As the world keeps a tense watch on the fragile ceasefire in Gaza, a village near Dharmsala is reeling under the impact of the Israeli offensive.
Dharamkot, 13 km from Dharamsala, has been a popular destination among Israelis. But the last few weeks, according to the locals, have seen their numbers fall by almost 70 per cent. Around 20,000 Israelis visit Dharamkot and nearby Bagsu every year. Nestled in the foothills of Dhauladhar ranges, tourists refer to Dharamkot as the “Tel Aviv of the Hills” where many houses have been turned into “countryside guesthouses”.
Though a truce has been called, the situation in Gaza continues to be tense and the risk of war high. It’s holding back people and their vacation plans — most Israelis are required to serve in the defence forces for at least three years. “The tension in Gaza Strip has hit us hard,” said Sandeep Kumar, who runs a café.
“Two days back, I got a call from an Israeli client cancelling a group booking,” said Prem Sagar, a travel agent at nearby McLeodganj.
The setback comes within days of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which, too, had disrupted the flow of tourists. A large number of backpackers left within days of the November 26 strikes.
Two rabbis who managed a place of worship shut it down and left it a fortnight ago.
Locals, a majority of who gave up traditional occupation like sheep-rearing to cash in on the tourist boom, are worried. Many could soon be out of business. “I took a loan to set up a grocery shop after retiring from the army. I’m worried about repayments,” said Rajmal Kumar, an ex-serviceman.
Israelis planning business, too, have shelved their plans. Liron, who only uses one name and served as a combat engineer with the Israeli army, said: “I had come on a three-year business visa and wanted to set up a restaurant serving Israeli cuisine, but now I’ll have to rethink.”