With Rohtang pass officially opened for vehicular traffic on Tuesday after a gap of five months, 52 vehicles carrying 293 people crossed over to Lahaul valley from Kullu. All the passengers were farmers who wanted to reach home for farming activities.
With the first batch of vehicles entering the valley, Lahaul, which was cut off from rest of the country since mid-November, has reconnected by road. Hundreds of farmers who have stuck in Kullu and other parts of the state have been permitted to enter Lahaul-Spiti district where sowing season has started. Before this, 98 farmers had entered the valley on Saturday after walking for 3km across the Rohtang as snow clearing work on this stretch was continuing.
The people are undergoing medical check-up before and after traversing Rohtang pass. Five farmers, who were found medically unfit, were sent back to Kullu on Saturday. The labourers and non-residents are not being allowed to enter the valley. The vehicles from Kullu were allowed to go till Rohtang pass from where passengers were shifted to other vehicles that came from Lahaul.
The Young Drukpa Association (YDA) of Lahaul is sanitizing all the vehicles at Koksar that are bringing passengers from Rohtang pass. The association president Sonam Jangpo said they don’t want to take any risk. “Kullu is safe zone with no Covid-19 case so far. Still, we can’t take it lightly. All the vehicles entering the valley with passengers from Kullu are being sanitized at Koksar, the first village of the valley.”
According to officials, an incident of the avalanche was reported between Rahni nullah and Marhi on Tuesday and it took over one hour to clear the debris. The freshly opened road with high walls of snow on both sides is still dangerous for vehicular movement. The Border Roads Organization (BRO) has stationed its machinery at Rohtang to deal with any situation. BRO has to keep clearing snow from the highway as avalanches and blizzards often block the highway.
Manali SDM Raman Gharsangi said 293 people with help of 52 vehicles were sent to Lahaul. “All of them had to undergo medical examination. They were allowed to continue journey towards Rohtang only after ensuring that each one of them was medically fit,” he said.
This is for the first time that hoteliers and tourists are not happy over the opening of the Rohtang pass, the top tourist destination of Himachal Pradesh. Lakhs of tourists used to throng Kullu-Manali only to see snow at Rohtang pass in the summer months. With all the hotels being closed, road, rail and air transportation coming to complete standstill in the wake of Covid-19, the tourists will not visit this beautiful destination for the first time. 10 to 20 feet of snow is accumulated on Rohtang pass which is expected to last till June end.
Updated on April 26, 2020
Rohtang pass opens, vehicular movement to be allowed soon
The 13,050ft high Rohtang pass, the gateway to Lahaul valley and popular tourist destination, has been declared opened as Border Roads Organization (BRO) cleared snow from the pass on Saturday. However, the pass is expected to open for vehicular movement on Tuesday as the road was still unsafe for civilian movement.
The BRO officials claimed that its jawans equipped with snow cutting machines were moving towards Rohtang from Manali and Lahaul sides and both the teams have met at the pass. According to sources, the snow from Manali-Rohtang-Keylong stretch has been removed but the vehicular movement will be allowed only after authorities declare the road fit for traffic.
Unlike previous years when official snow clearance operations on Manali-Leh highway used to start in March, BRO had for the first time started this operation on February 20, almost a month in advance. However, inclement weather conditions did not allow it to open Rohtang early as was planned by officials. In 2018, Rohtang pass was opened on April 5. It was opened on May 18 last year when the region had experienced very heavy snowfall.
Opening of Rohtang pass has brought both cheers and challenges to both residents and administration. The Lahaul has no Covid-19 patient or suspect so far as the entire valley, which was cut off from rest of the nation since mid November, was naturally quarantined. Now that road to the valley is open, the administration will have to put extra effort to keep the coronavirus out of the valley. However, opening of the road will facilitate in transportation of the essential supplies and medical emergencies.
38 Border Road Task Force (38 BRTF) commander Col Uma Shankar said Rohtang pass has been opened. “Our jawans continued working while following social distancing and other safety protocols. We faced blizzards, snowfall and extreme cold temperature. The avalanches at Rahni nullah, Rahlafall and Beas nullah posed challenges before us and affected the progress. Facing all challenges, the road is now open,” he said.
The Lahaul valley had cut off from rest of the world since mid November. BRO kept clearing snow till December 12 but only a few vehicles could traverse the dangerous pass. According to officials, outsiders including labourers will not be allowed to enter the valley. The tribals living in Kullu and other parts will be allowed to use the road after undergoing medical examination before and after crossing Rohtang pass.
Two teams of BRO are now concentrating on opening of the Keylong-Sarchu stretch of Manali-Leh highway. If weather remains favourable, the Manali-Leh highway can be opened to traffic by mid-May.
Director General Border Roads (DGBR) Lt Gen Harpal Singh said Rohtang pass has opened three weeks in advance compared to last year. “Local minister Dr Ram Lal Markanda and food and civil supplies secretary had approached me on April 11 asking to expedite the snow clearance to facilitate return of farmers to the valley and movement of essential supplies and relief material in wake of Covid-19. Now this road will help Centre and Himachal government to bring much needed relief material and medical supplies for local population,” he said.