THE SNOW OF ROTHANG PASS
I can’t recollect the exact year. We were in Rothang Pass. Bikram and me. It was the month of November. The air was thin. Cold. It stung. We did not have any plan. Having no map and rigid ideas in mind was wonderful. We did not foresee anything. The pass was surrounded with wind-swept mountains on all the three sides. On a clear day, one could see as far as China. The tourist department had fixed a couple of binoculars there. It operated with a coin. There were a few shanty tea shops. Someone had built a temple nearby. People huddled inside to pray.
Green Military Trucks of Ashok Leyland Company were queuing up to cross the pass. Each one was stacked with goods. As the evening progressed, the temperature dropped. My lips cracked. Our heads become heavy. However, there was a sheer passion that instigated us to go further. We decided to cross the pass.
As the last rays of the sun hid behind the hill, we descended downhill. Some local shop-wallahs were talking about severe weather. The local radio had broadcasted the news of snowfall. Nervous tourists returned back to Manali. Those who dared to cross the pass, tailgated their vehicles behind the military trucks. The army caravan was on its way to Ladakh. They were hoarding rations for the long Ladaki winter. The pass would be closed for six months once the snow fell. We knew there was a village on the way. We wanted to walk as long as we could.
Soon it was pitch dark. We followed the side of the road. Now and then, vehicles would pass. After walking for a couple of hours, the wind carried the smell of snow. Later, Wisps of snow fell from the sky. We were happy. That was the first snowfall of my life. As we proceeded forward, we constantly checked our back to make sure we were not being followed by wild animals. Someone had warned us about mountain leopards and wild dogs.
The snowfall was heavy. We could walk no more. Our feet dug deep into the snow. We met some men. They were shepherds on their way to Keylong, to bring sheep for the festival season. At Manli, they would sell for a good profit. We introduced each other. The village was nowhere to be seen. From the obfuscating darkness, we saw a light coming towards us. It looked like the eyes of a wolf. We were excited. We sat at the middle of the road and waved our hands with a full 360 degree swing. It stopped. The owner was a potato merchant. He agreed to give us lift.
We reached the village after 45 minutes. There were a few shops. Butter lamps and lanterns were lighted inside. Man in dark woollen blankets wrapped on their bodies huddled around a small fire-place. A black warped kettle was hung above the fire. Tea was boiling inside. The spout of the kettle let out a thick column of steam. Near the fire-place there was a wooden table and two benches. It was packed with truck drivers and their helpers. Outside, the snow thickened. We moved close to the fire.