The devastating rainfall and fears of the Himalayan tsunami repeat has apparently given a blow to tourism industry in the state. The recent rains have brought down the number of Char Dham pilgrims in Uttarakhand from over 5000 to less than 1000 a day. On the other hand, hoteliers are flooded with the frantic calls from the tourists.
The first four days of the rain and landslide this year have left over 25 dead, sending a ‘negative’ image of the state, whose economy largely depends on tourism.
According to police figures, as many as 5350 pilgrims visited the four holy Hindu shrines Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri and Sikh shrine Hemkund in Uttarakhand on June 29. And the number came down to barely 959 on July 1 on July 2 (see box).
Char Dham roads, too, have got blocked at several spots and authorities are working round-the-clock to rescue the stranded pilgrims. Even the visuals of the rain fury are going viral on the national and the social media. As per the figures, only 121 pilgrims visited the Yamunotri on July 2, followed by 168 pilgrims in Badrinath, 180 pilgrims in the Gangotri and 434 pilgrims in Kedarnath shrines.
“This year had been seeing a record inflow of tourists for the first time ever since the 2013 disaster till now. But the hype around (the latest disaster) has already started showing its result (effect),” said a worried Umakant Nautiyal, a tourism operator based in Uttarkashi.
Around 11.54 lakh pilgrims have visited Uttarakhand till July 2. For Tamil businessman Issaipriyan (name changed), a trip to Garhwal hills in Uttarakhand with family members turned into a nightmare. Incessant rain triggered landslides across the state last Friday. This forced Issaipriyan to confine himself to Chamoli. The distressed guest had no idea who to approach for help. Finally, a call to a journalist friend in New Delhi fetched some help and his family could be dropped at the Dehradun airport by a taxi.
The hotel owners in popular tourist spots such as Nainital, Corbett and Mussoorie are receiving frantic phone calls from the panicky tourists for safety.
“Natural calamities are not new to mountain states but what concerns us is the negative image of the state portrayed in a section of media that is hitting the tourism business,” feels Surendra Pal Singh, general secretary of the Corbett hotels and resorts association. Anuraag Consol, a hotelier from Nainital, who thinks a lack of a mechanism to cater to phone calls and queries from the tourists creates panic.
“We try to share correct (right) information when a tourist calls. But I fail to understand why the state government doesn’t have a 24X7 helpline that can inform and update tourists?” Consol asks.
Experts say most parts of the state are safe for tourists. But due to a lack of effective strategy and information system, Uttarakhand is suffering an image loss.
When contacted, additional director (tourism) A K Dwivedi said that the number of pilgrims dipped every monsoon, but the drop was “worrisome” this time. “We will try to send a message across the country that only some parts of Uttarakhand are facing disaster and the rest is safe,” Dwivedi said.
In an official statement, chief minister Harish Rawat said that the Char Dham Yatra “will continue under a close supervision of the state government” and that the pilgrims, wherever they get stranded due to road blockages, would get help from the respective district administrations.
According to the union tourism ministry data, Uttarakhand till 2012 was among the top 10 states that were favourite among domestic tourists. But after 2013 Kedarnath flashfloods, the state lost its position. In 2014, 2.26 crore pilgrims visited Uttarakhand which jumped to 2.95 crore last year.