Few places on earth can mark so dramatic a change in landscape as the Rohtang Pass. To one side, the lush green head of the Kullu Valley; to the other, an awesome vista of bare, chocolate-coloured mountains, hanging glaciers and snowfields that shine in the dazzlingly crisp light, with just flecks of flora deep in the valley to soften the stark image. The district of Lahaul and Spiti, Himachal’s largest, is named after its two subdivisions, which are, in spite of their numerous geographical and cultural similarities, distinct and separate regions.Read More
Lahaul, sometimes referred to as the Chandra-Bhaga Valley, is the region that divides the Great Himalayas and Pir Panjal ranges. Its principal river, the Chandra, rises deep in the barren wastes below the Baralacha Pass, and flows south, then west towards its confluence with the River Bhaga near Tandi. Here, the two rivers become the Chenab, and crash north out of Himachal to Kishtwar in Kashmir. Being closer to what rains the monsoon brings across the Rohtang pass from the south, Lahaul’s climate is notably less arid than Ladakh and Zanskar to the north and as a consequence, the key highway passes of Rhotang La and Baralacha La are much more prone to early snow than the higher examples further north. So it is that between late October and late March, heavy snows close the passes, and seal off the region. Even so, its inhabitants, a mixture of Buddhists and Hindus, enjoy one of the highest per capita incomes in the Subcontinent. Using glacial water channelled through ancient irrigation ducts, Lahauli farmers manage to coax a bumper crop of seed potatoes from their painstakingly fashioned terraces. The region is also the sole supplier of hops to India’s breweries, and harvests prodigious quantities of wild herbs, used to make perfume and medicine. Much of the profit generated by these cash crops is spent on lavish jewellery, especially seed-pearl necklaces and coral and turquoise-inlaid silver plaques, worn by the women over ankle-length burgundy or fawn woollen dresses. Lahaul’s traditional costume and Buddhism are a legacy of the Tibetan influence that has permeated the region from the east.
State buses run from Manali up the Chandra and Bhaga valleys to Keylong and Darcha from whenever the Rohtang Pass is cleared, usually in late June, until it snows up again in late October. You can also travel through Lahaul on Leh-bound buses if there are free seats. If coming down from Ladakh and heading east for Spiti rather than Manali, jeeps and, incredibly, state buses leave the tarmac at tiny Grampoo for the spectacular but rough 80km track over the snowy, 4550-metre Kunzum La and down the far side to Losar at the head of the
- The Manali–Leh Highway