I cannot remember when I started a trip feeling this tired. If I was traveling alone, I would have canceled this trip to Fagu in Himachal Pradesh. But when Chhavi asked me how could she bring in tomorrow quickly, I knew I was going, ill health be damned. And here I am sitting and typing this away after spending the Sunday in a snow fight! The brat is peacefully asleep.
I had planned to take this mother-daughter trip to Fagu in advance but then I got very low temperature and started getting dizzy. As Chhavi knew about the trip, she was so looking forward to it. We in the end told her that if she closed her eyes, tomorrow would come when she opened it!
It was a long tiring journey to Fagu yesterday but she perked up when she saw snow above Kufri. Her joy knew no bounds when she found snow next to our hotel, at HPTDC’s The Apple Blossom. Yesterday we were just too tired to do anything but crash.
But today was another day. The child was raring to go after the breakfast, before the breakfast was another story but ask me about it some other time. Breakfast safely in our stomachs, we got out and started walking around the hotel Then we got more adventurous and decided to go to a temple that we could see from our hotel.
And she found patches of snow on the way. Chhavi would scoop it up from wherever she could. Initially she was happy throwing it about. Then she asked me, shall we do snow fight? Now when did I shy away from such challenges? I was game for it.
To begin with she would ask me, “shall I throw it on you now” (and when I get angry with her I have to remind myself that she is the same cute kid who seeks permission before hitting me with a snowball). I told her you don’t ask when you hit someone with a snowball; you just go and hit them, bang! It took her sometime to get over it, but in the end she started pelting me at will.
By lunch both of us were pretty exhausted and thankfully she was not too keen about anymore snow fights but I have a feeling that tomorrow is going to be another day! And I am looking forward to it.
Even before leaving for the #lumiainlapland we were told to carry our swim suites for the sauna experience. I have been to saunas in the past but within Indian spas. The Finnish take the sauna experience to an altogether different level. First of all we have to take into account the weather. When I landed at the Kittila Aiport the pilot cheerfully announced, “Welcome to Kittila, the weather is the usual Lapland weather, the temperature outside is -22 degrees.” Now that sounded incredibly cold to me. Thankfully the walk to the terminal building was short. I was happy to be back inside with central heating.
Throughout my stay at Levi, Lapland the temperature was minus something. With no sunshine for three months in winter (the days and nights were roughly equal when I was there in March) a hot sauna makes complete sense. We had with us Friida Turku from Nokia who is a local. She gave us great insights to the sauna culture of Finland and Finland in general. She said many apartment complexes would have a sauna where you could book time, even homes may have it. Business deals apparently are sealed in saunas in Finland.
It makes perfect sense for such cold weather. If you Google images for Finnish Sauna you would also see how comfortable they are with nudity. Friida mentioned that recently Finland went with mixed sex saunas and people have mixed feelings about it.
Our group had people from China and India apart from our hosts Frida and Prima. We women went into the sauna first. We changed into our swim suites in a changing room. Armed with bathrobe to keep the cold away, we ran to the sauna which was a short distance away from the changing room shivering all the way.
Once we got in the warmth was oh so welcome. It was a traditional sauna with a huge wood container to generate heat. We were carrying cool drinks to the hot sauna. I was sipping on a beer in the steaming sauna with 7 other women, sitting on wooden benches that went around the room. I was content, I was happy. Our hosts had other ideas though. Apparently it is a Finnish tradition that once you have become nice and cozy you cannot sit content. You have to get out and take a dip in ice cold water! Friida and her colleague Prima exhorted all of us to go and do it.
Imagine getting out in the snow again from a warm sauna. It felt like madness. I thought I had the fill of madness for the day with the snow mobile ride already. But out we marched. They had a special hatch which was covered and hence it had water in which ice crystals were floating. Everything else of course was frozen solid. Friida was the first to go. I was almost the last. Did I scream? You bet I did. One quick dip and I was out of it as fast as my numb legs would carry me. There are pictures of this event to prove that I actually did it, but then my swim suit pictures are not going to make it to the blog.
Getting inside the sauna again was such a bliss. Any rational group would have settled down in the hot sauna and enjoyed the rest of the time, remember the men were waiting for us to get out. But then we were not a rational group. We next decided to make snow angels and unlike the lady portrayed in the link who is fully clothed we were in our swim suites. So out we went to make snow angels. You can hear us scream in this video while we indulged in more madness.
After a few seconds, once again we ran back to the sauna screaming. However, guys started knocking at the door saying we were taking too much time. We asked them to go away. But we knew we had to get out. By now we were experts at getting out in the cold and walking around. The warm changing room was still quite a welcome relief once we got there. With an icy dip, making snow angels and drinking beer in a warm sauna, I wonder if I could have got a better introduction to the ultimate Finnish sauna experience!
I am not a big fan of driving anything that has petrol in it. Snow mobile was no exception. I was given an opportunity to experience the snow mobile at Levi, Lapland that is in Finland. The event was known as #lumiainlapland
Anyway, I forgot my driving license in the room. So, I decided I would go as a pillion rider with Mark Hindle who works for Nokia. When I asked him if I could go with him, he said sure but he would go fast. I thought I was fine with that! There were about 7-8 snow mobiles all going one after the other. It was cold (-22 when we landed) but I was wearing the right gear (all provided by the Nokia team handling #lumiainlapland event) so I was looking forward to enjoy the scenery.
We had two instructors with the group one riding at the front and the other being the sweep. Mark would let everyone go ahead and maintain just enough distance from the instructor at the end. And then he would accelerate! Soon, I was hanging on for my dear life with both my hands, gripping the handles as tightly I could. He told me I had to scream if I wanted him to go faster. I could have screamed much more readily out of fear but I somehow managed not to. There was no question of me wanting to go any faster.
When the first photography stop came I already wanted the ride to be over.
However, I had no such luck. In this second spell I was suddenly conscious of how many bones there were in my body and how brittle they felt. If I fell off I was sure a lot many of them were going to break. I thought it was a good thing that Nokia was covering all my medical expanses in Finland. But then I was wondering how would my family feel if I ended up with broken bones in a hospital in that part of the world! These were the kind of thoughts I had for the most of the ride.
At the rare occasions when Mark would go slowly (because there was someone in the front and he had no space) I could see how beautiful the landscape was. But most of the time, I was left gripping the handles tightly and praying that I would not fly off. I had to grant it to Mark that he would immediately slow down at the first sign of trouble. But then he would push the snow mobile almost that far too. I cannot count on how many occasions I didn’t like the noises coming from the machine. But then it would almost go off immediately, as Mark would back off at that precise moment.
At the second break I asked him if he had done this before, to which he said ‘yes’ thankfully. Then I asked him if he was a biker to which he said yes again. He told me owned a Yamaha. When I asked him where would he go for biking, he said- dirt biking! Now that explained a bit of his driving. At this second photo break I eyed the other drivers. Some of them were going solo and not at such speed. I thought if I should switch snow mobiles but it remained just a thought.
When we would make a temporary stop I would tell Mark that I had taken off my gloves to click a few picture and under no circumstances he should fly off without letting me know. I did not fancy broken bones in any way. He often asked me if I was good during these breaks and I always grinned and said yes. My brain was in a freeze frame.
By the third stop I was desperate for the ride to end, for all I was thinking during the ride was about being thrown off, broken bones, medical expanses, brittle bones, hospitals, helmets, heads, you get the idea! When the cottages came into the view I let out an audible sigh of relief, we were moving to the civilization and maybe I was going to escape with all my bones intact in the end. I could sense that Mark thought it was over too soon. For me it was all I my nerves could stand!
After I got off I hugged him, in relief of coming out in one piece from this ride. In his defense Mark told me from the word go he would go fast. It was I who could not conceptualize he would go bone rattling, nerve racking fast. Later he mentioned with a grin that we were going at 100 to 110 kmph. Eventually when we were sitting in the bus and driving back to the Levi Spirit villa, I guess I must have had a lost look on my face. Mark asked me how was I doing. I told him and everyone who was listening- slowly my bones were turning back from jelly. I now know what it means when they say your bones turned to jelly.
The two lessons I learned from this experience- drive the snow mobile yourself the next time and go at 30 kmph, enjoy the scenery. I also learned that it makes sense to have a good secondary camera for such trips when a SLR cannot be lugged around. I clicked all the pictures on this ride with my Lumia 1020.
When I arrived at Narkanda there was snow everywhere. I was so tired at the end of the journey that I was happy I didn’t had to walk through snow to reach the hotel. The taxi dropped me right at the doorstep of the Hatu which is a Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Development Corporation (HPTDC) hotel. At the check-in was a young boy who could see I was tired and cold. He completed the formalities quickly and assured me that chai and pakoras would arrive soon right in my room. But to my retreating back he did ask, “so are you alone?” To which I simply said yes.
Here is a short clip of the Hatu, Narkanda. The room I stayed in was clean though not fancy. At all times, I felt safe. The staff was courteous. After the initial curiosity even my traveling alone was no longer much of an issue.
Narkanda is a small town. There were a few small shops in the main market where I would sit down and have tea after my strolls. I had all my meals at the hotel. One day I asked for a local dish and I was given Gobhi Palda which was a kind of cauliflower kadhi. It was good. I had parathas for breakfast everyday! I think I paid more for tea than I paid for breakfast!
You can book a ski package with the hotel depending on the snow conditions. I was asked if I would like to ski but I was determined not to do anything on this vacation! I managed to keep my resolve till the end. I had many conversations with the guy I met at the reception, Pankaj Sharma and the ski instructor. I told them about my trekking adventures and they told me about the possible treks in the region.
When I was leaving on the last day, they told me, ma’am fir aiyega (ma’am come back again). I am already planning to take Chhavi and Vasu (my niece) for skiing next year at Narkanda. And if I can get a room I will surely stay at the Hatu again.