Shila – A Timeless Village Ruined by Smokers
It was nothing less than perfect. A velvety green path going up to a small hut. A river flowed below while lush fields swayed with the wind. A deep blue sky watched from above. Snow-capped mountains peaked from a distance.
But even a storm of beauty couldn’t keep me hooked to Shila, one of the most beautiful villages I have ever seen. Do you want to know why?
Here goes my story of running away from Shilha village.
After reaching Bhuntar from Amritsar, I took another local HRTC bus to Kasol village. On this bus from Bhuntar that was to go until Barshaini, I showed the GPS location of my hotel to the bus conductor and requested him to drop me at a place close by. He zoomed in and out of the map but didn’t understand the location. We decided to follow the blue arrow of Google Maps.
While I thought that the hotel was in Kasol, but just a few kilometers away from the center, we drove on beyond Kasol, crossed Manikaran Sahib, and even then the arrow showed us away from my destination.
I had booked the hotel online and didn’t know then that it was in Shila, a village tucked up on a Himalayan hill in the gorgeous Parvati Valley.
While I squeezed myself in a bus that was more jammed than a fish market and the bus squeezed itself onto a road that was curvier and bumpier than a jalebi, the weather shifted completely. Dark clouds enveloped the entire valley. The rain started beating down hard dispersing the crowds from the roads.
When we arrived at Unchdhar, the GPS navigation stopped, but the destination still seemed seven seas away. I got down.
With my rucksack on my bag and a backpack in front, I stumbled down the bus and sprinted to a small tea shop by the side of the road. The old man who ran the shop not only gave me tea and Maggi but also told me the way to a dense jungle where I could have a much-needed toilet break.
When I returned, the old Himachali Uncle pointed to the other side of the hill to a small cluster of homes that looked pasted on the lush steep slope. That is Shila, he said. You have to cross the valley to go there.
Suggested Read: A remote valley of India, Spiti.
Shila which is also known as Shilha or Shilla or Shilah was a tiny village at a height of about 2000 meters (Though don’t confuse Shila with the Shilla peak near Spiti). I didn’t know then that you could also reach Shilha by road, but you would have to go in the other direction to do so.
Also, knowing myself I can say that I might have still taken the hiking route.
But I didn’t walk to Shila that day. When the old man showed me the trail which was half-covered by the clouds, I decided to do the hike from Unchdhar to Shilha later as I was still carrying my two bags, had been traveling non-stop for more than 24 hours, and the universe was crying out loud.
As a cherry on these existential problems, Hakuna Matata, whose tent I had booked for the night, didn’t pick my call and soon their phone switched off. If only they had written on their Booking page or sent an email suggesting me the right way to reach Shilha.
But I couldn’t care about giving hospitality advice on that eventful day.
I waited for the bus to Kasol and jumped in the first one that came along. To my surprise, the same conductor was driving back and politely gave me a return ticket. An over-friendly guy who had earlier questioned me on booking a hotel so far away from Kasol had left, thankfully.
I could have used all advice that day except some post-tragedy commentary on something that couldn’t be undone.
Helpful read: My learnings from traveling the world solo.
You can read more about my journey in Kasol in my Kasol travel guide, but to tell you the truth, I didn’t like Kasol, and after staying there for a day, I found myself trudging up the vertical trail to Shilha from Unchdhar.
I only carried a small bag this time and left my big one in Kasol with a homestay that kept my bag with them for my entire two-weeks stay in Parvati.
The walk to Shila felt like a journey to paradise.
The sun shined bright that day. Under the blue sky, on neon-green hills dense with fragrant deodar & pine, I started climbing up with a song on my lips. But that wasn’t it. I was walking under a canopy of umbrella-like rich apple trees that were bowed under the weight of tiny, pea-green apples. Fields of garlic, maize, and corn spread on the hills.
Parvati gushed below and together we rolled.
Suggested read: I went nomadic, maybe for such walks that I described above
I arrived at Shila in about two hours after starting the hike from Unchdhar. You might take longer or shorter to reach as I clicked pictures, chilled around, ate, and took my time under the blossoming apples.
When I finally saw the sight of colorful homes fronted by cauliflower and spinach fields, I almost sprinted up but every colorful home on the way seemed like a mystery and I stopped to talk to the lady drying clothes outside or to the kid that was running around aimlessly.
I didn’t even see one tourist until that point. Only later when I met the manager of the Lucid Dreams guesthouse, I came to know that the point where I had arrived was almost the end of the village. I had climbed up more than I had to.
Finally, I had arrived at Shila, I rejoiced. But only for so long.
I walked up to Gypsy hideout, where I had booked a room for a day, to find out that the guys who ran the place didn’t even see my booking and didn’t have an empty room.
While smoke filled the common room and the area outside, they asked me to wait and promised to give a room. But as expected, when I showed up after an hour, they asked me to not worry as the friend who had to vacate his room had gone to the village. Avoiding the temptation to tell them that they had only asked their friend to take his time, I dragged my tired feet to find another guesthouse.
When I couldn’t find any other guesthouse or a functional homestay, I walked back to Lucid Dreams. Little did I know that the peace for which I literally climbed mountains was too much to ask, at least in Shilha. In half an hour of arriving at the guesthouse, two groups of Indian guys started blasting loud music that echoed in the entire valley.
As the day faded away into the night, I couldn’t stay at the rooftop anymore where I was spending my time to avoid the loud groups. The next-door cafe also didn’t come to rescue for smokers boomed chillum after chillum there.
Eventually, I gave up at night and sat around the bonfire with others. The night was chilly and the golden warmth from the fire comforted me.
Irrespective of how much I had judged those groups for blasting music into an otherwise serene valley and for smoking without even looking at the green, they were nice to me. They lowered the volume while even shutting it down after a while and talked.
Of course, the music would return every now and then. But I would always be thankful to them that night for being so considerate.
When I woke up the next day, the music was already blasting.
Even though there are only a few places in this world that have been so beautiful, I decided to leave Shilha. As I walked on the road out of Shila, I saw the stunning football field and thought that if Himachal could have such gorgeous playgrounds how could it not have one peaceful village. I smiled like the bright chamomile flowers.
And then Kalga happened.
Follow Up read: To see how I run when I run into bad situations on my travels.
How to reach Shila Village, Manikaran?
I think you already know how to arrive at Shilha.
But just to sum up here, take a bus from Kasol or Manikaran and get down at Unchdhar. Ask anyone at Unchdhar about the trail that goes up to Shila and hike across the valley to Shilha. You can also drive on the road until Hakuna Matata which is the last motor-able point on the Shila road. From there walk into Shilha. You can ask your hostel or hotel to pick you up and drive you until Hakuna Matata. Not all guesthouses would do that but Lucid Dreams do pick up their guests.
These are the only two ways to arrive at Shila.
Traveling within Himachal isn’t hard. If you bring your car & want to reach the remote villages you will have to park it somewhere & walk or hike. If you come by bus, you can walk between villages or take local buses or hitchhike. You can reach almost anywhere if you prepare to walk a little bit. Carry enough cash for the ATMs in Parvati are almost nonexistent. Be prepared for rains. Bring robust walking shoes. And there you go.
Where to stay in Shilla village, Sosan?
There aren’t many places to stay in Shila thought hotels and hostels are coming up. I stayed in Lucid Dreams about which I have already spoken. If you go there, you will be picked up the guy who runs the place.
Places to stay in Shila also comes up on the list of Manikaran guesthouses. You can find them here on Booking.
Here is the list of Kalga guesthouses and homestays which has places to stay in the entire Parvati valley. But remember to check the place you book on Google maps. You would not be able to see the village of the homestay and most of the times people don’t even mention it on Booking.
Once you reach Shilha, you can just walk around and find a place to stay. This walk and find trick work for the entire Parvati. But remember that if you are tired of carrying a heavy bag your moment would be a bit restricted. So be patient and take your time.
I have already talked about my experience with all the three places above.
Adding a few more comments that I didn’t mention earlier.
While Hakuna neither informed me about the way nor had mentioned anything about Shila on their booking page, they didn’t even pick up my call. When I didn’t show up and after a few hours, the guy called me a few times and offered me to book his place again. But even after we talked, he didn’t tell me the different ways to arrive at Shilha or that he could ask his staff to pick me up.
But I thank him for he connected me with Payal, who runs the memoir homestay in Kasol.
Gypsy Hideout was nothing more than a smoker’s hub run by irresponsible guys.
Lucid Dreams is nice for people who are looking to party and smoke. But if you are a nature lover or a solo traveler looking for some nature-loving company or peace, I doubt the place would suit your needs. The guy who runs the place is sweet and helps around.
Which brings me to,
My advice to the young Himalayan-lovers:
Please don’t play loud music on speakers in peaceful Himalayan villages. Please keep your entertainment to yourself and not spill it into the peaceful Himalayas or force it on other travelers. Nobody minds what you do as long as you don’t step on anyone else’s boundaries.
I have many questions on the smoking culture going on in Parvati, but I would say, to each its own, as long as you maintain peace.
As a solo female traveler, I had more than one time when I was sitting in a group of men who talked about how their hike would have been more difficult if they had a girl along. Or German men boasted that Indians couldn’t hike.
While I can go on a long list of such comments, as a solo female Indian traveler, I feel that the odds were mostly against me. I felt uncomfortable more than once.
I cannot change that but only request all travelers to be kind and gentle to each other. We are all we have got sometimes on the road.
Recommended read: Not your typical Parvati valley travel guide
What to eat in Shilha village, Kasol, Parvati Valley?
Eat at your homestay or hotel or at the Peaceful cafe which is next to Lucid Dreams. I mostly ate at Peaceful and the food is good there. Carry some snacks if you want to go around walking for there aren’t many shops from which you can buy.
When to visit the village of Shila?
The best time to visit Shilha would be from May to June or July. Before these months Shilha would be cold and later it would be rainy and then cold again.
Though it was still raining when I was there in June, I had a few hours of dry sunshine every now and then.
September could be a great month to travel inspire of the rising cold. The apples are red by September, and you can relish them directly from the apple trees.
Most of the tourists also leave Himachal in the rains, so you can live for cheap and in peace.
What to do around Shila village?
You can go to the other villages of Parvati which are Kalga, Barshaini, Manikaran, Gargi, Tosh, or go back to Kasol and then to the villages of Chalal or Rasol from there.
Here are some of my travel guides to these villages.
Timeless Manikaran Sahib – A travelogue of Manikaran along with the logistics.
A Travel Guide to Kalga Village – My favorite place in Parvati valley.
Hiking lovers can go to Kalga and do the Bunbuni and Kheerganga hike from there. You can also do the Grahan village hike from Shilha but ask someone for the route, and be aware that the trek is much steeper from there.
You can also walk to a glacier above Shilha. Ask a local to take you along.
If you are planning to visit Dharamshala, here are my Dharamshala travel guides:
- My travel guide to visiting Dharamshala – Finding the hidden nooks and corners of Dharamshala
- Trekking in Dharamshala, Kangra valley
- My Dharamshala Yoga Guide for yoga aspirants – along with a brief history of yoga in India
- Living in a beautiful village of Dharamshala – Slow travel and digital nomad guide
Will the Parvati Valley and Shila village see you when the apples shine bright?
What would you have done if you felt like I did in Shila village, one of the hidden gems of Parvati Valley?
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