Cash crunch to dampen merry-making in Himachal's icy heights
Keylong (Himachal Pradesh), Dec 9: Locals in this landlocked town and nearby villages in the picturesque Lahaul Valley, known worldwide for growing virus-free seed potatoes, are worried.
They say the demonetisation of high-value currency has made them cashless, literally. This means the cash crunch may dampen their spirit of celebrations, gambling, knitting, drinking and making merry in the harsh winter months.
What's more, they are yet to complete procurement of sufficient rations as a moderate spell of snow any time now will close all road links and they will remain cut off from the rest of the world at least for four months.
"It's almost a month now that we are not getting sufficient cash from the banks to stock enough foodstuff and household items for the next three months ahead of the shutdown of the local road network linking us to the rest of the state," Suresh Kumar Kardo of Kardang, a village near Keylong, told IANS.
He said most of the important local festivals and rituals fall in winter. Even the celebrations of a wedding solemnised in summer are held in these months.
"To buy rations for themselves and fodder for the livestock, a majority of the locals are returning to the barter system," Kardo added.
Just 122 km north of the picturesque Manali tourist resort, Keylong, situated at an altitude of 10,354 ft on the main road to Leh in Jammu and Kashmir over the majestic Rohtang Pass, is the administrative centre of Lahaul-Spiti district.
The Lahaul Valley, comprising over two dozen small, scattered villages in the district, remains cut off from the rest of the world for over four months from December onwards owing to heavy snow accumulation at Rohtang Pass (13,050 feet) -- the only road link with Manali in Kullu district.
It re-opens once the snow starts thawing after mid-April.
Nand Lal, a government teacher posted in Keylong, said though the government has stocked sufficient supply of firewood, ration and LPG, the real problem is the cash crunch.
"Each government employee posted in this remote area gets six-months' salary in advance. There is sufficient cash in the bank account, but there is no cash in hand," he said.
It doesn't help that the locals are not very financially literate.
"A majority of locals, especially the women, are conservative and they are still withholding certain amounts of the banned currency notes. They normally keep a certain amount of cash to handle any exigency. They need to be educated and motivated to get it replaced," said another resident, Tashi Negi.
During snow-marooning, the locals can relish only peas and potatoes, the local cash crops grown in summer.
Tilak Raj, a shopkeeper at Keylong, said owing to the currency crunch, some of the shopkeepers prefer to exchange locally grown vegetables with cereals, pulses and other grocery items.
Octogenarian Sonam Negi of Jispa village said every woman in the village usually stitches clothes, weaves "daris" or rugs and knit woolens for the next winter.
"During summer, we are busy in tilling land. This is the time to socialise by weaving 'daris' and knitting woolens in groups. This time we don't have sufficient cash to buy wool and thread," she said.
"Without knitting we can't even socialise," she added.
The entire district is populated mainly by tribals. The climatic conditions of the district are harsh as much of the land falls in what is a cold desert where the mercury drops below minus 20 degrees Celsius in winter.
The Lahaulis, as the local people are called, are mostly farmers and grow mainly peas and potatoes. The valley's seed potatoes are in great demand in states like West Bengal, Bihar and Karnataka.
"Chollo" or gambling is a popular form of entertainment in winter. Most of the menfolk begin their day with consuming "arah", a local liquor extracted from barley, and even end the day with it.
Tara Chand, a grower of exotic vegetables in Sissu village, said a major local festival, known as Halda, is celebrated in the second and third week of January.
"Halda is one of the major festivals when the entire village gathers and celebrates. Such celebrations continue for days together. Normally, each villager stores enough rations in his household before the onset of snowfall," he said.
This Buddhist-dominated district in the Himalayan terrain attracts globe-trotters not only for nature-based activities but also to ancient monasteries like Tabo and Dhankar.