Tuesday, 30 July 2013

No flights keep high end tourists away from Kullu-Manali

Himachal Vacation Travel News
MANALI/ SHIMLA: Problems of mangled tourism industry of Kullu-Manali seems not to be finishing soon as the industry which is already suffering slump is irritating high end tourists with no flight connectivity.
Heavy to normal monsoon, cloudbursts, Rohtang pass environment issue, agitations by local traders and taxi operators have already bled the tourism here. Now suspension of flights has put Kullu-Manali tourism on back-foot. High end tourists are avoiding this beautiful hill station which is approachable only by 10-hour hectic road journey from Chandigarh and 15-hour journey from Delhi.

Saying that landing on congested runways of Kullu and Shimla could be dangerous amid heavy fog and bad weather, Air India suspended its flights till mid September. Hoteliers and those who are associated with tourism industry feel cheated by government which had resumed flights to Kullu and Shimla only for vote bank and to shut the mouth of agitating public in mid-May this year.
“We have again no flight connectivity till September. Light fog is normal thing on the mountains and flights used to land throughout the monsoon here. But what happened this year when most of the time weather is crystal clear in Kullu,” Manali travel agent association president Anil Sharma said who believes everything is going wrong in Manali. He claims that 90% of the tourists to Ladakh are going by flights only and remaining 10% are going by roads from Manali and Srinagar. “We are losing our high end clients. Why government is having difficulty to convince private airlines to give their services?”
This is peak trekking season in Himachal Pradesh and majority of clients are from abroad. Most of the foreigner guests avoid surface transport and prefer taking flights from Delhi. Travel agents claim that such clients are preferring going to Ladakh, Srinagar or North East states which are well connected by airlines.
It is again over hundred taxi operators outside Kullu airport at Bhuntar who are suffering the brunt of no flight connectivity. These cabbies have parked their vehicles outside the airport and are back to agricultural works. “Suspending of flights has led many poor cabbies to sell their cars. Similar situation was seen before May 15 when we had no passengers due to no flights,” Bhuntar taxi operators union president Deewan Singh Guleria said.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Tourism industry struggles to survive by allowing discounts in slowdown

Himachal Vacation Travel News
SHIMLA/MANALI: Battered by unexpected slowdown in tourism industry, all the trades beginning from hotel industry to taxi or adventure industry of Himachal have dropped their service charges up to 50% to be able to breathe in the suffocating atmosphere of recession.
Manoj Kumar, a hotel contractor from Garhwal, broke his lease with two hotels two years in advance. He believes that operating hotel is no more the affair of profit. “I suffered huge losses. I’m not able to meet the expenses of staff and other running costs. Hotel is empty and the peak summer season which used to last for more than two years was observed only for 20 days in June this year.” Similar are the comments from most of the hoteliers.
Khajjiar, Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh
Not only early arrival of the monsoon and disaster in Uttarakhand but the tourism entrepreneurs attributes this sudden slowdown to weak marketing of tourism of the state by government. The only way out of this situation is big discounts. Hoteliers are offering big discounts on room tariff to entice the guests. Even the fare of taxi and luxury buses has decreased to attract customers. Now that season for trekking and adventure activities has begun, travel agents are trying to stay on track by offering big rebates.
“Advertisement of Himachal tourism may put a big impact on the industry as now the fight is between states and we are lagging behind in marketing,” laments Gajender Thakur, a hotelier and former president of hoteliers association here who is allowing flat 50% discount in his hotel. He said tourism in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh is booming with the help of advertisements and the Himachal Tourism Development Board had once suggested making Kangana Ranaut, the Himachal girl, the brand ambassador of Himachal which could not be implemented.
Manali town is full with parked taxis which have no clients to ferry to its tourist destinations. Remaining taxis are having tough competition by lowering their fares to fetch the few tourists who are visiting Manali. Manali taxi union general secretary Makar Dhwaj Sharma said there are many factors responsible for the slowdown and over 80% taxi drivers have no work. “However we have fix prices for all routes. Still the drivers are offering up to 40% discount to nourish their families. Tourists have disappeared like golden deer,” he said.
Rajkumar Dogra, president of luxury coach union of Manali, said no efforts are being made by government to shut the mouths of those who are spreading rumors about floods in various parts of Himachal. He adds, “Tourists need assurance for their safety. We have no idea about the exact reason behind the recession but despite this we are forced to allow big discounts to customers.”
Even shopkeepers and small scale vendors are affected by the sudden slowdown in industry as majority of traders are dependent on tourists for their sales. Anil Mehta, a local shawl industrialist, said his sale has dropped by over 70% and now he is allowing discount up to 30% on his all the products. “Discount is the only way to attract customers. Contrary to the planning, the tourist season was very short this time and is squeezing every year,” he adds.
It is the traders linked to trekking and adventure activities that are worrying the most. Chhering Bodh from North Land Adventure said, “Trekking season has started but cancellations is the big problem this year. We are ensuring our guests of safety and security and also allowing them big discounts.”
Tourism and civil aviation director, Himachal Pradesh, Subhasish Panda said at present the tourism department has little low budget for marketing and advertisements but they are targeting the unique areas by advertisement on newspapers and magazines. “Presently we attend nearly 20 tourism trade fairs across the country and allow big discounts to private hoteliers to ensure their participation. We are planning to go big by making a renowned actor from Himachal our brand ambassador. For now, we are advertizing in various states to visit Himachal in monsoon season,” he said.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Shrikhand Yatra to witness unexpectedly high rush of pilgrims from July 15

Himachal Vacation Travel News
RAMPUR (SHIMLA): Undeterred by calamity of Uttarakhand that killed hundreds of devotees, thousands of lord Shiva devotees from across the country are set to prove that no calamity can shake their faith in god by joining the toughest yatra to 17,000 feet high Shrikhand Mahadev from July 15.

Shrikhand MahadevLingam
Given the increasing number of pilgrims to Shrikhand yatra, district administration and organizing committee of yatra are going to hold a meeting to chalk out the plan for safety, security and convenience of expected thousands of people on Tuesday. The pilgrimage to Shrikhand Mahadev starts from Rampur (Shimla) and Nirmand (Kullu) and is one of the toughest yatras of the world. Unlike the ice-lingam of Amarnath, the miraculous 72 feet tall Shiva lingam of Shrikhand, which has cracks in it, is famous for not allowing snow to accumulate on it despite 30 to 40 feet high snow in its surroundings.
According to members of Shrikhand Seva Mandal, number of pilgrims is going to increase by many numbers as they are getting thousands of phone calls from across the country. “Most of the phone calls are from devotees who could not visit dhams in Uttarakhand. And now they want to get virtue of Shiva from this yatra. Most of the pilgrims are from Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and West Bengal, besides Himachal Pradesh,” president of Shrikhand Seva Mandal, Govind Sharma, said.
Shrikhand yatra continues for one month from July 15 in the month of Shravan. Devotees can reach up to Jaon village of Nirmand by road and then starts about 35km-long on foot one side yatra. The both side yatra generally takes four days. Administration is busy in repairing the Rampur-Jaon road and arranging for parking facilities to accommodate hundreds of vehicles. For safety reasons, all the pilgrims joining yatra shall have to get themselves registered with police before starting and after completion of the yatra.
Anni sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Neeraj Gupta said they have a plan to deploy police personnel all along the route with medical services for the convenience of pilgrims. “I’ve demanded two MBBS for Shinghad and Bhim Dwar camps. Four police camps would be installed and oxygen cylinders, stretchers, emergency lights and other necessary equipments have also been ordered. Officials from forest, revenue, I&PH and other departments along with relief and rescue teams would be available in the camps,” Gupta said over phone.
All departments and organizations will hold a meeting on July 9 and shall take stock of the preparations. Before starting yatra, a preliminary team of specialists would visit Shrikhand and check all safety points. Most of the pilgrims join yatra in first 10 days and according to Govind Sharma, 18,765 pilgrims had a darshan of Shrikhand Mahadev lingam in 10 days last year. “Langars are being organized at various places since 1995 and our mandal is providing devotes with free tent service to spend night. Also, hundreds of other people provide tent service at many places for nominal charges. Shrikhand is gaining popularity as it is one of the five Kailashes on the earth,” he said.

Shrikhand Mahadev Yatra
Devotees can reach up to Jaon village by road which is 170km from Shimla and 200km from Kullu. Singhad is base camp of the yatra which is approachable by 3km trek from Jaon. Next camp is at Thachru after 9km on foot yatra from Singhad. Then Bhim Dwar is 10km above Thachru and further beyond this place is Parvati Bagh at distance of 4km. Both these places are the preferred last camping sites before going for darshan of Shiva lingam. Mostly devotees return back to Bhim Dwar after visiting Shrikhand.

- Shrikhand Mahadev lingam is 72 feet high
- It is believed that snow on lingam melts immediately, however its surrounding remains covered with snow round the year
- Shrikhand is the toughest pilgrimage of the country
- Yatra starts at 6,000 feet above the mean sea level and ends at 17,000 feet
- Over 50,000 pilgrims are expected to visit Shrikhand in one month
- Registration is mandatory before starting yatra
- Lingam is broken (khandit), so it is known as Shrikhand
- The yatra generaly results in body-ache due to tough geographical conditions, and it is believed that person gets rid of his ego and wrong deeds after suffering this pain

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

No more illegal paragliding in Manali

Himachal Vacation Travel News
MANALI: The unorganized and dangerous game of paragliding in Manali which was mostly being operated by Nepalese and youths from outside Himachal has came to an end with formation of paragliders association and strictness by tourism department on Tuesday.
Paragliding in Manali
After government put restriction on all adventure activities in Rohtang area, the most popular activity – paragliding -- remained shut for many days in Solang valley which has been resumed by the paragliding association on Tuesday with some strict terms and conditions. Tourism department had recently raided Marhi and Solang valley for illegal paragliding and challaned many paragliders. Most of the paragliders who fly along with tourists have no technical knowledge and have no license to fly. Many tourists sustained injuries due to bad take off and landing in past few years. Finally a screw has been tightened over illegal and unauthorized flying.
“All Nepali and other unauthorized pilots have been expelled. Nobody would be allowed to fly with tourists except for skilled and license holders from Wednesday,” founder of the association Roshan Lal said. He said countless paragliders were flying at all places of Manali without having proper technical knowledge which was leading to risk and inconvenience to tourists. “Now the number has been limited to about 100 and area of paragliding has also been marked.
Though a complete ban would be imposed on paragliding from July 15 due peak monsoon season, but the activity would continue till then. Paragliders have turned strict after government put ban on most of the activities on Rohtang area. Fearing government’s intervention, they chose to improve standards of paragliding themselves.
“Tourism department has allotted authorized licenses to some pilots. Still our association would check if the license holder has enough technical knowledge to fly or he should not be allowed to offer his services. Now all paragliders will have to register themselves with the paragliders association to be able to fly in Manali,” Ganga Thakur, another member of assocaiton, said.
Tourism assistant director Minu Ram Dhiman said they never had put ban on paraglding but just had challaned some unauthorized pilots who were flying at Marhi. “Marhi is not fit for flying. Solang valley has been identified for this purpose. We are always in favor of promotion of safe and eco friendly tourism. All paragliders are directed to fly in area identified for this purpose,” he said.