Tourists and revellers hoping for a ‘White Christmas’ in the erstwhile summer capital of British India in Himachal Pradesh were in for a disappointment this year as well with Shimla greeting visitors with bright sunshine on Christmas.
The sprawling Ridge, next to the landmark ‘Christ Church ‘— one of the oldest churches of Asia , was packed with tourists since midnight in expectation of snowfall as per the forecast of the MeT.
The Church was decorated and illuminated for the town's Christian community who arrived n large numbers to offer for prayers and greet the tourists. However, the midnight service, usually an important Christmas ritual, was suspended in keeping with Covid-19 protocols.
The last time it snowed in Shimla on Christmas Day was in 2016, that too after a gap of two decades, though some years between 2014 to 2018 did see a small spell of pre-Christmas snowfall.
(Tourists crowd Ridge (left), Rohtang Tunnel also got a high rush of visitors)
The hoteliers admit that the past one week has had quite a high footfall of tourists and most hotels, including HPTDC–run ventures like Hotel Holiday Home, are already packed.
As per a new trend, a lot of tourists are opting to stay away from the crowded places and thus heading for homestays around Shimla and its rural spaces for fear of Covid-19.
The temperature has dipped to sub-zero levels, however, and chances of snowfall are not yet fully ruled out.
Superintendent of Police Shimla Dr Monika Bhutunguru said the police have made elaborate arrangements and deployed police personnel to guide the tourists about safe driving and proper parking of their vehicles.
Over 3,000 tourists vehicles had entered Shimla via Parwanoo –Solan highway on December 24. But had there been snowfall on Christmas, this number could have been double.
The police have also taken it upon themselves to strictly enforce Covid-19 norms in view of fresh guidelines by the state’s health department.
"Wearing face masks is mandatory. Anyone found not wearing the face mask will be fined," Bhutunguru warned. Police personnel are keeping a close check on the violators and CCTV cameras are also made fully operational, Shimla SP informed.
The district administration has created additional parking facilities by allowing some of the sealed roads to be used as free parking slots till December 31.
The higher reaches of Kullu-Manali, Lahaul Spiti and Kinnaur have received fresh snowfall.
Rohtang Tunnel – the world’s longest tunnel at a height of 10,000 feet which has provided all weather connectivity to Keylong is attracting a huge rush of tourists. Visitors have been allowed to travel up to Sissu in Lahaul valley cross Rohtang tunnel but they are required to return to Manali by 4 pm.
Kalpa in Kinnaur recorded a temperature of minus three degrees Celcius while Keylong was freezing under minus seven to eight degrees on Saturday.