Kheerganga is a vast camping ground perched in the middle of the mountains in the famous Parvati Valley of Himachal Pradesh. It attracts a lot of tourists during the tourist season of 7-8 months from March to November every year. Although people used to hike till Kheerganga throughout the year, but the main tourist season is from March to November only. It requires an ordeal of 12-kms trek on a relatively easy trekking trek to reach Kheerganga from the nearest motorable road. Since, the trek is fairly easy and takes 4-5 hours to reach there at Kheerganga, this trek is one of the most popular trek in the Himalayas.
But, being a fairly easy trek doesn’t deprived one from the breathtaking natural beauties. It is a actually a prefect packaged destination for many. It has a wide camping ground surrounded by the Himalayan Mountains, a temple dedicated to Lord Mahadeva, a natural hot spring with an artificial swimming pool and splendid beauty of nature in every direction. During the tourist season, the villagers from the lower areas arrive here to operate their makeshift guesthouses, restaurants and small shops. Suddenly, in the beginning of March, Kheerganga looks alive with the beautiful souls from all around the country.
The heavy rush of tourists comprises the variety of people- the restless souls searching their inner peace in the Himalayas, the hikers wishing to hike on an easy trail, the pilgrims expecting to get the company of Lord Mahadeva and the youth wishing to enjoy the best quality puff in the region. The charm of Kheerganga attracts thousands of souls every year, however, the truth is that majority of tourists arrive here to enjoy the fine quality Puff (Hashish) at cheaper prices. In the evening, when darkness prevails outside, an aura of light and music appears inside the large common rooms of guesthouses , the atmosphere gets soaked with smoke of the Puffs and multiple rounds of drinks. At that time, Kheerganga or for that matter, many places in Parvati Valley, turned into the last crusader of the Hippie Movement in India. Then it appears that we have arrived in the era of the Hippies, where everyone is busy in his own cocoon, escaping the brutal corporate world outside.
Trek to Kheerganga: It is one the easiest yet the very beautiful trek in the Himalayas. The trek starts from the Barsheni Village in Parvati Valley , a small village approx. 16 kms away from Kasol and 12 kms from Manikaran. It takes almost 4-5 hours of comfortable hike to cover the distance of 12 kms from Barsheni Village to the Kheerganga Camping Site. The trek can be commenced in the early morning, and it is possible to return to Barsheni or even Kasol, after spending few hours at Kheerganga on the same day. However, it is advisable to spend at least a night at the camping site to enjoy the beautiful surrounding.
Night Stay Before The Trek: The trek to Kheerganga starts from Barsheni, but the chances are very rare that you find any accommodation at Barsheni on the previous night of the trek. It is better to spend night in other villages around Barsheni, as Barsheni has very few options for the night accommodation. The other alternate options are:
Kasol /Manikaran: It takes almost 45 minutes to reach Barsheni from Manikaran and almost 1 hour from Kasol by a public bus. It is possible to spend a night at Kasol or Manikaran and then catch an early morning bus to Barsheni, from where you can start the trek as soon as possible. Kasol is a crowded place and always remains in party mood with lot of youngsters. Manikaran is a religious destination, again crowded with many pilgrims. But, both have plenty of accommodation choices. If you want to stay away from the crowd of both places, it is better to move deeper in Parvati Valley and spend a night at Pulga, Kalga or Tosh Village, and of course Barsheni Village.
Barsheni Village: There is an under construction dam on the Parvati River outside the village of Barsheni. The trekking trail to Kheerganga starts right after the dam site. So, it is very convenient to stay at Barsheni Village. However, the accommodation options at Barsheni are very limited (Probably 2-3 Guest Houses only). Also, Barsheni doesn’t offer the feel of a Himalayan Town/Village like the other villages in the region.
Tosh Village: Tosh is approx 2.5-3 kms further away from Barsheni Village and has plenty of accommodation options. Even during the high season, getting an accommodation at Tosh should not be a problem. But, being a favourite option among the crowd, Tosh is more costly than the other villages. Also, when you stay at Tosh in the night, you have to descend for at least 2 kms in the morning, to the dam site at Barsheni, from where you can proceed further towards Kheerganga.
A direct trail from Tosh is also there to proceed towards Kheerganga, but I don’t have any idea on that. I heard that trail is a bit difficult and merges with the main trail near Nakthan village en-route to Kheerganga.
Pulga Village: Pulga village is on the other bank of Parvati River, just opposite to Barsheni Village. Although it has a lot of accommodation options, but getting a room can be difficult during the heavy rush. It requires 1.5-2 kms walk through the dam to reach Pulga from Barsheni Village. If you stay there at Pulga, you have to come to the dam site again to start the trek to Kheerganga.
Kalga Village: My favourite option for the night stay is Kalga village. It is situated on an upward slope on the right side of the dam site, approx. 10 minutes from the dam. It is less crowded as compared to the other villages and has plenty of the homestays and the guesthouses.
One hiking trail goes directly from the Kalga village towards the Kheerganga. In case, you stay at Kalga, there is no need to return to the dam in the morning, instead, you can proceed directly towards Kheerganga on that trail. It reduces the distance by 1 km at least. This trail merges with the main trail of Kheerganga after 2 hours of walk. Interestingly, very few people prefer this trail to Kheerganga. The main trail that starts from the dam proceeds along the river, however, the trail starting from Kalga proceeds on a hill in the middle of the pristine forest. Multiple shops are available at both the routes, where you can get the breakfast and other things to eat.
I hiked to Kheerganga via Kalga village and returned to Barsheni via Nakthan Village following the most preferred trail. Personally, I find the trail from Kalga is more beautiful and challenging than the one starts from the dam site. This trail is leading through the dense forests, sometimes being alone in a thickly vegetated section feels scary on this trail. A beautiful waterfall is also on the way. The route is a bit confusing at 2-3 places, but overall it is a well marked trail. The trail that starts from the dam is in very good condition and there is no chance of getting lost.
Plenty of options are available for breakfast and other meals. Although the trekking season started from March in the Parvati Valley, but it reaches at its peak after the mid April only. So, I found many shops are either closed or just started 1-2 days prior to my trek.
The Kheerganga trek is fairly easy. Although the trek length is almost 12 kms, but it is easily doable in 4-5 hours at the comfortable pace. After reaching Kheerganga, you have mainly 3 types of accommodation options:
The Wooden Room: Three person can easily stay in this room. Rent is Rs 500 per night for a room. The rooms are equipped with wooden takhats(platform) and bathroom/toilet is in common area for all.
The Tin Shade Rooms: The per night charge is Rs. 300 for a single room. Mat and blanket is available, but you have to unfold them on the room floor. No cot or takhat is available. 3-4 persons can stay together in a room.
A Large Hall: Few guest houses at Kheerganga has a big hall, like a dormitory, where you can occupy a space on a wooden platform in any corner and charge is Rs. 100 per night. A single halls can accommodate 30-40 persons. In the night, you get a blanket to brave the cold and if it still feels too cold, probably one more blanket subject to the availability.
Apart from these, you can independently pitch your own tent anywhere on the vast camping ground at Kheerganga.
Hot Spring at Kheerganga: The hot spring situated near the temple is considered as very sacred. Most of the people prefer to bath in the hot spring after a long tiring trek. A large pool has been erected for the bathing purpose. There is a wooden enclosure to separate the ladies pool from the gents. You are expected to wash your body through the another water pipes before entering the main pool. The pool has a magical effect on the tired body. All the tiredness of the journey vanishes immediately. After the 4 hours of trek, it feels like a natural spa surrounded by the mighty peaks of the Himalayas.
A lot of ashes like particles are visibly floating in the pool. These floating particles have a great relation with the mythology of Kheerganga and its nomenclature.
The Mythology: It is believed that Lord Kartikeya, the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, meditated here for many thousand years. Mahadev and Parvati used to visit this site once in a while and Parvati used to cook Kheer for them. The particles floating in the pool are methodologically related to that kheer and hence, the name Kheerganga. I tried to find out the origin of these particles and walked upwards to the pool. I reached to a certain extent upwards and the floating particles were visible everywhere.
Kheerganga mostly remains peaceful during the day, and slowly turns into a party town as darkness prevails. In the evening, every corner of Kheerganga looks like a party ground of many groups of young travellers. In the large common halls of the guesthouses, people assemble in small groups to enjoy the Puff, the drink and the music. The snacks, dinner, food all are available at the seat. You just need to find a place to assemble your group. Tea, Maggie, Paratha, Rice, Dal, Puff, Beer etc all are available instantly at this remote camping ground in the Himalayas. There are heaters to keep the room warm till the party is over. During the normal days, the party life at Kheerganga come to a halt by 11 PM, when the room-heaters go off.
Following morning, most of the people head back towards their home. After half of the journey, the road again bifurcates to Kalga and Nakthan villages. I hiked on the trail from Kalga while ascending, so while descending moved on the trail to Nakthan village. This is also the most popular route and 90% of the tourists hike on this trail only.
The pristine calm around Rudranag Temple, fierce flow of Parvati River through the deep gorges, a splendid waterfall, lot of apple orchards and green fields near Nakthan village enhance the beauty of this trail. The trail passes through the middle of Nakthan village and provides ample opportunities to glimpse the routine life of this Himalayan Village. Nakthan also has many fooding and lodging facilities for the trekkers. Moving further, this trail connects to the main road to Barsheni Village near the dam, where you can get a bus for the return journey.
If you are young, wish to travel in a Hippie style or if you are a backpacker looking for Himalayan beauty on the budget, then Kheerganga is a must go attraction for you. But, if you are in the higher age group, where you prefer to travel with your kids and family to enjoy the vista of the mighty Himalayas, then Kheerganga may disappoint you unfortunately.
There is nothing specific to do at Kheerganga. It is neither a lush green valley of blooming flowers nor a spectacular setting on the bank of a pristine lake. Just expect to spend 1-2 nights in the lap of nature away from the noisy towns and cities. Be there to walk in a vast camping ground for 400-500 meters, offer your prayer at Lord Shiva Temple, enjoy a relaxing bath in the natural hotspring, soak in the erstwhile lifestyle of the Himalayan Hippies, that’s all about Kheerganga.