There are places that you make elaborate plans to visit and then end up visiting. And then there are places you rarely think about but destiny takes you there, and you can’t help but thank your stars for the random decisions and the twists and turns. Well, Kutla was one such place where we ended up on a rainy afternoon in Parvati valley. Even though the trail to Kutla passed through touristy Tosh; yet it felt a world away from the crowds.
It was a fine afternoon that was being spoilt by the constant fumes and dust on the side of the road in Kasol. We’d left in the morning from the pretty village of Grahan and had reached Kasol around 1 in the afternoon. Internet accessibility for a digital nomad and professional travel blogger (aka me!) meant we spent time on social media updates before deciding to head to Kutla. We hopped onto the next bus to Barshaini and reached Tosh first.
I’ve never been fond of Tosh; and while blogs on the internet and other social media might wax eloquent about the town – the concrete character of Tosh has deteriorated further making it seem like a ‘hotel’ infested village. Local homes are hardly seen and more often than not, every local of the village seems to be in the tourism business. There were at least 100 DL numbered vehicles parked near Barshaini and it wasn’t a pretty sight at all. Parvati Valley has for long been a popular tourist place, but this was too much even for me.
The Never Ending ’10 Minute’ Walk to Kutla
The struggles of our journey to Kutla amidst rainy skies, heavy backpacks and steep ascending hikes is another epic story altogether. After staying in the beautiful village of Grahan, our expectations from the valley had reached another level. With no destination on our mind, we had started our downward trek to Kasol. After having a quick lunch, we decided to catch the next bus to Barshiani and try our luck to reach Kutla. While it didn’t take long for the bus to come, it waited at Manikaran Gurudwara for around one hour- leaving us with limited time for the hike to find our way to Kutla.
We met some Gaddi shepherds with their herd of sheep. If you cross the place on the right, then you are on the correct trail to Kutla.
It was around 3:30 by the time we reached Barshaini. Quickly, a taxi was hailed for Tosh since we were in no mood to waste time. We crossed the commercial establishments to find the less travelled path to Kutla. There were no signboards, and no fellow travellers- nothing which could help us set foot on the right path. As we crossed Tosh village, we kept asking the locals and shop owners for the path to Kutla and they said keep walking straight after the village.
Trusting our instincts and as directed, we kept walking. Once or twice, the locals would pass by and everytime we would ask them – ‘Kutla ka raasta Bhaiji?’. They would point to the path we were already on. When asked ‘kitna door hai’ – the standard reply would be – ten more minutes. While that would lift our spirits up, those ten minutes were the longest ten minutes of our lives as we walked for around an hour before hearing another ‘bas dus aur minute’ – ‘just ten more minutes!’ from more locals we would meet on the way.
Also read : Tranquility in the hippie land of Kasol
The ‘ten more minutes’ scene went on for quite some time. And the trail itself wasn’t a leisurely walk. After crossing Tosh, the trail is a level walk for some time and after crossing a small stream, a non-stop ascent begins. There are a few campsites and stone structures that were visible along the way. It was around 6 pm, we stopped at one of them to reconfirm whether we were indeed on the trail to Kutla.
In the meantime, it had started raining and we were starting to doubt our choices when we saw a couple of youngsters trying to make their way to Kutla but unlike us, they were accompanied with a local guide. Someone instructed us that it was only ten more minutes from there, to which my friend exclaimed in jest about our situation of the never ending 10 minutes!
We heaved a sign of relief upon knowing that there was someone who knew the way and followed the guide blindly thereafter. It is a confusing route with multiple diversions and the best tip which I always give is – keep asking the locals and make sure there is sufficient daylight when you begin the hike. If you can’t find a local and are really really lost – Remember to ask for directions near the campsites that come close to the waterfall place near Tosh. You can also keep taking the trails going to your left and use your instincts to continue.
As seen at the beginning of Kutla. Lovely place for aimless walks and meandering around nature.
We were really tired after the day’s downhill (from Grahan) and uphill journey and were frantically praying for the ‘ten minutes’ to end soon. After another turn, we spotted a solitary signboard of a campsite which was an indication that we aren’t too far from Kutla. The last few meters of the final hike was absolutely backbreaking; and with the heavy backpacks felt even more so!
Also read : Kalga Village – 21st Century Shangri-La
It had started pouring and we had no intentions to get wet. I was already under the weather and was praying for the village to appear from somewhere. And that’s how it actually happened- we climbed one steep trail and there it was – the pristine village/hamlet/camping ground of Kutla. There was a colourful cloth as an offering to the Gods that signalled the start of Kutla.
It seemed to be a makeshift village that was not a permanent settlement and was set in the middle of nowhere. The landscape is blissfully pretty and incredibly serene. With a handful of homestays and campsites, Kutla is set in a deliriously green ‘Kashmir like landscape’ overlooking the apple orchards and flanked by snowcapped mountains in the distance.
One doesn’t need any other comfort to feel at ease in this tiny hamlet. Travellers who have seen enough of the commercial Kasol and Tosh and want to get away to the pristine corners of the valley make their way to Kutla. Away from the hustle bustle, Kutla is the place for self-contemplation and to appreciate nature’s beauty. The sound of the pleasing breeze blends perfectly well with the quietude of the distant snow clad peaks rising over expansively green forested slopes, making it a perfect landscape for meditative stays.
No sooner had we reached Kutla, we saw the first homestay to our left. The old Himachali uncle quoted a higher price and wasn’t ready to tell us a price inclusive of food; and thus we moved on to the second homestay that was only a a mere two minute walk away. We fixed a price of around 400 per person including chai, breakfast and dinner and put our bags in two wooden rooms. The rooms were pretty basic but the structure was a three storey wooden building and the person managing it was nice to talk to!
It was quite cold with the dark clouds and stormy weather. After the drizzle had stopped, we quickly wore our jackets and sat in the open. The view in front of our eyes was nothing short of incredible and we asked for some masala chai to go along with it. Raja (owner of the homestay) asked us if we would like to have pakoras with chai and we said yes! Although they were quite expensive, but in this remote setting it was really tasty and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
Daily life in Kutla is mostly about taking long walks in the unexplored lush greens, chatting with the locals while they are busy tending to their cattle, eating simple food of dall, rajmah and rice, drinking the local alcohol ‘grappa’ if you end up finding a good host and sitting and staring at the mountains while thinking about life in general. Doesn’t seem like a bad way to live, not at all.
Food with a view : Eh… Views that fill your heart!
Nobody seemed be there in Kutla village and we felt at ease in the company of no one else and just us. As it got colder when it was almost dark; without any further ado, we shifted ourselves to the mountain facing box size wooden cabin that was much warmer than outside.
We were famished after the hectic day and if I am given one word to describe how I felt sitting on those wooden logs, soaking in the rain-washed scenic beauty, I would say ‘this is what heaven feels like’. There was a small gurgling stream that flowed beside our ‘hangout’ in Kutla and that really provided much needed music to complete the magical setting.
After being done with chai and pakoras, it started raining again. We shifted base to the cozy sitting room with a tandoor. At that moment, we were at a stage of full satisfaction. We were joined by fellow travellers from different parts of the country.
Everyone shared their stories and allowed their hearts to wander in this pristine nature. The pitter patter of mountain rain, the murmur of the nearby brook, the soothing symphony of country music with conversations and the unparalleled joy in the heart set the perfect ambience for trying out some grappa, the local liquor of Kutla!
The rain had stopped by the time we finished our dinner, which made the occasion perfect for some star gazing. After a tranquil night, we had the most blissful sleep and woke up to a beautiful sunny morning. Sweet melody of guitar was floating and the tune perfectly blended with the dazzling morning sunlight. The meditative silence at that vary moment still echoes in my heart; and chai was called for.
We sat still, soaking ourselves in the sunshine and basking in the beauty of the blissful skies. After a hearty breakfast of paranthas and chai, we set out to take a walk in the upper region of Kutla that leads to Budhaban Glacier and explore the multiple camp sights in the areas, most of which were run by the locals to serve the day tourists.
Kutla in Parvati Valley : Practical Details
Kutla is located at a comfortable altitude of 2650 Mtrs. The weather can get cold even during the summers when the temperatures drop to around 5-7 degrees in May-June, in case of bad weather. The village has intermittent mobile and internet connectivity (airtel and bsnl). The trail to Kutla starts getting steep after crossing the stream once you begin the trail from Tosh and can be strenuous if you are walking with your heavy backpacks like us.
The next stop after Kutla is Buddhaban Glacier where there is a fabulous campsite (located at approx. 1 hour trek from Kutla). Beyond this, a full day hike can be made to some lakes and waterfall (As per the locals).
Some of us felt so warm in the sunshine that the water from the nearby stream proved to be very inviting for a quick bath. The homestay also had a toilet and bathrooms for the same purpose. Someone told us about a small café near Kutla that had a fabulous location, a well stocked library and was run by friendly people. We tried to find it on the walk but didn’t have any idea of where to go!
Its taken me a lot of pondering to actually decide if I should make this comprehensive blog post cum travel guide to Kutla (one of the most offbeat places to explore in Parvati Valley). Regular readers of travelshoebum would remember that I have described classical dilemmas about sharing secret villages in the Himalayas. As always, only time shall tell. Maybe what I do now doesn’t even have a bearing. Or maybe it does.
I wish I will be able to speak about Kutla in the same breath as I do today. Please practise responsible travel if you go on these lesser trodden paths; no littering and no plastic. Please carry your waste back and keep the surrounding landscapes clean. Thanks.