Pastoral holiday on agenda? Drop in at a Himachal village (IANS Travel, With Image)

Shimla, July 4 (Calcutta Tube) Milking cows, plucking apples, digging up potatoes and pitting your wits against the elusive trout… That’s the idyllic holiday in a mountain village far from the madding crowd that Himachal Pradesh is offering tourists.

The ‘home-stay scheme’ launched by the state government in July 2008 has been getting an overwhelming response from the tourists – both domestic and overseas.

Under the scheme, any resident living on the outskirts of a town can rent out a portion of his house – maximum three rooms – to tourists after getting the premises registered with the tourism department.

‘Luxury holidaying is now passe. City slickers now prefer to stay amid nature and where they can enjoy local cuisine and folk culture too,’ Tourism Director Arun Kumar Sharma told IANS.

‘Till date, 5,750 people, including 220 foreigners, have stayed in various home-stay units set up across the state. This has not only given a boost to rural prosperity but also helped decongest the popular tourist destinations,’ he added.

According to the tourism department, 246 families in the state have opted for the household tourism scheme.

The picturesque Kullu Valley has 75 registered home-stay units, followed by 49 in Kinnaur district, 38 in Shimla district, 31 in Kangra district, 19 in Lahaul and Spiti district, 12 in Chamba district, 10 in Mandi district, and six each in Sirmaur and Solan districts. The registered home units have 653 rooms.

Principal Secretary (Tourism) Manisha Nanda said: ‘The scheme helps boost the income of the rural population. Earlier, tourists preferred to stay in towns, visit nearby destinations and return to the hotel. Now, they stay at home-stay units, generating employment opportunities for the locals.’

The interior areas of Kangra, Kullu, Shimla and Solan districts have emerged as offbeat holiday destinations, she said.

Solan district, which has just six units, saw the maximum number of tourist arrivals – 2,023 domestic and three foreign.

Kullu district took the lead in attracting backpackers from abroad.

Seventy-five units hosted 132 international and 1,539 national guests.

The idyllic, pastoral settings in the Kullu Valley have been attracting a large number of tourists for mountaineering expeditions, high-altitude treks and white water rafting.

Kangra district saw 1,580 domestic and 77 foreigners. The Lohardi and Multhan areas of Baijnath subdivision were quite popular among the tourists in the district.

Ankur Sood of Jai Durge Bhawan at Lohardi village said: ‘Angling in the water channels here is alluring the tourists. They also love to pluck fruits and sow fields.’

Saurabh Dhingra, a Delhi-based tourist at the Sangla Valley in Kinnaur district, said: ‘It was a unique experience to milk a cow every morning. I would love to visit this place next time too as apart from cheaper tariff, one feels cozy as if staying at home.’

‘The owners of the home-stay units welcomed us with a garland of dry fruits and a cap with green flap (a traditional way to welcome guests in the district),’ he added.

The government has exempted registered private houses from luxury and sales tax. Moreover, they are getting electricity and water at domestic rates.

Tourists can book home-stay units at any of the state-run tourism booking centres.

Tourism is an important contributor to Himachal Pradesh’s economic development. Last year, 9.37 million domestic and 367,000 foreign tourists visited the state.

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

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