Not All Roads Lead To Shimla, Manali; Kinnaur & Lahaul Are Latest Draw Among Tourists

At times, tourists outnumber locals in the relatively unexplored Kinnaur and Lahual.

Houses covered in snow after the fresh snowfall at Raul Village, in Lahaul and Spiti. (ANI Photo)

Chandigarh: The traffic snarls at the tourist destinations of Shimla and Manali tell a misleading tale about the two towns. No, not all the roads are headed to these two hill stations during tourist season.

They are headed far beyond. About 250 kms from Shimla is the pristine and relatively unexplored Kinnaur, the latest draw for the tourists, and also picturesque places that fall in between like Kufri, Naldhera, Theog, Narkanda, Sarahan, etc.

Beyond Manali, the Atal Tunnel which is an architectural wonder, has made Lahaul a major attraction among the travellers too. Due to narrow roads and parking woes in Manali, the lush green Pattan and Sissu Valley have taken away a lot of tourists earlier headed to Manali. For many, Manali is now just a stopover for tourists to have a quick tea and snacks and head to the unexplored virgin valleys and hills of Lahaul.

Gopal Aggarwal, the senior advisor to Shimla Hoteliers and Restaurant Association, and himself a hotelier said, “Water woes in Shimla are unprecedented. Even if a hotelier has rooms, he is not offering them for occupancy due to non-availability of water.” And thus tourists head beyond Shimla.

Himanshu Nag, owner of Tourist hotel at Ram Bazar in Shimla too concurred, “Water and parking woes are Shimla’s biggest problems. We had a lot of tourists early on in the season but now they are headed to Theog, Narkanda and Kinnaur.”

The Peo area of Kinnaur covered in snow on Nov 27, 2019. (ANI Photo)

As Aggarwal said that in Shimla, despite the demand for rooms, due to paucity of water they have to keep hotel rooms vacant. The occupancy in hotels and homestays in the countryside of Shimla district is 100 per cent. Sandeep Verma, owner of Grande Vista, Theog, which is 30 km beyond the state capital, said, “His occupancy is 100 per cent. I have four rooms and the occupancy is 120 rooms during the season.” He added, “Tourists want a different experience and thus the countryside of Shimla is preferred more.”

Sohan Thakur, who also owns Highland Homestay in Cheog, about 20 kms from Shimla, said, “The slice of the life in hills, away from the concrete of Shimla is what tourists now want. They want a different experience – an orchard, animals, fresh air. He too has 100 per cent occupancy during the season which is close to nine months in a year.”

Theog has a five-star hotel called Taj. And in that vicinity there are at least 100 homestays with rooms and ambience as good as a five-star hotel. This speaks volumes about the newer tourist destinations beyond the erstwhile queen of hills.

In Kinnaur, Often Tourists Outnumber Locals

Chitkul is the last village on the India-China border. The population of Chitkul is 900. The number of tourists visiting Chitkul sometimes crosses that number safely. The same is also true about the nearby village of Sangla in Kinnaur which too has become a favourite destination with tourists.

From Karcham to Sangla, the 11 km drive is quite a dare. “It is a dangerously narrow serpentine road by the 2000-feet deep gorge and quite an adventure for the tourists to experience. And add to that, the Kinnaur apples known for their quality worldwide,” said Ashish Negi, a local from Sangla.

Kalpa and Ribba are other two villages in Kinnaur which have been witnessing tourist rush of late. However, most of them are foreigners. Ribba especially is more sought after due to the locally made liquor angoori (made out of grapes) which is a big enticement for the foreigners.

Deputy Commissioner of Kinnaur Abid Hussain Sadiq said, “The Border Area Development Programme under which the Vibrant Village Programme VVP has been launched the villages in Kinnaur are gaining traction among tourists. The infrastructure is being developed and places like these are benefiting.”

Tourists enjoying the pleasant weather at Atal Tunnel, Rohtang (ATR), in Kullu on Sunday. (ANI Photo)

Atal Tunnel Opens New Roads For Lahaul, Spiti

Like Shimla, the increased traffic snarls at Manali are not headed to Manali. After the inauguration of 9.2-km Atal Tunnel, Lahaul and Spiti have got a new lease of opportunities. The Sissu and Pattan Valley are the new favourite among the tourists. Sanjay Thakur, a local from Kullu who often frequents to Lahaul said, “Earlier due to long drives, the taxi operators had to keep oxygen cylinders in case of altitude sickness to the tourists. Now the ride to Sissu and beyond is relative comfortable and shorter.”

Before the tunnel was inaugurated, only 2,000 vehicles would cross Rohtang Pass (the older gateway to Lahaul and Spiti) every month. Now, roughly 1,000 tourist vehicles cross over to the other side which is Lahaul via the Atal Tunnel every day. The tunnel cuts through the mountain to bypass the Rohtang Pass. Anup Thakur, the president of Manali Hoteliers association confirmed, “Lahaul’s gain is Manali’s loss.”

There are traffic snarls in Manali, parking is a problem, and therefore, and even otherwise tourists are preferring to see the pristine snowclad mountains of Lahaul and Spiti. And due to the tunnel the distance has halved.