Manali Standoff

Todays hindi expression : chakka jam . A sit down protest – with cars. Manali has come to a near stand still as the National Green Tribunal actually almost stod it’s ground on the issue of banning diesel traffic up to the Rohtang La pass. In the end the long forewarned decision was transformed in to a cap on the total number of vehicles , and a heavy tax on diesel vehicles. Little love was won by this compromise.

The stakeholders in the conflict , with or without active advocates :

* the Rohtang La biotope , crossed by the “Great White Snake ” : Thousands of  four wheel drive cars , leaving a trail ..less than white behind them . Pristine white snow in beginning of the season turns more and more in to something resembling the floor of a oil pit in a auto shop.

* the Manali taxi drivers , who rightly remarks that paying five thousand rupees won’t make the vehicle less of a burden for the environment.

* the day tourists , many of whom have the chance of ” touching the snow” at the Rohtang as a key driving factor for coming to Manali . And now , when even the weather gods have been conspiring against them , found out yesterday that they can’t even come up to the snow line : the road always closes on Tuesdays so that Border Roads can do some effective road work. Right now the road past Marhi at 3000 meters is basically a one lane tunnel in the snow – see the photo in the sticky above.

* the Lahaulis on the other side of the pass , waiting for the first fresh veggies and provisions in months since the road closed for the winter .

* the military , who hardly needs any advocates : the Manali-Leh road probably shouldn’t even exist without the backdrop of the Aksai Chin war and the tension between India and Pakistan. At least not as early as as in 80’s.

Short term there are only two winners at the moment : the Lahaulis have a chance of seeing the road not being one of the slowest roads in India ( often five hours or more for the fifty-ish klicks from Manali to Rohtang top) in peak season. The other winners are the tourists who choose to stay and take the tour buses … until the taxi drivers block them as well.

Long term the needs of the Army and locals will be solved by the Rohtang tunnel , but that’s years off still. The tunnel won’t make any real dent in the heavy traffic over the actual pass though , except in eliminating the heavy traffic nowadays the first week(s) after the spring opening.

The mid term solution is more people in less vehicles , i.e. ( clean , CNG ) buses. Like the HRTC buses plying the full Manali-Leh road these need to be custom made : bigger than the minibuses , but still with short enough wheelbase to navigate the hairpin curves.

The really bold move here would be going for a cable car ( rope way , as the Indians put it) . This would the litterally long term solution , since it would make Rohtang La a round the year safe attraction ,like the Jade Dragon.

And yes , there is a common denominator here : the taxi drivers will suffer horribly. Sometimes everyone can’t win . Maybe this conflict will be a preparation for Delhiites in what must come at home as well : Delhi has one of the best Metros in the world – and this isn’t enough. It also has some of the foulest air in India ( and Asia , worse than Beijing ) , and this won’t change until the traffic situation changes drastically there as well.

A new life at “The Plain of Corpses”, road partially open

Several papers carry the story today of a Nepali couple who got a ride from Manali , started to walk across … and had to stop at the Rothang La when the woman went in to labor. Locals helped Vishnu Maya in delivering her baby , and the family later found a temporary refuge in the Koksar rescue post.

According to the same news stories the pas was opened for light traffic hours later. BRO officials quoted in a PTI story talks of the road being “open for inspection ” , and a full opening within ten days.

The official road status marker on the web will continue to show “closed” until the road is fit for bus traffic, as usual.

Manali-Leh : Rothang cleared

The Tribune reports that the first first supplies and skor-jangspas have been sent in , and that the road should be fully open by the end of next week :

Dharamsala, May 3
Rohtang Pass will be cleared of snow by tomorrow evening. However, the normal traffic will be allowed by Thursday next week.

Naresh Mittal, superintendent engineer of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), who is in charge of the 38-BRTF at Manali, said the Keylong-Leh road had already been cleared of snow and access to the landlocked snowbound Lahaul valley from Leh had been permitted for the tourists.

However, only a small portion remained to be cut through major glaciers on way to Rohtang Pass from Manali. He said the repair work was going on the high-altitude road and emergency supply of gas, food grains and other essential commodities would be allowed from Saturday morning.”

“Plain of corpses” once more open (2005)

Manali-Leh road opened
Kuldeep Chauhan
Tribune News Service

Rohtang, June 4
The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) today threw open the 465-km Manali-Leh highway for one-way movement for the civic and army traffic, linking the land-locked Lahaul valley to rest of the country after a gap of around six months.

The opening of the Rohtang pass has come as a big relief for the people of Lahaul valley. Onions and tomatoes which were sold at Rs 40 and Rs 70 per kg till yesterday now are available for Rs 15 and Rs 20, respectively, said Mr Ajey Kumar, a resident of Keylong. “The essential commodities were also in short supply as the BRO had declared May 29 as the deadline. The prices of other items have also come down as the supplies have been resumed now,” he informed.

The Commander, BRO, Mr KB Raju, who visited the spot here, said the tourist traffic going to Rohtang pass would not be allowed as it would take at least a week to make access to the parking places at the top. “But the civilians and tourists who wish to go to Keylong and Leh can go as the road is allowed for one- way traffic. As many as 25 civil and 67 Army vehicles crossed the pass yesterday,” he informed.

Raju said that the tourist traffic is being allowed till Marhi, 17 km short of Rohtang pass and 35 kms from Manali.

Snow-clearing on the Manali-Serchu highway costs around Rs 2 crore every year, informed Mr Raju. “This time, we cleared snow up to 60-70 ft here, much less than what we faced last year. We faced blizzards and avalanches, but the operation went on without a mishap. We have six snow cutters and dozers to clear the snow, he said.