At Rohtang Pass, Himanchal Pradesh, India

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women walking under snow at rohtang pass, india
Women who sell tea and snacks at the Rohtang Pass return to their homes

Not many options were available to us at the taxi stand. Manali is a small town, every taxi driver appeared to have known the other fairly well. So the bargaining ended pretty quickly. The journey started with an unexpected warning from our driver. The road ahead, he said in a calm voice, is not so smooth.

man and horse in snow rohtang pass himachal pradesh india
Near the Pass: A man leads horses down to Manali

Five kilometers passed in a jiffy. Songs from Hindi movies were blaring from the taxi’s CD player. The driver spoke again. It would be very cold up there, he said. Our clothes were not enough to keep us warm there, he explained. “There’s a shop a few kilometers ahead,” he said. “They rent jackets, trousers and boots.” Was he telling this because he had some sort of understanding with the renter for commission or was he genuinely interested in making us warm at the pass. Either way it wasn’t a big deal. I mean renting jackets.

dinesh pavan gokul rohtang pass himachal pradesh india
Dinesh, Pavan & Gokul

The shop had all the clothes that were needed for a snowy place: oversized jackets, woolen caps, boots and canes. A couple of hundred rupees and you could pick up a set of those things for the journey. Later at the pass- Rohtang La– we thanked the driver. It would have been impossible for us to get out of the taxi and go around the pass and play with snow without those clothes. Rjesh was on slippers and Gokul on t-shirt. Pavan had bought a jacket the day before but that wasn’t warm enough.

The road we traveled went all the way to Leh and Laddakh region of Indian controlled Kashmir. In fact this highway is considered the safe alternative to reach those areas in the event of war with Pakistan. This road is far from India’s border with Pakistan thus usable even if the other one, near to the border, came  under attack.

rajesh snow stick
Caneman: These sticks, on hire, are for those who think they might lose control while walking over the snow. Rajesh holds one of them.

But this is not an all weather road. Heavy snow blocks the highway most of the year. When snow melts it leaves the road with fractures all over. Vehicles have to struggle to get through such points. The strategic importance and vulnerability forced the Indian authorities to dig a tunnel below the Pass connecting Lahaul-Spiti valley and, via that, Leh. Indian Congress party president Sonia Gandhi went to Manali last month to lay foundation stone for the 8.8 km tunnel.

an indian family rohtang pass himachal pradesh india
An indian family at the Pass.

One thing that I liked about the pass is its accessibility. The road makes it easy for tourists to reach the pass and enjoy the snowfall. It’s proximity to Manali is also a reason for so many Indian and international tourists to visit the place. Many Indians who have seen the snow only on TV can actually feel it at the pass which is just about three hours drive from Manali. We met with traffic jams at several points on the road while returning in the afternoon.

PS: The Pass itself is not so special, certainly not to me who has crossed Kang La and Gosaikunda– both are higher than Rohtang La (3978m), and Kang La is far more difficult to climb up and climb down.

Dinesh Wagle and Gokul Dahal eating roasted corn on their way back to Manali from Rohtang Pass, Himachal Pradesh, India
Dinesh & Gokul found roasted corn on their way back to Manali. Look at the caravn up there! Cars get stuck in a jam.

Previous post: A trip to Manali, India.