When I spent a night in a car in sub-zero temperature

It was back in the winters of 2003 when life was simple, Work was less and technology hasn’t consumed the humanity yet. We had annual family trips and few getaways in between and this particular trip was one of them. It was supposed to be a weekend trip and was vaguely planned. My Dad called my Mom from work and told her to pack we leave for Dhanaulti in 2 hours.

Dhanaulti is a small hill station, 24 km from the popular hill station of Mussoorie, It is situated at an altitude of 2286m, and is known for its quiet environs amidst the alpine forests of Deodar, Rhododendron and Oak. It doesn’t offer much as to sight seen but is a nice quite get away from city hustle. The main attraction are the two eco-park ‘amber’ and ‘dhara’.

So a vague plan was finalised, we packed, and left for out weekend getaway. We were two families travelling in two cars, TATA Indica and other Maruti Omni. I don’t remember much about the journey from Delhi to Mussoorie, but as far as I recollect, it was smooth but cold. The journey to remember was from Mussoorie to Dhanaulti.

When we reached Mussoorie, it was extremely cold and sun was already set and it was getting dark by the second but we didn’t stop at Mussoorie, technically, Dhanaulti was only a few kilometres drive from Mussoorie. We decided to stop only at the destination, which should be only 2-3 hours away. However, when we left Mussoorie, it started snowing, first lightly then severely. I was fascinated to see my first snowfall, I cannot forget the wonder in my eyes, it was my first snowfall experience and I was so little that the thought of frozen water falling from the sky would intrigue me like anything and now it was my encounter. I still get as awe-struck on seeing snowfalls as I got on that trip even though now I have seen it several times.

Everything was great for the first few kilometres, everyone was enjoying, everyone was happy seeing their first snowfall but soon we realised we need to get Dhanaulti ASAP. Closer we got to the destination more intense it was snowing. Soon the tyres started losing traction and this was the time when things got serious, now everyone was quite, no one was smiling, no one was laughing. Soon fog came in and there was a total black out, our headlights would light only few meters up the way and beyond that it was total darkness and dead silence.

We were moving extremely slowly, with every turn, our car would slip a little towards the valley and I would pee my pants a little (not literally). By now, all my fascination was dead, all the intrigue-ness was blown away and I was terrified by the thought of use going down the mountain. I was convinced that we won’t be able to make it to the hotel and are going to die tonight. Every time the car made a turn on the curvy road and slide I cried ‘this is where we die’, ‘we are going to die’.

Around midnight, about 4 kilometres were left from the hotel and we were relieved that we would make it to hotel in around 30 to 40 mins. However, that night, Mother Nature was against us, while taking a sharp uphill turn. Our car lost the grip and we slipped back. The car refused to move forward, there was not enough traction between the car and snow to make the turn. We tried gently and then forcefully with but it was of no use. Moreover, with every attempt we were sliding sideways towards the valley and trust me when I say, you don’t want to sit on the window side while you slip towards the dark emptiness. We finally gave up trying, when we were only about few inches from the fall and decided to bivouac the night in the car.

I was sitting in the front seat hugging my mom and both covered with a thin shawl, my dad on the driver seat and my brother in the back. It was an extremely cold night, but somehow I slept through it, may be because of my mother’s warmth. I woke up around four in the morning and my mom and dad were already up or maybe they didn’t sleep the whole night while I was having sweet dreams. When a 4×4 went pass by and it was then we tried to follow its trail. After few tries out car was on the road again and we went ahead to our hotel. Meanwhile the other car was still stuck it the snow just standing there on the roadside cowered in snow.

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Warming ourselves over hot coal

 

Finally, we reached the hotel, made a pan with hot coal with the help of hotel staff for us kids to warn ourselves up while the other hotel staff went with the adults to push the van 4 km all the way to hotel. It took up to two hours to push the van to the hotel.

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My friend and I enjoying in snow

P.S- next day we came to know it snowed about 4ft and we were stuck there for the whole week until the roads were cleared. We made similar trip few years after and was stuck with similar situation but luckily, we made it to hotel this time.

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