iconimg Saturday, April 18, 2015

Indo-Asian News Service
Keylong, January 03, 2011
What would you do if you were stuck in a snow- covered place and cut off from the rest of the world for five months? Lament? But this landlocked Himachal Pradesh town makes the most of it by holding celebrations, gambling, knitting, drinking and making merry! Heavy snowfall high up the Himalayan slopes in late December has snapped road connectivity to Keylong and its nearby villages in Lahaul Valley. The road links are likely to resume only in mid-May.

"Summers are for making money and winters for jollification. It's the time when nothing germinates, but social culture blooms," announces Geeta Devi, an octogenarian.

The locals, mainly tribals, are known for producing the most disease-free, pest-resistant seed potato varieties that sell like hot cakes across the country. They also cultivate peas, cauliflower and hops.

"This is the best period when all our festivals and fairs occur. Even the celebrations of a wedding, solemnised in summer, are held in these months," Gyan Negi, a local, said.

At every function, the entire village gathers and celebrates for days together. The consumption of 'arah' - local liquor extracted from barley, and 'challo' or gambling is part of every occasion.

Negi says this is their way of communication without technology. "When phones stop ringing due to long power failures, personal interaction is the best option. The only indoor activity is gambling. One session lasts even for days together."

Lahaul Valley, comprising more than two dozen small, scattered villages, remains marooned with little road connectivity.

"We normally hold community kitchens. The entire womenfolk are huddled together at one place, and stitch clothes and knit woollens for the next season. This is the best period for socialising when snow and bone-chilling winds bring life to a grinding halt," says Bhrigu Devi of Tandi village.

The climate in the district is very harsh as much of the land falls under a cold desert. The mercury drops below minus 20 degrees Celsius.

Currently, the minimum temperature of Keylong, located at an altitude of 10,354 ft on the Manali-Leh National Highway-21, is hovering around minus 9 degrees Celsius.

Ritesh Chauhan, deputy commissioner of Lahaul and Spiti, said recent heavy snowfall led to the closure of the Rohtang Pass (13,050 ft), which is the only route that connects Keylong, the district headquarters of Lahaul and Spiti, with Manali in Kullu district.

In some areas on the Manali-Keylong highway, snow has accumulated up to 20 ft.

Chauhan said road connectivity would be restored in May when the snow starts melting. "Till then, the entire valley would remain cut off from the rest of the world."

However, the government runs once-a-week helicopter service to transport the locals.

The Buddhist-dominated district attracts globetrotters not only for nature-based activities but also to ancient monasteries like Tabo, Dhankar, Gungri, Lidang and Hikkam.