Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Up to the snow: Birling, Himachal Pradesh


On my first day off, my boss decided our staff should have a staff lunch, and we figured before lunch we’d make a quick stop to check out the view from Birling, a small settlement at the top of a local mountain which also happens to be one of the world’s top spots for paragliding. We knew there would be snow up there, so we figured it would be fun to play in the snow (down here in Chauntra it never gets cold enough to snow) and see the view. So, before going to the restaurant, which was near the bottom of the mountain, we jumped in two cars, one of our staff member’s cars and one taxi and headed up the mountain. I kind of felt like I was on a Korean ‘MT’.

The mountain road was a little scary at times. The road was only wide enough for one car (as most roads are here), though it of course supported two way traffic, which made passing both oncoming traffic and slow traffic ahead of us difficult, and at times scary, since there were rarely barriers protecting us from the steep mountainside next to us. 

However, things were going along smoothly until we reached the snow line on the mountain. Here we quickly realized that our little ultra compact cars could go no further in the snowy and icy conditions. Clearly no one up here owned anything like a snow plow. 

But, we figured we’d just walk the rest of the way up. It was only 11am, and our lunch reservation was for 2pm, so we figured we’d have plenty of time. The local folks from our staff assured us that we were just a quick hike from the top.

We found a small path on the sunny side of the mountain with not so much snow and started our assent. Some members of our staff were not prepared with proper shoes for hiking...

I'm not sure if it's a Tibetan thing, or a mountain people thing, or just a human nature thing, but we found that, just like in China, whenever we asked the locals "How much further?", they always reply in a way that makes it sound like you'll reach your destination in 10 minutes. However, just as in China, this hike took us much longer than expected. We finally reached the store near the top at 1:30.

Here we collapsed and had a cup of chai with some chips and cookies... and lots of water...

Around this time we called and informed our restaurant that we would be a bit late, to which we got a very angry response and hung up on. But, there was nothing we could do, so we continued our way up to the top of Birling.

Me and my co-workers at Dzongsar Monastary

Finally we made it to the top. There was some pretty fantastic views and despite all the snow, we felt quite warm. I've never had a snowball fight where I didn't mind picking up snow with my bare hands or wanted to take off my jacket before...

After throwing snowballs around for a little while, we made our way down, this time along the switchback roads, back to our waiting taxi. Then we headed back down the mountain to Bir for our, now very late, lunch. 

Upon arriving at the restaurant (which, by the way, is a very special restaurant owned by a German-Indian who accepts only advanced reservations and has a wood fired oven in which he makes pizzas totally from scratch using whatever ingredients are available in the morning market), we were told by the owner's assistant that we were too late, that we could not eat. We sadly walked out and wondered where we should eat when the woman came back out and informed us that, actually, she had already made our pizzas that we had pre-ordered, and if we didn't mind that they were now a little soggy, she could heat them up in a pan for us. We jumped for joy that we hadn't completely missed our meal and headed back in to enjoy our pizzas. 

After our late lunch, my boss took me for a little tour of her 'neigborhood' in Bir, which was basically a house in the middle of a field. But, the terraced land sure was beautiful.... 

I got back to the monastery where I'm staying just in time for dark, and was a good first introduction to the area...

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