Pulga (Himachal Pradesh): Picture this: Seated inside a dimly lit eatery in a remote village of Himachal Pradesh and gorging on falafel and shakshuka, traditional Israeli dishes. That's Pulga for you - a 24-hour bus ride from the national capital followed by a 40-minute hike.
Surrounded by snow-capped peaks, this tiny hamlet in Kullu district nestles in the lap of the Parvati Valley. The cool climate, warmth of the locals and plentiful availability of hashish (cannabis resin) draw plenty of Israelis to the region, where they stay for extended periods.
The village, where electricity is a luxury, is an abode of raw beauty. Untouched by the outside world, it has kept its local charm alive owing to its distance from commercialisation. The tiny wooden huts surrounded by tall pine and spruce trees further enhance the appeal of the place.
The valley resonates to rapturous "music": the river Beas gushing down the white rocks, the cool wind blowing from the snow-peaked mountains cutting through the hilly edges, and the call of the cuckoos -- what more would one need to connect with nature!
Though the hypnotic beauty of the place might compell you to linger, it wouldn't be a bad idea to visit some nearby villages like Kalga, Tulga and Tosh.
The serenity and tranquility that Pulga offers attracts backpackers from not just India but from abroad as well, especially those from Israel who come here to unwind after completing their compulsory military service. And their constant presence in the region has led to emergence of many cafes serving Israeli food which are run by Indians.
Take Jagdish Parmar. Hailing from Rajasthan, he was in class 9 (aged 14) when he first visited the village. He was so fascinated by its beauty that he kept returning. Over the years, he developed such an attachment to Pulga that he dropped anchor in the village.
Popularly known as 'Jacky', he runs his own 'Jacky's Kitchen' which serves some of the finest Israeli cuisine. But how did he learn to prepare dishes like falafel and shakshuka?
"I settled here in 2004. Prior to that I was running a restaurant in Pushkar (Rajasthan). I met a lady from Israel back there, fell in love and came to Pulga along with her. She taught me how to make such dishes. I realised that the village is a popular hub for the Israelis and thought why not serve them their food. That's how 'Jacky's Kitchen' started off," said the 33-year-old.
And not just food, Jacky is now fluent in Hebrew; he started learning the language from the travellers who kept coming to his eatery.
"Not all of the Israelis are good in communicating in English. And even I am not an expert of the language. So instead of learning English, I decided to learn Hebrew from the travellers. Now, most of the travellers prefer coming here because I can communicate with them. I even make dishes which are not in the menu but as guided by visitors," he beamed.
Dipu, born in the same village, runs 'Boom Shankar' which is another favourite spot among the travellers.
"I am not much educated and haven't seen much beyond Himachal, but it feels good when travellers from other countries come here and stay for longer periods, make Pulga their home," he stated who started the food joint some 10 years ago.
His father ran a tea-stall in the village. Over time, they shaped it into a small food joint serving snacks. Dipu remembers that Pulga would earlier be hub of European travellers, especially from Spain and Italy and opening a café was an idea suggested to him by the visitors.
"We used to earlier serve more of Spanish or Italian dishes but now Israelis are more here; so we too have learnt to prepare their food. But our specialty is still pasta which is even liked by them," Dipu grinned.
Though there is a so-called hippie culture that rules the village, the local residents say it doesn't go against their traditions.
"Pulga's economy is largely dependent on these travellers. We do not have much scope for farming so we rather want more visitors here," Dipu explained.
It takes approximately 14 hours by bus from Delhi to Pulga. There is no direct road to the village. The last bus stop is Bharsheni. From there, it's a 40-minute trek to Pulga.
Small hotels and home-stays cost Rs 300-Rs 400 per day.