“ An indoor snow experience in Hyderabad. Address: Behind Indira Park, Lower Tankbund, Hyderabad - 500080 „
~Can you remember the first time you saw snow?~
As we sit here in the UK, surrounded by snow and enduring the longest cold-spell in almost 30 years, it would be easy to forget how exciting snow used to be when we were young. It's one of those growing-up things, I suppose; you hit an age at which snow stops meaning fun and days off school and starts representing power cuts, hours of digging out the driveway and treacherous journeys sliding around the roads. I struggle to remember how it must have felt to see snow for the first time - or at least I did until we went to Snow World in Hyderabad, India. There ARE bits of India that get snow - indeed we've been to some of them - but Hyderabad isn't one of them.
A couple of days earlier our driver had asked us - a propos of absolutely nothing we assumed - had we ever seen snow. "Of course" we said - "most years there's a bit, not usually very much and it causes total chaos". We thought no more about it. Then on our third day in the city we'd been to Ramoji Film City (more on that another time), off to the bizarre and barking-mad Sudha Cars Museum and our final stop of the long day was Snow World.
We couldn't get to the bottom of what Snow World would be. With a limited vocabulary from Mohin, the driver, and a giant dose of trust from us, we happily went along with whatever was on the programme for the day though we were a bit wary about Snow World. Hubby dislocated his knee a year earlier and was nervous as hell that it might be an ice rink or a ski slope since he didn't trust his leg to hold up in the event of a fall. What we actually got was something completely surprising which reminded us of all we'd lost since childhood.
~Wary but Open to New Experiences~
We pulled up at the entertainment complex where Snow World seemed to be the main attraction. Mohin went off to get our tickets which - at 250 Rupees each - was the second most expensive attraction of our visit. (It's about £3.50 - but that's the price for everyone, not an inflated tourist price). We still had no idea what we were getting into.
We headed through the door and saw a sign saying we should take a bag and put our shoes in it and swap them for boots. Successive desks were then handing out thick socks, mittens and down coats. The penny started to drop - Snow World was going to be a giant freezer to play in. The sense of excitement amongst the locals was palpable - bright eyes, lots of cheerful chatter and people running around in their funny clothes. Some bare-legged children were horribly under-dressed. Finding two 'pinkies' in amongst the crowd caused another wave of giggles and attentive looks - people came up to ask us if we'd seen real snow and if were we excited. Since we were the only people there who didn't actually know what was going on, we were probably the least excited but the energy and enthusiasm was catching.
After about 15 minutes with repeated recorded messages telling us that Snow World was at our risk and that the management wouldn't accept any responsibility for.....well just about everything... the doors finally opened, the temperature dropped about 15 degrees and we passed into what we jokingly called the 'Air Lock'. The doors closed behind us - more recorded messages telling us it would be minus 5C in the main room and that we could leave at any time if we didn't feel well. I work for a frozen foods company and I've been in the freezers a few times and wouldn't want to linger. I was a bit reticent about willingly spending time in a freezer.
~"I'm going inside; I may be some time"~
All around us people were chatting excitedly about what was to come. I doubt that many had been before but they'd all heard what to expect from people who had been and had told them about it. We didn't know what was fact and what was fantasy as they trotted out tales of snow dancing, volleyball and football. It sounded ludicrous - we smiled indulgently like patronising foreigners whose snow ennui was all too clear. Eventually the final door opened and the crowd burst into Snow World - a giant freezer of ice and snow. Instantly the volume of chatter and screaming went up. Everyone was frolicking and leaping about, picking up handfuls of snow and throwing them at each other - initially with some reserve, they stuck to their friends and family, but with growing confidence everyone was fair game, including all the sari-clad 'aunties'.
Large soft balls were scattered around the freezer and were soon flying through the air. You needed eyes in the back of your head to avoid getting hit by snowballs or footballs. A large group were playing volleyball and despite my urge to scream 'Be careful, you'll fall over' nobody seemed the slightest bit concerned. I guess they've not learned that snow and ice hurt - it's still at the soft and fluffy stage common to children who've not yet hurt themselves. There was a snow climbing wall but we didn't see anyone daft enough to try that and a snowy roundabout.
~It's all downhill from here~
The biggest attraction - literally - was the snow slide. People were grabbing sled-mats (a bit like foam camping mats, bent up at the end with small handles - and climbing up the staircase to the top of the snow ramp. There were two ramps but one was completely deadly with snow stalagmites sticking up ready to do some serious damage. The one ramp that was open was still pretty deadly but nobody seemed to care. Kids, teenagers, adults and even the sari-aunties were grabbing their mats to throw themselves down this treacherous slope. Eventually we gave in to the temptation and headed up to have a go. At the top of the slope it was complete madness and I quite expected the crowd behind me to just shove me down the slope without the mat. I had to sharpen my elbows at one point but before I could think about it, my mat was on the floor, the chap in charge had his foot on the back and I was suddenly flying down. It was shockingly fast and worryingly bumpy and I made the mistake of having my mouth open (possibly something to do with the screaming) and hit a bump at the bottom that sent a jolt through my jaw. Hubby was standing nearby clutching his back and moaning. Clearly we needed a drink!
Tucked behind the volleyball court was a small ice-café serving hot drinks - coffee, tea, and even tomato soup. You could have any of these in a paper cup or - if feeling adventurous - in an ice glass for a few rupees more. There were ice benches and tables to sit on prompting the 'Watch out, you'll get piles if you sit on them' voice in my head. (Is that true or just an urban myth, I'm not sure). The coffees were sweet and milky and very warming.
~Let it Snow, let it snow, let it snow - yeah, whatever~
Halfway through our 45 minute Snow World session it started to snow. Well, that's what it was supposed to be and the people went wild. To be honest, it was more like icy drizzle but if you'd never seen the real thing, I guess it was pretty exciting. When the snow stopped the music started and the disco lights came on. I LOVE to watch Indians dance - there's such a sense of exuberance and we dull Europeans just can't get into the groove like a couple of hundred over-excited Indians punching their arms in the air. We were still being a bit aloof until a ridiculously handsome guy came over and asked my husband if he could dance with me (no kidding - I'm not sure who was more surprised). I made my excuses but he and his friends persevered, grabbing us both by the arms and jumping up and down. Out came the cameras and you could almost hear the post-match commentary 'Look yaar, these are the rhythm-less pinkies we picked up at the Snow World. They just can't dance for toffee, yaar'. Hell, we didn't know anyone, we weren't going to see them again, so we got stuck in.
~Pap Pap Paparazzi~
Soon there were dozens of cameras and people taking photos of these desperately unfunky tourists. But we were a hit - suddenly everyone wanted to throw snow at us, wanted to know where we came from, why we were in Hyderabad and so on. A large snowball caught my husband full in the ear and a second knocked my glasses off. We were starting to think that hiding in the corner had been a lot safer. And then in no time at all, our allotted time was up and we all shuffled disconsolately towards the door and off to the airlock again.
We returned our hired and now slightly soggy clothing, picked up our shoes and went through another round of photographs. "I'm the one who got you in the ear!" chirped up a guy old enough to have known better, grinning broadly at my husband. "We were the ones dancing with you - d'you want to see the pictures?" asked another. It took us about 15 minutes to get away from our impromptu 'photo call' and out in the warmth of the Hyderabadi evening. I can fairly say that whilst Snow World itself was a bit 'lame' we had a really fun time remembering just how exciting snow can be and experiencing 'First Snow' with a lovely bunch of people..