SHIMLA/ DEHRADUN: Kashmir’s loss is Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand’s gain. Each state is seeing a major increase in tourism as unrest continues in Kashmir.
But can they handle the windfall? Reporters for Hindustan Times talked to businessmen, officials, and tourists in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand’s most popular hill stations. Focusing particularly on Himachal, we found that the flight of tourism from Kashmir to other states is both a blessing and a curse.
In a normal year, at least 23,000 tourists visit Manali daily during the peak season in June according to Ritesh Patial, the local tourist information officer. The town becomes a hunting ground for unscrupulous taxi operators, who overcharge tourists right under the nose of the administration.
A restriction by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has added to the chaos. Almost everyone visiting Manali wants to see the famous Rohtang Pass. Three years ago, however, the NGT limited the number of vehicles passing through Rohtang to 1,200 in order to preserve its fragile ecology.
Vehicle owners need permits from the Manali sub-divisional magistrate, which charges Rs550. Local taxi operators often violate the permit system to make a fast buck. After the administration blacklisted 3,000 suspected violators a couple weeks ago, taxi operators responded with a protest that brought traffic in Manali to a standstill for eight hours.