Our quest to begin the New Year at some exotic locale ended up in sore throats, aching calf muscles and a bone chilling negative temperature. Having ascended to a height of about ten-thousand feet we found the serene and calm spot where Shiva is said to have meditated for about three-thousand years. It was a long and treacherous hike, but after climbing the steep slopes and laying our burden to rest, the hot spring at Kheer-Ganga welcomed us for a perfect respite from all our physical as well as mental aches and pains. As the last sun-rays of twenty sixteen skimmed away delicately from the pointed summits surrounding the Parvati Valley we submerged ourselves in the healing hot waters of that ancient spring and bade adieu to what had been a tumultuous year.
That night, we welcomed the New Year under a cloudless sky filled with bright shining stars, which seemed just within reach, and beautiful firecrackers accompanied by shouts of joy, laughter and a general high-spirited’ness’. All of us pilgrims were huddled around patches of bonfire in that sea of darkness, each committing that moment of intense coldness to memory so that it becomes a source of warmth in the final moments of our time. That night alone I think filled us with enough vigor and vitality to carry us through this year and into the next.
When we woke up to a beautiful morning, on the first day of the year with the first rays of light beating on our backs as we climbed down and retraced the previous day’s path, little did we know that this would not be the highest point of our first day of the year, metaphorically speaking at least. The clouds had begun to gather around when we had reached back to the base of our climb and the few drops of water that had spilled down on us from the clouds pervaded the air with that pleasant dewy petrichor which accompanies heavenly rains. We reached Tosh to a long line of parked vehicles and loud Punjabi music greeting us at the entrance to the hamlet. It was like the Goa of Parvati Valley. There were people dancing to high bass Punjabi music out in the parking area with their car speakers blaring out loud and drunk to the top. The only path of access to the town snaked up like a river of dirt flanked on either side with hotels and cottages which had had people dancing to different tunes on different roofs.
That’s when it began to snow. It started very slowly. We did not realize it at first because we were covered in woolens from head to toe. But then a speck of snow landed on my glasses and that’s when I looked up. Small flakes of white, as if separated from a large cotton ball falling slowly and gently towards us and beginning to cover our faces. The cold touch of Snowflakes on our over exercised warm cheeks was enough to bring out all the cheer and merriness of this new year out into the open. It was the first Snowfall of the season and everyone was now out on the narrow cobbled walkways. There was trance playing on one rooftop and Punjabi music blaring out form another. From where we sat, the valley opened up before us like a flower, with the river diving its green tresses right in between and as the soft hail continue to fall slowly and steadily it covered everything up like a beautiful white bed sheet. Everything from roofs to trees and from streets to peaks within our eyesight was covered in white. It was how one would imagine heaven to be like; pure, cool and white all over. Snow fell on us like flurry, covering us like magic with all of its coolness and all we wanted in that moment was for time to stand still and let life be one big party where the music, the snow and the friends never end.
That night, was probably the coldest night of our lives. It was not all the cold while it snowed, but at night it touched the double digits in the minus department. The sky was brilliantly lit outside but looking out of the window was all we could do while keeping ourselves from freezing. But all of this was worth the effort when began our journey back to the plains in the morning. The look of awe-struck jealousy – at the sight of our snow covered car – on the face of every individual that we passed on our way down from Tosh marked the perfect end for this beginning of the New Year.