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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Go skating in Shimla, don’t ask for fast food in Spiti

After a day out in the snow, an unusually long wait for dinner. But have patience, especially if it’s Himachal Pradesh’s Lahaul-Spiti. The cooks might just be struggling with eggs that bounce like a ball and cooking oil pouches that are stone-hard.

That’s what winter has done to normal life in the hill state — frozen it. Arctic-like weather is sweeping the popular tourist destination, with temperatures plunging to -8.9C in some places.

In Shimla, temperatures have hovered near freezing point. The snow and ice are a big draw with tourists, though, with many flocking to the state during the year-end break.

Picture on left shows a girl skating during a contest at the Shimla ice skating rink. Situated at a height of 2,149 metres, the rink has the largest open-air arena with naturally frozen ice in the region.

But it is hardly play for Babu Ram Dhiman. “Even our skin has turned black. Everything has to be heated, including eggs and oil. Life is hell these days,” the resident of Lahaul-Spiti, often called the “snow desert”, complained.

Keylong, the district headquarters near the Tibet border and 400km from Shimla, is one of the coldest in the state at -8.9C.

The harsh conditions have prompted requests from over 200 people in the sparsely populated Lahaul-Spiti to be airlifted out. They want to stay with relatives and friends elsewhere till the winter is over. Many are seriously ill.

Power has taken a knock, too. Lakes and streams have frozen over, bringing down hydel power generation even as consumption has gone up because of demand for heating.

Load-shedding has been ordered in some towns as power is being purchased from neighbouring Punjab, unusual for Himachal which supplies to other states the rest of the year.

But not everything is withering this season. The extreme cold has lifted spirits in the state’s apple orchards where cultivators expect to reap the fruits of their labour with a higher output. A long spell of chill is considered beneficial for apples.