Kasol is approx 4 hours from Manali. About one hour into the bumpy bus journey, you begin to notice the scenery change. Apple trees are everywhere, and during the long journey, I think we passed at least three wholesale markets where gigantic piles of apples lay on concrete while the farmers and buyers argued.
There is something even more plentiful here than apples: Cannabis. I was staring out of the bus window for ages - admiring the lush greenery, trees and rivers, a pleasant change after the baren moonscape of Leh - when I noticed that one particular plant kept appearing.. At first, it was every few meters, here and there, until we got to Kullu - at which point, it became the dominant plant on both sides of the road... Scrawny, but with its signature leaves that have been drawn on Bob Marley posters hung up in many a college dorm-room. It really is easy to see why it's called weed - I'd be telling a boldfaced lie if I called it a beautiful plant. It's ugly, stringy, and leaves behind a somewhat strong smell when you touch it.
Harvest, I'm told, is in about a month - a topic which usually results in the teller of the tale smiling and explaining how much they are looking forward to it. The area will be flush with tourists, prices for everything will rise slightly, and hundreds of backpackers, mostly Israelis decend upon the valley in search of the freshest and most potent hand rolled hashish - which is called charas.
And so - I'm here, in the Parvati Valley, in a town named Kasol. I have a nice enough hotel right next to a roaring river. My balcony gives me a perfect view of the mountains on both sides, and at night, the water is loud enough to prevent me from hearing the high-pitched war-cry of the mosquitos that ceaselessly attack me in my sleep. Each day, I wake scratching new places on my body, and cursing the entire gender of female mosquitos for their very existence.
I'm happy to be here. Most of the rest of India is hot as hell right now, or suffering with the monsoon rains. While we get a bit of a sprinkle now and again, for the most part, it's rain free. There is no humidity, and I can walk around with a t-shirt on all day without sweating. Indian food is available everywhere - real Indian food, that's spicy, and from restaurants where the staff won't give me a strange look when I ask for Okra.
As I mentioned before - this place is famous throughout India for the apples. I've been drinking about 2L of unsweetened, unfiltered apple juice every day - and it's sooooo good. They make alcoholic apple cider here, which I've tried to limit myself to one bottle every 2 days. It's not particularly tasty, but at 8%, its very potent.
The only problem - I suppose - is that with most of the town completely stoned, It's tough to find anyone to have an intelligent chat with. I've gotten completely thrashed in several games of chess - a skill that the many people who have beat me seem to maintain even when high, but actual intelligent conversation doesn't appear to be something that people have the energy for... Thus, I've spent the time catching up on my reading, and have filled a small-notebook with ideas for research projects that keep popping up in my now idle mind. I've also finally caught up on all the sleep I missed out on this summer, and my horrible chest infection/cough seems to have finally bitten the dust after two weeks of take-no-prisoners Indian antibiotics.
After Leh, where the altitude is high enough to keep away all insects - it's suddenly strange to find creepy crawlies in my room, and bed at night.
I was hoping that there wouldn't be Internet here... but there is. So instead of being able to cut myself off simply by going somewhere without access - I have instead resorted to willpower to give myself a break. My inbox is piling up, hundreds of unread blog posts - but they can wait.
The town is a typical backpacker place - although, vastly more Israeli infused than most other places. Many restaurants don't even bother to have english menus, and the local used bookshop has more hebrew books than English. The prices for things are cheap, restaurants with chillout music are on both sides of the main road, and all in all, things are surprisingly hassle free.
In a town whose very presence depends on the booming drug trade, where most tourists come here to pay seemly obscene prices (compared to the cost of living) for fresh and high quality hand-rolled hashish, I'm actually able to say no one has pestered me once to buy anything. The stereotypical figure of the drug-pusher is one that simply doesn't exist here. Sure, everyone you meet tries to -give- you a piece of charas - in the hope that you'll buy some from them later - but it's all very relaxed, and no one gives you a dirty look when (I at least) decline.
The police, for the most part, are nowhere to be found. Tourists happily toke away on joints in the restaurants and cafes, dreadlocked holy men (sadhus) puff away at clay chillum pipes while waiting at the bus-stop, and in the evenings, Israelis approximate the sadhu smoking ceremonies - although using $100 Italian marble chillums instead of the 2 rupee (4 US cent) - complete with the shouts of "Boom Shiva", albeit with strongly un-Indian accent.
As there so many israelis here, the charity/religious group Beth Shabbat has a house here where the israelis can get kosher food, free friday dinners, pray, and just relax in a non-jewish person free zone. I have to say, it's quite strange to see Israelis coming back from their Friday prayers at Beth Habbat, walk across the street to a cafe, pull out a chillum, and then shout out some of the many names of the Hindu god Shiva (Bohlinat, Shambu, Mahadev, etc) as they puff away.
With the entire town essentially focused on taking care of semi-comatose stoned westerners, it's not a complete surprise that nothing happens quickly here, if at all.
I'll be here for another couple days. I have a night bus ticket booked from Bhuntar (a little bit over an hour away) to Delhi. I arrive in Delhi on the morning of the 20th, will spend a couple days with the lovely private Dentists here, and will try and fill the rest of my last few days with shopping.
Expect regular internet access/blogging on the 20th or so. I fly back to the US on the night of the 23rd, and arrive in Indianpolis on the night of the 24th.