The killer earthquake in Nepal may have taken an unlikely victim in India – tourist footfall at the Char Dham pilgrimage in Uttarakhand, which had faced an equally devastating natural calamity just two years ago.
Officials in the tourism department, hotel owners and tour operators said on Wednesday that Saturday’s earthquake – which flattened large parts of Nepal and affected several states of India – will severely impact tourism in the state.
Already, a large number of tourists have cancelled their hotel bookings in Haridwar, the starting point of the pilgrimage to the four pilgrim sites – Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamnotri, which forms the backbone of tourism in Uttarakhand.
Tourism in the state had taken a severe hit when flash floods in July, 2013, ravaged Kedar valley including Kedarnath and the route to the shrine.
After two years of poor tourist football, the state was looking forward to a bumper season this year with the portals of the Kedarnath shrine reopening earlier this month.
YK Gangwar, the regional tourism officer and in-charge of the Char Dham yatra conceded that the earthquake has already made prospective tourists jittery.
What is worrying is the fact that the temblor came just before the start of the tourist season, he added. The tourist season in Uttarakhand begins from May and lasts till November.
Though the department will start compiling tourist data only from May 1, hotel owners and tour operators said the tell-tale signs are already there.
“The Nepal disaster has already affected the hotel industry. Bookings for May and June have been put on hold. We are getting regular phone calls from customers…some have even cancelled their bookings and asked for refunds,” said Neeraj Kumar, owner of a hotel here.
He added that with the situation in Jammu and Kashmir not too conducive, most of the tourists were looking to Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh as their summer getaways.
Sanjay Verma, owner of two hotels in Haridwar, also said the Nepal earthquake will hit the hospitality sector very hard in the state. “Despite the government supporting the tourism sector through advertisements, the Nepal tragedy has drastically affected the hotel business. No more bookings for now. People coming from southern India and parts of Kolkata and Gujarat are very much scared,” he added.
Sources pointed out that most of the people from Nepal, who form the workforce in the hotels, too have left for their homes after the earthquake.
The weather too has played truant in the state in the past few days.
The met office in Dehradun also forecast rain, thunderstorm and snowfall at a few places in Uttarkashi, Chamoli, Rudraprayag and Pithoragarh districts on Thursday.