They call it the eighty-twenty principle in business and economics but to many like me the idea has a thumb of rule application in many areas of life. It’s not just that eighty percent of the effects happen due to twenty percent causes but there is also a 1:4 correlation. Often for every one out of five times, relationships, friendships, events or situations will not turn out the way you want them to or even vice versa.
Probably the principle was at work when we set out early morning for the must-do drive from Manali to Rohtang pass. One was pretty sure it was going to be a similar template of our other drive throughs over high altitude Himalayan mountain passes. The most memorable ones that come to mind are the three in the Ladakh region~ the treacherous Zojila at 11,575 ft; Khardungla that connects the Shyok and Nubra valleys and at 18,380 ft is counted as the highest motorable road in the world; and Changla enroute to Pangong lake at 17,590 ft. ‘La’ incidentally is Tibetan for mountain pass. Then in the east there is Nathula at 14,420 ft that connects Sikkim to Tibet and is one of the three open trading passes between India and China. In each case i can recall the vehicle undertaking the arduous climb up the mountain face on roads that snake their way through dizzyingly tight hairpin bends. In many places the road conditions degenerate to slush and mud tracks what with rain, snow and the many landslides the Himalayan slopes are prone to. Traffic snarl ups are common and at Nathula i particularly remember being stuck in a line up of vehicles that was over a km long! At the end of it all when you finally reach the open space of the pass, there is the anti climax of a tourist jamboree there…haphazardly parked vehicles; dhabas and vendors noisily vying for business; the snow (if any) dirty with all the litter and polluting exhaust…all in all not the most inspiring of sights!!
Rohtang to our pleasant surprise turned out to be the odd one to the other four! A couple of factors worked in our favour. One it is the ‘off season’ at Manali. Very few tourists come to these mountains during the rainy season when road conditions tend to deteriorate and become tricky to negotiate. Secondly this year, alarmed by the rampant and unregulated mushrooming of tourist activities around the pass and the snow on the peaks melting fast, the National Green Tribunal decided to ban all tourist vehicles from going to Rohtang. Just recently they modified the ban to allow only a thousand vehicles per day to proceed that too after paying a green tax.
So much to our delight, even on a weekend there were very few light motor vehicles and even fewer trucks and buses making their way up the mountain roads. There were hardly any diesel exhaust fumes that invariably trigger my nausea and motion sickness. There were no serpentine convoys and harrowing traffic jams every one had warned us about again and again. It was a beautiful clear day and the most picturesque and thrilling drive. The ascent was sharp through dramatic precipices and hill slopes covered with conifers. At places the route afforded stunning views of deep gorges and the Beas river gushing and tumbling through. There were spectacular waterfalls and rolling alpine meadows…at every turn you wanted to stop and capture the vistas through your camera lens.
The last settlement is Marhi where you now have only a couple of dhabas for your much needed journey break. Beyond that the tree line gives way to granite rocks, verdant slopes and some huge blocks of snow right up to and beyond Rohtang where you descend to the Lahaul-Spiti Valley. The snow at the pass had all melted and with just a dozen or so curious tourists like us there was an air of peace and tranquility that you just wanted to stay and soak in.
Throughout our stay here we’ve heard locals complain about how the NGT has ‘killed’ tourism in the place with its bans and regulations. One estimate says over 8000 odd people who were dependent on this industry here are now out of work. From a selfish point of view we have so enjoyed this experience of sparse tourist crowds. But when you look at the larger picture you wonder when our administrators and government regulatory authorities will be able to work out some system of holistic tourism that would be beneficial to all…or will we just continue bumbling along like this between two extremes of no regulation or total bans.