Raid de Himalaya brings widespread cheer to mountain folks

Leh (Jammu and Kashmir), Oct 17 (IANS) The Raid de Himalaya coincides with the first snow of the season and for motorsport lovers provides an opportunity to savour the breath-taking cross-country rally traversing through the toughest terrain in the northern extremities of India.

For the locals in the upper reaches of Himachal Pradesh and the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, it's fun combined with business by way of some last-minute trading before the area shuts down for the winter months.

The 15th edition of the Raid passed through some of the most desolate places - Kunzum Pass (15,000 feet) and Tanglang La (17,480 ft) and for only the second time, Wari La (17,300 ft) and Khardung La (18,379 ft). The first is in Himachal Pradesh and the other three in Ladakh.

For the locals it's carnival time, putting up temporary kiosks to sell their wares to the rallyists and fans. They realise this is their big chance to make a little money before the harsh winter pushes them indoors with snow all around.

"It is like a festival. Everyone gets very excited about the rally and waits for it to pass through. It helps our local business and as soon as it passes, we shut shop and prepare for the winter," Lal Singh, who owns a small tea shop and eatery at Jalori Pass in Himachal Pradesh, told IANS.

Not all people like the noise and smoke emissions. Some can't fathom the "noisy cars" disturbing their serene surroundings.

"In the beginning, we found the Raid troublesome and frustrating as the cars careened through, disturbing our peace. We were a little perplexed by the influx of so many people, but slowly we have gotten used to it and now it's part of our milieu," the 72-year-old Lal Singh added.

Most of these shops are fabricated of wood and covered with plastic sheets. They have just about the basic necessities to feed the hungry travellers in the Raid convoy, which includes participants, organisers, officials and mediapersons.

But their problem is the lack of manpower to cater to so many people at one time.

"We are not used to feeding so many people at one time. Even during the tourists months, there are not so many people here. But during the Raid, it gets a bit crazy. There aren't many places to eat and everyone comes hungry and starts making demands," Kumsung Sang, 43, told IANS. A native of Leh, Kumsung every year makes her way to Pang, the world's highest army transit camp, where she sets up a rest area-cum eatery, for five months.

"I am alone, so to make everything it takes time so they have to wait for long. That makes some grumpy, but what can I do? I try my best to feed everyone," she added.

The rally is her last bit of business before she wraps up everything and heads back to Leh.

Though not a big fan of motor racing, she asks about Suresh Rana, a local favourite and nine-time winner of the Raid.

"How is Rana doing", she asks. "Will he win again?"

Rana, who hails from Manali, is a local Himalayan hero and everyone celebrates his Raid success, his fourth in a row and ninth overall.

(Santosh Rao can be contacted at santosh.r@ians.in)

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