With the onset of winter begins an exodus of people who are unable to withstand the blizzards and avalanches the Himalayas unleash at these high altitudes.

The weather has started changing for the worse, and it will not be long before snowstorms and avalanches slam the road leading to Srinagar, shutting the area off until April-May.

Shepherds, along with their flock, have left the higher reaches for better pastures; gypsies, who usually dwell at higher altitudes, have started packing up their little belongings, abandoning their low-roofed huts. A 15-foot-high snow blanket will keep the landscape and the region safe till they return from their annual sojourn, mostly in Jammu.

Iqbal will retreat to his village with his horse, Sunder, and live on the money the mount earns for his master, carrying tourists to otherwise inaccessible snow-clad peaks. “We earn only for six months. Once home, we just sit idle… But I still have to buy fodder for the horse,” says Iqbal.

Iqbal must have made money this season with a rise in tourist arrivals, including in this lesser known, but pristine, abode made majestic by the mountains, the emerging Sind river and the snow-capped peaks.

He made a killing with his horse during the Amarnath Yatra too. But the unfortunate part is that he will not get any work in his village and has to sit out the winter. He charges up to Rs. 500 a trip.

The disruption in road connectivity hits taxi drivers, too. “Those who stay back in the valley are forced to cut the hiring charges down by two-thirds,” says a worried Shaukat Ali.

The Z-Morh tunnel, for which the foundation was laid on Wednesday, holds hope for them. Be that as it may, the better part of the workforce engaged at the worksite comprises migrants from Jharkhand. The locals are fewer at the worksite.

Majibur Rehman, Shabir Ansari and Riyasat Ansari are part of a group of 24 who arrived here six months ago from Barwa village of Jharkhand’s Sahebganj district. Braving the terrible weather, they too are counting their days. “We will return on October 20,” says Shabir who earns Rs. 200 a day. He pays up Rs. 50 to the catering facility for his day’s meal and spends a like sum on other requirements, saving half the earnings for his family.

The reason for their migration to such a far-flung place is that they have no faith in the government-sponsored Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme; they allege they never received payments on time and, on most occasions, had to contend themselves with a part payment.

Surely, the tunnel will throw a new ray of light on the people of this region. One hopes it will boost winter tourism and help to check migration and joblessness.