Monday, May 12, 2008

Rohtang Pass & Beyond

Rohtang Pass, (51 kms. from Manali) and situated as it is 13051 feet above sea level, should be dangerous, quiet, forsaken.

I believed it would be covered with ice that shimmers and shines in the direct rays of the sun, and the wind is the only sound that one hears for miles around as one contemplates the harsh beauty of nature.

I had not reckoned with commercialization, whose far-reaching slick fingers insidiously glide and choke all that is untouched and far away, even the high mountains that stand beautiful and bold against the sky.

As I climbed the treacherous mountainside, albeit by car, the sight of a few cars ahead and a couple of them behind (some of them foolishly honking their existence) should have given me warning enough of what lay ahead. I was so happy to be in the mountains that I ignored the vehicles, their fumes, and their insistent noise.

I also ignored the rows upon rows of little wooden shacks and tents which displayed fur lined coats, caps, capes, and galoshes that posed as snow-shoes, for hire. I should have sat up and taken notice that so many locals were running shops which hired woolen garments. They were obviously catering to the needs of many unprepared and gullible city slickers from the plains.

By the time I reached Rohtang Pass, I could well have been in the centre of Chandni Chowk in Delhi, or New Market in Kolkotta.

It is the middle of June, peak season, and there is a veritable trade fair here. Delhi businessmen and their pink-rouged and high-heeled wives laden with the latest heavy gold sets don their coats and galoshes and stumble hand in hand in the muddy snow. So do Bengali Babus and their brethren, giving their children yak rides and snow slides while trying to keep their fur coats from sliding off. Handsome hulks from Haryana who believe money speaks everywhere, strut around, as do pretty young things from Chandigarh who giggle and scream with delight as they snowball each other. There are food and chips and cold drinks stalls, and an avalanche of humanity trying to find its space in the sun and snow as they eat, drink and make merry. Photos are clicked by the dozen, to show family back home that they have ‘been there, done that’.

One quick look at all this from the confines of my car, and I decided to cross the pass as fast as possible, but found myself caught in the mother of all traffic jams. There were cars of various makes and sizes, Qualis, Cielo, Tata Safari, Scorpio, Maruti, et al, inching their way out ahead of me, and more cars behind me. They ate up the narrow driving path between huge ice boulders. Also take into consideration the humanity weaving its way through this traffic, and other cars trying to find parking space to spill out the people who have come to enjoy the cold splendor of Rohtang Pass, and you can get an idea of what was happening around me. Not very different from the traffic jams in any Indian metropolis, but at least the roads are wide there! However, people behaved here as though they were in the city, expecting the environment to make the adjustments.

And it has no choice but to accept becoming dirty and polluted with litter and diesel smoke. Even the snow bows down before the human being, and has changed its colour from pristine white to a dirty brown. The snowfall here is formed from rains that bring the city soot with them.

It took me two and half-hours of bonnet to bonnet driving to get out of this two and a half kilometer stretch called the Rohtang Pass. I felt cheated, for I had not traversed steep mountain sides just to become spectator to a bustling, thriving commercial centre on the top of the mountains. Luckily, this pass is the last destination of all those vacationers who holiday in Manali to watch colour television in their hotel rooms and eat Strawberry Softy at the Manali Mall. They return from here, happy to have done this too!

I could not rejoice with them. They were unaware of the havoc they were wrecking, or did not care. Saddened, I continued my journey to the other side of the pass.

The beauty there of the untouched glaciers, multi-hued mountain sides, sheer rocks that shone black and gold and green in the intense sunlight, told me that the hand of commercialization has not crept this far. I sat on a mountain side and drunk in the view, the tensions of the past few hours dissolving right there.


P.S. I experienced this in 2002, felt the need to put it online now. Things must have worsened, or maybe I am just being pessimistic about humanity.


Asmi Saxena said...

True true.. that's natural beauty for you. I so sometimes think about doing something er.. unacceptable to all humankind just 'cause of the way they treat the planet.

By the way, I oved the way you write. :)

Asmi Saxena said...

I mean I do* sometimes think..

Abha Iyengar said...