By Vishal Gulati
Shimla: Tourist destinations in Himachal Pradesh are turning out be hot for tourists with chill setting in early.
A White Christmas may still be a distant dream but the hoteliers are gearing up for increased footfalls.
“Last week’s snowfall in Shimla and Manali has revived hopes of bountiful business in the coming months,” Harnam Kukreja, president of the Shimla Hoteliers and Restaurants Association, told IANS.
Snow cover is a big draw for the tourists and the hospitality industry is excited by the possibility of more spells in the coming days.
Kukreja said most of the tourist destinations like Shimla, Kufri, Narkanda, Kalpa, Dharamsala, Palampur and Manali had witnessed a downturn since the Uttarakhand disaster in mid-June.
Tourist spots near Shimla, such as honeymooners’ paradise Kufri and Narkanda experienced mild snowfall, turning the hill stations even more picturesque.
Likewise, the Solang ski slopes, 13 km uphill from Manali, and Kalpa, 250 km from the state capital, also saw snow, the weather office here said.
Met officials in Shimla, however, are wary. They say it’s too early to predict whether Shimla or Manali will have snow cover this Christmas.
Christmas snows have been eluding Shimla since 1991, when heavy snowfall occurred on Christmas Eve. And except in 2010, there has been no white New Year’s Eve either in the past 10 years.
“As news of the snowfall flashed in the plains, a number of enquiries started pouring about chances of snow on Christmas and New Year’s Eve,” Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation deputy general manager Vijay Sharma told IANS.
“Even this weekend, we are expecting a good rush,” he added.
Hospitality industry representatives are expecting good arrivals of tourists during the three-day weekend that starts with the Muharram holiday Friday.
Manali got a large chunk of tourists after snow in its nearby destinations like Solang and Marhi, said Manali Hotel Association president A.R. Thakur.
“This time, timely setting of chill indicates a long winter season ahead. This is a good sign for the tourism industry,” he said.
“Manali is the only destination in the country where one can witness snow either in the town or in its vicinity throughout the winter,” prominent Manali-based travel agent M.C. Thakur said.
At present, from Gulaba onwards, 19 km from Manali, the tourists can ride snow-scooters and snow-sledges and hurl snowballs at each other, he said.
“Last weekend was good in terms of business. It was mainly due to the season’s first snow,” Thakur said.
Tour operators have been advising tourists to plan trips to Narkanda, Dalhousie, Dharamsala, Palampur and Sangla. At these destinations, the tourists can at least enjoy the view of snow-laden hills.
Even the mountain peaks viewed from Shimla’s historic Ridge have been wrapped in a thick white blanket of snow.
Deepika Rajdhan, a senior executive with a Chandigarh-based multinational company, said: “This weekend we are travelling to Manali to enjoy snowy landscape.”
The state economy is highly dependent on tourism, besides hydroelectric power and horticulture.
Himachal Pradesh got 16.1 million tourists last year, including 497,850 foreigners, a state tourism department report said.
At present, 2,169 hotels with a capacity of 55,928 beds are registered with the state, it said.