Monday, December 13, 2010

First Snow

Several years back I remember having heard a joke about climate change. It was unusually cold at Kolkata. OK not very cold but, cold enough. Something like 10 degree for a stretch. I heard someone saying, "yes yes this cold will get worse year by year. A direct effect of mushrooming English medium schools in Bengal." Somewhere in our mindset, we relate the cold climate to the west and to the English speaking people.

Cut to 2002, I was in Germany for higher studies. It was early winter with lots of snows around. I was asked by my German friends, "so - this must be your first snow, how are you liking it ?" I was never tired of telling them - "No, I have seen snow in India. In Himalayas." Actually, India boasts of an extreme range of geological and climatic conditions, which many people are not really aware of. India is hot. That's what they generally think. I had a friend from Lithuania, who, on requesting to visit India flatly said - "I will die there. I heard you can fry egg on road during summer." He was right but, not completely.

So of to the first experience of snow.

I was on the way to Gomukh. It is the glacier, from which Ganga emerges. I was with my father, both on top of mules. There were two guides, controlling the mules. The distance from our overnight stay, Gangotri, to Gomukh is around 18 kms on difficult and narrow mountain road. We were travelling with a package tour company. They allowed only 1 day for visiting Gomukh. We thought that riding mule will be the fastest and safest option to visit Gomukh and return on the same day.

After a few kilometers, the road started becoming narrower. Worse, it started drizzling. This was exactly matching the prediction of the day. We ventured nevertheless. There was a stretch covering 1 kilometer, which had little slant mountain walls, with a high risk of landslide. With drizzles, the chances of landslide increase. We crossed that part with good luck. On the following was a small stream with very strong current, gushing through the ridges of mountain. That stream needs to be crossed by a narrow wooden pile on top of that. While approaching, the mules were reluctant to go on that precarious makeshift bridge. They did not budge even after strong efforts from the guides. We had to get on our own feet and walk the wood like a tight rope walker. The way the guides forced the mules to cross it was strange. They pushed and shoved the mules to the water. The stream was not that deep and once inside it, the mules crossed it hurriedly to reach the other end. It was worthy to note that incident for a lifelong lesson.

Anyway, the drizzle was not showing any signs of giving up with even darker clouds forming over our head. We were told by the guides that a chatti (small huts where the tourists on mountain trek can relax, have some food and beverage) is approaching. We will wait in the chatti till the weather becomes more friendly.

Suddenly, I felt something softly settling over my raincoat. One, two and then it was in abundance. I never experienced snow before and was ecstatic. I could not believe it was happening. I screamed to my father. He was also joyous to see it. In a few minutes we approached the chatti. In the entire view, it was only white, soft flakes dropping like flowers from the sky. It was white, as white as white can get. It was also cold. I moved to the small fire in the chatti and warmed myself. There was a group of trekkers, from Bengal, also stranded inside the chatti.

I saw an exasperated, young, bespectacled, babyfaced trekker commenting to friends. "Enough trekking ! Now I will retire and give advices to aspirant trekkers."

The snowfall stopped soon. I came out of the hut and looked everywhere around to find the world turning white, like the fantasy world of fairy tales. Perhaps, in India, we did not have any fairy tales set in snow. This had something to do with the mindset I found and noted in the first few sentences.

I walked on the snow though, it was not that deep to give me a feel of what walking on snow is like (I did not know that I will have to wait a decade before getting that experience). We walked for few hundred meters and on a turn, noticed the Lalbaba's ashram amidst a vast plain. That was the last spot before reaching Gomukh.

The above photo was taken in 1984, not by me. When I was there, the shape of Gomukh glacier was not what I expected. It did not look like a cow face as the name suggests, perhaps due to changing climate conditions. The surprising thing was that the Ganga looked muddy at the source itself. It had something to do with the mud below the glacier that produces it. And not so surprising thing was to find an aged sage, taking deep bath, with snow around at 4000 meter altitude. I had that picture of holy deep in my mind always. In Hardwar, in Gangasagar, in Kumbhmela, it is always like that. Bodily pain becomes a minute, inconsequential detail in front of the spiritual and religious grandeur.

We returned Gangotri till there was a daylight and I had a tale to recount forever. First snow.

The photo is taken from here.


  1. It reminds me of my maiden trip to Hemkunt Sahib :) ... pretty similar experiences :)

  2. nice....:)east or west India is the best