Stuck since December, they await Himalayan road's reopening

Stuck since December, they await Himalayan road's reopening

The majestic 13,050-ft pass is the main road link for this town in Lahaul and Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh.

"We are racing against time. We hope to make the Rohtang Pass motorable by Wednesday evening so that locals stuck in Lahaul can move to and fro," A.K. Dikshit, commander of the 38 Task Force of the General Reserve Engineering Force (GREF), told IANS. GREF is a wing of the Border Roads Organisation that maintains the highway.

Located some 300 km from state capital Shimla, it is the only route that links the valley with Manali in Kullu district.

Every year heavy snowfall on the high Himalayan slopes snaps road connectivity for months together.

"Just a two-kilometre stretch is left between Rohtang and Koksar where both men and machinery have been deployed to clear the snow. The rest of the 115-km highway between Manali and Keylong is almost ready for traffic," he added.

Every year after winter, GREF opens the highway by deploying more than 250 labourers. The highway is strategically important too as it further connects to the forward areas of Jammu and Kashmir's Ladakh region along the borders with China and Pakistan.

Officials said the Rohtang Pass is still experiencing snowfall. "The pass again experienced mild snow Sunday evening where the morning and evening temperatures are still around minus five to six degrees Celsius these days," they said.

Jiwan Negi, a government employee posted in Keylong, said: "We have been literally stuck since December when the road connectivity snapped. We are desperately waiting for the road link via Rohtang Pass to be restored."

School teacher Dolma Negi said: "We are fed up of eating peas and potatoes. We are looking to the arrival of other vegetables with the reopening of roads. Moreover, rations are also running short as the reopening of roads takes much time."

At present, a government-run helicopter is the only mode of transportation for the villagers of the Lahaul Valley. This too operates once a week.

Last year, the traffic between Manali-Keylong was made motorable April 14.

Dikshit said in the past winter some areas on the highway saw snow up to 50 feet.

"Some of the areas along Rohtang Pass were under 45-50 feet of snow. Normally, these areas experience 15-20 feet of snow. As per our records, this was the heaviest snowfall in the past 30 years," he said.

The climatic conditions of this town, located at an altitude of 3,156 metres (10,354 feet), are harsh as much of the land falls under a cold desert.

The economy of this district, mainly dominated by the tribals, is highly dependent on the potato and peas business.