Fearing an influx of the tourists amid the Coronavirus pandemic, Spiti Tourism Society has decided not to be part of any tourism-related activities this year.
The decision by the stakeholders of Spiti comes after the Himachal Pradesh government decided to lift both outbound and inbound inter-state travel restrictions.
Lahaul-Spiti has been least affected by the Coronavirus outbreak, primarily because of strict restrictions imposed through panchayats, Mahila Mandals and Yuvak Mandals. Besides, the tourism industry had decided as early as in March to halt all tourism-related activities, thus, barring the influx of tourists in the district.
The lockdown was so religiously followed and imposed that a local MLA, Dr Ram Lal Markanda, who is also Minister for Tribal Affairs and IT, was not allowed to enter Spiti.
Tsering Sakya, president Spiti Tourism Society, said the decision to halt all the tourism-related activities this year was taken unanimously to send a message across the state and outside.
Spiti Valley (Photo: Ajay Banyal)
He said all hotels, home-stays and all kinds of tourism activities have been closed for this year.
In a letter submitted to Additional Deputy Commission Spiti, Gian Sagar Negi, the local tourism society said: "This decision is made considering the consequences of the pandemic on the high altitude region of Spiti valley which has limited medical facilities, underdeveloped infrastructure and extreme geographical condition with our harsh winters and pre-existing medical condition of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)."
Situated in the north-eastern part of Himachal Pradesh, Spiti Valley attracts tourists from across the country because of its breathtaking beauty, monasteries, including over a thousand-year-old Tabo monastery, and famous Chandra Tal lake.
Though the Spiti Tourism Society admitted that closing down of the tourism activities would have adverse impact on their economy as the Valley majorly depends on tourism, they said it was a necessary step to curb the spread of Coronavirus.
"With winters approaching, Spiti Valley will be far more vulnerable. Any person requiring medical assistance will need to be taken outside Spiti for treatment and maintaining social distancing in the cold will not be possible," Sakya said.
Therefore, we believe that our Valley cannot afford to get exposed to the pandemic, considering that we still don't have a single case of Covid-19 in our community, they said.
In the rest of Himachal Pradesh, the hoteliers have decided to resume their operations and have welcomed the decision of the state government to open the borders for free movement of the tourists.
Chandra Tal Lake, Spiti. (Photo: Ajay Banyal)
Earlier this month, the government allowed bars and restaurants to open subject to strict regulations on social distancing and providing an infection free environment for customers. The lifting of these restrictions saw a huge rush of people driving to Himachal Pradesh and Shimla. Parwanoo, a gateway to Shimla, reported long queues of vehicles from Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Delhi entering the state.
Meanwhile, as of Wednesday, the Covid-19 death toll in the state rose to 90, while the highest spike 460 cases pushed the infection tally in the state to 10,796.