Even the Curry is Kosher in Kasol

By Saransh Sehgal, July 7, 2011


India is a common destination for young Israelis seeking spirituality, free-flowing cannabis and a break from the pressure of security alerts and army service.

Kasol, however, is no ordinary backpacker hangout. Over the past ten years the village, which sits in a lush valley at 5,000ft in the Himalayas, has become nothing less than a miniature Tel Aviv.

So many Israelis pass through the village every year between March and October - around 20,000, according to Rabbi Yoel Caplin, the local Chabad representative - that phone booths show Tel Aviv time, restaurants have hummus on tap and most of the locals speak Hebrew.

Even announcements scrawled on crumbling walls around the village and the messages on shop billboards are written in Hebrew, and there is a well-stocked Hebrew bookshop.

But Kasol is not merely a tourist resort that has adapted with business-like efficiency to its target market: there is plenty of love here. As Rabbi Caplin says, many Israelis have settled permanently in the village and some have married locals.

Rabbi Caplin with an Israeli visitor

Rabbi Caplin with an Israeli visitor

He adds: "The local people of Kasol try to understand the needs of the Israelis, and, for our part, we respect their community. We ask them to tell us if there is something that needs to be done or fixed, in this way we maintain good relations with them."

Although the villagers say that their lives have been radically altered by the huge influx of foreigners and that traditional village life is disappearing, they readily admit that their living standards have shot up thanks to the new business opportunities that have appeared. "No one is complaining," says Des Raj, a
villager and cafe owner.

Aside from packing out regular trance parties and smoking marijuana, which grows on the slopes around the village, Israeli visitors join Chabad for prayers, Holy Day meals and meditation sessions.

Despite the segregation that these activities imply, social harmony between locals and foreigners is the order of the day. "Everyone stays here a long time," says Eti, who works in the Hebrew bookshop. "We mix so well with the locals that everything we do as Israelis is fine."

Last updated: 1:09pm, July 7 2011