By Vishal Gulati
Shimla: Himachal’s popular tourist resorts Manali, Narkanda and Kalpa are wrapped up in a thick blanket of snow, making the hill stations more picturesque for New Year Eve revellers.
Members of the hospitality industry say it’s the last week’s snow that has surged the tourist footfall, which is likely to cross the 50,000-mark across the state to celebrate the coming of New Year.
Met Office director Manmohan Singh told IANS Sunday that the minimum temperature at most places that saw snow stayed close to sub-zero.
“There are chances of rainfall and snowfall at some places Dec 30-31,” he said.
Unlike Shimla, its nearby popular destinations like Kufri and Narkanda are covered with snow.
“We are hopeful of getting a record footfall of tourists on the last few days of the year,” said general manager D.P. Bhatia of Clarke’s Hotel here.
He said they were getting a number of enquiries on the possibility of snowfall in Shimla and surrounding hills. “We are advising them to travel to Narkanda for snowy landscape,” Bhatia added.
Narkanda, the heart of the apple belt some 65 km from here, has good accumulation of snow.
However, Shimla – known for the imperial grandeur of buildings that were once institutions of power when it was the summer capital of British India – is totally bereft of snow.
Manali in Kullu district, about 250 km from here, is also a magnet for holiday-makers owing to the plentiful snow.
“Most of the hotels are packed to capacity well in advance. The tourists are mainly from Gujarat and Maharashtra,” Manali-based travel agent M.C. Thakur said.
Most of them are heading to Gulaba and Solang slopes, near Manali, to enjoy skiing, snow-scooter rides and sledging, he said.
Tourists bound for the Rohtang Pass, located at an altitude of 13,050 feet (51 km from Manali), are not allowed to move beyond Gulaba.
The most sought after destinations are Shimla, Narkanda, Kasauli, Sangla, Manali, Dharamsala, Palampur and Dalhousie, say travel agencies.
Himachal Pradesh tourism director Mohan Chauhan said tourists could also get good accommodation in homestay units.
Under this scheme, any resident living on the outskirts of a town can rent out a portion of his house – maximum three rooms – to tourists after getting the premises registered with the tourism department.
“The homestay scheme has gained popularity and helped to drive tourists to offbeat destinations,” Chauhan said.
At present, 338 home stay units with a room capacity of 891 have been registered. Out of these, 113 alone are in the Kullu-Manali region. Shimla and Dharamsala areas have around 90 units.
The mountain peaks viewed from Shimla, and the Dhauladhar peaks overlooking Tibetan Buddhist leader Dalai Lama’s official palace in McLeodganj near Dharamsala are wrapped up in a white blanket.
Nikhil Sharma, a Chandigarh-based entrepreneur, said he would go to McLeodganj to bid farewell to 2013.
Himachal Pradesh, highly dependent on tourism, attracted 16.1 million tourists last year, including 497,850 foreigners.
Tourist arrivals have already surpassed the state’s population of about 6.5 million.