What was meant to be a fun trip for hundreds of weekend tourists from the region to the hills of neighbouring Himachal Pradesh turned out to be a nightmarish driving experience over the weekend for many with traffic jams, landslides and other hold-ups forcing people to spend long hours for journeys of less than 100 kilometres.
The long weekend (Aug 15 to 18) gave enough reason for people from Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and even Delhi to drive up to the hills in Himachal Pradesh, but this break became the worst driving experience for a majority of the people.
"We left Chandigarh for Kasauli, a distance of just 65 km, and thought that we would be there in less than two hours. We ended up being on the road for five and a half hours. It was a nightmare," Gurgaon-based entrepreneur Sandeep Brar told IANS.
"The worst part was that the authorities concerned in Himachal, including the police, did not seem to be even aware of what hell the tourists were going through. We did not even find any police trying to help motorists or diverting traffic to other routes," he said.
Many visitors pointed out that the entry fee charged by authorities in Himachal became the biggest bottleneck with traffic jams extending up to three kilometres. Landslides caused by heavy rainfall in recent days across Himachal Pradesh added to the problem.
"The Himachal government should do something immediately about these entry fee barriers. These are resulting in traffic jams every weekend when the number of tourist cars goes up significantly. This results in traffic jams. Insensitive motorists add to the problem by trying to create 2-3 rows of vehicles," tourist Harmala Ahluwalia from Chandigarh said.
While the Chandigarh-Shimla national highway saw traffic jams at several places like Parwanoo, Jabli, Dharampur, Solan and Kandaghat, people going to and from the Kullu-Manali side and the Dalhousie side also had to suffer long traffic jams.
"We travelled from Mandi to Chandigarh and it took us nearly 11 hours for the four-and-a-half hour journey (of nearly 200 km). The vehicles were moving bumper to bumper and at a very slow speed. To add to the woes, the condition of the highway was miserable with large potholes. One section of 30 km between Bilaspur and Swarghat took us over four hours. Scores of tourists could be seen walking way ahead of their stranded vehicles to see how long the traffic jams were. There was no policeman in sight," Ritika Sharma, who lives in Abu Dhabi and was visiting her family in Mandi town, told IANS.
A senior tourism officer in Shimla said that the plight of the tourists was known to the state government.
"We have tried to take various measures, but these are of little help in avoiding traffic jams," the officer, requesting anonymity, told IANS.