Waking up just after 6 am I surveyed the scene outside my bedroom through the windows. It had snowed through the night and was continuing its makeover of the landscape. I was ecstatic about the snow on the trees, the roofs of houses, the ground and everywhere else. It continued to snow without any let up. This is my first experience with continuous snowfall. The predominant concern was that I would not be able to journey back to Jammu tomorrow, especially if it continues to snow the way it is. The other concern was to get down to the car and see if it will start up in this cold and snowy weather. The final concern was that as I am not equipped for the snowy weather I will have to spend the entire day within the Guest House. I had planned to visit the Dal Lake, the Mughal Gardens, etc. I was resigned to sitting in the GH and clicking away all that comes into my sight. I took it to be a Heaven sent opportunity to improve my photography skills. The day did not pan out like that finally.
As I was over worried about the car, I went down from the GH after breakfast to inspect it. Snow had almost fully covered it and the car never looked cleaner since the last servicing. Shoveling some snow away from the car, I managed to get into the car. With a prayer on my lips, I slowly turned the ignition and, voila, the engine sprang to life. I went through the normal routines and slowly inched the car forward, and it moved over the snow. I was dismayed that I had not filled up fuel last afternoon as I was coming into Srinagar. There was less than a quarter tank of fuel. Sudesh told me that the fuel stations would be closed as the underground tanks would be frozen. Anyway, I had got over the concern that the car would be incommoded due to the weather.
Since the snow was continuing to fall strongly, Sudesh suggested that we stock up some provisions to tackle exigencies. When the Jammu-Srinagar highway gets closed, shops run out of provisions. I agreed with Sudesh and asked if I could go with him to the market. He told me to protect my chest, neck and feet adequately before venturing out. I did as instructed and piled on 5 layers of clothing above the waist and four below. The top most layer was a thermal raincoat. A muffler protected the throat and the cap given to me by Khush was adequate protection for the head and ears. Two gloves and two pairs of woolen socks coated the hands and feet. I had picked up a ‘Manipuri’ cap from Aizawl. This was the time to test out if it is really waterproof, as claimed. I took a peep in the mirror to appreciate the ‘robot’. I was ready to go marketing!
Walking on snow requires patience and skill. I was tested the minute I walked out of the GH. The first fall on the ‘iced’ snow was at the gate of the GH, providing the source for loud guffaws and mirthful laughter. One thing about the cold is that you do not feel any pain. I got up in the wink of an eye and resumed my walk to the market. Vehicles plied on the road and they drove at break neck speed. That was further comfort. I did not expect to see anyone in the market as it was still snowing. But in the market, which is in a residential area, people were about their businesses as usual. That’s when I realized that while the snow is new to you it is a normal weather occurrence for the residents. Children were chasing one another with balls of ice in their hands. When an ice ball missed its intended target and hit a person in a store bang on his butt I could not stop laughing. And then I registered my second fall, as the centre of gravity shifted when I laughed! Nobody laughed and none put out a helping hand.
I was running out of cash and needed to visit an ATM. I went into a store and asked a young man if there is an ATM close by. He told me where I could find one, but it was not close by. He also told me that the fuel stations would be open. On return from the market I asked Sudesh to take me to a fuel station and an ATM. As I reversed the car and took it out of the gate I gained in confidence. It was like driving on a dirty, watery road. The fuel station nearest to the GH was functional and I filled up the tank. I had to visit about 5 ATMs before I reached one that worked. As soon as it serviced my requirement this one conked out too! Driving around thus far gave me the confidence to explore some parts of the city. I dropped Sudesh back at the GH and ‘took off’ on an exploration.
All the parks and streets were snowed under and water bodies were frozen over. Large chunks of snow fall off from the branches of trees and awnings of houses and fall to the ground. Many of them crashed on the windshield. It takes some time to adjust to these. In some areas the snow iced on the road and the chance of skidding increases. I took the roads as slowly as I could to take in the icy sights on the way. It was unique and I wanted it to last. I could stop wherever I wanted to and get out of the car for photographs. The vehicular traffic was low and so were the number of tourists. The guys from the Electric Supply Undertaking were about their jobs as the snow plays havoc with transmission. I drove to the Dal Lake and found that the famous boat houses were inches deep in snow. The outline of the ‘Char Chinari’ could be seen in the distance through the snowy haze. The Shikaras were out of business as most parts of the Lake were frozen. I found a Shikara that was half in the frozen lake with its ‘pilot’ staring forlornly into the Lake. He was only worried for the ‘well being’ of his possession and was not so much worried about the absence of customers. Shikaras bring to mind the inimitable Shammi Kapoor and ‘Kashmir Ki Kali’. Who can forget the classic ‘Tareef karoon kya uski...’ and the gyrations of the handsome, macho Kapoor?
I navigated back safely to the confines of the GH and immediately hunger pangs started gnawing at the entrails! To keep it away and also wish the snow away I took a strong shot of ‘Celebrations’. While the hunger pangs were dulled, the snow continued to ‘pour’ out of the sky. I gorged on Dal Makhni and rice and sat down before the TV to watch ‘For Your Eyes Only’. The attempt to keep my eyes open was not successful.
When I woke up a couple of hours later it had stopped snowing. Despite enjoying the snow and the frozen delights in Srinagar I sincerely hope for a break in the weather to get my schedule back on track. Anyway, one thing is for sure. I have to sit out tomorrow in Srinagar as the NH44 is closed.