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Swifter, higher, stronger

On the way to Rohtang is a very special village of under 500 people that has produced several champions. We profile India’s nursery for skiers.

india Updated: Jul 25, 2009 00:52 IST
Saurabh Duggal

Palchan

It is beautiful, rugged terrain, this part of Himachal Pradesh, about eight kilometres from Manali on the way to Rohtang. The people here are still untouched for the most, by the crass commercialisation in the nearby resort town.

But what is fascinating about Palchan is this fact: That a hamlet of under 500 people is able to produce national level sportsperson after sportsperson and yet be largely unknown.

Dicky Dolma was 19 when she created history by becoming the youngest-ever woman to scale Mount Everest in 1993. Former winter Olympian Nanak Chand Thakur and Bhagh Chand Thakur are among the six Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) men who will attempt to ski down Everest this September-October.

Chuni Lal, a 1992 Winter Olympian, is the current national ski coach. Thirty-year-old skier Santosh Singh is on the verge of qualifying for the 2010 Winter Olympics. They are all from Palchan.

For the children of Palchan, skiing is a way of life. Then there is this unique statistic: 90 per cent of homes here have someone who has travelled overseas --- for skiing. They either went for competition or for a coaching course.

“Our village houses around a dozen international skiers but as you move out of Manali, hardly anyone has heard of it,” says Nanak Thakur, the first from the village to represent India.

But to people from adjoining areas, Palchan's skiing story is an inspiration. Hira Lal of Burua village made it to the 2006 Winter Olympics. His maternal uncle, Roshan Lal, coached him and two of Lal's children, Himanshu and Aanchal, are in the current Indian team.

But the modern skis they use today are a far cry from those of years gone by, when, to cope with endless winters, villagers would slip on shaved wooden planks with rubber straps over their shoes.

“Being discovered by Harnam Singh, from the Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports in Manali changed our life,” says Lal.

Palchan's economy runs on skiing. Hundreds have opened up ski suits and ski blade booths by the roadside to cater to tourists. Many have done basic ski instructor courses.

“I have been renting out ski suits and ski blades to visitors going to the Rohtang Pass. Both my sons, Yograj and Prakash, have done a skiing course and now help out tourists,” says 60 year-old Bodh Ram, from Ruwar.

Yet, despite all its achievements, the area is neglected. The Himachal government recognised skiing as a sport only last year, making skiers eligible for three per cent of government jobs under the sports quota.

“We have talent but many youngsters stop skiing eventually because it does not help in getting government jobs,” says Bhagh Chand Thakur, who along with Nanak Chand, is one of the two gazetted officers from the village in the ITBP.

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