Tourism: Kashmir’s loss is Himachal’s gain

Shimla, Aug 5 (IANS) Protests in Jammu and Kashmir have triggered a surge in tourist footfalls in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh. Hill stations like Shimla, Manali, Dalhousie and Dharamsala have been buzzing with visitors despite the onset of monsoon.

‘With the onset of monsoon (in the first week of July), the arrival of tourists across the state comes down massively. But this time, most of our hotels are experiencing 30-35 percent more occupancy compared to previous years,’ Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corp (HPTDC) general manager Yogesh Behl told IANS.

‘Most tourists are opting for this hill state after cancelling their bookings in Srinagar and its nearby tourist spots. Even at our information centres, we are getting enquiries from tourists who now wish to visit the Himachal hills due to the frenzy in Kashmir,’ he added.

Clashes between stone-pelting protesters and security forces began in the Kashmir Valley June 11 and since then have claimed at least 45 civilian lives. Curfew has been on for almost a week and heavily armed security personnel have been patrolling the streets, but outraged crowds have been defying prohibitory orders.

In such a situation, tourism in Kashmir has taken a hit even though last year the state had seen 500,000 tourists, inlcuding 25,000 foreigners – the highest in many years.

Priya Gill, a tourist from Delhi, said: ‘This time we planned to visit Gulmarg and Srinagar. But protests there forced us to cancel our bookings. Then we decided to head to Shimla and its nearby areas.’

Manali-based tour operator M.C. Thakur said: ‘We are getting most of those tourists who were earlier bound for Srinagar and its nearby tourist resorts. Even to Leh (in Jammu and Kashmir), only those tourists are going who can afford costly air travel.’

He said any incident of unrest in the Valley proves beneficial for the tourism industry in Himachal Pradesh.

Last year also, a large number of tourists opted for Himachal Pradesh after protests in Srinagar erupted in June over the alleged rape and murder of two women in Shopian.

James Bryan, a US national who is camping in Kullu along with 20 trekkers, said: ‘We have abandoned our plan to trek in the Valley. Now we are going to trudge the Tirthan-Sainj route in the Kullu Valley. After this we will go for mountain biking from Manali to Keylong.’

Behl said HPTDC’s hotels in Shimla and Manali are getting good bookings. On weekends, most towns see a sudden surge in tourist footfalls.

Himachal Pradesh, known for its delicious apples, a World Heritage railway and picture-perfect tourist spots, last year attracted 11,437,155 tourists, including 400,583 foreigners.

Kullu and Manali are the hotspots for tourists, followed by Shimla and Dharamsala.

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

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