17th January 2017, Tuesday….Day (1) Amritsar to Khajjiar, 271 km
Ever since my first bike ride to Khajjiar on blue Yamaha RX-100 in 1985, I have been to Khajjiar a number of times and in almost all seasons. But white Khajjiar had always eluded me. Since my freedom from Bank in 2011, I have dreamt and attempted white Khajjiar a number of times but failed. This time I decided to give it serious shot.
When I woke up in my home in Amritsar on 16th Jan 17, Monday, it was overcast and raining. My friends who live in mountains started sharing live pictures of falling snow. One of my friends Johar Singh who lives in Dalhousie and runs an eating joint ‘Bon-Appetit’ near Gandhi Chowk also shared live videos of fresh snow fall in Dalhousie.
The weather report predicted heavy snowfall on 17th and 18th Jan in Dalhousie and Khajjiar. I rang up a hotel in Khajjiar, they told me it was snowing heavily, all tourists have left, all the roads are closed and that I should postpone my plan for some next time. My friend Johar Singh also advised me to postpone the drive as it was snowing heavily.
I always follow my heart. It told me that it was the right time for the drive to white Khajjiar. I thought what maximum can happen. I have already got a bed built in the car by removing the back seat. I can sleep inside the car if situation so warranted or return back if need be.
So packed the car with some dry fruit, heavy clothing, gum shoes, umbrella, torch, sufficient bedding and drove to Nainikhad by evening.
Situated on Pathankot-Chamba highway, Nainikhad is a popular truckers and buses halt. There are a number of veg and non veg dhabas besides a theka and a puncture shop. Fews tea shops remain open throughout the night and the vehicles keep stopping for tea and break the night journey. Water supply is in abundance here as a babbling water stream flows nearby.
Like many times in the past, spent a nice evening and slept inside the car parked at Nainikhad. As I sipped first cup of tea in the morning, the boy at the tea shop recognised me by my style of dipping bund in the glass full of tea. He knew I have slept inside the car a number of times in the past as well.
Banikhet-Dalhousie-Khajjiar road was closed due to heavy snowfall. Chowari Jot-Khajjiar road was closed too. My only chance to make it to white Khajjiar was Chamba-Khajjiar road. Keeping this in mind I began driving slowly towards Chamba.
Weather was awesome. Clouds were playing hide and seek. Mighty Pir Panjal range was clad in fresh snow. The road and mountains around were draped in white snowy blanket. It drizzled at times and the traffic was minimal. I was enjoying fully though.
The views of Pir Panjal overlooking Chamera lake and Dam were fantastic. I took a little break, climbed on a hill and clicked few pictures. River ravi and Chamera lake looked beautiful too.
I took a right turn from Sultanpur about 4 kilometers before Chamba and reached Gate, midway point between Chowari Jot and Khajjiar. Surprisingly the road and surroundings were full with fresh snow, never seen this before.
This tea shop cum dhaba is my favorite for the last so many years. I have visited this place many times in the past solo, with friends and family as well. We have always enjoyed mix veg pakoras with bread and tea here. Hot pakoras and tea tasted even better this time as everything around was so cold and snowed.
Arun Chauhan, the boy, who runs this joint with his family told me that the road to Chowari Jot will not open for at least one month from now and that the snow clearing machine has just gone to Khajjiar and since it had started snowing again, the road might not be open till Khajjiar.
I decided to try my luck and started driving towards Khajjiar. It was snowing, the road had hard and soft snow as well. The snow clearing machine had left its marks behind, I kept driving on them. At times Lalpari wobbled and skidded but somehow kept on moving slowly towards its destination.
The landscape around was just stunning. Mighty Pir Panjal range clad in fresh snow was looking awesome. The valleys, villages, hills, trees, fields and everything was laden with snow. It was an unforgettable sight.
Wow…..when I reached Khajjiar it was all white, so beautiful and stunning. I had dreamt about it so many times but never could really make it. Despite the fact the place is so close to our place and that I have been here a number of times yet I was able to behold the stunning white Khajjiar sight only after attaining the age of 55.
Although it kept snowing throughout from Gate to Khajjiar yet I did not face much difficulty in navigating the car to Khajjiar. The car did wobble and skid a little at some places yet, since I was driving mostly in the first gear without using clutch or brakes, I was able to put the car on trek time and again. Scant traffic helped too.
I kept walking and clicking pictures from wherever I could go. Gum shoes were of immense help. Even they were not of much help when I tried going deep near the lake. My legs were going deep into the snow upto the knees which made my thighs wet and numb.
It kept snowing slowly throughout the day. It became harder as the day progressed. By evening it was snowing very heavily. All the tourists staying in Khajjiar had already left, I was the only outsider in the whole of Khajjiar. Majority of hotels, guest houses and restaurants were closed. No rehri wala tea or snacks vendors were there.
Luckily hotel Parul was open and despite heavy snowfall electricity and BSNL/JIO network was working. The manager at hotel Parul, Rajinder Sharma helped me immensely. I spent most of my time inside the car or at hotel Parul when it snowed heavily where I was also able to charge my camera and laptop batteries as well.
In the evening it started snowing very heavily. Entire Khajjiar meadow got filled with 2-3 feet snow. Pure white gold got spread everywhere. The sights and the scenes around became so stunning, it’s hard to describe in words.
Watching those white snow flakes falling ever so silently in the fading light of the day, no one else around, the whole valley by myself, I felt I was lucky to be there at that moment. These moments are so precious and rare in our lives.
I don’t know till how long I kept watching those beautiful scenes until I woke up and walked down to my car and had few drinks while listening to music and thinking about how beautiful life is. I thought it was not a big deal I could have been here long ago, how come I missed this so far.
I was the only one at the dinner table that night at Parul hotel. They were kind enough to serve a solo person freshly cooked food. They were little apprehensive of me sleeping inside the car in the snowy night and nobody around, yet I decided to give it a try.
After dinner walked up to the car and slipped inside, could not cover the car as it was snowing and already lot of snow had gathered on its roof and sides. For the first few hours I could not sleep and kept working on my mobile phone until I fell asleep.
Suddenly I heard strange sounds near the car that woke me up. For some time I kept my head down trying to understand the sounds. After a while I pulled my head and saw through the window towards the place from where the sound was coming. There was some movement in the dark. It felt as if some animals were fighting.
I gathered some courage and flashed torch light on the fighting objects. As soon as the torch light hit them, the animals immediately ran away. I noticed they were a pair of jackals and had come to feast on the leftover left by us humans.
It surely scared me. I kept waking and waiting for awhile. I felt like urinating but was scared to go out. It took me awhile to muster enough courage to go out and urinate in snowy dark night………..!!!