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Tuesday's snowfall in Himachal Pradesh, only the second this season and probably the heaviest in several years, may have played havoc with campaign schedules and left some important leaders stranded across the state, but as always it brought cheer to Himachalis like nothing but only a good snowfall can.
"This will not only recharge our water resources, it will prove to be a boon for apple growers -- in fact, to the entire horticulture industry here," a scholarly-looking man addressed as 'Doctorsaab' by everyone in a car full of Bharatiya Janata Party workers told me. "Do you know in apple orchards snow is referred to as manure?"
Snow? Manure?? I called up S P Bhardwaj, Assistant Director of the University Research Centre, Y S Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry. This is what he told me: "The apple crop needs 900 to 1800 chilling hours. Basically 900-1800 hours of temperature below seven degree celsius. This snowfall will make sure the temperatures stay below that level for long enough."
Then to put things in perspective he added, "There is 100,000 hectare of land under apple cultivation in Himachal and the industry contributes around Rs 700 crore [seven billion] directly to the country's economy and Rs 5,000 crore [50 billion] indirectly."
No wonder then on Tuesday morning, on the Mall, Shimla's main commercial street, complete strangers nodded, smiled. Some even greeted me with a loud "happy snowfall!"
A good snowfall also means a reiteration of Shimla's position as one of northern India's premier tourist destinations -- a status it is in danger of losing due to declining snowfalls. While just a decade ago Shimla used to see its first snowfall by Christmas, now it occurs in mid-January or even later.
If the first fall occurs in December, the snow stays around longer because the days then are smaller. The same is not true about snow falls in February or March, when the days are longer, which means more time for the snow to melt and merge with small nallahs and streams and roll down the hills to feed the planes.
Tuesday's snowfall may have come late, but better late than never. It still managed to bring a swarm of tourists out on the Mall and the Ridge. Most of them were ill-dressed for the occasion -- women in pencil-heels and men in formal leather shoes bought probably for their marriage. But you could see they were enjoying themselves.
Rakesh Kapoor, who runs a travel business on the Mall, was beaming as his men cleared the way to his tiny shop through the snow.
"Aaj to Shimla national news mein pakka ayega," he yelled out to a friend passing by. There you are.
Shimla is a small town. A population of around 250,000. Most of its restaurants are concentrated around the Ridge and the Mall. Political parties do not have many options when it comes to organising press conferences.
When I got a call from the BJP coordinator about a press conference of Akali Dal leader and Union minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa at 'Ashiana', I rushed there only to find Congress leader Anand Sharma holding forth on the misdeeds of Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.
I must have got the name of the restaurant wrong! I cursed myself. I sat down, helped myself to a pineapple pastry and even asked Sharma a question to justify my presence. After the press conference, as Sharma and his entourage was leaving, and I was trying to call the BJP coordinator to apologise, I saw Dhindsa coming in with a group of burly sardars. He was followed by the BJP media coordinator.
The coordinator headed straight for me and thanked me for coming. In no time another conference was on and Dhindsa was in full flow attacking his bete noire Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh. I left midway. Maybe I should have stayed longer. Another pastry would not have hurt.
In Shimla, they say, everybody knows everyone else. I was left in no doubt about this as I sipped my tea and munched on paneer pakoras in the Alfa restaurant near Scandal Point.
I did not see a single customer making to his table without stop at least three times to exchange pleasantries with 'friends.' In Mumbai, where I live and work, this kind of popularity is reserved only for the netas.
But then, that's how Shimla is. In temperatures as low as 1 or 1.5 centigrade, I am sure everyone can do with some warmth. So here's wishing you all a happy snowfall!
Pankaj Upadhyaya's blog:
Back home in Shimla