The Rohtang Pass via Manali

The Rohtang Pass Via Manali- Published in the Deccan Herald (Sunday Herald) on the 27th of July 2008

The Rohtang Pass via Manali.

Rohtang literally means ‘pile of corpses’.
But more of that later, for you have to first reach Manali to get to Rohtang.
Manali conjures up exotic locales, fields of flowers and a little snow thrown in. One is not exactly sure, where exactly one will find snow in the north, especially if one is from the south!
Manali is at a distance of 56 kms from Kulu and is accessible only by road .You can either drive in from Delhi or Chandigarh or fly into Kulu from Delhi and hire a cab or take a bus. The drive to Manali will take you around three hours.
Manali derives its name from Manu, the sage who is identified with the beginning of creation. It is believed that after the deluge, the boat that carried the seven sages and the Vedas rested atop a hill where God instructed Manu to begin creating a new world. As the waters receded they left behind a gentle meandering river which was named Manalsu, and on its bank stands Manali. Today Manalsu river is a ubiquitous presence in every part of Manali. So are the numerous folklores linking Manali to Hindu mythology and the snow capped mountains visible in the not so distant horizon? Manali town does not boast of many tourist attractions. Its USP lies in its proximity to other tourist spots like the Solang valley, the Manikarnika hot springs, the Vashisht hot springs and most attractive of all the Rohtang Pass.
Solang is a beautiful valley, nestled near an army station. It is where many portions of Hrithik Rohan’s Kkrish were picturised. Solang offers excellent opportunities for trekking, river rafting and paragliding. Sadly, these are the very reasons why Solang is so crowded and its innate beauty so eclipsed.
Moving on, one can visit the Manikarnika hot springs which takes up almost an entire day. It is a larger version of the Vasisht Springs in Manali town. Vasisht springs are found at the spot where Sage Vasisht of the Ramayan is said to have been worshipped by Lord Rama. The hot Sulphur Springs at Vasisht Springs and Manikarn make you realize the paradoxes and ironies of nature. While on the one side there is the cold sharp mountain wind and breeze, on the other, right there is the hot water gushing out of the ground.
Manali town has a small but well stocked Mall. Thankfully, vehicular traffic has been banned in Mall. Even then, Manali town is full of traffic jams thanks to the very narrow roads. It is not an unusual sight to watch a mile long line of taxis and buses, with the drivers stoically cheerful, passing the time of the day. You can pick up some good bargains, in the mall, especially with the Kashmiri traders. Don’t miss this very quaint shop in one of the by lanes that stocks winter and woollen wear that is typically Himachali. This is a must see, for the shop not only show cases scarves, mufflers, Himachali caps, socks, etc. but is also reflects the typical Himachal ethos of the leisurely mountain folk.
The highpoint of Manali, literally and figuratively, is undoubtedly a visit to the Rohtang Pass.
The Rohtang Pass is at a distance of 56 kms. from Manali, at a height of 13,800 ft. The road is narrow, winding, treacherous, stark and very beautiful. A trip to the Pass is not for the faint hearted. The 56 km. stretch takes a little over two hours, if you are lucky enough not to be caught in a jam. If you are caught in a jam not only do you run the risk of spending hours on the mountain road, but you also have your courage sorely tested. While on the one side are these lofty snow covered glacier like mountains, and on the other is a sheer drop. Accidents do happen and the odd car does topple down, so it is very important to pray for a good driver. Pray, because in Manali, in the tourist season, the taxis are subject to the queue system and it is not possible to choose. But by and large, the drivers are very careful.
As you begin the ascent from Manali, there are shops leasing out snow gear, right from gumboots to parka full length coats, gloves and even skis. Initially you may feel that you could manage without these, but you find yourself getting fitted out anyway, if only to indulge your driver. However, when you reach the top you realize the wisdom of having equipped yourself with the snow gear. Onward march then, till you come to Marhi.
Marhi a small settlement where there are some dhabas which serve you anything from Gobi Manchurian to noodles, idli and sambar. You may not find dal roti and sabji though! This is a good place to finish your toilet and get into your snow gear. The toilets in Marhi are tests of human endurance. Open to the sky, but certainly covered on the four sides, some of them even have bolts!
From Marhi you drive on passing Beas Naalah to begin the more daunting part of the drive. From here inhabitation is sparse and the ascent starts becoming steeper. There is a certain stark beauty of this winding road, where you have the ice covered mountains on the one side and the very sheer drop on the other. Keep your prayer beads at hand, as on coming traffic of those returning from the Rohtang Pass, require you to move as much to the left and therefore as close to the sheer drop as possible. Once your nerves have settled then you can settle down too and enjoy this beauty. Suddenly, right before you looms a quagmire of vehicles. You have reached the Snow Point of the Rohtang Pass. When you get down the filth, dirt and disorganization hits you. There are people everywhere, offering snow sled rides that tread on your foot, yaks that veer close to you and wrappers and tetra pack cartons that lie strewn about. The first glimpse of Snow Point is not nice. People of urbane sensibilities almost turn back till the driver informs them that ahead away from all this chaos, there are snatches of empty spaces where you can actually stand peacefully and imbibe the rolling snow covered mountains all around you.
And you do find these spots that the others have overlooked. Enjoy the wide expanse of snow and mountains around you, the stillness and the peace. Be sure to spare a thought for our brave jawans keeping a lonely vigil at the border far up north on the road by which you came up.
If you suddenly find yourself panting so much even when you are not doing any arduous climbing, then you are probably experiencing some altitude issues. But any sickness is essentially marginal and easily handled. Tourists are normally advised to start back by one o’clock as the region experiences sudden storms and snowfall thereafter. The descent is as beautiful, often tinged with a sense of relief! But you do find yourself saying, ‘if it is Manali, it must be Rohtang’.
Fact File:
Getting there: By air to Kulu from Delhi.
By road from Chandigarh.
Accommodation: Log Cabins courtesy Himachal Tourism Development Board, other hotels and resorts at Manali
Best season: March to Mid June.

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