What do you expect when you go to Shimla? Walks on the Mall, great climate, horse rides, shopping and good food. What do you get? Dry taps.
The Queen of Hills, as Shimla was fondly called by the British, is synonymous with water scarcity in both summer and winter.
"This time the problem is more acute as the snowfall has played truant. The floating population of tourists is making the situation worse," Shimla's municipal commissioner AN Sharma told IANS.
"Planned for a maximum population of 16,000, the town now supports more than 200,000 people. You see there is a tremendous pressure on natural resources.
"Against a requirement of over 45 million litres per day, we are receiving a supply of only 37 million litres," Sharma said.
According to tourism industry representatives, now every weekend Shimla is getting 40,000 to 50,000 tourists on an average. It's slated to go up to 60,000 very soon.
Sharma attributed the decline in water in river and water channels to lack of snow and rain in the winter.
"Most of the natural water channels have dried up due to lack of adequate snowfall and rain. This year the situation is quite grim," he added.
According to the meteorological office here, 11 of the 12 districts in the state have received deficient rainfall and snowfall this winter.
"The state has experienced a relatively warm and dry winter this year," said Manmohan Singh, director of the meteorological office.
Of the districts, Bilaspur was the driest this winter with a rainfall and snowfall deficiency of 82 percent, followed by Solan (78 percent), Sirmaur (76), Mandi (75), Hamirpur and Shimla (74 each), Kinnaur (67) and Kangra (61 percent).
"Shimla and its nearby areas saw just 15 centimetres of snowfall Feb 11 and there was no snow before or after that," Manmohan Singh said.
The civic body is now supplying water on alternate days in various areas.
The water crisis has left hoteliers unhappy while they expect a heavy rush of tourists. The town has more than 450 hotels, restaurants and guest houses.
"Last month the tourism industry saw a drop in bookings due to general elections. Now we were expecting the crowd to swell, but the water crisis has dashed our hopes of brisk business," said D.P. Bhatia of Clarke's Hotel, a venture of the Oberoi Group.
Dinesh Gupta of the Himani Group of Hotels said: "With the rise in mercury in the plains, the inflow of the tourists has increased. But water shortage is worsening the situation. We are keeping fingers crossed as (water) scarcity might put dent on tourists' arrival."
Many tourists are heading to Manali, which has more water.
"Most of the tourists prefer to visit Manali due to uninterrupted water supply. The occupancy is 100 percent," said Tek Chand Thakur, president of the Manali Hoteliers Association. "The 13,050-foot-high Rohtang Pass, which is just 60 km from Manali and is covered with a blanket of snow, is an added attraction."
The number of tourist arrivals in the state last year was well above the state's population of about 6.5 million.
The state attracted 9.37 million domestic and 367,000 foreign tourists. Kullu and Manali are the hotspots for tourists, followed by Shimla and Dharamsala.
The department of tourism and civil aviation is planning to start paragliding, mountain biking, river rafting competitions and a Himalayan marathon this season.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )