With the opening of the 9.2-km-long Atal Tunnel near Manali in Himachal Pradesh, people on either side of the 13,050-ft-high Rohtang Pass are jubilant. Lahaul valley residents are happy because they will no more be incarcerated for six months in a year due to heavy snowfall on the pass. They can now slide through the state-of-the-art Atal Tunnel at will, in emergencies, for picnicking and to get essentials. Their wards studying away can visit home in winter without worrying about the snowfall.
People from other parts of the country are happy because they can now explore the land of red-robed lamas throughout the year. For defence personnel, the tunnel is a strategic milestone and a good riddance from the tortuous annual snow-clearing operations on the Rohtang top. But in this adulation, we shall miss the ecstasy and euphoria of a rendezvous with the beautiful Rohtang Pass! The place now seems to have been made redundant by human expediency and technology.
The mystique and splendour of the mighty Rohtang Pass can never be wiped out from my mind’s canvas. During my service with the state PWD as an assistant engineer, I have journeyed through this route several times and each tryst with Rohtang was nature’s treat. Once, in the month of August, it was hot and humid at Kullu, from where I embarked upon a journey to the Lahaul valley. Nearing the Rohtang Pass, I impulsively deviated towards the Beas Kund, the origin of the river that flows through the Kullu valley, a place I had never visited before.
I was mesmerised to see the Beas Kund, a surging spring of effervescent, azure water. I instinctively drank a handful. The water was freezing cold. Despite a hot sun over my head, this nectar froze my innards, making me numb for a while. I quaffed a hot cup of tea to warm myself.
The return journey after two days was another misadventure. The pass welcomed me with a thick blanket of fog that had reduced visibility. My jeep’s snail-paced descent through twists and turns of a narrow road looked dangerous. It took three hours to cover a distance of 45 km to Manali. But the most memorable sight was a full moon evening, sometime later when we were travelling from the Lahaul valley back home. I was returning from gruelling work visits. The Rohtang Pass has a flat run of about 5 km. When we reached the middle of the pass, the full moon had cast its spell like a magician. We stopped speechless, savouring the ambience.
Away from both flanks of the road, myriad herbal plants and white cone-shaped flowers emitted a subtle, heady fragrance. The moon appeared like a large saucer, so near that I could touch it. I sat still looking at it in a trance.
The surreal beauty of a moonlit Rohtang Pass remains unsurpassed in my memory.
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