Shimla's snow ritual continues, but no sign of snow!

Last Updated: Sun, Dec 26, 2010 06:20 hrs

Shimla, Dec 26 (IANS) The British are long gone. But one of their legacies still remains in this hill town even though its relevance has by and large melted away like snow - the Shimla Snow Manual.

The official manual for clearing snow is no longer in force. But the district administration still follows the ritual annually despite the fact that the town is no longer marooned in snow for days together - that hasn't happened for more than two decades.

The British authorities framed Shimla Snow Manual when the town was the summer capital of India. The manual lists responsibilities and duties of the administration during snowfall, such as the setting up of control rooms, deploying men and machinery to clear roads and pathways as well as maintaining power and drinking water supply.

The district administration organised a meeting here last week to review measures and assign duties to handle any emergency in case of heavy snow.

Old-timers recalled that for almost two decades, Shimla has not recorded the kind of heavy snowfall that used to paralyse life for more than a fortnight in the past.

M.R. Kaundal, retired government employee who settled in Shimla in 1945, said till the 1980s heavy snowfall was a normal feature of the town.

'As far as I remember the last time it occurred was during the winter of 1990-91 when the town was cut off from the rest of the country for more than two weeks due to snow. The tourists had to hire porters to leave the town by trudging miles,' he said.

R.K. Sood, a former joint member secretary of the State Council for Science, Technology and Environment, recalled that once in the early 1960s, the minimum temperature of the town had plunged to minus 13 degrees Celsius.

'Earlier, the minimum temperature remained below the freezing points for weeks together. It took days to clear the roads and frequent spells of snow kept the town marooned for weeks. Now, there is a lot of gap between one spell of snow and the other,' he added.

Octogenarian skating champion Madan Lal Sharma, residing in the town for more than 75 years, said: 'Earlier, the children used to take out sledges with the onset of winter in November. Sledging on the snow-laden streets was once their favourite pastime. It's now only in memory albums.'

According to the meteorological office here, besides one mild spell of snow (8.2 cm) Jan 13, 2010, there was no snow at all in Shimla last winter.

In 2009, the town saw two mild spells of snowfall and those flakes too melted within a few hours.

This winter too, the meteorological office has predicted that chances of the first spell of snow in the town this month are less as there is no possibility of the western disturbance approaching the region.

However, Shimla experienced 62 cm of snow Feb 12, 2007, which was the highest snowfall on a single day in the past 99 years. But the rest of that winter was more or less snowless.

Environmentalists blame deforestation and rising pollution for the change in the town's climatic conditions.

Said Sanjay Verma, project officer with the state department of environment, science and technology: 'The once lush green hills have been converted into a concrete jungle. This is also one of the reasons for change in climatic conditions.'

Kaundal added: 'The days are not far when people of Shimla will have to visit hills overlooking the town to see snow.'

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)