WE had planned to cross Rohthang on 28 March 1975 but the pass was visited by unusually heavy snowfall and the weather continued to be bad. As a result we had to postpone our ski expedition by a fortnight.

We were lucky to have good guides who knew the area of Rohthang very well and also knew the alignment to be followed in winter. This alignment is different from the road alignment which we did not touch. In addition to the two guides, we were able to get two tough porters to carry our limited loads.

We left Simla in the afternoon of 10 April, reaching Kothi in the afternoon of the 11th. After checking our equipment and packing our loads we left Kothi on foot having decided to halt for the night at Marhi even though the weather continued to be uncertain. If we had to wait, we decided to wait at Marhi which had the advantage of being mid-way to Rohthang from where, on getting a brief respite from bad weather, we could make our way across to Lahaul. After about 2 km. from Kothi we descended into the Beas valley at a point where the Beas makes a curve after coming out from its gorge. River Beas was bridged with snow all over. There was nothing to show its existence except its slow murmur drowned in the roaring sound of the Rahla falls dropping from a great height. There was no trace of the mule track which we had seen in summer. Since it was all a smooth snow covered steep mountain, we moved in a straight line. Our guides were making notches with their heavy heels. We reached Marhi at about 6 p.m. after climbing about 7 km. from the bottom of Rahla falls. The clouds were high and to the North was visible the Rohthang as challenging and magnificent as we had imagined. During summer we had seen groups of seasonal hotels springing up to cater to the traffic over this pass. At the time when we reached there the snow was more than 15 ft. in this area and the plateau of Marhi was only a flat expanse of snow with no trace of buildings. One hotel building was located on a comparatively higher ridge. We spent the night in one of the two rooms of this stone building.

We postponed our departure to 8 a.m. From Rahla we had climbed up 7 km. and Rohthang was about 9 km. ahead. Sangeeta felt the cold, but she did commendably well and won the praise of all members of the party. After traversing through the windy region we climbed into the gap of the Rahni nullah where it joins the newly emerged river Beas and where also lies the successive accumulation of several avalanches having taken place from the snow tops several hundred feet above. We negotiated it rather hurriedly. The gap, however, provides some respite from wind. After a fairly tiring climb we came to the top of Rohthang with sighs of relief which was short lived as we were now under the fiercest onslaught of the wind, which appeared to be coming from all directions. We stood amidst seemingly a vast desert of snow with the spectacle on either side of the crest provided by the magnificent snow-topped peaks and glacier-filled gaps of the ranges. River Beas comes out from underneath a huge rock on top of Rohthang. Over this rock there is a temple. The rock and the temple were all under snow. A portion of its steeple, however, was visible. Just adjacent to it there was a deep cavity in the snow into which we descended by way of cover from the wind and also to put on our ski equipment before launching ourselves into the Lahaul valley. We had hot drinks and some snacks and wishing each other all the best and after a brief trial of our skis around the temple we embarked on a ski race on the flattisd surface of Rohthang along the Harcha for half a kilometre. The wide top of Rohthang on the Lahaul side ended and we soon found our¬selves being received by a narrow gorge-like cavity of the Harcha unllah. Moving through the heavy icicle-laden rocky walls of the gorge we felt like moving through a narrow cavern. More than this was the prospect of our near vertical descent, when we soon found ourselves over a high precipitous snow wall of Harcha nullah slope. After a moment's hesitation we started down. Short traverses and long side-slips are the only possible techniques here. The snow was too hard and did not provide much edge. Instead of the ski sticks the use of an ice axe on the inner hand was found useful. Sangeeta was kept above me. On reaching the bottom we really heaved a sigh of relief. From this point we parted company from our companions as we skied from one slope to another and then took the straight route to Koksar. From Rohthang to Koksar it is about 10 km. We however, followed a route providing us skiing for not less than 25 km. After covering the second slope we came to an ava¬lanche point where huge slabs of snow had been released from a very high ledge to our left. After covering this area we traversed over another avalanche-covered surface which was not strewn with sharp edged blocks of snow. It, however, had roundish formations which had merged into each other with concave and convex formations, and skiing over these seemed like skiing over thousands of ice tomatoes. From this point we could not have gone straight towards Koksar or to our left as a huge ridge stood in front of us and a huge wall to our left. We skied right over another steep slope of moderate length. River Chandra was completely covered with snow and not even a murmur was audible. The snow was of a very peculiar and interesting character. It was soft and rippled and gave a sort of spring to skis. There were no bumps. The surface was com¬pletely undisturbed and our ski marks looked lovely. From the bottom of the Harcha nullah to Koksar nearly 20 km. of unbroken pleasurable skiing is possible and can be usefully exploited by skiers in future. We halted briefly at Gramphu. In summer one can see the road bifurcate to Spiti at this point; now nothing was visible. Across the river opposite this place is the village of Gramphu. Now it was under deep snow and was not visible. Koksar is about 5 km. from Gramphu and for about 3 km. wonderful skiing was done. We had commenced our journey down at about 12.30 p.m. We reached Koksar at about 3 p.m. Koksar has about 35 houses and all were buried under snow. It looked like a vast plain of snow. The snow here must have been about 20 ft. We stayed for the night in the Rest House.

The night under snow at Koksar was quite comfortable. Next day we all woke up early. The guide informed us that, the weather was cloudy but not bad. We commenced our return journey at 8 a.m. Some wind on that day would have been ap¬preciated as we felt quite warm while climbing up. It was extremely steep in the Harcha nullah. Edging with our boots was very difficult and the snow surface was very slippery. At about 12 noon we reached the top of Rohthang with great sighs of relief. We took some rest and hot drinks and changed to our ski equipment again for 30 km. of very exciting skiing lay in front of us upto the base of Rahla. The Marhi side of Rohthang is ideal for skiing as it is a gradual hump. While the sides had melted away, ice tops stood here and there. We had the very interesting experience of skiing over this broken surface from one ice top to another ice top. We seemed to have come to the top of Rahni nullah bank in no time. Having reached the bottom, we brushed past the flat bed of Rahni nullah which is the final receptacle of the avalanches from above. We were happy. We were safe. We halted at Marhi for lunch and moved on our skis for nearly 3 km. to the top of Rahla climb. It is a real pleasure to ski on these slopes which are of moderate gradient and have a good padding of snow. The Rahla climb gave us our final thrills. The Rahla has a vertical face towards the river Beas. It is, in fact a very high ledge rising from the river bed. A little lack of caution and control over skis can send the skier to the river bed from a height of several hundred feet. Sangeeta gave a few moments of anxiety when her sharp turns always seemed to be going towards the edge. We, however, happily completed our expedition at about 2.30 p.m. on 13 April covering about 75 km. on snow in two days.


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