Rohtang Pass (or Rohtam Pass) is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 3.979 m (13,054 ft) above the sea level, located on the eastern Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas. The pass is traversed by the Leh-Manali Highway. Every new season, the road crew has to struggle with their GPS to dig out the road buried under the layers of snow. However, massive and deadly landslides continue, giving the pass its name, which translates to ground of corpses.
Situated about 53 km from Manali, the pass connects Kullu valley with Lahaul and Spiti which in turn provide access to Leh. It’s only open from May to November for motor vehicles and it’s so dangerous the Government of India is building an 8.8km tunnel as an alternative. Known for its scenic beauty, Rohtang Pass holds strategic importance for India. It’s the gateway to Keylong in the landlocked Lahaul Valley from Manali in the state's Kullu district.
The surface of the road is asphalted. This road has humbled many egos. It’s not for the sissies and shouldn’t be attempted by novice drivers. The road is in dreadful condition and requires strong nerves to negotiate it. It remains off-limits from the rest of the country for over five months due to heavy snow deposits on the road. This pass is an ancient trade route between the people on either side of Pir Panjal. The move to control traffic was also necessary as the area beyond Rohtang Pass (Lahul and Spiti valley) gets connected by road for only three months (July to September) in a year given the rough weather conditions. This is the time when people from Lahul valley transport their cash crop, potatoes and peas to the markets across the Rohtang Pass to Kullu and earn money for the land locked period of 9 months rest of the year.
The pass has become infamous for long traffic snarls with jams at times ending up after 12 long hours. The road remains jam-packed and delays are inevitable. Traffic jams are common as military vehicles, trucks, and goods carriers try to navigate the tight roads and rough terrain, compounded by snow and ice at certain points and the large number of tourists vehicles. Long que of tourist vehicles has become a daily scene on this stretch. Rohtang Pass figures high on itineraries of tourists visiting Manali, Kullu, Leh and nearby areas. Besides Lahaul and Spiti, Rohtang Pass also serves as the gateway to Pangi and the valley of Leh. Like the Zoji La Pass, Rohtang also serves as the gateway to Ladakh. The pass offers beautiful sights of glaciers, peaks, Lahaul Valley and the Chandra River. The twin peaks of Geypan are also visible from Rohtang.
This road is usually open from May to November, but it can be closed anytime when the access is not cleared of snow. The name Rohtang means ‘ground of corpses’ due to the number of people who lost their lives trying to cross it. Specially hazardous is Rani Nallah, that has remained a major bottleneck when traveling to Rohtang Pass in Manali. It’s situated 6 km before the Rohtang Pass and has become a major irritant for tourists and travelers while reaching the Rohtang Pass due to bad road condition. The area has become a constant sliding zone for the past few years. The ordeal at the Rani Nallah starts once the snow starts melting during summer season. The melting snow turns this 2 km stretch into nightmare for the motorists. Entire stretch will be full of slush and mud. There is no respite later with the advent of monsoon season. With rains and the constant sliding of the hill side, the road gets fully covered with the slush.
The road is certainly breathtaking. The pass is on the watershed between the water basins of the Chenab River and the Beas River, and offers beautiful sights of glaciers, peaks, Lahaul Valley and the Chandra River. The twin peaks of Geypan are also visible from Rohtang. Presently no vehicles are allowed to cross this stretch between 8 am to 12 pm daily as the BRO makes this stretch motorable. Due to the military significance of the highway and the need to keep it open the entire year, the Indian government began building the 8.5 km (5.3 mi) long Rohtang Tunnel in 2010 to bypass Rohtang pass for creating a much safer and faster year-around link. It could be open in 2019.
With such a high summit altitude the road can be closed anytime due to snowfalls. The zone is prone to heavy mist and can be dangerous in low visibility conditions. The pass is also known as Rohtang La. Avalanches, heavy snowfalls and landslides can occur anytime, being extremely dangerous due to frequent patches of ice. As the vehicle climbs higher on the Manali- Keylong road, the beauty of the landscape around will leave you awestruck. Drive with care as this is a mountain road with hairpin curves and dangerous dropoffs. The temperature begins to fall with every meter you go higher.