance of around 8 kms from Kasol. The trek starts from close to the bridge in Kasol, and we just asked a few locals and they guided us on the right path. I was concerned about losing the way and reaching Thunja village but thankfully that did not happen!
The weather was beautiful and the start of the hike was easy. There were a few shops at the start of the trek to Grahan, and some locals also said that they are also going to Grahan for some work. The Grahan Nallah flowed to our left; and with a spring in our step, we happily walked along the glittering waters of the Grahan nallah. It was enjoyable to be amidst the jungle, with the birdsongs and the gentle whispering of pines. A signboard to our left indicated path to Thunja village but the locals advised us to just continue straight.
Its funny how human beings are more receptive to nature after the mobile network has died down.
Leaving behind the sweltering heat of the plains, the mountain air felt magical to both the body and heart. We stopped for a bit to sit by the river and noticed that dark clouds were already gathering and it was better to reach early lest it began raining. We were accompanied by a group of locals who were planning to set up a dhaba on the way as the YHAI treks (to Sar Pass) were to start in a couple of days. I thanked our stars as I wanted the village to be quiet and peaceful. Call me selfish, but I wanted Grahan village to myself and sharing it with a larger group of trekkers did not seem to be very appealing.
We chatted with the locals for a while and patted ourselves on our backs when they complemented us on our speed. Until this point, till the first bridge appears, the walk is pretty chilled out. We were lucky to have the locals with us who asked us to not take any of the bridges; especially one close to the start of the hike as it is a shortcut and a really difficult path. The trail (or road) finally ends and we can spot a slender bridge to cross Grahan nallah and reach the other side. One of the locals also owned a homestay in Grahan and we took the name, discussed the rates and said that we will surely head to his home!
We had roughly covered around 3 kms in one hour and till here the hike is by the side of Grahan Nallah. After crossing the makeshift bridge across the stream, the trail goes deep in the forest to directly reach Grahan Village. In the jungle, there are signboards and arrows that appear every 10 minutes indicating the path to Grahan village so that hikers and trekkers don’t get lost.
Now the ascent had began and the path had become narrow as well. After another hour of walking, we came across a mid-way point dhaba. It had began drizzling and we were hungry as well; and since it was lunch time we decided to break our trek here and eat. Given the whimsical weather in the mountains, it generally rains on the hike so these dhabas can act as a rain shelter if you travel unplanned like us and aren’t carrying your rain coats.
We ate dal rice that turned out to be surprisingly tasty and after the rain stopped we resumed our trek to Grahan. After 30 odd minutes, there was a signboard that indicated the way to Grahan was another 1.5 kms. We were in a fix, both the paths led to Grahan village and we weren’t sure which one to take. With no one else around, we spoke amongst ourselves and decided to climb the left side trail. It was a really uphill trek at this point and after around 45 minutes, there was a tiny dhaba selling chai and biscuits.
He said that Grahan was hardly 30 minutes from that point and that we had indeed taken the right path at the confusing place where the paths bifurcated. The weather was still quite cold due to the drop in temperature after the drizzle and we shivered whenever a breeze blew. The clock went past 3 in the afternoon and we finally spotted the first houses of Grahan.
The last 2 kms of the hike are pretty steep and a real test of endurance. But one can’t complain because the higher you go, the mountain vistas keep getting better. The glistering white snow clad peaks (courtesy of the snowfall the previous night) with a background of blue and stormy skies stood in contrast with the dark green fores. The sweet symphony of the cascading waters of the Grahan nullah that feels like music from faraway makes up for the tiring hike.
Just when you are tired to your toes and almost about to give up, the mysterious signboards (written in Hebrew) of the home stays start making an appearance. The trail is slightly confusing towards the end as the route bifurcates into two perpendicular paths, which actually lead to the same place. We took the shorter, but the much steeper route. The other is a longer, but comparatively less steeper and it reaches Grahan from the other side, via the village of Pulgi. The routes are well marked with arrows and signs which one can figure out if one looks closely.
We immediately spotted the homestay that was owned by the local we had met on the way from Kasol to Grahan. The lady of the homestay was unsure about the availability of the rooms but asked us to sit and made delicious chai for us. At first glance, I really liked the happy and chilled out vibe of Grahan and coupled with the dazzling view, it felt like a peaceful heaven. Children played under the open skies and it seemed like a perfect world!
Grahan is a pretty hamlet of wooden homes perched up in the valley at an altitude of around 2350 meters. The sight of trippy boards and hippie cafes welcomes you to this village which has almost as many home stays as the number of houses. The pleasant aroma of hash mixed up with the Hebrew-English-Hindi chatter leaves one wondering of ones whereabouts. You pinch yourself to be doubly sure that all this is happening in a remote village which is 10 kms off the road!
Such is the sense of hospitality and entrepreneurial spirit of the Himachalis that they will make you feel welcome and arrange for all basic comforts even in the remotest regions of the state. Consumption of alcohol is prohibited in the village and defying the same invites a huge fine. The locals have made it pretty clear through multiple signboards throughout the way.
As soon as we reached the first home in the village – which belonged to our local friends we had met on the way, we settled ourselves happily in the open air seating space. On one side was the village, and on the other was the pristine valley view with fantastic vistas of nature on offer. Our friends on the way had told us to stay at their homestay. We met the guys’ mother who made the most amazing chai with herbs from her garden. We were her fans already with the stunning chai she made!
Irrespective of wherever we were staying, we told her we are eating food at her place only. Leaving our backpacks in her custody, we set out for a walk around Grahan village. The walk took us to the centre of the village which houses an immensely intricate temple, but entry for outsiders is not allowed (Like many other places in Kullu Valley). There were other homestays too in the village and all of them looked simple and inviting; since all the homes were made of wood in Grahan village.
Typical village scenes with kids jumping all around, the female folk carrying fodder for their cattle were on offer for our cameras. Some of the houses had amazing views and we were lost in thoughts of how surreal it would be if one could get to stay in each of these houses and enjoy the stunning views. Most of the houses were traditional wooden structures. We walked to the periphery of the village and found ourselves on the alternate route to Grahan, via the village of Pulgi and Nattai. The villagers referred to this area as New Grahan.
I was fascinated with the name Pulgi as I had been earlier to the mysterious village of Pulga on the other side of Parvati valley. The trail had fields on either sides and offered a calm environment for one to sit and relax. We sat there for a long time, chatting with the locals who were on their way back to the village after a day at the fields as well as fellow Israeli travellers who were returning from their day walks.
The scene on the other side of Grahan was even more enchanting. There were swaying wheat and barley fields flanked with colourful trees, topped off by a pine and deodhar forest and finally given the finishing touches by the snow clad peaks. There were fewer homestays in this area and all of them seemed to be newly built. I briefly wondered if given a choice where I would have liked to stay!
The sun was setting and we had to arrange a cake as it was one of the fellow travellers’ birthday eve. We asked around and found a café run by locals who were supposedly the cake experts of the village. Even though the time at hand was very less, the guys promised to make something for us and assured us that we will like it. I trust the locals in whatever they say so I was already happy about a job well done.
It was getting very cold and we returned to our cozy wooden home stay with the coolest sitting area. We lounged for a while in the warm and cozy environs of the sitting room and asked for more chai. Dinner was ready and we went back to our dear auntys’ place to have our fill. Our local friend (setting up the dhaba) from the way was back by then and when he came to know that we are celebrating a birthday – he started a bonfire and promised to join us for the party after serving the rest of his guests.
The bonfire ensued a huge gathering, given the chill in the air. Rest of the evening was spent chatting with people from different corners of the world, eating the most delicious cake ever, and soaking in the warmth of the bonfire. We were all quite tired after the trek and decided to call it a night. With dreams in our eyes and the million twinkling stars overhead, sleep was a cosy affair.
Next morning, we were welcomed by the sunny mountain sun shining over the snowy mountains and it seemed like a perfect day for sun bathing. We relaxed in the sun for some time, had our breakfast and set out for the next destination for the day. There was no mobile network in Grahan and the birthday person wanted to receive birthday greetings; and hence we had to go back to Kasol for that! On our way back, we crossed a few school kids who belonged to Thunja village. They said that Thunja has around 20 homes but does not have a homestay yet. I’m sure it is a pristine village and wish to go there soon!!
The route chosen for the downhill descent was the way through Pulgi village. It was a beautiful walk along the river, fields of wildflowers and multiple shades of green. Life felt good in this tiny hamlet of Grahan away from the touristy crowds of Kasol and the heart wanted to stay there. But the mind has its ways. We reached Kasol after about 2.5 hours of walking through the forest. This path joins the main trekking trail at the 1.5 km mark to Grahan.
Grahan is first campsite for the Sar Pass trek in Parvati Valley. The YHAI groups have a different area for camping in New Grahan. Grahan village is well equipped in terms of homestays for a comfortable stay. And due to the fact that phones don’t work in Grahan makes this tiny hidden village hidden feel even more interesting.
A Brief Trekking Guide from Kasol to Grahan
The beginning of the trek to Grahan from Kasol is really easy. Huge path next to Grahan Nallah as it flows on the left side. There’s a camping site too in the forest on the right side. The gurgling sound of the flowing water accompanies one till about 2-3 kms of the hike and thereafter the way snakes up deep into the valley.
Do not take the first bridge to the left on which ‘Way to Thunja and shortcut to Grahan is written’. Continue straight and remember to not take the pretty wooden bridge to Grahan either. This trail is in fact a road in construction halfway till Grahan and one has to continue to the end of the road where you can spot a river crossing on logs of wood where the path continues to your right after the crossing.
As you continue, there will be regular signboards indicating the way to Grahan. Around 30-45 mins after the river crossing, you will come across the first dhaba / café on the trail. This is the one permanent dhaba on the trekking trail from Kasol to Grahan and they were also constructing rooms for stays. This can roughly be said to be the halfway point for the trek to Grahan.
There are 2-3 more makeshift dhabas on the way, where one can break for lunch and tea and ask for directions. After 30 odd minutes of walking, one comes across a 1.5 km mark for Grahan. Remember to take the left trail at this point; its shorter and will leave you directly in Grahan. Also remember that on the entire trek from Kasol to Grahan, there are markers, pointers and signboards every 15 minutes. The trekking trail is pretty well defined and if you don’t see directions for thirty minutes, it probably means you are lost. During the summer months, Grahan sees a steady stream of visitors and that means there is little chance of losing the trail.
Basic tips for trekking to Grahan Village :
Do not litter. Remember we are here for the clean nature. Respect the local traditions as written on the signboard and not carry alcohol as Grahan is alcohol free.
Depending on the average fitness of a person, the trek from Kasol to Grahan can take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours. It is recommended that you start early in the morning so as to make it to Grahan in broad daylight. Remember it is not a nice feeling to get lost in the jungle, particularly when its cold an you are alone.
There are many homestays in Grahan. No need to book beforehand. Rooms are basic and are available for 300 Rupees. Bathrooms are mostly shared and are located close to the main homestay structure. The new homestays are said to be built with attached bathrooms. Food can be expensive in Grahan; but rajma chawal cooked by the family is the best. Ask for the same thali that they themselves eat and it will be charged far lesser.
The weather in Grahan can get cold even during the summers and temperatures can drop to 0-5 degrees. Keep your winter clothes handy.
With my stance on responsible travel, I was wondering if I should really make this blog post or not. And then I decided to go ahead : Grahan village has existed forever, yes – it involves a moderate trek and that will ensure that the crowds will stay away. A road is being built halfway till Grahan. Will it result in another Tosh like situation?
I would love your thoughts on how magical villages like Grahan can be preserved forever?