Enjoying the snow at Patnitop, December 1997
This post has been written for the theme “26 Places, 26 Memories” for the #AtoZChallenge.
U FOR UDHAMPUR, JAMMU & KASHMIR:
Udhampur is a city located in Jammu & Kashmir. It’s surrounded by lush green Eucalyptus forests, and is a strategic centre for the Northern Command Headquarters of the Indian Army.
My family and I visited Udhampur in December 1997, when one of my maternal uncles was posted there as Brigadier. At the army base, we were treated like royalty, and witnessed their impressive way of life at close quarters.
My uncle planned a day trip for us to nearby hill station Patnitop, which receives dense snowfall in winters. My brother and I were especially excited about this excursion as it was our first time seeing snow. We put on our thickest jackets and set off for Patnitop to much fanfare. What happened there is one of my clearest memories from childhood.
UNPREPARED YET UPBEAT IN PATNITOP, UDHAMPUR:
The fateful day chosen for the trip was New Year’s Eve- December 31, 1997. Our group consisted of my maternal grandfather, my parents, brother and I, with the army driver designated to us. The hill station was covered in clear snow for miles around, so we built snowmen, had multiple snow fights and clicked many photos.
When we were ready to head back to Udhampur, we were told that heavy snowfall had blocked the route. We’d have to stay the night there, and return the next day once the snow was cleared.
I was looking forward to celebrating New Year’s Eve by staying up with the adults- a big deal at the age of 10! New Year’s Eve was an important event for me. I believed that the way I brought in the New Year would determine how it would play out. Hence, being stuck in the back of beyond, on such an important night, was really upsetting.
We were given an army hut to stay in, from the few that housed the jawans posted there. This had one bedroom with attached bathroom. The room was sparsely furnished with a double bed, a black and white TV set, a couple of decrepit chairs and a coffee table. Fortunately, there was also a well-stocked kitchen with a cook. My father had carried a bottle of “Black Label” whiskey to be enjoyed with the day-time picnic. He fondly recalls sharing this with my grandfather, using fresh snow as a mixing medium! We ate dinner in the bedroom, chatting away while the TV played Doordarshan, the only channel it received.
Around 10:00 p.m., with nothing else to do, my family went off to sleep. Five of us had to share the double bed. We made the most of the small space by arranging ourselves artistically. However, I was determined to stay up till midnight to ring in the New Year.
Perched amidst my slumbering family members, with the lights out, I watched Doordarshan play old Bollywood songs in black-and-white. 1998 arrived to an animated announcement by an otherwise stodgy national TV anchor. I smiled exuberantly along with him, pleased, despite the peculiarity of the situation.
Back in Udhampur, we learnt there had been a terrorist threat in Patnitop, which was one of the reasons we weren’t allowed to travel back. I’m thankful to god for being spared the terror and gifted fantastic memories instead.
I don’t remember much of 1998, but that New Year’s Eve was certainly very memorable 😉
Come back tomorrow for the letter V and another story!
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A for Amritsar, B for Bhopal, C for Cambodia, D for Delhi, E for England, F for France, G for Gwalior, H for Hemkund Sahib, I for Italy, J for Jim Corbett National Park, K for Kamakhya Devi Temple, L for London, M for Munich, N for Naples, O for Odisha, P for Prague, Q for Qila Mehrangarh Jodhpur, R for Rishikesh, S for Singapore, T for Tarifa in Spain