As spring slowly melts into summer, tourists from the plains are rushing right into the arms of the Himachal Pradesh hills that are still magically laden with snow.
Snowfall has certainly been heavier this time compared to the last few years. The mountain peaks viewed from Shimla’s historic Ridge are wrapped in a thick blanket of white.
“It’s quite soothing to see these lofty snowy peaks,” remarks Aditi Bhardwaj, a tourist from Lucknow.
Hill stations like Shimla, Narkanda, Hotels in Manali, Dalhousie, Dharamsala, Palampur, Sangla and Kalpa are teaming with tourists, Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corp (HPTDC) general manager Yogesh Behl said in an interview.
“The snow-clad mountains are still attracting tourists. Most tourists prefer to visit those destinations where they can hurl snowballs or at least enjoy the view of snow-laden hills,” said Behl. HPTDC has 57 economy and high-end hotels across the state.
He said holidays in schools in the plains had also led to a spike in tourist arrivals. The peaks overlooking popular tourist resorts like Manali, Dharamsala and Palampur are still white.
District Tourism Officer Rajeshwar Goel in Manali said plentiful snowfall at the Solang slopes, 13 km from here, is alluring tourists. On an average 25,000 to 30,000 tourists are coming to Manali on weekends.
“The Solang slopes have around two feet of snow even now and these slopes are ideal for skiing, sledging and snow-scooter rides,” he said.
Goel said the Rohtang Pass, located at 13,050 feet and at a distance of 51 km from Manali, is out of bounds due to heavy snowfall. “Trekking in and around the Rohtang Pass is banned even now. Even locals are not allowed to cross the pass on foot due to the possibility of snowstorms.”
Newly-wed Abhishek Jain and Manisha from Chennai said: “We really enjoyed hurling snowballs at each other. Riding the snow-scooter was also a memorable experience.”
Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal told us that to promote tourism, the government plans to build seven ropeways under public-private partnership and BOOT (build, own, operate, transfer) modes.
“Two ropeways - Palchan to Rohtang Pass and Bhuntar to Bijli Mahadev - have been proposed near Manali,” Dhumal, who also holds the tourism portfolio, said.
The other proposed ropeways are Neugal, Shahtalai to Deot Sidh, Dharmakot to Triund, Anandpur Sahib to Naina Devi and Jia to Addi Himani Chamunda.
Currently, four ropeways are functional at Parwanoo, Naina Devi, Jabli and Solang.
Set up with an investment of Rs.36 crore, the Solang ropeway project is a joint initiative between the state tourism department and a private company, Ski Himalayas Ropeway Pvt Ltd.
The ropeway project, inaugurated by Dhumal in January this year, is a gondola system built with European technology. It takes the tourists to the ridge of Mount Phatru at an elevation of 3,200 m (10,000 ft).
Manmohan Singh, director of the meteorological department here, said popular tourist destinations like Shimla, Narkanda, Kufri, Dalhousie, Chamba, Palampur and Dharamsala have been experiencing pleasant weather these days.
He said the higher reaches in Kinnaur, Chamba, Kullu and Lahaul and Spiti districts experienced mild snow March 20.
Himachal Pradesh attracted 13 million tourists last year as compared to 11 million in 2009, registering an increase of over 16 per cent in a year.
Kullu and Manali are the hotspots for tourists, followed by Shimla and Dharamsala.