Frequent face-offs between India and China along fluid border in Ladakh and repeated incursions of uninhabited upper reaches has nose-dived the region's tourism industry, which is the mainstay of the economy.
According to the Leh tourism department's figures, there is an overall dip of 30% in tourist footfall this year in the wake of reports of Chinese incursions since April this year. Only 24,680 tourists visited Ladakh region from April to August this year compared to 31,939 for the same period last year.
Ladakh district of Kashmir region hit headlines in April this year when the Chinese army erected tents in Daulat Beg Oldi, around 20 km inside the Indian territory. The 21-day face-off was resolved mutually after the Chinese army agreed to withdraw from the territory in lieu to removal of an Indian security picket at a separate location.
Sources said China of late is flexing muscles in the region in the wake of the Indian army's fortification at the strategic location. China was unnerved with the army raising a tank regiment in Leh, first time since 1947. The army build-up, sources said, is part of the plan to have a separate command for the Ladakh region.
However, security agencies downplay chances of any combat operations in the region and describe the reports of incursions and war-like scenario as "exaggeration by the media". "Borders are fluid here so both the armies patrol the areas along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with no borders in mind. The reported incursions never impacted Border Personnel Meetings (BPMs) between the two armies. The frequency remained the same,"said army sources.
For local leaders, the notion of 'incursion' is a misplaced as face-offs between the two armies are normal. "We do not believe incursions are happening. Two, the face-offs take place far away places in uninhabited fluid areas. The media exaggerated it and has impacted the tourism badly,"said Rigzin Jora, a senior Congress leader and state urban local bodies minister, who hails from Leh.
Most hoteliers, who are running low on occupancy, also blame the reportage for plummeting tourism industry. "Last year, I had advance bookings for August. But this year a very few rooms are occupied,"said manager of the Lingzi Hotel.
Sonam Dorjee, assistant director tourism, said, "The hype of face-offs in May, which is the peak tourism season, did affect tourism."
Leh has been witnessing significant increase in number of tourists with each passing year, mainly hi-spending foreigners. The face-offs, however, has shooed away foreigners this year. From 21,092 foreign tourists between May-August last year, it has come down to 17,013 this year. "If face-offs are reported as incursions, potent enough to spur war, we fear it will dent tourism industry further,"said a tourism official.