Being Women

Busting The Myths About Snow: Beautiful And Pleasurable, But Frightening and Life-Threatening As Well

"It was numbingly cold. Secondly, it was wet. Thirdly, it hid rocks and bushes and, frequently, horse dung and sheep droppings."

Being born in a hot, semi-tropical country in the humid plains of Bengal, I was always fascinated by the idea of snow. Seeing pictures of snowfall, snowmen, and snowball fights in books, making snowmen out of cotton wool in the crafts class, singing Christmas carols dealing with snow in our Catholic school, and seeing snow-covered fields in films served to heighten this longing. In my imagination, the cool, soft feeling of snow seems to be bliss, especially in our scorching summer months.

The first rendezvous with snow

The first distant view of snow was the guzzling peaks of the Himalayas seen from Darjeeling, but as we always visited the hills in the summer, this remained a distant chimera. The first time I saw snow close up from within touching distance was while travelling with my wife in Himachal. Excited, we stopped the vehicle to mess with it and found it wet, messy, and not too clean.

The Bollywood act

Luckily, further up, there was fresher snow in pristine white sheets covering the rolling slopes. What an invitation to act like the Bollywood couples and roll down the snow, singing and throwing snowballs! We immediately succumbed.

It was not rosy at all

But then the practical difficulties became evident. It was numbingly cold. Secondly, it was wet. Thirdly, it hid rocks and bushes and, frequently, horse dung and sheep droppings. Finally, it is very difficult to control the speed when you roll, and gravity makes you slide down at an alarming pace in undignified positions, creating a mini-avalanche as you go hurtling down, and you are dumped unceremoniously in a heap at the bottom of the slope, wet, cold, and dizzy.

I wonder how the Bollywood ladies did it with such panache, in skimpy clothes, smiling and singing all the while. We were bruised, out of breath, dishevelled, and shivering, though bundled in jackets with hoods.

Snowball fights: A Bollywood myth

Snowball fights too were a letdown. If you hold the snow for a few extra moments in your palm while you are shaping it into a ball and taking aim, it turns into ice. Therefore, when the missile hits you, it hits like a rock. It doesn’t elicit giggles or a song, but yells, tears, and swearwords, and it can even draw blood. Another Bollywood myth was busted.

Snow can also be frightening

Since that day, we have encountered snow numerous times in all the Himalayan states of India, in Europe, North America, and even in South Africa, and it has been beautiful, lovely, exciting, uncomfortable, threatening, and even downright frightening. On two occasions, they were even life-threatening.

The Kedarnath Trip

The first view of snowfall was beautiful, and it melted on the skin. It was fun trying to catch it on my tongue. My little daughter was loving it. But soon, it came down heavily, obliterating the view and covering the track, making it hazardous to walk. This was especially frightening as we were on the trek to Kedarnath, and I was carrying my five-year-old daughter on my back, and we were on the narrow, steep track with a deep gorge on one side. A delay had made us late, and the weather had suddenly turned vicious. I lost contact with the rest of my family, and visibility was reduced to a few feet. A strong wind started and turned into a blizzard. I took shelter under a rock and was wondering how long we would last before freezing. I was trying my best to shelter my child and keep her dry.

Suddenly, out of the gloom, loomed up an angel of mercy, in the shape of a pack horse, and his owner. For an exorbitant sum, they agreed to take us to shelter. How our angel of mercy found footing and saw his way, I will never know, but we were soon delivered to the rest house, less than half a kilometre away, to be reunited with my panicked family. If this lone horse and rider had not been delayed on the way and bumped into us on that narrow track, we might have conceivably frozen to death within shouting distance of help, given the weather.

As my kids grew up, they tried sports in the snow, which, alas, I could never master despite sprains, bruises, and frozen posteriors to show for my efforts, but next to the sea, snow was our favourite holiday destination.

Snow at Kargil

We once again witnessed the might of snow during a road trip to Ladakh, near Druz, just after Zero Point, on the route to Kargil, where we proposed to stay at the army camp. Political trouble had delayed us, and it was late afternoon when we crossed the zero point. A shepherd warned us to turn back as the weather had turned foul. There were ominous, dull booms we could hear. After waiting a while, we decided to go ahead, following some army trucks.

The view that awaited us was mind-blowing. An entire mountain of snow had descended on the road, taking everything in its path. We were witnessing an avalanche. We were stranded, but there were dozens of other vehicles. Ultimately, we were rescued by the army and spent the night in the camp, but that is another story for another day.


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