Thursday, December 28, 2017

A story of a snowfall

We are a bunch of snow deprived people.

In 2007 I started working as a software developer in my hometown Pune, India. Not everyone will admit it but being freshly out of college and starting a job in software, means you are halfway through your dream of going abroad and seeing amazing places. Well, at least Facebook (Orkut back in those days) made me believe that.

So, one year down the line when I missed few chances to go abroad, it was the biggest turn down for me. The positive thing though was I made some great friends in my company. One of my friend and then colleague, Atul came up with the idea of going to see the Himalayas. He found out one group - YHAI[1], which is a non-profit entity. They organize highly subsidized adventure tours[2] for the young all over India basically at dirt cheap rates. We unanimously voted for it and thus born another dream. The Himalayas.. snow covered mountains so gigantic that it dwarfs every other hill I had seen in my life.

The news spread and few more friends and acquaintances showed interest in joining us. We decided that we would go by the end of December when snowing starts in the region.

We booked the trek of Dalhousie[3](Himachal Pradesh) for 8 of us 2 months prior to Christmas. Since it was early booking, we could easily get confirmed seats on a Train.

We could hardly contain our excitement because, for all of us, it was going to be the first snowfall. We completed the arduous journey of more than 2000 Kilometers first by train and then by bus and reached Dalhousie. We joined a large group of 40 trekkers.

During our 6 days of the trek, Kalatop mountain was the place where we were supposed to see and experience snow. We already had researched, and seen these photos of the place.

(Kalatop looked like this on the internet)

On the 3rd day as I remember, we were there. It was 31st December 2008. Since for most of us, the cold weather and terrain were far different than our hometown, the trek was tough. But the with the group energy and prospects of seeing the snow for the first time we persisted.

But as fate would have it, there were no signs of snow. The place looked like this.

Gorgeous, isn't it? Not for us. We were there for the snow you see. So at the night when the other people in the group was celebrating and welcoming the new year, we a bunch of sour guys locked ourselves in a room and played cards until past midnight. We were laughing and making jokes about how we bought the snow gears which proved useless.

The next stop was Khajjiar [4]which looked like this.

Yeah, I know.. picture perfect. But, where is the snow?

Most of us were contemplating fleeing the trek and go on a journey on our own to those distant mountains where we would play in the snow. One actually acted upon it. Mustafa, the most disappointing among us made an excuse to the trek leader and went away in a private cab which could take him to an icy place.

The rest of us reluctantly marched forward with all of the vanished enthusiasm. I remember on the last day of the trek I even stood up and when everyone was sharing their experiences that how they greatly enjoyed the trek, I, on the other hand, whined and whined in front of all that how disappointed I was that the trek organizers had put fake pictures on the brochures.

The trek leader assured me that it was just a flick of a nature that it did not snow during our time there and it must have been delayed by few days. In order to calm me down, he literally blessed (or cursed) me that if I come next year, I will see so much snow that I might wish that I had never wished to see the snow in the first place.

Of course, we enjoyed in the Himalayas (the Pirpanjal ranges[5]) being there for the first time. We had more than what we asked for. But we were ungrateful I guess. To rub salt in the wound, Mustafa, who had gone by his own, had some pictures of him playing in the snow.

Next Year Christmas 2009.

We will not go quietly into the night, we will not vanish without a fight. [6]

This time we were in Tawang[7], 2000 Kilometers to the east from where we were last year. A yearlong yearning to accomplish what we missed last time. This time it was the much deliberate plan. The same pack of wolves, now more experienced to the cold climate and to the world in general. We booked everything on our own. This time there was no trek group, no agency. If we don't see the snow, we were ready to go far and beyond. Since we were richer than last year, we went by air to Guwahati, Assam. First flight for us. Wow, that was exciting. We saw a giant rhino for the first time in Kaziranga national park[8]. First ride on elephant back and hopefully the first snowfall.

The day we entered Arunachal Pradesh[9], the sunrise state of India, the anticipation was so high. We had hired an SUV and as we started gaining altitude we saw frost first on plants. Everyone's faces lightened up.

And when we crossed Sela Pass, we saw a frozen lake there. First Frozen lake. We danced and skidded on the hard top of a water body. How freaking cool is that. But the wait was not over yet.

It was 30 December 2010. We were at Tawang - a historic place. Every inch of this land is a legend of valour and sacrifice. This place has become sacred with the blood of soldiers of the Indian Army who defended it in the 1962 Sino-Indian war.

We were leaving the next day back to Guwahati on a two-day long journey. "Is this it? is nature going to delude us again?" I thought.

It was cold 30th night of December. We went into slumber in a warm room. In the morning a friend came yelling inside my room. He pulled the bedsheets apart, a cold breeze of the morning sent a chill down my spine. I was about to swear at him and he shouted, IT's SNOWING OUTSIDE!!

It was unbelievable, we rushed to the window, saw it for the first time. Tiny specks of heaven, they were falling like a silent piece of music. A tear of joy rolled down my face. We hugged each other, we were laughing, crying making noises. The next thing we did was put on our jackets, shoes, and gloves. We rushed through the town's roads. The snow was becoming thicker, everything was covered in white. The cars, the houses, the aisles.

We came across a backyard of a closed school and saw that a whole veranda was covered with thick snow. Perfect place to make snowballs.

And we played and played till our feet went numb. The holy land had blessed us.

Realization of the prophecy.

By the afternoon of the 31st December 2009, we were ready with our bags packed. Tired but satisfied. The snowfall was still on. We were watching each other's happy faces. Our driver who was local told that we better hurry as we needed to cover a long distance in a treacherous terrain.

We started the journey back home. While crossing a post called Jaswant Garh - named after a legendary warrior of the Indian Army[10], we were stopped by the patrol and were advised to return. What we thought was the regular snowfall was actually an unusual blizzard which had blocked Sela pass. The happy faces turned into worried ones as our flight bookings were at stake. We requested them to let us through but the Army guys told that they would take no responsibility whatsoever if something ominous happens. We decided to listen to them and went back to Tawang which was 80 Kilometers the wrong way.

While getting back we had to get off the vehicle several times and push it through the snow-covered roads which were indistinguishable from the terrain. At first, it seemed like a fun and we even got some videos. Later when the snow entered the shoes and made our feet cold, we knew what it's like to live there.

(Even when we were walking behind the car for miles, I quite didn’t have enough of the snow. The guy carrying the mountain on snow is me)

We were already tired but pushed and pushed. All the time the words of the trek leader echoing in my ears "You will get so much snow, you will wish you that hadn't wished to see the snow".

It was 31st December for rest of the world, for us, it was the night we slept like there was no tomorrow.

The next day we started early. The driver had the impossible job of driving for straight 14 hours stretch. We bought some ropes from a hardware shop which we used whenever the car started to slide on the road. Once we crossed Sela pass, we thanked the Army personnel a million times as it was fully covered with thick snow from yesterday. Had we stuck there in the night, it could have very well been the last night of our lives.

Our driver was an awesome chap. He did it. We sure got our flight.

That was the most memorable 31st December. I did not celebrate it the traditional way, but boy it was worth it.

I went to Ladakh [11]a few years later, went on to live in Europe for a year. I saw all the seasons. Whenever it snowed, I relived the moment I saw it the first time. I appreciate that every weather and every terrain has the beauty of its own. We missed appreciating the beauty of Dalhousie in anticipation of what we wanted to see. Maybe in life, we do the same. Maybe that is why they ask to live in the moment. In the grand scheme of events, everything is okay.. everything is going to be fine.


[1] Youth Hostels Association of India - Wikipedia
[2] Participate at YHAI National Level Adventure Programs organized by National Office
[4] Khajjiar - Wikipedia
[5] Pir Panjal Range - Wikipedia
[6] Quotes from "Independence Day"
[7] Tawang district - Wikipedia
[8] Kaziranga National Park - Wikipedia
[9] Tawang district - Wikipedia
[10] Jaswant Singh Rawat - Wikipedia
[11] Ladakh - Wikipedia


Posted as an answer to a question on Quora.Com

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