With three hotels, one with 18 rooms, and another 15 homestays already functioning, Pangi valley, the rugged and poorly developed tribal landscape in Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh, is a new tourist hotspot in the high altitude tribal belt, favoured by bikers and nature lovers.
Last week, the state's tourism department registered 23 more homestays. It is also training local entrepreneurs, including a few women and youth, in running these homestays.
Director (Tourism) Amit Kashyap, who was at Udaipur in Lahaul-Spiti on Thursday, told Outlook that a lot of tourists are pouring in to Pangi, which offers breath-taking beauty, distinctive culture and a majestic view of the mountains.
Until a few years back, Pangi was known as the "Kaala Pani" of the Himachal, owing to the highly dangerous route to reach the spot. The only sub-divisional headquarter for the area is at Killar, which is located at a height of 14,500 feet.
Now, the landlocked valley has slowly begun to prosper. "The natives have built hotels and homestays to supplement their farm incomes. Hospitality is soon going to be the biggest source of self-employment. We also want tourists to go to unexplored valleys, villages and enjoy local cuisines, stay with families and learn more about Himachal,” Kashyap said.
Increased tourism is the biggest change that Pangi is set to witness in the coming years even though large parts of the area remain cut off from the world for six to seven months during the winter snowfall.
Previously, emergency helicopter flights during the winter were the only way to reach Killar for requisitioning of ration and other supplies.
The construction of a road connecting Pangi with Udaipur-Keylong-Rohtang Pass brought hope. Now, the construction of the Rohtang Tunnel is being seen as a boon for the natives of Pangi and tourists heading to the location.
Bordering Jammu & Kashmir, Pangi has already started to get colder with its neighbouring Lahaul-Spiti mountains receiving the first spell of snowfall of the year two days back.
“We only have 10 to 15 days left before we get cut off. The Covid-19 lockdown spelt doom for the tourists' season, just like last year due to Covid lockdown," K C Thakur, whose wife Mandei Thakur owns Chaumanda Hotel and Restaurant, told Outlook.
While Thakur complained about poor internet connectivity, which is yet to be upgraded to 4G level, and frequent power disruption, he hoped to make the hotel project viable within the next two to three years’ time.
The biggest benefit to Pangi, he admitted, is the construction of the Rohtang Tunnel and roads via Sach Pass that leads to Chamba, an entrepreneur who plans to set up a 36-room hotel soon, told Outlook.
District Tourism Development Officer Chamba Vijay Kumar, who was at Killar with a team of officials, has registered 23 new homestays in remote villages of Pangi subdivision. These include Findru, Findpar, Saach, Sechu, Chask, Chask Bhatori, Sahali, Kumar Bhatori, Shaur, Ajog, Purthi, Thamoh and Killar villages.
The tourists in Pangi include visitors from West Bengal, Gujarat and other states including bikers and advertisers. People are exploring safer and off-beat places like Pangi due to the fear of Covid-19, he said.
Minakshi Chaudhry, a young writer who in 2002 wrote a book on Pangi called ‘Exploring Pangi Himalaya: A World Beyond Civilization". Speaking to Outlook, Chaudhry said she was delighted to read reports about Pangi turning into an off-beat and popular gateway for tourists. "I had spent the best time in Pangi while working on my book at a time when my husband was posted there as a senior civil servant. Pangi has very unique customs, traditions, intuitions, folk dances, folklore which I tried to explore in my book," she said.
Chaudhry, who has also written a book on the 123 best tourist destinations in Himachal Pradesh, predicted that Pangi will soon become a tourists hotspot. However, she stressed on the need for promoting Pangi in a sustainable manner without allowing tourists to harm the agro-climatic zone in the ecologically fragile valley.