Freezing winter brings on the dancing in Lahaul (IANS Travel)

Keylong (Himachal Pradesh), Feb 22 (Calcutta Tube) It’s icy cold here. The temperature hovers around minus 15 degrees Celsius and the valley is covered in snow, cutting it off from the rest of India. Sounds too grim and harsh, but not when ones sees people dancing, feasting and merrymaking!

For more than five months every year, the people of this landlocked valley in Lahaul and Spiti district remain cut off from the rest of the world, owing to heavy snowfall. Keylong, the district headquarters, is 200 km from the popular hill station of Manali.

Getting here in winter is not easy. The once-a-week helicopter service is the only mode of transportation for locals. But that too is neither easily accessible as much of it is reserved for government employees.

This winter, road connectivity to the valley was closed Dec 10 and is likely to resume by mid-May. But the locals are unperturbed.

‘This is the best period in our life when we only relax, celebrate and enjoy. It really offers a break from the routine like tilling land and collecting fodder and wood,’ Sonam Negi, a resident, said.

‘We work for six months (from May to October) and relax for the remaining six months. During the summers, we toil hard. The land has to be cultivated and sown and then the produce has to be sent to the market within the ‘open’ season. We also store ration and fodder for winters,’ he said.

The entire district is populated mainly by tribals. The climatic conditions of the district are harsh as much of the land falls under a cold desert where the mercury drops below minus 20 degrees Celsius.

The Lahaulis, as the local people are called, are mostly farmers and grow mainly peas and potatoes. The valley’s seed potatoes are in great demand in states like West Bengal, Bihar and Karnataka.

Most of the important local festivals and rituals fall in winter.

‘Chollo’ or gambling is a popular form of entertainment. Most of the men folk begin their day with the consumption of ‘arah’, local liquor extracted from barley, and even end the day with it.

Suresh Kumar Kardo of Kardang, a village opposite Keylong, said even the birth of a child and marriage in a family is a grand affair during winters.

‘If the child is born or wedding is solemnised in summers, the celebrations are held in winters. The entire village gathers and celebrates. Such celebrations continue for days together,’ he said.

Octogenarian Dolma of Jispa, who has spent her entire life in the village, said: ‘We have developed our own ways to pass time. We usually stitch clothes and knit woollens for the next winter or visit friends and relatives. During summers, we do not have much time to socialise as we are busy tilling land or taking care of livestock.’

Deputy Commissioner Ritesh Chauhan said during winters the entire district is converted into small hamlets with no or little road connectivity. Most of the villages are located at altitudes above 13,000 feet.

How to travel: In summer, by public or private transport. From Manali to Keylong via Rohtang Pass for Lahaul; From Shimla to Rekong Peo in Kinnaur district to Spiti.

Distance: 450 km from state capital Shimla.

Where to stay: Small hotels, guesthouses, and even home stays with local people.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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