Rohtang Pass (3978 m) or as the Buddhists here call it Rohtang La, or the Kullui locals call it Rohtang Jot is a high mountain pass across the Pir Panjal range of the Himalaya that connects the Kullu Valley with the Lahul and Spiti valleys of Himachal Pradesh , India . It is situated at a distance of 51 km from the town of Manali. The pass is only open from June to September, has a well-deserved reputation for being very dangerous because of unpredictable snowstorms. Its name means a place where spirits freeze. Ro means spirit and tang is short for tangmo or cold. The Rohtang Pass weather certainly lives up to this reputation.
The Rohtang pass is snowed under and closed in the winter and opens some time in May. Long before the pass opens tourists visit its road at whatever point has been cleared to experience snow. This point is called the snow point and is a major attraction with snow sleds, skis and all kinds of tourist attractions set up. You can even get coats and boots on hire. From the snow point, you should be able to hire horses for a tour of Rohtang Pass. As you sway along on the backs of the ponies, prayer flags at the Rohtang pass flutter in the distance to invite you to the destination of your quest. In another lifetime, when I was a nomadic horsewoman in the Himalaya, it was a good place to put two horses for snow point rides and earn some quick money at the end of a winter of expensive feeding of horses. The Rohtang Pass in May bustles with Indian tourists using school vacations as an opportunity and come to see the snow. It is a testament to the diversity of India’s climate that something as simple as snow can draw tens of thousands of tourists everyday, because they live in a part of the country which sees no snow and they have journeyed for days to witness this simple magic of nature. The pass provides a crossing point in the Pir Panjal range, that acts as a natural cultural and ecological divide between the lush green Kullu valley and its vibrant Hindu culture, with the dry desert regions of the Lahaul and Spiti leading into Ladakh and its Tibetan Buddhist culture. The road across the Rohtang Pass was constructed by the Indian Army as a means of ensuring supply routes to the unapproachable Lahaul-Spiti and Ladakh areas some time in the late 1960′s. Before then, caravans of traders used to cross the passes with supplies for barter with the inhabitants of the land. Most of these traders belonged to the nomadic Khampa tribe and the Kinnauris, though some Hindus also ventured there. The road was difficult and fraught with dangers from the elements, altitude and robbers. Today, o ne can whiz across in almost any vhicle of choice. The ancient practice of tying prayer flags o n the top of passes to protect from dangers continues to date. The pass is of immense importance to traffic, as the o nly route into Lahaul and Spiti from the Kullu district. The other possible routes are way too long and involve coming from Kashmir and through Leh to reach Lahaul and through Kinnaur to reach Spiti. Needless to say, this is not o nly inconvenient, but these two routes are far less reliable for reasons of military security and natural hazards, and the road across the Rohtang Pass is an important life line into these regions. The Pass itself is dramatic, with very strong and freezing cold winds and steep access. The drama is further enhanced by the sharp contrast in the terrain o n the two sides of the pass. The Kullu valley is velvety green and misty, while the stark desertscape of Lahaul and Spiti is completely devoid of all but the slightest traces of green in brief areas near streams. The Powerful Chandrabhaga range can be seen right across the pass, with the Sona pani glacier and the twin peaks of Gepan in view in clear weather. Indian tourists flock to the Rohtang Pass in the summer vacations (April and May) to enjoy an experience of snow (which is unknown to most Indians not living in the high altitude areas of the north). A roaring trade, traffic jams, garbage and all the other symptoms of the tourist invasion have led many locals to enforce rules against allowing vehicles not intending to cross the pass from going to the top of the pass. Shops o n the top of the pass have also been shut down and tourists may now o nly walk or hire horses to reach the top for a quick visit. Skiing is limited, but very popular among tourists o n the slopes below the pass (while the snow lasts) The chief deity of Lahaul – Raja Gepan visits areas it is associated with in the summer and often crosses to the Kullu Valley. The procession is a sight to behold and draws many believers. A legend says that Raja Gepan does not allow the Rohtang Pass to close for the winter unless he is safely back across into Lahaul. A short distance from the left of the Pass is the lake Dashohar and Bhrigu lake is a longer hike o n the right, where local pilgrims visit to have a bath o n “bhadoon bees” the twentieth day of the Hindu month of Bhadrapada.