There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rupture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes.
By the deep sea, and music in its roars;
I love not man the less, but nature more.
- George Gordon 

They say that Himalayas were created by some tectonic activity (collision of tectonic plates and gradual uplift of landmass, something like that). Although I am a rationalist, but sometimes I really doubt the theories that say that Himalayas are a creation of tectonic activities. What puzzles me is how can such events create something so beautiful. It seems to me that Himalayas are the artistic work of God’s own hands. He must have taken too much pain to design the hills and mountains; and then make them a reality. First of all, He would have created the mountains by hammer-and-chisel work on the rocky mass. He would have produced all the heights possible. He must have looked from all the angles to ensure the perfection. Then He would have laid the lush green blanket over the whole area. Then He would have planted the pine and oak trees, careful to leave perfect spaces between them. In the protection of the pine trees, all types of vegetation grew. Then He would have created the fountains and falls at appropriate places. Then He would have created rivers whose meanders were designed to match the pattern of spaces between hills. Then he looked at his work and was satisfied with that but then suddenly He thought something is missing. Then he covered the higher peaks with snow caps to give them a finishing touch. This is how I think Himalayas were formed.

I have traveled Haridwar, Hrishikesh, Neelkanth, Shimla, Nainital, Mussoorie and Dhanaulti; and have explored the beauty of Shivalik range of Himalayas, but deep within, there was an ardent desire to see the snow in Himalayas, to touch it and to feel it. You can see snow-capped mountains while going to Dhanaulti from Mussoorie (view of Nanda Devi on a day with clear sky) and also while going to Nainital but these views were from a significant distance and I wanted to have those peaks close enough. So, it was planned that we will go to Manali to experience snowfall. Luckily this year, Uttarakhand  also experienced heavy snowfall and after some thought it was decided that we will go to Chopta in Rudraprayag district, which is situated on the way to Kedarnath.

The most adventurous part of going to a hilly area is the travelling itself. Curvy roads on the mountains have a wall of rock on one side and deep gorges on the other side, sometimes so high that it is a daring task even for a normal person to see into that gorge, leave alone an acrophobic person. These heights make the journey more adventurous. I still remember once, while returning from Mussoorie, the careless bus driver made everyone shiver on few occasions. From one side of the valley, the roads on the other side of the valley, occupying tiny portion of the huge mountains, look like a crawling snake - so narrow yet so long. The vehicles on those roads look so small that they remind us of the toy cars that we played with during our childhood days. The sweet sound of the river flowing in the valley never stopped during our journey of around 200 km.

We started our trip from Hrishikesh along the river Ganga. Initially the roads were less difficult to drive but the driver should refrain from seeing the beautiful landscape for his own safety. Parallel to the road, down in the valley, the river was on an endless journey on the pebbles with the 'kal-kal' sound. The steep mountains with random shapes and random heights looked very beautiful. We felt cold air whenever mountains deprived us of the sunlight. The journey continued like this for 70 km till we reached Devprayag, where Bhagirathi and Alakananda merge to form Ganga. Prayag is a place where two rivers merge. In Uttarakhand, you will find many ‘Prayags’- Devprayag, Rudraprayag, Karnaprayag etc. From the road, we could see that a dark-greenish clean stream met with a stream comparatively rich in silt and after they merged, Ganga was formed. From Devprayag, we took our road alongside Alakananda. After every 5 to 10 km of travel we met small villages having tea shops along the roads, few houses on the slopes and step farms covering the hills. Then came Srinagar, the largest town and widest valley in Garhwal hills (Not to be confused with Srinagar of Kashmir). Here we could see from a distance a dam under construction. Many miles after, we arrived in Rudraprayag, the meeting point of rivers Alakananda and Mandakini. After travelling further 45 km, we reached Ukhimath and it was already dark by that time and we decided to stay in Ukhimath. One must come prepared to tolerate the extreme temperatures.

Next day, I woke up early in the morning to see the sunrise. The town of Guptkashi could be seen, on the other side of the river Mandakini. The town looked close, but it was at a distance of 12 km. In the morning everything looked fresh, as fresh as it could have been. All the peaks visible from the lawns of guest house of Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (our resting place) were covered with snow which made me feel like ‘Ab Delhi door nahi’. When I raised my head a little, I found something static in the moving clouds. Yes, it was the snowy peak and it looked more beautiful with reddish sunlight of morning falling on it. It seemed that it was looking us from the windows made up of clouds. Starting from the bottom of the hill, there were green deodar and oak trees whose length decreased with increasing height. Then there were white patches midway to the top. The white patches grew in size and ultimately took over everything at the top of the hill. That hill marked the starting of the Himachal ranges on that route.

After that we left for Deoria Tal, situated at a distance of 14 km from Ukhimath. There was a diversion where one road went to Devariya Tal and other went to Chopta. We took the one going to Deoria Tal. On our way to Deoria Tal, we found snow for the first time, which was the purpose of this whole trip. First experience of everything is hard to forget. We reached Sari after which we have to leave vehicles and start the 2.5 km long trek to the hill top.  The way to the top was quite steep and for some time the physical exertion made us forget the cold. Halfway through, we found plenty of snow, thus making the way slippery. We tossed the snow balls towards each other, made interesting shapes from the snow mass. It was such a fun. With increasing height, it became more slippery and snow had covered the whole path. Trekking like this, finally we reached Deoria Tal and to our delight, as soon as we reached there, snowfall started.

This snowfall was a unique experience. Wherever we could see, there was snow and only snow - Snow up to knees and snow falling from above. The fairy tale ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’ must have been set up at a similar place. In this fairy tale, the Princess had her skin as white as snow. That alone is sufficient to describe the fairness of snow. When we arrived there we could see green trees but slowly they were getting snow-laden and only stem was visible. We jumped, ran, played with snow, posed for photographs – in short we did all the juvenile activities. Only place which was not covered with snow was the lake or Tal. As soon the snow touched the lake surface, it melted and disappeared in the water, although we expected that it will maintain it’s solid form for some time.  This small lake finds mention in ancient mythological stories. It is believed to be the "Indra Sarovar" where Pandavas were asked questions by Yaksha. Around the lake was smoothly inclined plane which was covered with 2 to 3 feet of snow. Snow-covered Chaukhambha peaks could not be seen from Tal because snowfall did not let us see anything at a distance. After enjoying so much, we started the return journey, but now the way was all the more slippery. When we reached Sari, our base camp, it was raining heavily. It was difficult to drive in rainfall and we abandoned our plans to visit Chopta.

deoria tal

snowfall in deoria tal

I don't remember when I fell in love with Himalayas or nature, in general, but one thing I know is that this love has grown profounder with time.  I don't know what fascinates me most, the hills, the rivers, the falls, the forests or everything as a whole and that makes me believe in 'few-things-can't-be-described-in-words.' Every time on a peak, I look upon other peaks from there, I feel on top of the world. That view is so relaxing, so soothing to eyes that nothing else can match that. The reflection of sunlight against the distant snow-laden peaks seems so dazzling. Sometimes clouds pass by giving a cold touch and when you look below you find that you are actually in the clouds! (Similar incident might have been the inspiration behind the phrase 'On Cloud Nine' meaning 'In a state of blissful happiness').  One, who has seen clouds whispering to the hill tops during the day and peaks trying to kiss the stars at night with moon behind the mountains trying to emphasize that kiss, has something so everlasting in his mind that he wants to see that again and again. The sweet sound of a moving river, small attractive villages here and there and green step farms, everything was justifying its presence. Slowly when I raised my eyes I  saw valleys, then green fields, rivers, more peaks and then peaks merged in clouds, after that there were clouds only, nothing else. For a moment, my eyes kept wandering in those clouds.

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils. 
-William Wordsworth