Once a preferred holiday destination, picturesque Dharamsala and McLeodganj, the adobe of the Dalai Lama, appears to be fast losing sheen with the number of tourists, particularly foreigners, visiting the twin towns dropping significantly. Data provided by the regional tourism authority reveals the number of overseas tourists fell by more than 10%.
This has happened less than the two years after the Kangra valley recording the highest number of foreign tourists. In 2012 a record 115,109 overseas tourists visited Dharamsala and other parts of the valley, an all-time high. Each foreign visitor spent on an average a day and a half at these destinations that year. However, in 2013 the number dropped significantly as only 102,559 foreign visitors arrived in Dharamsala, a dip of over 12%.
In 2014 the figure fell further around 102,400 - a marginal dip but still a concern for the region's hospitality industry.
According to people involved in the tourism sector in the Dharamsala area, for the first five months of this year too the number of foreign tourist arrivals has not changed significantly and the final figure may hit a further low. They attribute the decline to the poor connectivity, lack of infrastructure and haphazard construction going on in the twin towns, leading to congestion.
"Dharamsala and McLeodganj, it seems, is now an optional destination for foreign tourists. Bad roads are a primary reason coupled by lack of parking facility leading to overcrowding," said Prem Sagar, a travel agent who also runs a small guest house near Dharamkot village. "Besides, increased vehicular traffic, frequent jams, and unhyzine cause problems to peace loving foreigners. They come here for peace which is not more a peculiarity of these hill stations," he added.
The major attraction for foreign tourist in Dharamsala is the fact that the Dalai Lama has taken up residence there. However, he too has restricted his activities here and stays out of the town for prolonged periods.
A few years back Israelis accounted for a major chunk of foreign visitors in Dharamsala. Dharamkot village, which overlooks the hill town, is often referred to as "Tel Aviv of the Hills". However, the number of visitors from Israel has gradually declined due to visa restrictions imposed by the Indian government in 2012 following a request from that country's government after it learnt many youngsters were taking drugs.