Snow covered houses after fresh snowfall in Raul village of Lahaul and Spiti. (ANI photo)
Chandigarh: The traffic jam at the tourist destinations of Shimla and Manali tells a confusing story about the two cities. No, not all roads lead to these two hill stations during the tourist season.
They are progressing a lot. About 250 km from Shimla lies the ancient and relatively unexplored Kinnaur, which is the latest attraction for tourists, as well as picturesque places like Kufri, Naldhera, Theog, Narkanda, Sarahan etc.
Beyond Manali, the Atal Tunnel which is an architectural wonder has also made Lahaul a major attraction among travellers. Due to the narrow roads and parking problem in Manali, the lush green Pattan and Sissu Valley have drawn hordes of tourists visiting Manali earlier. For many, Manali is now a stop for tourists to have a quick tea and snack and head to the unexplored virgin valleys and hills of Lahaul.
Gopal Agarwal, Senior Advisor, Shimla Hoteliers and Restaurants Association and himself a hotelier said, “The water problem in Shimla is unprecedented. Even if a hotelier has rooms, he is not offering them accommodation because of non-availability of water.” And thus tourists overtake Shimla.
Himanshu Nag, owner of tourist hotel in Shimla’s Ram Bazar, also agreed, “The problem of water and parking is Shimla’s biggest problem. We had a lot of tourists at the beginning of the season, but now they are heading towards Theog, Narkanda and Kinnaur. ,
As Agrawal said that despite the demand for rooms in Shimla, they have to keep the hotel rooms empty due to lack of water. The number of people living in hotels and houses is 100% in rural areas of Shimla district. Sandeep Verma, owner of Grande Vista, Theog, which is 30 km from the state capital, said, “Their occupancy is 100 per cent. I have four rooms and during the season the occupancy is 120 rooms. “Tourists want a different experience and thus the rural areas of Shimla are preferred more,” he said.
Sohan Thakur, who owns Highland Homestay in Chog, about 20 km from Shimla, said, “The slice of life in the hills away from the concrete of Shimla is what tourists want now. They want a different experience – a garden, animals, fresh air. They too have 100% occupancy during the season which is around nine months in a year.
There is a five star hotel in Theog called Taj. And there are at least 100 homestays in that vicinity with rooms and ambiance as good as a five-star hotel. It reveals a lot about new tourist destinations beyond the erstwhile queen of the hills.
In Kinnaur, the number of tourists often outnumbers the locals.
Chitkul is the last village situated on the Indo-China border. Chitkul has a population of 900. The number of tourists visiting Chitkul sometimes safely exceeds that number. The same is the case with Sangla village of Kinnaur which has become a favorite destination of tourists.
From Karchham to Sangla, the 11 km drive is quite an adventure. “It is a dangerously narrow serpentine road through a 2000 feet deep gorge and is quite a thrill for tourists to experience. And add to that, Kinnaur apples are known for their quality across the world,” said Ashish Negi, a local from Sangla.
Kalpa and Ribba are the other two villages in Kinnaur which have been witnessing tourist rush of late. Although most of them are foreigners. Ribba is especially in high demand because of the locally made angoori (made from grapes) which is a big attraction for foreigners.
Kinnaur Deputy Commissioner Abid Hussain Sadiq said, “Border Area Development Program under which Vibrant Village Program (VVP) has been started, is increasing tourist attraction in the villages of Kinnaur. Infrastructure is being developed and such places are benefiting.”
Atal Tunnel opens new routes for Lahaul, Spitis
Like Shimla, the increased traffic jams in Manali are not headed towards Manali. Lahaul and Spiti have got new opportunities after the inauguration of the 9.2 km long Atal Tunnel. Sisu and Pattan Valley are new favorites among tourists. Sanjay Thakur, a local from Kullu who frequently visits Lahaul, said, “Earlier due to long drives, taxi operators had to carry oxygen cylinders to tourists in case of altitude sickness. Now the ride in Sisu and beyond is relatively comfortable and short. ,
Before the tunnel’s inauguration, only 2,000 vehicles crossed the Rohtang Pass (the old gateway to Lahaul and Spiti) every month. Now, around 1,000 tourist vehicles cross Lahaul on the other side through the Atal Tunnel every day. The tunnel cuts through the mountain to bypass the Rohtang Pass. Anoop Thakur, president of Manali Hoteliers Association, affirmed, “The gain of Lahaul is the loss of Manali.” There are traffic jams in Manali, parking is a problem, and therefore, and otherwise too tourists are preferring to explore the pristine snow-capped mountains of Lahaul and Spiti. And because of the tunnel, the distance has been halved.