Accumulation of snow and extreme cold climatic conditions in the upper reaches of Himachal Pradesh is affecting arrangements for the May 19 Lok Sabha poll. But the voters are gung-ho over the participation of the people in the electoral process.
Officials said that at a majority of 92 polling stations in Lahaul-Spiti district - out of state's 7,723 booths - there is still widespread accumulation of snow.
These booths are scattered over rugged, cold and inhospitable terrain where poll officials have to trek hours to reach their booths.
"The physical verification of some of the polling booths is yet to be done owing to closure of road links there after winter snowfall," Tehsildar (Elections) Dorje Thakur told IANS over the phone.
He said snow clearance operations are on across the district and it would take at least a fortnight to reopen a majority of the roads.
Lahaul-Spiti, along with other remote areas of Kinnaur district and Bharmour in Chamba district, are part of the sprawling Mandi constituency that covers almost two-thirds of the state.
A total of 49 voters, including 20 women, arre eligible to exercise their franchise at Tashigang, one of the country's highest polling stations located in Lahaul-Spiti at an altitude of 15,256 feet and close to the China border.
This polling station in the Spiti Valley will also cater to voters of Gete village.
For years, Hikkam (14,400 feet), close to Tashigang, was one of the highest polling booths.
Deputy Commissioner Ashwani Chaudhari said electricity and water supply has been restored to most of the polling stations.
Work to reopen traffic to Keylong, 225 km from state capital Shimla, via the snow-marooned Rohtang Pass located in the Pir Panjal mountain range is on, he added.
Snow-clearing work started on March 1 and it will take at least a month more to reopen the 115-km road stretch between Manali and Keylong towns.
Rohtang Pass is the gateway to Keylong from Manali in Kullu district, but it remains off-limits from the rest of the country for over five months due to heavy snow deposits on the road.
This time, Rohtang shut down in mid-December and since then, people of the Lahaul region have been holed up in their region.
So is the Kunzum Pass, the road link between the Lahaul and Spiti valleys that too is closed for motorists.
The Lahaul Valley, comprising over two dozen small, scattered villages some 350 km from state capital Shimla, remains cut off owing to heavy accumulation of snow at Rohtang Pass (13,050 feet) - the only connection with Manali in Kullu district.
The usual election bustle is still missing in Lahaul-Spiti district. The poll scene will heat up only with the melting of the snow and the re-opening of the land routes.
"We are still cut off from the rest of the world. Some of the internal roads have been made motorable. We are awaiting restoration of mobile network in the area," Shyam Bodh, a resident of Chokhang village in Lahaul, told IANS.
He said no candidate of the BJP or the Congress has reached here for canvassing.
This time, Ram Swaroop Sharma, the BJP's outgoing MP, who is again in the fray, and the Congress' greenhorn Ashray Sharma, grandson of former Telecom minister Sukh Ram, are the main contenders.
"I am going to start my tour in the interiors of Lahaul-Spiti soon," the BJP candidate told IANS.
"If the weather permits, I will travel by car. Otherwise, the helicopter is the only option," he added.
The entire Lahaul and Spiti district is populated mainly by the tribals. The climatic conditions of the district are harsh as much of the land forms part of a cold desert where the mercury drops below minus 20 degrees Celsius during winter.
The Buddhist-dominated district in the Himalayan terrain at elevations ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 feet, attracts globetrotters not only for nature-based activities but also to ancient monasteries like Tabo and Dhankar.
The district has no town; the population is rural, spread across 521 villages with 23,407 voters.
The residents of Lahaul-Spiti were months ahead of the rest of the nation in exercising their franchise in the first general elections in 1951-52.
The tribal areas that form the Mandi constituency were earlier called Mahasu. In 1952, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur of the erstwhile Kapurthala royal family won.
"We are excited to participate in the election process. We are awaiting the arrival of the party candidates. Even on election day, we will be among the first voters to reach the polling station," said Jai Singh Negi, a retired government employee settled in Hikkam village.
Like in the previous elections, this polling station would again record the highest polling in the district," he added.
(Vishal Gulati can be reached at email@example.com)
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