The Uttarakhand government has sent a proposal to Union home ministry to withdraw picturesque Harshil along the India-China border from the protected-area regime, a move that is expected to boost tourist inflow.
Standing at an altitude of 2,620 meters in Uttarkashi district, this Himalayan town surrounded by snow-capped mountains attracts domestic and overseas tourists round the year. Known for its breathtaking beauty and apple orchards, it is also a favourite among mountaineers, hikers and trekkers.
Bollywood showman Raj Kapoor catapulted Harshil to national fame, shooting his 1985 blockbuster Ram Teri Ganga Maili in the area’s faultless natural surroundings.
But because of the international boundary and a military cantonment in the area, people need an inner-line permit to go to the place.
Besides, movement of foreign tourists is restricted and they cannot stay overnight at the military area in Harshi town. There is no such restriction in the area under the civil administration.
The state government wants the restrictions limited to 50 metres from the cantonment so that foreigners get more leg room in Harshil. They cannot anyway enter or go too close to a defence post, according to a 1946 law.
State tourism principal secretary Umakant Panwar said this proposal was sent to the Centre.
Foreigners had unlimited access in Uttarkashi district until the 1962 India-China war that forced the government to put Harshil under the restricted areas list and seal another border area, Nelong valley whose magnificent landscape is strikingly similar to that of Ladakh.
Nelong valley was thrown open last year for Indians. But people can go there in limited numbers after acquiring an inner-line permit from the administration.
A senior BJP leader from Uttarkashi said locals were confused by the opaque policy on foreign tourists visiting Harshil.
“We requested minister of state for home Kiren Rijjiu to remove Harshil from the protected zone. He agreed and this is how the official communication started,” said Lokendra Bisht.
“Opening the door for foreigners will boost tourism and international branding of the region.”
Among its many haunts, a must-visit in Harshil is the cottage of Pahari Wilson or Raja Wilson — the endearing local name for British adventurer Frederick E
Wilson, an army deserter from the mid-19th century who introduced apples and timber trade to this sleepy Himalayan nook.
Additional district magistrate of Uttarkashi, Ashok Kumar Pande, said ground reports from intelligence units and tourism department favoured unrestricted
entry of foreigners into Harshil.
“Also, there is a demand for removal of inner-line permits for Nelong valley but the idea was dropped considering the strategic importance of the place and proximity with the international border,” he said on Thursday.