Believe it or not, 8 kilometers from Manali on the way to the Rohtang Pass in a rugged terrain of Himachal Pradesh is a 90-house hamlet that has produced 20 international skiers, including two Olympians.
As Palchan's skiing story became local folklore, the count of international skiers from the nine villages around 5 kilometres jumped to nearly 50, and the number of Olympians to six. Skiing grew vertically both as a sport and a business in the snow-bound region, and then the National Green Tribunal (NGT) order froze all tourism-related activities, including skiing and adventure sport, from Vashist village to the Rohtang Pass; bringing to a sheer drop the winter sport that had given the remote villages a global identity and their hundreds of families a better standard of living.
The small-land holders had taken to skiing like a natural, because of the geographical and climatic advantage. Nearly 500 families earn their bread from it as leisure activity and sport. From booths along the mountain road, they rent out ski gear and blades to tourists and provide them with sports guides. "In 90% of homes at Palchan, skiing has taken someone or the other overseas, for either competition or coaching. We settled into the skiing business gradually. Now our children go out for education, which once used to be the privilege of a few," said international skier Sanotsh Thakur of Palchan. He made it to the 2010 Winter Olympics but federation politics got in the way and he was first dropped and, later, kept with the team as extra player and coach.
In the Palchan panchyat that covers Palchan, Solang, Kothi, Ruwar and Kulang villages, skiing is the main source of livelihood, and if they are into some other tourism-related activity, they came into it from this sport only. "When we were children, our parents had limited resources to buy original ski blades, so we made do with homemade wooden skis. Tourism provided for better equipment for our children," said Khem Raj (42) of Palchan. He has been renting out ski gear and blades for the past 15 years.
The ban on skiing along with all tourism-related businesses at Solang and Rohtang is bad news for even athletes, says skier Hira Lal of Burwa village, who represented India in the 2006 Winter Olympics. "In summer, when there was no snow in the Solang Valley, young skiers would travel to the Rohtang Pass once or twice a week for practice," he said, "and after the NGT order, even that has stopped."
Families in business (at Solang and the Rohtang Pass) 500
Village Athletes Disciplines Olympians
Palchan 20 Skiing Chuni Lal, Nanak Chand
Solang 3 Skiing None
Ruwar 1 Skiing None
Burwa 10 Skiing, snowboarding Hira Lal, Himanshu Thakur and Anchal Thakur (all skiing)
Vashist 4 Skiing and luge Shiva Keshvan (luge)
How it started
In the 1980s, Harnam Singh, who was then director of the Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sport, Manali, spotted local villagers on their homemade skis, and impressed with their innovation, skill, and dedication for the sport, brought them their first actual ski blades. In the late 1990, many families in the nine villages stepped into businesses associated with skiing.