Rohtang Pass: Playground of the Winds

Replete with Kanshi Ram’s breakfast, we set off for a slice of the great Rohtang experience. It’s roughly 51 km from Manali and the drive can take about 3 hours since it’s uphill all the way. It may take longer as the road’s narrow and in pretty bad shape making traffic jams a common feature. So if you don’t want to get stuck, start early. The road is maintained by the BRO (Border Road Organization) and it serves as an alternate route to Leh through the Lahaul and Spiti valley on the other side of the Pass.
Joginder, our driver cum guide for the day, was a cheerful, talkative sort of fellow. Soon we were being fed with his version of local customs and legends and any other information that he could think of. The ride was pretty rough from the start itself. The road had quite a few rough patches which were being repaired.

As we jerked and bounced along we noticed little makeshift shops on either side of the road with snow clothes, boots, even skis on hire displayed prominently to catch the attention of passersby. There are rows and rows of these shops right up to Marhi, which is a popular halt short of the Pass. If you didn’t come prepared with snow wear and if you’re not squeamish about wearing stuff that has seen perhaps a zillion-odd human bodies, then go right ahead! These can be hired for Rs 300-500 or so, and yes you have to negotiate real hard. One needs to be wrapped up rather well since it can get real windy up there and there’s snow up in the Pass almost all year through.

Another curious thing about these shops is that they do not have names, just numbers—the logic being that it’s easier to remember a number than a name on your way down. Everyone was so insistent that we’d be cold up on the pass that we decided to go ahead and take the clothes on hire. I rejected most of what the fellow showed me and in the end I had to make a choice from the limited options available since I couldn’t get into most of them—not because of the breadth but height! Just the thought of the number of people that may have squeezed into the stuff I was wearing made my skin itch. I derived consolation from the fact that at least there was a layer of clothes between my skin and the hired ones.

With Joginder’s chatter and his choice of blaring local music for company, we started the climb. The landscape is awesome and it keeps getting starker the higher you climb. The going was slow in places where there was no sign of the original road ever having been there. Just as well we hadn’t taken our car.

We crossed a place which serves as a substitute Snow Point during winters when the Pass is closed to traffic. It is the BRO that declares it open or closed for traffic as it deems fit keeping weather conditions in mind.

Sometime later we crossed the Rahalla Falls, where there’s a quaint bridge or platform of sorts for tourists to enjoy the spray and click pictures. We decided to carry on past it thinking we’d stop on our way back. On and on we climbed through the amazing landscape and from above we could see the trail of vehicles on the meandering road below. We had to stop many times on the way as the narrow road was under repairs and the going got difficult when traffic from both directions had to cross.

A bhuttawalla appeared out of nowhere and made a quick buck from bored travellers. But he wasn’t the only resourceful chap around. Very soon we were approached by furtive men pressing us to buy saffron and other spices that they were carrying in their bags. I wondered about the clandestine way he went about it…is it because perhaps it’s not allowed? Since there’s no human habitation around, one presumes that they probably come here from Manali or from villages in the valley below. Cool idea of taking advantage of the situation to make quick money—have tourist…will sell!

People usually stop at Marhi which is no bigger than a collection of a handful of shops—mainly dhabas and restaurants. A hot cup of tea is what we wanted and as we got off the vehicle, we were almost knocked off our feet—the wind was so strong!

The tea served in glasses was, oh so welcome. The snow-covered peaks seemed pretty close from here and the sight sent a thrill up the spine. This, we thought, was a sneak preview of what lay up there. We couldn’t wait to get there. But not before more jams and bumpy patches. Soon, we crossed the ‘Rani falls” where we stopped on the way down. It’s a pretty place…better than the other one I think.

The van took the final bend and suddenly there it was—Rohtang Pass! And quite an anti-climax at that. For the sight that greeted our expectant eyes were vehicles and people and little shacks and horses and filth. Oh dear… . We could see that the road continued ahead meandering out of sight to the right. A little negotiation later, we found ourselves on horseback making our way up to Snow Point which really wasn’t far from where we were. There were tourists everywhere, in all directions—climbing through the snow, on horseback, or simply walking about. Our horses arrived at the top of the ridge and we got off to be on our own. All the horses were ‘parked’ there till their respective riders returned.

The ridge was abuzz with activity. People were skiing, zooming over the snow on scooters, tobogganing, building snowmen or ‘ganeshas’, and generally having a good time. We could see a portion of what seemed to be a lake in a depression below and began walking towards it. It was tough going since we didn’t have snow boots on. Halfway through, I decided to build a snowman of my own while Mintu posed like a snow model.

The water of the mostly frozen lake was clear and mirrored the peaks that surrounded it. It was a truly awesome moment. Even though there were people all around us, somehow it felt as though we were the only ones there near the lake amidst the brooding presence of the snow-covered peaks all around. It was as if nothing and no one else existed at that point of time. Just those ageless mountains, the pristine atmosphere, the clear lake, the snow, and the rushing playful wind. The breathtaking vistas are to die for.

The road leading to Keylong and further to Ladakh was visible to our left.

Unfortunately, our otherwise reliable camera decided to act weird and it was only later that we realized that all the beautiful pictures we clicked of the lake were marred as the shutter hadn’t opened completely. Reluctantly, we turned back to climb towards the ridge where our horses were waiting for us. But not before stopping to get pictures of the two of us astride two yaks—Jackie and Johnny.

The poor things stood there patiently with their keepers while people got on and off their backs to take pictures for Rs 50 / head! They got good business for their masters that day. And as we took short rests on our way up, we were quite tempted to drink some of the tea that a vendor was offering. Quite a touristy atmosphere up there at Rohtang!

Our mounts—Moti and Chintu—were waiting for us and they were perhaps relieved to be able to head back. There’s a little hut-like structure standing up there which is where Beas Muni is said to have meditated and near it is the origin of the Beas river.

We stopped to click pictures at Rani Falls which I found really pretty. It was a lunch of piping hot rajma and rice at Snow View Dhaba, Marhi—one of the best we’ve had. There’re a whole lot of options to choose from at Marhi. Since there aren’t any dhabas as such up at Rohtang Pass, the ones at Marhi come as a relief to tourists who’re famished after frolicking at the Pass—and as a bonus the much-needed restrooms are available too.

At Marhi, one can do paragliding all the way down to the valley below. They charge Rs 800/- a trip and 1000/- if you want a video recording of your accomplishment, and you’ll have to shell out Rs 3500/ if you want to go all the way to Solang valley. Greenhorns needn’t worry as an experienced guide accompanies you…worth a try. We decided to keep it for another day cos we’re determined to go back there, and soon!

Joginder, our driver cum guide for the day, sped on as we still had to do Solang Valley–a haven for paragliders. The road was pretty bad as there was a lot of repair work going on and as we reached the place in the advancing dusk, I must say I was pretty disappointed.

Maybe we were there at the wrong time of the year. The pictures I’d seen on some blog posts on Solang Valley had been beautiful…nothing like the dry, dirty sight that spread before our eyes. April-May are the ideal months, I guess.

Back at the Cottages, our host met us again and we chatted in the cosy living room near the fireplace. Kanshi Ram, the inhouse cook was true to his word…the mutton curry and dal were yummy.

We finally called it a day — happy and content with the visuals of those silent wind-blown mountains which were already a part of our kaleidoscope of memories.
We had to go back to Delhi the next day and we still needed to visit the famous Hidimba Devi temple and time permitting, do a bit of rafting. Well, we’d cross that bridge when we came to it. But at that point of time, it was sweet dreams…

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