Amid spate of targeted killings in Valley, tourists make a beeline for Himachal

With a spate of targeted killings stoking tensions in Kashmir valley, hill-bound tourists are increasingly steering clear of the conflict-ridden zone and choosing to vacation in Himachal Pradesh instead.

After a brief lull in May, tourists are making a beeline for popular tourist destinations such as Kullu, Manali, Shimla, and Dharamshala. The start of summer break is also drawing visitors from sizzling plains to the cooler climes of hill stations.

A tourist from Maharashtra, Rameshwar Singh, who is visiting Himachal with his family, said, “Earlier, we were planning a trip to Kashmir valley. However, after recent incidents of violence against minorities, we changed our plan and opted for Himachal,” he said.

Singh, who is in Dalhousie at present, plans to travel to Dharamshala and Manali and then return via Shimla.

Prem Sagar, who runs a tour-and-travel business in Dharmashala, says violence in Kashmir has definitely diverted tourists towards Himachal. “The impact is for all to see as there has been a marked increase in tourists over the last couple of weeks.

Many people have cancelled their trip to Kashmir and are now visiting hill-stations in Himachal,” he said.

Traffic snarls prevail

In the state capital, Shimla, the tourist influx has buoyed the spirits of the coronavirus beleaguered tourism sector, but consequent traffic snarls have commuters on edge. “Nearly 44,000 vehicles have entered Shimla from the Shoghi barrier over the last 10 days. The number of vehicles in the city has increased,” says superintendent of police, Shimla, Monika Bhutungru.

With traffic chaos prevailing on Circular Road, locals have demanded that traffic be diverted to the bypass connecting Tuttikandi to Dhalli.

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“The government wants to make Shimla a smart city, but appears at a loss when it comes to traffic snarls,” said Badri Prasad, a shopkeeper.

Toy train running at full capacity

Trains on the Kalka-Shimla heritage railway line, including the famous toy trains, are running at full capacity with tourists reserving seats in advance. The railways are expecting more tourists in the days to come. Shimla Railway Station superintendent Joginder Singh said, “Trains heading uphill and downhill are 90% packed. Six trains, including passenger trains, toy trains, chair car, and vista dome train, run on the Kalka-Shimla line. During Covid, there was a slump in tourist arrivals, but now they are heading to the hill state to enjoy the pleasant weather. Toy trains are tourists’ preferred mode of travel.”

Increase tourist attractions in Shimla: Hoteliers

Himachal Pradesh Tourism Stakeholders Association president says Mohinder Seth says, “There has been an increase in the hotel occupancy after we faced a lull in May.”

Hoteliers in Shimla are demanding that the government increase tourist attractions in the city. “Tourists prefer to stay outside Shimla, hoteliers in the city hardly profit,” he says.

“Mostly, tourists just roam around the Mall Road in the evening. They do not know of heritage monuments such as the Gaiety Theater from where many renowned artistes started their careers, the oldest general post office of North India where ‘dak’ used to reach Shimla on tongas during British era, and many other historical sites,” says Seth.

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