Wednesday, Mar 22, 2023

Himachal Pradesh Hill Stations Packed To Brim, Masks Are Back Amid Covid Concerns

Himachal Pradesh Hill Stations Packed To Brim, Masks Are Back Amid Covid Concerns

Himachal Pradesh hotels and homestays are at over 80% occupancy currently and it’s expected to touch 90-95% by the New Year. Himachal government expects tourism to touch pre-pandemic level by the New Year. Amid Covid-19 concerns, Himachal seeks to strike a fine balance between tourism and health concerns.

People skate at an ice skating rink, at Lakkar Bazar in Shimla
People skate at an ice skating rink, at Lakkar Bazar in Shimla PTI photo

As India prepares for any spill-over of Covid-19 surge in China and other countries, the hill-stations in Himachal Pradesh are brimming with tourists in the holiday season. Tourist towns such as the capital Shimla are almost full as revellers flock to celebrate Christmas and the New Year.

While there is excitement among the Himachal government and hospitality industry at tourism’s return after a Covid-induced lull, there are also concerns over Covid-19 and the Himachal government has already asked people to exercise caution. Masks have already made a return as many tourists are seen wearing one.

Tourists are welcome, take precautions: Himachal CM Sukhu

Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu —who himself tested Covid-positive last week— has asked Himachal Chief Secretary RD Dhiman to oversee arrangements for the tourists after holding meetings with Deputy Commissioners (DCs) and Superintendents of Police (SPs).

“Tourists are welcome. We will ensure that they enjoy a comfortable stay and return with good memories from the hills. But my humble appeal will be to follow Covid-appropriate behaviours — use masks and avoid going to crowded places,” said Sukhu after he returned to Shimla from Delhi where he tested Covid-positive. 

Sukhu said the government has deferred holding of Himachal assembly session at Dharamshala for the time being to avoid inconvenience to the tourists. He added that this will also help the law enforcement agencies to focus on facilitating tourists’ movements and ensuring facilities where they stay.

Himachal hotel, homestays excited at tourist footfall

Waves of tourists are arriving daily in Himachal’s tourist destinations such as Manali where the Rohtang Tunnel remains the biggest attraction. Besides Manali, Dharamshala, McLeodganj, Dalhousie, Shimla and its suburbs of Mashobra, Fagu, Naldehra, Chail, and Narkanda are witnessing daily arrivals.

“The arrivals are good this time after two years of the Covid-19 and lockdowns. We are advising the tourists to wear masks whenever they go to busy places such as the Mall or Shimla Ridge. There was a forecast of snowfall on Christmas initially. We hope to see snow soon,” says hotelier Prince Kukreja, who is also the Vice President of Shimla Hotel and Restaurant Association.

Most hoteliers have arranged special functions ahead of the New Year celebrations and they are also using social media to popularise their places and functions.

The trend during the past three years has been that tourists are preferring to stay away from the main towns to villages where homestays and farm destinations are offering new hospitality options. This has led to dispersal of tourists away from crowded cities.

Himachal hopeful to reach pre-Covid tourism level

As many as 1.39 crore tourists visited Himachal till November 30 this year as compared to 56.37 lakhs tourists last year, according to the tourism department data.

“We are hopeful to touch the pre-Covid tourist inflow figures by the year-end as December is the peak tourist season,” says Amit Kashyap, Managing Director of Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC).

The HPTDC-run hotel Holiday Home was buzzing with tourists and evening parties.

“We are offering special packages for the December 31 event which will have all elements of dine-and-dance apart from traditional cuisines, continental, Indian, and Chinese food,” said Mohendra Verma, Senior Manager at Hotel Holiday Home.

Police facilitating tourism, curbing Covid risk

With the increase in tourist arrival, Himachal Pradesh Police has also decided to increase deployment and make use drones at the entry-points, including in Shimla, Parwanoo, and Pandoh for accurate estimation of the number of visitors entering the state.

On Sunday, the police headquarters issued directions to SPs to arrange vehicle recovery cranes and place them at critical locations to remove illegally parked vehicles to avoid traffic congestion and ensure smooth movement of tourists.

“The SPs have been directed to carry out regular checks at hotels, guest houses, and other places of stay, and take special care that the tourists do not face any inconvenience,” said a police official.

Along with this, SP Cyber Crime has been advised to take prompt action against anti-social elements who post any objectionable content. The official added that emergency helpline number 112 is also available for assistance to tourists.

Tourists hoping for New Year snowfall

Though a white Christmas eluded tourists, Shimla and Manali were still busiest even as Rohtang Tunnel also saw a huge surge of tourists, with many crossing over to Sissu — a key spot in Lahaul Spiti across the tunnel.
Sanjay Dutta, who owns as homestay at Manali, says the hotel industry is pinning hopes on snowfall on January 1. 

The occupancy in hotels is 80 per cent-plus and could touch 90-95 per cent in next few days. Snowfall will definitely be a boon on New Year as it comes at the weekend.

Shimla Meteorological Station Director Surender Paul hints at the possibility of light snowfall in Shimla, Manali, and higher reaches on December 29-30.