Uttarakhand tourism takes a beating

Dozens of well-furnished tents pitched on vast stretches of shining white sand between towering mountains on one side and the gently cascading river on the other — these were hotspots for rafting and adventure activities upwards of Rishikesh around this time each year. Now, they wear a near-deserted look.

The odd rafting boat, loosely anchored by the riverside, presents a contrasting picture to previous years, when such picturesque venues would be abuzz with activity and would struggle to accommodate both tourists and boats.

Tourist inflow in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand has severely plunged, especially on the commonly frequented route upwards of Rishikesh towards Badrinath. The state’s tourism-driven economy is gasping for breath. 

Nearly four months after the calamity, tourists have started to trickle in, but the insignificant numbers are nowhere close to providing hope of revival to the industry, at least for now. The extent of dependence of natives on tourism and hospitality can be gauged by the fact that at least one person from all households is directly or indirectly employed in a tourism-related activity. A recent study has pegged the state's tourism and hospitality industry's loss at Rs 4,170 crore due to the deluge.

Naresh Sharma, who runs a prominent booking outlet for rafting and other adventure sports in Rishikesh, has now turned a part of his outlet into a cyber café.  Sharma told Deccan Herald that rafting activity has come down 80 per cent as compared to last year. “Tourists are scared to venture this side. Only a few brave hearts are trickling in. Rafting started on September 15, and the response is abysmally poor,” he said.

Travel towards Srinagar, Rudraprayag and beyond, and it's hard to spot an outstation vehicle. Patches of roads are broken along the entire highway, and signboards warning everyone of a potential landslide threat abound. Several roadside eateries along the route have shut down, for it had become increasingly hard to break even, forget turning a profit.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna has said revival of tourist confidence is paramount, which is why the state government has decided to organise a mega-conference of tour-travel operators from all over to dispel fears. The event is scheduled to take pace after the Navratris, he said. The government hopes that restarting the religious circuit routes, most prominently the Kedarnath Yatra, will restore the lost glory of the hill state.

However, the challenge before the Congress government is more daunting than was simply put by the chief minister. Hotels and other establishments in the flood-hit areas stand completely devastated. Those that stand on the route short of the flood-hit areas don’t have many customers. Employee lay-offs has become increasingly common. There is no place in Kedarnath, other than 30-odd tents, where pilgrims can stay. 

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