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Home stays and agro tourism, Sangla Valley shows way (IANS Travel)

Shimla, May 19 (IANS) It’s that time of the year when many in the tribal Sangla valley of Himachal Pradesh will throw open their doors to visitors from the plains. On offer – as part of a tourism festival – is a whole way of life, from plucking fruits to sampling local delicacies.

The three-day Sangla Valley Household Tourism Festival starts May 21 in Kinnaur district. From tribal art and culture to cuisine like ‘joota’ and ‘chanta’, everything promises to be a revelation to city dwellers.

The guests at the festival will be put up in home stay units.

‘More than 50 home-stay units with a bed capacity of 150 have been set up in the Sangla valley alone. The area is emerging as a hub for household and agro-tourism,’ said Tej Pratap Singh, vice-chancellor of CSK Himachal Pradesh Krishi Vishwavidyalaya at Palampur in Kangra district.

The Krishi Vishwavidyalaya and the Himalayan Research Group (HRG) are providing logistical and technical support to the festival organised by the state tourism department.

Into its third year, the previous two editions of the event got a good response. Last year there were 1,000 visitors during the festival, say offficials.

‘In the first two festivals, we motivated the local people to open and run home stay units with the assistance of the state government. Our experiment has borne fruit as 20 percent of the units registered in the state under the home stay scheme are in the valley alone,’ Tej Pratap Singh added.

‘The festival is an initiative to promote household tourism, which not only helps preserve rich heritage but also provides to people other means of livelihood,’ he said.

The climatic conditions of the landlocked Kinnaur district are harsh as much of the land falls under the inhospitable Himalayan terrain. But despite that, the hospitality sector is proving to be a draw.

‘Dishes prepared from buckwheat, barley and apricots grown in the district would be served to the guests,’ Lal Singh of the Shimla-based HRG, one of the organisers of the festival, told IANS.

‘Stalls for the sale of local handicrafts, handlooms, organic fruits, dry fruits, pulses, buckwheat and medicinal plants would be set up by local farmers, artisans and traders,’ he said.

HRG and Krishi Vishwavidyalaya are motivating people to grow high-value medicinal plants and herbs in the region to boost their sources of income.

‘We want local people to earn by allowing tourists to be part of their day-to-day activities like plucking fruits and vegetables, tilling land and collecting fodder and wood,’ Tej Pratap Singh said.

Himachal Pradesh, with a population of over six million, attracted 11,437,155 tourists, including 400,583 foreigners, in 2009. Kullu and Manali are the hot spots for tourists, followed by Shimla and Dharamsala.

How to travel: By public or private transport. From Shimla to the Sangla valley via Narkanda, it’s a more than 10-hour journey.

Distance: 275 km from state capital Shimla.

Where to stay: Small hotels, guesthouses and home-stay units with local people.

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

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