The call of the snow and clear blue skies were the only things that I could think of when I thought of the last weekend in 2019. I yearned for them; dreaming of a number of getaways (some fancy, some fancier). As lofty as my dreams were, my pocket only allowed so much and after a few hours of research, I picked the quaint hamlet of Gadagusain nestled in the Seraj Valley of Himachal Pradesh. With little of my itinerary planned, I convinced my flatmate to tag along and off we went.
The next morning, I woke up to the winding roads of Himachal; the fresh air of the hills already a soothing balm. And though an eventless commute, the last leg of the journey was spent stuffed in a state government bus surrounded by chatting, happy locals, their bleating sheep and vomiting children. Enough to make me question my destination and for my flatmate, Diganta, to mutter and glare at me. The bus driver sped through hairpin bends with a speed that would put six-time F1 World champion Lewis Hamilton to shame. The glaring and the muttering continued, which I pointedly chose to ignore.
It was only when the first patches of snow started dotting the road that we relaxed a bit. This wouldn’t be so bad, I thought. I had, after all, yearned for it. Upon reaching our destination late afternoon, we were greeted by Yudhveer Singh Chauhan, the owner of the camp we had chosen to stay at. After a hearty lunch of roadside rajma-chawal, we started walking to the camp; the heavy snowfall meant the roads were blocked and the only way up was by foot. The snow that looked dreamlike from my bus window was not so easy to wade through. Certainly not for two unfit men from the plains of West Bengal. We huffed and puffed, and I slipped 17 times. Yes, I kept count. The hour-long trek had broken all illusions of this being a restful, lazy trip and I considered howling for a helicopter evac. At least my out-of breath lungs did.
Our camp, as it turned out, was buried in snow. Yudhveer had to arrange for alternate accommodation, a little cottage in his village called Alwah. It meant more walking and we trudged ahead, our small backpacks feeling more like boulders by the minute.
At sunset, when the valley was lit in hues of gold and orange, we finally reached. It was better than any camp we could have stayed at, the cottage bathed in the fading sunlight, painting a postcard-worthy setting. My camera went click. That view was worth every bit of torment the walk had caused, and though my body groaned in response, I felt a surge of happiness. Finally, I was where I had wanted to be, enjoying the last weekend of the decade.
We lazed around all evening, deserving of every bit of rest and huddled around a warm fire, gorging on freshly-made mutton curry and chapatis.
The next morning saw fresh snow and icicles that decorated our door. Yudhveer offered to take us higher up in the village to the Jogini Mata temple, talking of a steep walk through knee-deep snow. Diganta looked at the pair of us, shook his head and promptly fell on the bed for a nap; his answer was clear.
Covered in inches of fresh snow, the village was alive and vibrant. Groups of men basked in the soft sunlight, smoking small bidis as children zipped on slopes on ski boards fashioned out of barks.
We stopped numerous times for tea (and sometimes for something a little stronger) and were joined by wandering locals, stretching an hour-long walk to three. I was still the weakest link in the chain and my pace was no match for theirs. I must say that I fared a lot better than I did the previous day, some huffs and puffs aside.
The views were, of course, worth it. Blanketed in pristine white, the field was glowing in the afternoon sun and the at the centre a block of faded orange marked the temple. The temple was as much a place of worship as it was a stunning viewpoint. The panoramic views of the snow-capped peaks made for quite a sight and the image was imprinted in my brain, to paint in my sketchbook later.
Behind us, the sky turned pink, purple and finally a deep blue; our walk to the cottage was easier and I only fell once. At night, we roasted a whole chicken and polished it off quickly. I had certainly worked up an appetite and have no shame in admitting gluttony.
The morning of our departure, Yudhveer took a longer but easier route down to the bus stop. Perhaps he was tired of our slipping and had finally understood the state of our fitness. He further drove us to a meadow in the nearby village of Khouli.
Like a carpet of white, the snow seemed to stretch for miles with an occasional pine tree brooding here and there. This was truly a dream come true, I had never seen so much fresh snow. Like a child, I rolled around in the snow, wishing I never had to go back.
There are overnight, semi-sleeper buses that take you from Delhi to Aut, Himachal Pradesh. From there, Gadagusain is three hours away and local cabs are available for hire. One can also take a local bus from Aut to Banjar and then another to Gadagusain.
WHERE TO STAY
We had originally planned to stay at Camp Himalayan Heritage (from INR 1,500; +91-889494002) also owned by Yudhveer Singh Chauhan. Get tents and cottages in summers, or an igloo in winter.
WHAT TO DO
>Take a beginner’s trek to the Jogini Mata Temple.
>During summers, one can pick the more challenging trek to the meadows in Pandav Khet.
>Visit Tungasi Fort and Madhupur Fort in summers for rich Himalayan heritage.
This article was originally published in the February issue of the magazine.