To begin with, I don’t think one can “conquer” the passes, the rivers, the mountains, or anything that belongs to the almighty nature, one can only “embrace” it. Just have a look at the photograph below and decide for yourself if conquering is the right word to use.
Stream. Watch in the End (60 feet not meters)
Not so long ago, Naveen Boktapa shared his experience of walking over the Rohtang Top in winters. His story motivated me to do the same, to experience the real life of Lahoul. I have crossed the Rohtang many times on motorcycles and buses but walking over the Rohtang on foot is a different experience altogether. Lahoul remains closed or rather disconnected from the external world for more than 5 months every year. People wait for summers to arrive so that they can go out and see the other part of the world; to study, to work, to earn money, and to cross the Rohtang Pass. Windy conditions prevail at the top because of the tough terrain and walking over it is not a cake walk. Many people have died while walking over the Rohtang yet Lahoulis walk over it because they don’t have any other option. One cannot experience Lahouli life unless one walks over the Rohtang in snow, in bone chilling weather because that’s what they do, every year unfailingly.
Walking with them makes you one of them.
Soon a tunnel will connect the valley to the external world throughout the year but nobody can define “soon” in our country. As a matter of fact, the tunnel was approved in 1985 and they started its construction in 2012. Our governments are still figuring out a cheap way to spend money on the public because helicopter rides to and from Lahoul are not cheap. They are not frequent either because the state government cannot afford helicopter rides. On the contrary, our ministers enjoy free rides all across the state.
Anyhow, If ever you feel like walking over the Rohtang, you must arrive at the Manali bus stand before 5 A.M. in the morning because all the cabs leave before five. People want to cross the top at the earliest because once the sun starts shining, you just cannot keep your eyes open at the top, the snow reflects hundred percent of the sunlight falling on it. Secondly, foggy conditions prevail in the afternoon and fog looks good only in the photographs, not when you have to walk through such conditions.
The cab drivers charge between INR 200-300, depending upon the dropping point. Dropping points change every night because glaciers keep coming down and road blocks often shift dropping points by kilometers. We were supposed to get down six kilometers before the top but a massive rock had blocked our road and that meant walking 2 extra kilometers in hard snow. Winds do not allow you to walk properly and stepping foot at wrong place could be dangerous, free fall on hard snow cannot be explained in words. It hurts, badly. I fell down thrice and almost broke my camera.
I was not expecting much people but the Himalayas are always beyond expectations. Hundreds of people cross over the Rohtang from both sides. I was unable to match their speed and by the time I was at the top, I was the last person in the queue. Believe me these Lahoulis are as fast as a jack rabbit. I was exhausted and overwhelmed to be on the top of the Rohtang Top. All I could see was bright blue sky and snow sheets. I forgot to put on my sunglasses and that almost blinded me. For two kilometers I kept looking back after every fifty steps, to capture everything in my camera and in my eyes but eventually the snow got me. I could not see beyond my foot and sunglasses were of no use now. After lying down on the snow for fifteen minutes I could gather strength to stand up and walk. Now, I could not see anyone in the queue, the queue disappeared but the foot marks guided me.
And then I realized that walking alone liberates you, it makes you aware of your legs, lungs, hands, eyes, senses, and yourself. You get to see different places, people, and different forms of life.
When I was walking at the top, I became the walk itself. The walker remained no more. I was the step, the wind, the snow, and the absolute bliss.
Only the walk remained and when you are the walk, you can only embrace.
Only the Himalayas can do this to you.
I decided to slide down and hard snow helped me to slide down nicely. The sight of cabs waiting for passengers was wonderful because walking in half blind state is not a wise thing to do. They knew that only one passenger was left yet they waited for me, all of them. There were 10 cabs lined up for passengers and all of them were almost full. They could have easily left yet they waited for me because that’s how they work, in collaboration with each other and that includes the passengers too.
I stayed for a day in Keylong, for 8 hours and then headed back towards Manali via Rohtang, on foot.
I embraced Rohtang Pass twice within 24 hours, on foot.
Rest, the photographs will speak louder than words.
Rakshas Dhaank is an interesting name. I could not find any story behind the name because nobody knew anything about it. The road on the right goes into the Spiti Valley.
The pick up point while returning was two kilometers before the dropping point on day one. A glacier had blocked our road and we had to walk two extra kilometers in snow.
A 15 kilometer walk in hard snow, in windy conditions, that’s adventure for me.
The same is everyday life for the people of Lahoul.
P.S. Rohtang Pass is now open for vehicles. Pangi-Kishtwar soon.