When the whole world is reeling under ‘COVID-19 crisis’, for the first time, folks in remote and inaccessible pockets in Himachal Pradesh are not cursing their fate!
While people across the globe are being advised to follow ‘social distancing’ for prevention of Coronavirus infection, those in some tough interior pockets of HP are compulsorily distanced by geographical isolation due to bad roads and harsh weather, especially when it snows in winters, stretching up to end of April-May.
Life is difficult in these areas, right from tribal district of Lahaul Spiti, Pangi valley in Chamba district, Bara Banghal in Kangra district, Dodra Kwar in Shimla district to many interior villages in Mandi, Kullu and Sirmaur districts in Himachal Pradesh for lack of development and people face hardships in routine.
However, they do seem to be advantaged vis a vis developed urban areas amid COVID-19 outbreak, owing to low population density, far-flung location and bad road connectivity, which restricts the movement of people in and out and stops it altogether in winters in many parts. Some villages in HP do not have a road link at all.
Said a farmer from Malang village in Lahaul, Mohan Lal, and “The state government has sealed borders to stop mixing of people in lockdown over COVID-19 within HP. But in Lahaul, heavy snow seals the border. Cut off from rest of state, we have no option but to stick to homes and villages for five-six months every year till April-May. This compulsion is to our benefit this year.”
“Still, we are cautious about COVID-19. Some villages in Lahaul have put a guard on the boundary and are not allowing outsiders to enter,” he hastened to add.
The tribal valley is landlocked when 13051 feet high Rohtang Pass uphill Manali is closed due to snow. Lahaul is cut off from Spiti as well owing to snow on 15060 feet high Kunzum Pass. Though Spiti has access from tribal district Kinnaur throughout the year, the vulnerable roads reduce the travel of people to this distant land.
Less than half the population of Lahaul stays back in winters and rest of them move out to adjoining Kullu district for comfort. The irregular helicopter flights are the only way to go or come out from Lahaul from December to April-May, which are based on need.
(The ambitious Rohtang tunnel project, which will connect Lahaul to rest of state throughout the year is yet not complete for full use. It is presently being used only for emergency or for essential commodities)
Pawna Kumari, an activist from Bara Banghal valley in Kangra district, said people in the village are happy with natural isolation at least in this situation.
The Bara Banghal pocket lacks road connectivity and involves a 70 kilometres mountainous trek to reach home. It is almost impossible to trek up and down the mountain from December- April end.
The two villages in Bara Banghal- Ghraan and Phaal- with a populace of over 700 mostly house farmers and shepherds. “Some families stay back in Bara Banghal in winter months, while others, shepherds, go out with a flock of sheep and goats and move in by end of April. Much caution, however, is needed at that time when they return so that they don’t take the infection with them and infect others,” Pawna said.
Himachal Pradesh has so far reported 14 COVID-19 cases, four from Kangra district, three from Una and seven from Solan district. Out of these, in Kangra district, one person died and two others were cured. All the cases reported so far either have travel history from abroad, or from Delhi (including 7 persons who attended Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi in March month).