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Snow Bound

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We, the Citizens

By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

Mussoorie has benefitted from the rebound to the Pandemic. Marriage parties have filled those hotels which belong to a chain; others are breaking even-plus by the arrival of lockdown escapees within a 700 km driving range. That includes all our neighbouring states. There have been a few setbacks, of late, because of the Farmers’ Agitation: those kisans seem to be determined to dig their heels in for the long haul!

Things could, however, change dramatically if it Snows. The majority of our potential visitors seem to be completely bewitched by snow. It is a major status symbol to take selfies in the snow, preferably in ‘the abroad’ but, if that is not available, any desi destination will do. And so we are delighted to give you the Good News of the day. Strangely, it is also very cold news which is likely to warm the hearts of all those who make a living out of our little, high, Himalayan, town.

It is likely to snow in Mussoorie in the next fortnight.

That has not only been predicted by the weather forecasters but it has also been scripted in the traditional signs of nature which we have observed over and over again.

It all started in fairly early autumn. One clear night we heard distant honking: the wild geese were winging their way back from their breeding grounds in the high wetlands of the Himalayas and the high Tibetan plateau. We’ve seen them and their web-footed companions in the austerely beautiful Pangong Tso of Ladakh. When those high-flying flocks sense the approach of winter they have extended tso ki charchas, and when a quacking, honking, agreement has been reached, they take wing one clear night. They fly in an arrow-like chevron with the strongest bird taking the lead and the rest taking advantage of the others’ slipstreams, relieving each other regularly. They probably navigate by the stars and the electromagnetic mesh that surrounds the earth. This navigation chart is imprinted on their memories and reinforced on every migration. They keep honking and quacking on the flight to maintain their position the way a fleet of naval ships do with their radar!

That intra-flock positioning sound alerted us to the fact that winter would come early this year. We then started looking for more signs in the sky: cloud formations.

Every cloud formation has a different impact on the weather. When we saw long, feathery, clouds stretch across the sky along with small ones resembling fish scales, we thought of the old mariners’ proverb: Mares’ Tails and Mackerel Scales make tall ships use low sails. In other words bad weather was approaching. Bad weather in the winter could give hail, graupel or rain. Hail is hard, graupel is also known as soft hail, rain is just water falling from the sky. Snow is individual crystals of frozen water and because these tiny particles have not been clumped together, snow falls softly and silently. But when a person presses snow together to make a snow-ball it can become quite hard, and if it contains pebbles and stones, a snowball can kill.

We have seen enthusiastic visitors to Mussoorie, after it snows, pack snow into plastic or gunny bags to take down to their friends in the plains. There’s no harm in doing this, but there’s little point in it. Snow packed together, becomes ice very fast. This is the reason why the old Brit residents built Snow Pits in shady places, particularly in the grounds of their clubs and hotels. These were stone-lined wells, with thatched roofs. When it snowed heavily in Mussoorie, the pits were filled with snow excavated from our hillsides, impacted, and allowed to melt and freeze into ice. This ice was mined well into the summer for the sahibs’ drinks. Presumably, the alcohol in the drinks disinfected the ice or else, as Kipling put it, “at the end of the fight there’s a tombstone white with the name of the late deceased”. We don’t know how many of the silent inhabitants beneath the tombstones of the Mussoorie Cemetery on Camel’s Back road were victims of an Ice Pit peg?

Incidentally, our hotels no longer rely on Ice Pits!

(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 half-hour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who is a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)