The tribal folks of Lahaul valley in Himachal Pradesh (HP) avoid the tough life back home in winters and stay in their ‘warmer shelters’ in other parts of the state, mainly Kullu-Manali.

Majority tribals, shift out before the 13050 ft high Rohtang Pass closes for traffic owing to snowfall in November and return in summers.

The reasons are evident. The road connectivity to Lahaul valley in Lahaul and Spiti district gets snapped in winter months and the people are virtually landlocked.

Out of entire tribal belt in HP, Lahaul and Spiti district has tough terrain. In winters, Lahaul valley gets cut off from Spiti as well, with another pass- Kunzum at a height of 15060 ft also closing down.

The people in Lahaul can travel to Jammu and Kashmir through an alternate road from Udaipur, Killar and Gulabgarh. But that route is too long and unpredictable due to harsh weather.

As per locals, 60 to 70 per cent people in Lahaul desert the tribal area in winter. Most of them have built their homes outside.

“The temperature in Lahaul dips to less than minus 20 or 30 degrees. The life comes to a halt with intermittent high snow in Lahaul, with power, water supply going off for days together and toilets choked,” Shyam Chand Azad from Tholang shared with The Statesman.

“Some family members stay back as caretakers. Others come out and relax and go back after March,” added Mohan Lal of Malang.

In routine, however, the district administration does the required arrangements of food and fuel for people in the tribal area ahead of winters. The locals too keep themselves busy with festivals to pass cold months, when even agriculture is not possible.

But it is no less than an ordeal for them in case of medical emergencies. The area doesn’t have private healthcare facilities and the government hospitals don’t have specialist doctors.

“We have to take the patients in emergency to Kullu or Chandigarh for treatment. We depend on the state chopper that comes once a week, with lot of uncertainty due to harsh weather,” said Krishan Thakur of Keylong.

The successive governments have not been able to convince the specialists to serve in tribal areas in the absence of a strict transfer policy.

A ray of hope for the tribals in the near future is  8.8kilometre long tunnel Rohtang tunnel, which by-passes the Rohtang Pass, and is likely to give round the year connectivity to Lahaul valley with rest of the world.

The lingering central project of strategic significance, which took off for construction in 2010 after many ifs and buts, is likely to complete by 2019 as per latest schedule.