Snowball fight at snow point, Patnitop—a short trip from Jammu
After leaving the rest house, the road went down a bit and then leveled up still turning around in gentle curves. The snow point was not really a village or a specific place where establishments existed—it was just a stretch on the winding road where the low hillside rose on the left and went down below on the right, both covered with patchy layers of snow. It is a high point in the area and that's why the last snow remained here only. We came to know about this stretch from the locals at Patnitop rest house and decided to include it in our itinerary. To touch snow we must go to this place—we were told. Though I was not greatly interested, my companions were.
The snow point being within an hour’s distance, our plan was to spend a few hours playing with snow (not me, no, I am sensitive to cold, and perhaps old!) before turning back towards Jammu. Without any halt in between we should be reaching our house to have our lunch by late afternoon.
Patnitop is not very high in altitude (around 6000 ft to 7000 ft), but during winter, areas around it get thick snow covers. Some hotels and resorts even offer snow gliding that time. When summer comes the snow gradually melts away leaving the ground vegetation and the lone trees breathing again.
Snow line is low here compared to the central or eastern Himalayas. In this country it is never easy to reach snow in the mountains. In central and eastern Himalayas, to touch or walk on snow in April, you may have to go much higher in the mountains. Casual tourists like us cannot easily access those places. Here at Patnitop we had the chance of a snow walk in April just like that, without any preplan—without any preparation or special efforts. My friend asked, “Do you want to walk on snow?” We said, “Yes.” That simple. I could well understand the excitement of Tukai and my friend.
The snow point was about a thousand feet higher than Patnitop—the rise was gradual and the road almost flat. Even bends around the hillside were gradual. Occasionally the road straightened. On such a stretch we stopped the car. The flock of sheep grazing down the valley looked like cute slow-moving toys.
Hillsides here were not rocky or devoid of vegetation. There was something for the sheep to graze upon. Slopes here gentle and inviting. You could easily go down the soft curvy slopes. I wanted to.
Wherever sheep graze there must be human habitation nearby. The view of the villages sprinkled across the valley below was not breathtaking but inviting.
Villages on the valley
After a short while we stopped at a midway viewpoint. These viewpoints are always chosen to offer an open view up to a long distance. Whenever among hills, I look for these viewpoints and never like to miss one.
Clouds still there with us. Rolling hills merged with the clouds at the horizon. I admired the view and tried to imagine how good it would look in a bright sunny day.
Rolling hills from midway viewpoint
Not in every part of the mighty Himalayan range could you see such an open view. High mountains tend to wall you in. Patnitop being situated on a high plateau and the surrounding hills lower, one can enjoy the openness to quite a far distance. I yearned for bright sunlight. Such a scene if sunlit would have looked great.
The trees around the place were nicely dense and were of all varieties that occur at this comfortable altitude. A row of young willows looked like beauties lined up for a fashion parade.
A young one of different variety looked like a Christmas tree.
I went close to a weeping willow. Though these trees are supposed to appear only in the mountains, I had occasionally seen this variety even in plains in a tasteful garden. As a wallpaper of my laptop screen this would do well, I decided.
Tukai spotted a dark colored bird that we couldn’t recognize. It could be a hill crow, I thought.
Dark colored mountain bird
While Tukai liked the birds, I liked light shining through a curtain of leaves.
Curtain of leaves
Time to start for the main attraction. The road rose slowly for some time and suddenly there was a shout from my friend. The car stopped. We had reached the snow. It was only a small patch of snow coming down the low hill side. This was our snow point.
The car was parked at a convenient point. A large group of tourists made lots of noise and threw snowballs round a bend. We chose an unoccupied stretch of the road and got down. All around us lay the much coveted snow, albeit in patches.
Snow on the road
The road in front first veered right, then after a brief left turn took a wide roundish right turn. The hill on the left of the road was low and snow cover thicker.
The thickness of the snow cover was about 4 to 5 inches. It came down up to the road. Roads were cleared up for cars to move freely. On the right snow flowed down the hill all the while losing cover and thickness.
We moved closer to the snow, touched it and though I wanted to taste it, my friend said, “No, don’t. It may not be clean.”
Snow up close
I saw ice before but not four inches of snow that melts away. Tukai had never seen snow or ice except in a deep freezer. Just a while ago we saw the tourist group around the bend romping like a group of children. We all have children in us.
Being a man of advanced age, I couldn’t easily let go, but not my friend. He had tremendous reservoir of energy and enthusiasm and obviously a playful child in him. Tukai was also in teens, and eager. It was great fun.
Snow ball fight
My friend took the offense while Tukai was on the defense. I was the referee counting the strikes. It went on with lots of laughter.
Game stopped. Players took rest.
I have an explorer in me and so somehow clambered up the hill on the left. It was laborious and difficult, but after a brief ungainly struggle the 30 feet peak was conquered. I stood triumphantly at the top waving my hand at the puny little figures far below. Rejoining, we went sightseeing.
Looking closer through the lens, the snow on the hill ahead did not look very nice. The view was somewhat saved by the beautiful green frills of leaves in front.
But when I turned I liked the view facing me. Encroachment of snow ended a short way to the right. The hill went down gently and then up again. Signs of human habitation could be seen on the face of the far side hill.
Far side hill
Looking closer, the high tower carrying electric power long distance looked tiny and out of place. Small huts or cabins look fine but not power towers.
The tiny tower
A particular tree caught my attention. While rising, it had lost all its branches midway and then ended with a tuft. It reminded me of sheep partially shorn of wool.
I was quite taken aback when I noticed a group of very small cottages far away. Looking closer, the cottages looked beautiful. I was still more surprised and asked my friend the name of the place. He could only say, “It is a private resort.”
Secluded Resort cottages
Great location, I thought. I tried to search the place in the Net later; possibly this was the place near Nag temple.
On the hillside the trees stood tall with dwindling patches of snow lying at their feet. In a short while the snow will melt away.
I noticed that absence of trees at the places of snow covers. Perhaps every year snow flows down the same areas killing the trees in the process.
Trees and snow
Looking up and closer, the snow streaked hilltop got framed.
Still closer, the frame looked nicer. This was one of the hilltops we saw yesterday from our rest house.
My friend had to interrupt us in our reverie. It was time to go. We felt sated. The car started again. Now it would be to Jammu with no further identified targets to stop on the way.
Altitude decreased quickly. It warmed up noticeably. Near Jammu Tukai spotted a representative of our possible ancestors resting with a thoughtful face on a tree fork.
Thoughtful on a tree
Even the two small ones crossing the road at a fast roll couldn’t escape Tukai’s eyes and finger reflex.
A few minutes later my friend pointed forward. The palace looked like a picture postcard.
He informed me that this is the Amar Mahal Palace or Dogra Palace in Jammu. This was built by Raja Amar Singh in the nineteenth century and later was donated by Dr. Karan Singh to be transformed into a museum.
Our home in Jammu was not far away.
Author’s Note: This was a trip from Kolkata to Jammu where we had about 12 days. We went from Jammu by car to Dalhousie first. That was our prime destination. From Dalhousie my friend picked us up for Khajjiar for a one night halt. From Khajjiar we returned back to Jammu via Jyot.
Later we made a short visit to Dharamshala and then ended the whole trip with Patnitop. Except Patnitop all the places were in beautiful Himachal.
Memories of those days come back to me vividly with scenes of tall mountains covered with high altitude trees, winding ghat roads along the hillside, down below occasional thin silver streak of a river flowing through the green valleys and glimpses of majestic Himalayan snow peaks.