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My first glimpse of snow.
Vast expanses of yellow mustard fields rolled by, as we sped towards our destination in the Himalayas. The fields gave way to tree lined roads, once the ascent began. The winding roads, with numerous zig zag turns, slowed us down quite a bit. Soon enough, we came to a full halt. The driver turned around and explained that, it was a mid morning ‘chai’ halt. Whew! For a moment, I thought the vehicle had given way! The engine did need to cool down, but atleast it was working fine.
A couple of tea shacks were standing at the edge of the road, precariously built on the edge of the mountain track. Just beyond , the road sloped downwards towards a stream. The cool air was a quite a relief after the cramped interiors of the vehicle. The wind hit our faces with full force as we stood around and sipped the hot, sweet cardomom tea from tiny glasses. Just beyond, we could see the tall, snow capped peaks. The snow glistened as the sun rays bounced off, making it look almost golden. A sudden shiver made me wonder, how high the peaks really were.
Soon we were on our way again. As we ascended further, the air got cooler and the sky, a bit cloudy. A slow drizzle gave way to heavy rains and we pulled up at the side of the road. The headlights flickered as the passengers got uncomfortable and wondered whether we would ever reach our destination. The drivers of the entire entourage seemed to be engrossed in a deep consultation. Soon enough, a decision had been made and we were informed that a small detour would be made, until the driving conditions had improved.
Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at a clearing. A few cottages were scattered across the grassy slope. The ground was all wet with mud, and the rains were still affecting our visibility. Somehow, we made our way through the grass and mud, to the cottages. The interiors were warm, with huge bare rooms. These were some kind of lodges meant for overnight stays. The driver informed us that if things got worse, we might have to put up here for the rest of the day and the night! Oh well, atleast there were fireplaces. And the place was relatively dry. An old man in a long overcoat asked us if we would like tea, and we all nodded happily. Some of us trailed along into the kitchen. A huge stove with a black ‘chimney ‘ was lit. And a ‘samovar’ was kept atop. The tea was already steaming. We were all served incredibly hot tea with some biscuits. The old man beamed happily, as we gulped it down to warm our insides. Indeed, hospitality was really important to him. He handed some blankets to us, to keep ourselves warm, as the downpour continued outside. A merry twinkle in his old eyes and wrinkled face, indicated that he had stories he could tell. Stories of travellers and stories of the mountains. I wondered what his life was like. Did he do anything besides looking after tired and hungry travellers? A few minutes later, the old man came in with some tapestry work. He started stitching. I watched in fascination, as those lined hands expertly wove in and out of the cloth he was carrying. Perhaps he was mending a tear or making a new tablecloth. From time to time, he looked up and beamed at us. He sure seemed happy to have some human company. He had an interesting thimble with him. I went up to his side and asked him what he was doing. He just nodded and went on stitching, I pointed to his thimble. He immediately took it off and gave it to me to look at. Old metal thing, with some blue paint and intricate design.I was fascinated by the little thing which seemed to talk of better times. He smirked, as I tried it on.
And patiently waited till I satisfied my curiosity and handed it back. Then, he indicated that I should go inside, to the kitchen. At first, I hesitated, but then I went. An old lady whom I had not seen before, looked up as I went in. An unsmiling face made me hesitate, but she motioned that I should sit. She was drinking tea from a metal glass and offered me some. I politely declined and she seemed to be happy about that.
Meanwhile the rain outside had stopped. A sun ray stole in through the window and flickered on the wooden floor, as the clouds made their way across the sky. Shouts from the driver made us all rush outside, and slosh through the muddy grass to return to our vehicles. We waved farewell, as the vehicles pulled out with great speed, splashing mud onto the windows. The drivers were now speeding with a great deal of urgency, hardly giving us the time to glance at our surroundings. The road was dipping up and down the mountains, winding its way through woody patches at times and bare patches at others. A lot of rivulets had formed and we were constantly splashing through the waterfalls caused by melting ice. We were lucky that there had been no landslides. As we climbed further, the skies seemed to clear completely,with no sign of the rains.
After a couple of hours more, we finally reached a point where the ground was white…covered with sheets of snow. The air coming in through our nostrils was chilly. I could feel the tip of my nose freezing over. Cardigans, gloves, mufflers, and woollen caps with ear flaps, were pulled out and dorned hastily. The vehicles came to a final halt before a group of cottages, with snow covered roofs. As we alighted, the blinding glare of the white snow hit our eyes. The sun was harsh, as it was just after noon. And glared down mercilessly,bouncing light off the snow. Wow! My first glimpse of snow and it almost blinded me. I went excitedly towards the white ground and stepped on it gingerly,only to leap back in alarm. Footwear! I needed better footwear. The snow was cold, and hard – not soft as I had imagined it to be. These were sheets of ice – old snow, they said. After being properly clad in snow boots, I finally managed to make my way across the ice sheets, to the slopes where the ice was still ‘snow’. Soon enough, most of us were dodging snowballs. My face was icy cold, I was shivering and my nose was red. I was breathing ice, and feeling the cold on my cheeks like never before.
A friend decided to pull me for a sled ride. A sled ride that promised to last a lifetime…!
Yes, there was plenty of time to see this snow, as I was sure I would be here for a while. I made my way back, to the row of cottages. There were a couple of shops there, a sweet shop, a shop of curios and yes, a coffee shop too! Whoa- Coffee! We made a beeline for it. Rushed in and settled ourselves in huge woollen chairs. Bearers in uniforms brought us hot coffee. It was an unforgettable experience. Sipping on hot coffee and watching the white expanse outside. Raw excitement gripped me and I looked forward to my next few days in this snowy paradise.
Childhood experiences are often forgettable. But when details are sketchy, impressions remain.
Impressions of the white capped mountains, lavender and pink skies, tall green trees, soft pink and yellow blossoms, rose and iris gardens with tulips and lotus scattered among them. Impressions of vast exapnses of deep blue lakes, of distant hamlets full of smiling people, of  children waving from the streets, of shy faces peeping from behind barred windows, of giddy headed villagers staring at us. Impressions that only travelling in our country can bring.

Written by Karuna

March 13, 2008 at 8:59 am

Posted in Personal X- file

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