After remaining blocked for over five months, Manali-Rohtang Pass-Keylong highway has finally opened for vehicular movement as Border Roads Organization (BRO) on Sunday morning cleared snow from north face of Rohtang at 4am.
Working under pressure to connect Lahaul valley by road before election on May 19, BRO jawans had to work over 12 hours a day under extreme weather conditions. This season the entire area has received extremely heavy snow, more than last many years. Earlier it was assumed that road will not open before May 25 as BRO on Friday had to cut through 20 to 30ft high mountains of snow in 5km stretch. Last year traffic on Manali-Keylong highway was resumed on April 5 while it opened on April 28 in 2017.
A BRO official said Rohtang pass and nearby areas are still getting snow, which largely affected their work this season. “The Manali-Keylong road was opened at 4am today. We worked all night to achieve this deadline as people of Lahaul wanted to go to cast poll. We had to search the road under 10 to 50ft deep snow. A large number of avalanches have hit the highway. Our primary goal was to connect Lahaul valley and provide relief to the residents. Now we shall focus on clearing snow from Keylong-Sarchu stretch. Our machines and jawans are advancing towards 16,050ft high Baralacha pass as well,” he said.
“BRO officials had informed on Saturday morning that their two teams advancing towards 13,050ft high Rohtang from Manali and Lahaul sides will meet between Rohtang and Koksar tonight at any cost. Today morning at 4am they connected Manali with Lahaul. Some vehicles went to Lahaul via Rohtang pass on Sunday,” Manali sub-divisional magistrate Ashwani Kumar said.
Ashwani added that road will not be opened for general traffic movement for few more days. “People of Lahaul going to vote would be sent on priority. People should take extra precautions while driving on ice. Opening of the road has come as a big relief for Lahaul residents. Tourists were also waiting to hear this news. Once the highway is widened and adequate parking is made at Rohtang after clearing snow, tourists will also be allowed. Mobile toilets, dustbins and other arrangements will also be made at Rohtang. But it will take some days,” he said.
While a team of BRO will focus on clearing snow from Baralacha and Sarchu areas along Manali-Leh axis, another team will work on improving the surface condition of Manali-Keylong highway. At some places where BRO machines cut through 30 to 50ft high walls of snow, the vehicles appear to be crossing through a snow gallery. BRO will also widen such stretches so as to accommodate two vehicles at a time.
Heavy winter snowfall cuts off Lahaul valley from rest of the state every year. BRO’s snow clearance operations take four to five months to reconnect the valley with Manali. After a long wait of five months, the residents can now move freely anywhere in the world. Otherwise they were dependent on helicopter services for emergency. Under-construction Rohtang tunnel remained closed for the residents. Now that Himachal will go poll on May 19, people of Lahaul were being allowed to cross the tunnel phase-wise but not all were getting the chance.
Tourists in Manali are still being allowed to go till Marhi. Rohtang is expected to open for tourists in first week of June. Till then tourists can enjoy snow at Marhi and Beas nullah.