In the summer of 1962, Lahaul was a part of the Punjab state. A young IAS Officer, MS Gill, at the age of 26 served as the Deputy Commissioner of the valley. He lived and experienced Lahaul winter life and later on went on to write a book about it. M.S. Gill later served as the Chief Election Commissioner of India.
He crossed over the Rohtang in 1962. Imagine winters of 1962. Just Imagine!
An Insight into the Lahaul Valley – Winters of 2013
Lahaul can be mainly divided into three main valleys namely Chandra, Bhaga, and ChandraBhaga Valleys. Alternatively these valleys are respectively known as Tinan Valley, Todh-Gahr, and Pattan Valleys. Ghepan Goh (5870 meters) is a peak in the Lahaul Valley across the Chandra River above the Shashan/Sissu Village. Raja Ghepan is believed to be the presiding deity of the Lahaul Valley and since times immemorial, it is believed, he has been guarding the valley from evil forces.
Following is the conversation that happened during this journey at 4 A.M. in the morning;
“Probably, we will reach Marhi today or maybe Beas Nalah. I am not sure, Raja Ghepan takes the final call, we just do our duty”, said the cab driver while driving through the snow walls as high as 20 feet.
“Even today? Raja Ghepan takes the call even today?” said one of the co-passengers.
“What do you know? He used to live at the top of that mountain where from he would keep a watch on the entire valley. He still does, just that we are corrupt to the core that we can’t see him”, said the brave cab driver, “Or how else do you think a 68 year old man crossed the pass yesterday?”
You read it right; a 68 year old man crossed the Rohtang Pass on April 4, on foot. Nobody asked questions anymore. The cab driver knew that he had won the argument.
As soon as the summers set in the valley, Lahaulis’ start moving in and out of the Valley on foot. Cabbies make brave efforts to take people to the nearest clear point on the road.
We had to get down at Rahla Falls; we couldn’t even reach Beas Nalah, at least 15 KM before the top. There was a huge snow obstruction on the road. The road was fucked blocked. In our cab, there were 7 Zanskaris’, two guys from Mandi, and rest of them were the Lahauli tribes.
Zanskaris’ were going home, Mandi guys were going back to re-join their duties, for Lahauli’s it was business as usual. For me it was a matter of happiness.
The journey started at 5 in the morning. The weather was clear and because we were expected to get down at Marhi, which we couldn’t, the overall mood was grim. However, people falling on the frozen road brought smiles on faces except for those who took the fall.
Falling on frozen snow hurts badly. On top of that bone-chilling winds make matters worse. Rohtang is a bloody windy pass.
The Zanskaris’ were exceptionally fast. There were 3 ladies and four men. Those ladies were wearing simple ‘salwar-kameez’ and walking briskly. They were miles ahead of all the other people in the group. And I was the last one, obviously.
Upon inquiring I got to know that they were going to Zanskar over the Shingo La. They were to camp at Phuktal and Shingo La. It was a three-day trip for them. No ice-axes, no ropes, no hi-fi mountaineering gear, just faith and courage.
Last time, I crossed over the Rohtang in 2012 on April 18. Back then, I underestimated the Rohtang Pass and made a fool of myself. I crossed over the Rohtang twice in 24 hours and that gave me a feeling of awesomeness (and unlimited fatigue too). This year, I committed the blunder of even thinking of crossing over in the very first week of April.
This year, I overestimated myself and ended up being a fool again. While all the people took 4-5 hours to reach Koksar from Rahla Falls, I took exactly 7 hours and 25 minutes. On the Lahaul side near Gramphoo, nothing was visible but snow all around. Even River Chandra was hiding beneath thick layers of absolute-white snow.
Usually, cabbies drop people moving out of the valley at Koksar and wait for those who are moving in. However, I found no-one waiting for me at Koksar because I had missed the bus. All the way down from Rohtang top to Koksar, limping and laughing, I was telling myself that I would find a hotel or at least warm water.
Alas, that didn’t happen. Even the police check posts hadn’t been set up. Hotel and warm water was out of question. But as I have said and observed, the Himalayas never fail you. There was this guy who appeared out of nowhere and asked me to come along. On my way to Keylong, I kept looking at the bluish waters of Chandra. I wanted to get down but my frozen feet didn’t pay any heed to my thoughts.
The water was blue, even prettier than the blue shades of Pangong Tso. Even the icicles were frozen blue. Touch them and your hand might turn blue.
Keylong was deserted and the mountain across River Bhaga was all white. The Kardang Monastery was hidden beneath the thick layers of grayish snow. I had planned to visit the monastery but I was in no condition to even lift my feet, let alone walking in the snow. I had also planned to roam around in the Pattan Valley but executing plans to perfection is not always possible.
Last year I stayed in the PWD Guest House, which couldn’t be done this year because it was too early. Fortunately, one of my friends Dr. Yongde (posted at Darcha) made my stay arrangements at his friend’s place. For the first time in my life, I experienced winters of Lahaul, well almost.
Caged inside the room for two days, doing nothing but sleeping and eating. With helicopters busy ferrying the ministers of the state, life in the valley is real tough. Patients die because of unavailability of any transportation medium out of the state. Even these doctors can’t do anything and many times they have to see a patient die just because of lack of transportation facility.
A 68 year old man from the valley crossed over the Rohtang Pass a day before I did. He was to be transferred to a hospital in Manali but unavailability of helicopter forced him to cross on foot.
This year the state government hired the Pawan Hans Choppers under a contract of 40 Flying Hours. I wonder how many flying hours will actually be given to the poor Lahaulis’.
I spent one day at the Rawaling Village, home-village of Dr. Yongde. The mountains were still laden with snow, which is quite an unusual site in the valley. Unexpected snowfall in the valley disturbed agricultural activities.
After enjoying my stay in the valley for three days, I was now all set to leave the valley, mentally as well as physically. With a promise [to myself] of visiting the valley again in 2014, I bid goodbye to Dr. Yongde and his family. Vehicles from Udaipur leave at 2 A.M. in the morning whereas Keylong vehicles start at 3-3:30 A.M. I boarded the cab at 4 in the morning from Dr. Yongde’s place.
It started snowing and it was highly likely that the rescue guys wouldn’t let us through. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and we successfully made our way across the Rohtang Pass. Once again, I successfully managed to finish last.
With a limping leg and an empty stomach, I clocked 4 hours and 45 minutes. The BRO team had successfully dissected Rahni Nallah within 36 Hours. Most of the laborers working with BRO were from Bihar.
I will surely write a separate post about the ‘Power of Bihar’ in the Himalayas.
In December 2012, a Kendriya Vidyalya (KV) teacher attempted to cross over the Rohtang. His attempt almost got him killed. He started the climb with 4-5 other guys but all of them managed to walk together and this poor chap couldn’t keep up.
Because they were crossing the pass after 12 Noon, it was surely going to backfire, and it did. The teacher could not be found until late night. The group was staying at the Marhi Rescue Post because it snowed badly that evening. They had beleievd that their friend was dead. Probably, they even informed his family.
Early morning when they were about to leave, they saw someone moving on the road. To everyone’s surprise it was the lost and supposedly dead teacher resurrected. Rohtang on a December night is fierce and deadly, no matter how equipped you are.
How did he survive?
P.S. Kardang (Monastery) was the capital of the Lahaul Valley in ancient times. A British lady lived here for more than 15 years learning the teachings of Buddhism. I would like to spend a couple of days at Kardang. Just a matter of 8 months now.