Even as the world keeps a tense watch on the Israeli ground offensive in Gaza strip, in Dharmakot village, 13 kilometers from Dharamsala town, it is a booming time for the hospitality industry as thousands from the Middle Eastern country are thronging the small hamlet this season.
According to locals, there has been a significant increase in the number of Israelis visiting the village.
Around 20,000 Israelis visit Dharamkot and nearby Bagsu every year. Nestled in the foothills of Dhauladhar ranges, tourists refer to Dharamkot as India's “Tel Aviv of the hills” where many houses have been turned into countryside guesthouses.
The natives of village who belong to the Gaddi tribe are fluent in Hebrew. There are writings in Hebrew language on many buildings of the village. There is also a 'Chabad House' (Jewish community centre) in the middle of the village, giving the village the look of a Jewish settlement.
The locals, mostly involved in housekeeping, have been witnessing a considerable slump in the business since two years after the Indian government imposed visa restriction on Israelis following a request from their government after it was found that the youth from the country were indulging in drugs.
The government has restricted the visa for Israeli tourists to just three months with a condition that the tourists, who visit the country on a three-month visa, could revisit India only after a gap of one year. Before 2012, the Israeli tourists used to get a tourist visa of at least six months and that visa could be extended for another six months from Nepal.
“In past few weeks, the number of Israelis visiting Dharamkot has gone up significantly,” said Anil Kumar who runs a restaurant in the village. “Though people from other countries too stay here, 80% are Israelis,” he said adding that a comparatively pleasant weather this year with a weak monsoon could be the reason behind the increased influx.
Sandeep Kumar, a local who has turned his house into a guest house, said the Israelis who were on a visit to south India added the hill state to their itinerary after consulting the weather conditions. Israelis normally visit the state during spring or winters.