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Dancing away winter blues

Archana Phull | Shimla |

When their fate is stuck in snow for over six months, it is time for them to celebrate.

The tribal folks in Lahaul valley of Lahaul Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh virtually dance away this ‘ordeal’ of harsh winter every year, when they are landlocked.

“It is our lifestyle. We have one crop season, just five-six months from May, to run our economy for the year. So we work 24×7 at that time. When the valley cuts off due to snow in November- December, we have no option but to dance, dine and party,” Mohan Lal Relingpa, 60, of Malang in Lahaul shared with The Statesman.

“The only problem we face in snow is that of medical emergency, as we are sometimes unable to take the patient outside for uncertain weekly chopper flights,” he said.
The 13050 feet high Rohtang Pass, the gateway to beautiful tribal valley of Lahaul, officially closes for vehicles on November 15 for snow and re-opens in May every year.

For this reason, many elderly tribals and pregnant women prefer to come over to Manali and Kullu in winters for lack of health care facility back home.

But others, who stay back, just enjoy and wait for every little reason to arrange a get together.
The vehicular movement within Lahaul comes to a halt in winters with snow on roads. Same with development works, which can’t be taken up in winters.

“It gives us a golden opportunity to preserve our culture. It is this time around that we have all our tribal festivals scheduled,” said Angmo, an aged tribal from Jispa.

Lahaul has three separate valleys- Gahar Todh, Tinan and Patan, which have their own timings to celebrate the similar festivals. They  start with ‘Halda’ (mashaal utsav), wherein the villagers make bundles of sticks chopped from rare Juniper tree in Lahaul and light them up, taking rounds of the village, to ward off evil spirit, pray before the local deity and seek blessings of ancestors.

Then comes ‘Gochi’, in which all those tribals blessed with a baby boy in the past one year, celebrate in the community, to get blessings for the new born. Another tradition is ‘Phagli’, which marks the end of winters and the onset of spring. There are occasions, in between, for community to pay respect to elderly tribals.

‘Arak’ (local liquor) extracted from Barley is a must in all the festivals. “Every household in Lahaul has got a license to extract and keep 24 bottles of  traditional liquor. While men consume ‘Arak’, the women  drink Sing (which has lesser alcohol but good nutritional value) to beat the chill,” said  Jalmo, 50, of Keylong.

Almost every house in Lahaul owns a flock of sheep and goat. As the tribal women work harder than men, winter is the right time for them to weave and knit for the whole year. For men, a favourite ‘pastime’ in winters, however, is ‘Chhollo’ (local style of gambling).

Only the children are hard pressed in winters. They have holidays in summers and have to attend the school full time in winters. But then the administration makes proper arrangements for heating in all the schools.