There was snow accumulated on both sides of the road, and it only kept increasing. I was able to see snow covered mountains, they looked beautiful and made me excited about reaching Lakkadmandi. On the route, I met a lot of people from Haryana, Punjab and Delhi. Seeing me carry a camera, one group of people asked me to click their pictures.
There were shortcuts on the route, which had snow all over, made me feel like I was trekking, though only for a few mins.
I walked, climbed, hiked and finally, reached Lakkadmandi at around 5:30 PM. How beautiful that place look with snow all around. As soon as I reached there, I started searching for some place to put my tent. As I conveyed this idea to one of the locals, I was soon met with reality. I found out that bears were frequent visitors of this place at night. The nearby jungle was home to many bears and it was all but common for them to steal food from the shops in that area. So naturally, the locals didn't stray out at night. And I had no intention of encountering a bear as well.
However, there was this one local shop owner (Manoj) with whom I had started talking to while looking for a place to spend the night. And during this while, he asked a lot about me, where I was from, why I was traveling alone, why I wasn't willing to spend a mere Rs 600 for a comfortable room. I guess he really understood where I was coming from and he finally asked me to stay with them in the Forest Guest House room. Obviously, I didn't say no.
After spending an hour or two roaming in that area, talking to people there, I went to Manoj's restaurant (1st floor of his shop). There I met Manoj's brother (Anil), his uncle and two siblings. Uncle was the chef at the restaurant and Anil and Manoj took care of the whole business. Both siblings were still in school but would help out occasionally in the family business.
While the rest were wrapping up for the day, Anil and I started talking and soon our small talk turned into a conversation about life that lasted for 2 hours. He told me about the time it had snowed heavily in Lakkadmandi and he was trapped alone in his shop for over a month. This happened in February of 2008, and he recalled he had a Nokia 1110 phone back then (the one with the inbuilt torch) that lasted him about a week till the battery ran out. Since he was in the middle of a snowstorm, his days were spent absolutely without electricity. He spent that time in the same clothes. His shop wasn't as well built back then. It was all but a small hut 8 years ago. Another 2 months later, his father passed away. He remembered making the decision of turning their small shop into a real business with his brother. Thinking about those hard times and telling me about his journey, he finally seemed happy and content with life.
Listening to him describe his ups and downs made me realize that unexpected moments like these were a huge part of why I travel. These people who have experienced the real hardships in life develop a perspective I frankly rarely find in people back home. And to listen about people braving through the bad things life throws at them makes trips like these worth it.
By the time food was ready, I got to know that they were going to serve me chicken and rice for dinner. I was full to the point that I was literally about to burst. I remember they said you better eat like it's your own home because when we come to your house we are not going to hold back.
After dinner, we decided to go to the room to sleep. While walking towards the room, seeing the rain outside, I felt funny because about 4 hours ago I was worried about the rain and sleeping in a tent and now I was going to sleep in a heated room (yes, they had a heater in there). When everyone was there in the room, we again started talking and this time we talked about everything under the sun - discussing the effects of demonetization to kind of work I did in office. I also showed them the pictures of the trips I had all over India. As soon as we were all set to sleep, we heard the sound of a hailstorm. It went on all night.