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Himachal tourism to bloom due to floods in Kashmir

By Vishal Gulati,

Shimla : Floods in Kashmir may be a boon for Himachal Pradesh. A surge in tourist inflow to Himachal Pradesh is likely in the upcoming festive season because the devastating floods in Kashmir are scaring away tourists.

Tourism industry representatives are expecting a 30 to 35 percent increase in the arrival of tourists with the onset of the Dussehra and Durga Puja festive season in the first week of October, particularly in places like Shimla, Manali and Dharamsala.

“We are expecting 30-35 percent increase in footfall of the tourists during this period in the state compared to the previous years,” Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corp (HPTDC) general manager Yogesh Behl told IANS.

He said most tourists from West Bengal, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Delhi are opting to Himachal for vacations with the onset of Navaratri and Durga Puja.

“Our information centres are getting enquiries from the tourists who are now opting Himachal due to the natural calamity in Kashmir,” he added.

After the peak tourists’ months of May and June, it is the long Dussehra and Durga Puja holidays that every year attract a stream of holidaymakers to the hill state.

Corporate executive Malvika Arora from Delhi said she had cancelled her bookings in Srinagar and now is planning to visit Manali during the Dussehra holidays.

Hotelier and travel agent M.C. Thakur, who is based in Manali, some 250 km from the state capital, said adventure tourists, mainly foreigners, one of the major attractions of Himachal from September to October, is also gaining this season.

“Most of the foreigners generally prefer to drive down the 475-km-long Manali-Leh highway. From Leh, they travel towards Srinagar. Now with the condition of Leh-Srinagar roads quite bad, most of them prefer to come back to Manali again,” he said.

Backpackers, especially from the US, Britain, Italy, France and Germany, come to Manali this period for adventure-related activities like trekking, rock-climbing and mountain biking.

Estimates of the state tourism department show over 100,000 tourists are likely to visit the state during two long weekends in October and November.

The first long weekend starts from Oct 2 (Gandhi Jayanti) and ends Oct 6 (Bakri Eid).

The second one is from Diwali (Oct 23).

“Diwali this year is Thursday. So if you take an off Friday and combine the holiday with the weekend, you can practically party for four days without really allowing your work to suffer,” says a travel agent.

Likewise, Moharram falls Nov 4 (Tuesday).

Vijai Singh Mankotia, vice chairman of the state tourism development corporation, said for the tourists who want to enjoy rural tourism, staying in homestay units would also be the right option.

“We are going to promote homestay units in a bigger way during the two-day apple fest going to be held in Shimla Sep 25-26,” he told IANS.

He said during the festival, a unique initiative to promote homestay units set up in orchards, an attempt would be made to take the tourists to the orchards and to promote those destinations.

The rural homestay scheme, started in 2008, have provided employment to around 3,000 people and generated economic activity worth over Rs.4 crore in the state, say officials.

The scheme also succeeds in driving tourists from traditional hotspots to offbeat destinations.

At present, over 350 homestay units with a room capacity of around 900 have been registered with the state. Out of these, over 120 alone are in the Kullu-Manali region. The Shimla and Dharamsala areas have around 100 units.

The tourist arrivals in Himachal Pradesh every year surpass the state’s population of about 6.8 million.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])