Postcards From a Snowy Wonderland

Sometimes, in our travels we stumble upon a special place or an experience so transcendental that all future endeavours  seem to be geared towards recreating that experience. But this experience is the product of a fortuitous coming together of the magical forces of the universe; hardly manufacturable. We, however, keep trying.

Back in 2004, I spent 29 exquisite days riding through the Himalayas on a borrowed motorcycle,travelling through the day, sleeping in dharamshalas, temples and bus shelters at night. In the second week of my journey, I had just crossed the tiny hamlet of Harsil, on my way to Gangoitri, in the Garhwal Himalays when all of a sudden there was a palpable change in the air. Before I could figure out what was happening, tiny snowflakes started descending from the skies above. Within minutes, it was coming down thick and fast –  a freak snowstorm in the middle of a glorious spring.

By the time I found shelter under a pine tree, the road and the forest floor were covered in 6 inches of fresh snow. As if pulled along by an invisible magnet, I walked into the dense pine forest that lined the road. 10 minutes in, I was surrounded ancient pines each a hundred feet tall. Snow, unlike rain descends onto the earth in silence; and in a place this quiet, falling snow heightens that silence. The ancient trees, the manna-like snowflakes drifting down, the occasional schwoop of branches giving away under accumulated snow created an unreal atmosphere. I stood there, in a little clearing with magic soaking my pine. Was it a few minutes? Or was it a few hours? As I walked away, trying to find my way to the road, it felt like an eternity.

Almost ten years later, as I boarded a bus to Shimla on a cold winter evening, I was hoping against hope to walk into a forest and feel what I had experienced on a trip that turned me from a tourist to a traveller. The plan was to travel further from Shimla to the little village of Fagu, which is conveniently located next to some of the densest pine forests in the Himalayas. We reached Shimla when it was still dark out. At the bus station itself news reached us that after a recent snowstorm, the road to Fagu has been buried under 8 feet of snow and that it would take at least a week for the first vehicles to get through. After a lot of aimless wandering through the streets of Shimla and desperate calls for help, we were directed towards Aapo Aap Homestay on the outskirts of Shimla at Panthaghat.

While the homestay turned out to be comfortable and warm, its semi-urban surroundings were a far cry from the pristine wilderness I was hoping for.  Over the next couple of days, there was a lot of snowfall, dancing in the moonlight and snowball fights – everything except THAT elusive experience.