Of all seasons , that come and go , winter remains closest to the heart. It is so cold in nature, and may be, that is why I feel so warm in it. Paradoxical ain't it ?? Well let me explain....
First from a Himalayan dwellers point of view. Winter in Himalayas means the season of forced holidays. The mountain towns and villages change into bitter cold kingdoms , where survival can be challenging. But thanks to God , the people though facing that challenge get to spend a good time with their families. What happens is , the people know that during winter all work and daily life comes to a halt , hence , for the past months they keep gathering livestock , fuel and all that is necessary to spend the the long winters. When it finally arrives , schools are shut down , markets closed , all people dwelling around with their day to day jobs come back home for 60 - 90 days of hard winter. So if you are a Himalayan local you would end up in your cute wooden home amidst snow and chill , warming and getting utmost love and care from your family. You have no work to do basically other than loving your closest ones and chat around may be with the neighbour and friends. This is why the Himalayan people are so warm and welcoming for they are every year loved and cared for infinitely from their families. The winter is a blessing which keeps the family close and love replenished year after year. It would be great if we faced such harsh winter everywhere , for that cold is needed for the warmth of love. Don't you think so ???
Secondly lets take metropolitan point of view. Winter in Indian cities means good , bearable weather compared to the hot humid other weathers round the year. It is the time to wear more fashionable clothes without being worried about the pathetic sweat and odour. Winter comes with a good feeling with its main festivities like christmas and New year and that adds up to the excitement and vibrancy of the season. Christmas with everything good and merry about it , is loved by all around. Gift , food , dance and drinks and obviously the cool weather to enjoy it all is nothing but a blessing of winter. New year comes with new hopes and starting our life with a fresh enthusiasm and force , leaving behind everything that was bad or failure. And more interestingly , winter means less work pressure in a service sector country like ours which mean adventure and travel is around the corner.
Third point of view from the adventurers take on winters. Winter is most probably the most beautiful season to behold , and I repeat it , more beautiful that spring, at least to me. Mountains turn white with snow , trees turn abode of snow holding the little crystals and everywhere you look around is a land of snow white. A true fairy tale. Winter means fresh snowfall and every year , winter touches the lives of millions experiencing them with their life's first snowfall. If you have not witnessed snowfall you won't understand or value what it means just reading this , and I shall pray this year you do , as sooner as possible. Even for people who have seen it times and again such as me , still there is a freshness and something different with every snowfall that I behold. For a adventurer , the moment of snowfall is like the birth of a new soul , an accomplishment of life and a celebration of our existence. Do I see smiling lips and nodding heads ? Winter also means unpredictable tours and unplanned adventures and everything new and challenging. The trains get delayed due to fog , meaning your start of the travel and plans go to hell. Then comes unpredictable weather like closed roads due to snowfall and you might just get stuck nowhere. And in that uncertainty and messed up plan you actually become one adventurer. Clear skies are also marked by winters helping you get the most crystal clear image of the far standing mighty peaks and mountain ranges in backdrop of blue sky. The view from the top of a mountain if you somehow be able to tread the mighty snow and accomplish the feat of summit , is far more better than found in any other season. The horizons stretches more with clear sky and white clad peaks , the deep valleys and curvy gorges formed in a spectacular scene in your eyes. Winter is the true season of adventure.
Lastly from my point of view. I would love to be known as an ardent fan and lover of winter. For winter means a deep logic to me and my existence. In a lot of poems , winter with its dried and shedding of leaves , has been enacted or imaged as death. And that is exactly why , it is so beautiful. Death is after all nothing but the the necessity to be reborn. And as death , winter takes away with it all that is sad , broken or grieving , gifting a new opportunity to nature to build it all over once again with something better. And so it does to me also. It gives me the hope to wash away all that could not be with a gift to make it once again. So it does to all people too. When we celebrate new year , no matter how bad the year went , we are filled with new hope , courage and faith. It isn't just a coincidence that the new year and winter come together , is it ?? So as the winter for this year evades , I bid adieu with a thanks for replenishing me like it does to nature, and I will wait for the this warmth of winter to come again soon. Won't you ?
In our journeys and travels we generally come across various people of different culture and habits , who makes us wander how different the world is than we actually perceive or knew off sitting at home. This is the beauty of travel that we get to meet such wonderful souls and get to hear their stories. Of how they live , how they pray and how they fight and survive with a smile. This piece is on one such community of people.
In my journey to kashmir great lakes times and again I have met the finest horsemen or rather mule owners if I need to be correct technically. Why they are finest ?? Well , if you have trekked all over himalayas , you will know that the kashmiris are the best when it comes to control and work with their horses and mules. I can assure you , of all the problems I have faced with employing the horsemen for portering rations and goods on trek , I have felt most relaxed and chilled when I worked in kashmir.
This people have an ancestral history of owning horses and mules. Mules and other livestock have been their primary assets and are very core to their lives and habits of livelihood. They have a precious talent of managing 10 mules at a time , and that too with whistling by their lips. They are not only talented but most hard working too. I would explain in an incident. Generally , when we are done with a camp in the morning , we require to fold the tents back , organise the goods and rations , and prepare it manually for being packed and transported on mule's back. This whole process requires time and attention by the cook and other helpers. For lest , you miss out on anythings , you might not find it in the next camp. Smallest items such as sugar and salt is of great essence , worth more than golds on treks and expeditions. Hence , the cook and the trek staff are on high alert on every trek. But in kashmir , they need not worry. For the horsemen , takes care of everything from packing to settling of the goods on the horse back to setting down the camp for trekkers in next campsite. All is done single handedly by them. No where else in India I have come across such a talented intelligent hard working community. And the best part is their hearts are of gold as of any other mountain people you might find anywhere. They are well behaved , smiley faced and living the true essence of life. I don't know about others but they actually motivate me and makes me feel good about things , which is their blessings.
In my journeys I have come across many such mule owners and some has been my best hosts. Once the trek ended I have attended their invites at home and have had a tummy full of splendid meals. Some mule owners are also high priests of the local mosque , some teachers and some farmers , but to earn extra bucks they work as mule porters on the trek. The kashmir winter is harsh and stands for 4 - 5 months. When all activities in kashmir are closed. All this people stay generally inside their home , happy with their families. The rest of the year goes into gathering food and ration for this winter months for which they work extra hours. Some love adventures as we do and hence , come with us for treks though they are not in need for any work.
In many emergency issues , trekkers are stranded on the high passes of kashmir , not feeling good and their health might deteriorate or they might have a cramp or any medical issues. This horsemen act as saviours then. I have seen them gone off 10kms transporting the luggage and then again comming back to fetch the trekkers on the mules. That is the kind of intensity and value of life they give. And regretfully I have seen , trekkers not even tipping them anything even after so much they have had done. Quite a funny world we live in. Yet , the horsemen live in peace and smile and continue to serve us to the best of their abilities as they have done for years before and shall do for years after. Only thing is , are we going to show some gratitude from here after?
Note from the Author,
" Travel made me rich and free. Magic and miracles are true , once you wander on the roads to places different and divine. I have collected so many thoughts and stories while being a Tour & Trek guide for last seven years. Sharing with you all, those memories and stories , and wishing you all , that someday you guys travel far and wide too. I am not a great writer , so ignore my grammar and spellings, read it with feelings, and you might just be affected with the wanderlust to hit the road"