The night in the tent was quite comfortable and we woke up for the day’s adventure. Today we were on our way to Sungri from where we hoped to make our way to Kinnaur. We were promised that today’s drive would be much less challenging than yesterday’s to Chanshal Pass. I fervently hoped it was so.
The initial drive to Sungri was through regular roads that soon gave way to muddy tarmac of the hill roads. Soon we entered snow line and snow fall started again. It was so cold we even saw a dead fox frozen stiff shortly after entering the mountain. For some reason I was unable to engage 4H so I was left with only two options 2High and 4Low on the 4 wheel drive. As the road turned to slush and snow we watched in awe as the landscape started to get blanketed in white. As we reached Summerkot the snow was falling quite heavily and the convoy decided to halt to put on the snow chains.
The entire village consisted of a few tea shops and a fuel bunk straddled around a narrow hill road that was fully snowed down. When our convoy of several dozen vehicles stopped the road effectively became impassable. We all parked our vehicles in a few spare square meters of tarmac as tightly as possible and out came the snow chains. While we were doing so a couple of local jeep taxis came up the road and halted behind our convoy.
Now in plains when the road gets blocked thus tensions rise up. We would expect the taxi drivers and passengers to raise their tempers and ask for the road to be cleared. But here we were astonished by their behaviour. These travellers all went to the tea shop and started enjoying the spectacle in front of them, of snow chains being installed. These stout pahadis are not used to snow chains, they don’t need them, they can drive on snow at ease. Besides they are unaffected by our notions of hurry. If the road is blocked, so it is blocked. They can wait. After all what are we compared to the forces of nature that wrecks the best laid plans for these people. We the people of plains have much less appreciation for the forces of nature and are delusioned by our pretensions of human grandeur so we expect everything to work like clockwork. There are many lessons we need to learn from the mountain-folks.
After the snow chains were installed we continued on. Snowfall was becoming heavier and as we reached Sungri the convoy decided to halt for good as the roads ahead were impassable. A couple of buses were stuck a few kilometres ahead due to extremely heavy snow and would need bulldozers to clear the way. So we all parked our vehicles by the roadside clearing and started to partake of whatever sustenance was available at the tea shop.
A blazing wood fire was kept alive in front of the tea shop that was used by everyone. I was amused at the evaporation I saw emanating from my body. It was so cold that the fire was literally generating fumes from me. People kept rotating around the fire as each of us took a few moments to warm ourselves. By now the convoy decided to head back and I was back to my routine of 4L, 2G, no power, no brakes, steering only driving.
I kept merrily plodding along in the snow as I watched in amusement as the Jeep Captain was stuck behind me in the formation. I was driving non stop for the next three hours and I observed that Shibu Sir took the opportunity for ample photo breaks. He would stop at some point taking photos and going live on Facebook and then race ahead to reach me. Then he would stop, more photos and continue. After a few hours even he got bored of this slow progress and overtook me. Compared to the previous day today I was marginally more confident. Stressed I was, for sure, but the mortal fear was away and I took occasional moments to appreciate the beauty around me.
As night fell the snow fall continued. It continued even after we reached the bottom of the mountain. All the villages that were dry in the morning were now covered in snow. At night the town of Rohru was magically transformed! We could see snow swirling around under the streetlights, children were playing in the snow. This was not the Rohru we had seen before. At the base camp all the tents were knocked down by the snow and we all huddled inside the hall of the. building. We learnt that this was the heaviest snowfall in past several decades. Sam Dogra who owned the property remarked that Rohru was getting snowfall like this after almost 20 years.
All of us who huddled inside the warm hall of the resort were simply thrilled to have had made it thus far. Stocks of alcohol that were reserved for personal use became common bounty that night. I who had decided not to consume any alcohol for the duration of the trip decided to partake of the celebrations that night, Old Monk with warm water – the Himachali way.
And what a merry night it was! The group started an impromptu Himachali dance which was joined by almost everyone. The music, the dance, the old monk and the delicious chicken tikkas.
Soon we had to decide what to do for the night. There was no way for us to sleep in the tents, it was still snowing. So we decided to cram it up. The room where Aadi and I stayed for the first night hosted 6 men in the sleeping area and me and Aadi sleeping on the loft. It was tight and I feared whether the wooden loft could really support my weight. But then we were too tired to care too much. We decided if it crashes it crashes and we will see about it at that time.
And thus we ended yet another amazing day of adventure.