Winter tourism in freeze
Mussoorie, January 20
Revenues of tourism-based businesses have plummeted drastically with estimates suggesting a fall of nearly 35 per cent in hotel occupancy this winter. Hoteliers, tour operators and local shopkeepers have always looked forward to winter snow, as it means huge inflow of tourists. But major tourist destinations like Mussoorie and Nainital have hardly received any snowfall this year.
According to Ajay Bhargava, secretary of Mussoorie Hotels Association (MHA), “Normally we have at least one snowfall by mid-January, but this year has been an exception.”
Even high altitude locations like Auli, which is a major ski resort, have not received sufficient snowfall. “This year there was only about half a feet of snow in Auli, whereas normally it has four to five feet during winter,” said Santosh Kunwar, owner of a Joshimath-based adventure tourism enterprise.
The net result is that Uttarakhand has failed to catch the eye of domestic and foreign tourists this winter and the hotel industry has been hit hard.
“Although the hotel business was hit by economic recession and terrorism, hoteliers expected to offset the losses through winter tourism,” said Parveen Sharma, secretary of Uttarakand Hotels Association.
“Generally, hotel occupancy in Uttarakhand is around 50 per cent during January and February, but this year it has dropped to 15 per cent,” Parveen said.
According to Ajay Bhargava: “This winter the revenues of hoteliers in Mussoorie have dropped by at least 25 per cent as compared to previous years.” He added that even one snowfall might have given some respite to hoteliers.
Dinesh Kathait, owner of Venture Himalayas, a river rafting and trekking company at Rishikesh, said the economic recession and Mumbai terrorist attacks had already brought down trekking and rafting business by nearly 70 to 80 per cent. “We were looking forward to winters as snowfall attracts a lot of groups who go to Auli for skiing and also engage in river rafting, but so far only a handful of groups have approached us,” rued Dinesh. According to him a large number of bookings had been cancelled due to inadequate snowfall at Auli.
Santosh, who organises treks to Chopta-Tungnath-Dodital, Har-ki-Doon and to Kunwari pass during the winters, said: “Last year we had organised fifteen treks during this period but this year we have managed only four. A number of groups from foreign countries have cancelled their bookings this year,” he said.
Even small businessmen are feeling the pinch. “The sales have been very low till now,” said Deepak, a local shopkeeper from Mussoorie. “We are eagerly awaiting a snowfall so that our business picks up,” he adds. “There is great demand for ‘chai-samosa’ after snowfall, but this year things are not going so well,” Ravinder, a tea-stall owner from Mussoorie lamented.
Meanwhile, the Uttarakhand Hotels Association is feeling let down by the state government’s apathetic attitude.
“In order to counter economic recession, governments in various other states have taken initiatives to promote tourism and support the industry,” Parveen said.
“States like Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Kerala have cut down on luxury tax and provided various incentives and subsidies to hotel owners. However, Uttarakhand government has not provided any such relief,” he added.
Dr Sunil Gulati, honorary secretary of the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI), opined that the, “Uttarakhand government should aggressively come forward to attract domestic and foreign tourists.”
Gulati suggested that the state government should contemplate steps like reducing VAT on food and beverage items from 12.5 per cent to 4 per cent and also raising the exemption limit for luxury tax on hotel tariffs from Rs 1000 to Rs 3000. “The Central government has already issued directives to all states asking them to reduce the luxury tax applicable on hotels. In addition, the state government should also reduce the bar licence fees.
Such steps would attract greater number of tourists to the state,” Gulati said.
Dr Anand Sharma, director of Uttarakhand metrological department, said there is some hope by January 23 and 24. “Although there is enough snowfall in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh and J&K, the systems that approached the state were weak.
“We are hopeful that by month end, the state should get rain and snow,” he said.
Jogi back with colours
Dehradun, January 20
His paintings adorn the BSF camp at Rajouri in Jammu and Kashmir, Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, and the Circuit House in Dehradun which now houses the Raj Bhawan. His photographs of dignitaries were a prized possession.
For a brief period, he went into a shell, refusing to paint or click. With the support of friends, he is now back in form, clicking policemen and regaling friends with stories of the bygone era when associations were more than business interests.
“I can say with pride that my associations with politicians policemen and bureaucrats were on a one-to-one basis. They appreciated my worth and promoted me, and mind you I never looked for rewards,” says Jogi.
Starting his painting career early, a small-town boy he worked whatever came his way.
“Creating life-size portraits of Nargis and Raj Kapoor was a high point of my career. The film was Aag and I had to paint a perfect image of the duo,” recalls Jogi.
Learning painting form his teacher Budh Singh, who taught at Guru Nanak College, Chukuwala, was a rewarding experience .
“I was dedicated to my teacher. If he called me early morning, I would be there.”
In the seventies and eighties, the city had several cinema halls. “So there was no dearth of work. Under the guidance of Budh Singh, I worked for Minerva Cinema Hall and then for New Empire and Prabhat
“We created a huge banner for Capri Film Theatre where the English film ‘Ten Commandments’ was released. The huge banner of a chariot race was the talk of the town,” says Jogi his eyes lighting up.
The paintings were made on demand; water and oil colours were important mediums.
“But I had also mastered wash painting. In this technique thick colours are plastered on the paper and water poured over gently, leaving an effect of soft colours, which are then touched up,” explains Jogi.
Midway he shifted track on the advice of his family friend Bishan Singh, who ran a photography studio:
“I think he brought me down to earth and his plain talk helped me realise I needed to take up photography seriously as it made greater fiscal sense.”
He continues to photograph with his old film camera. “Starting with a Yashica 635 reflex camera, I moved on to Minolta.
“As a photographer, I got an opportunity to click the then President VV Giri and Indira Gandhi with whom I developed a personal rapport,” says Jogi with pride.
All set to halt road deaths
DMs told to expedite accident probes n
Motorability of vehicles to be checked
Dehradun, January 20
They have been asked to submit reports at the earliest. Speaking to mediapersons after convening a meeting with officials of all four regional transport offices, Pawar said during 2007-08, magisterial probes were ordered into 194 accidents.
“Reports on 94 accidents are still pending. Likewise, from April 1, 2008, to December 31, 2008, magisterial probes were ordered into 142 mishaps; reports of 115 are still awaited. The DMs have been instructed to expedite inquiry and submit pending reports at the earliest so that corrective measure can be initiated.”
There has been a 25 per cent increase in the number of deaths in road accidents in the past three years. From 869 deaths in 2005, the number went up to 1,073 in 2008. As many as 500 were killed in accidents during the Char Dham yatra, which coincides with the monsoon season.
A few weeks back Chief Minister BC Khanduri had expressed unhappiness over the inability of the government to check the high incidence of road accidents in the state.
Pawar said drunken driving, unfit vehicles and unskilled drivers were some of the main reasons for the accidents. “Instructions have been issued to officials to check the motorability of vehicles. Besides, steps are being taken to check the menace of drunken driving,” he said.
Crash barriers were being installed on roads in hilly areas while “steps to check whether road bends are at a proper angle are on,” he added.
Development stains Chakrata hills
Perched at a height of 6730 ft above the sea level at a distance of 92 km from Dehradun lies the hill resort of Chakrata. Far from the madding crowd, the town is all peace and calm. Glades of oaks, deodar, chir pine beckon nature lovers.
Chakrata cantonment sprawls over an area of 3 sq km and is situated on the twin hills of Kailna and Chakrata, linked by the Kailna neck. The township was chanced upon in 1866 and considered ideal for establishing a sanatoria for ailing British soldiers who could not endure the sweltering heat of Indian plains.
However, it was only in April 1869 that the H.M. 55th regiment under Col Hume through perseverance connected the town with Saharanpur through Kalsi and the Timli pass.
The baracks and other establishments for soldiers was built in the Victorian style with locally available stone and building material. By the turn of the century in 1901, Chakrata had a population of 1,279 and a market to cater to the daily needs of the soldiers and their officers.
The “Jaunsaris”, a term to indicate the aborigine population of the area, are primarily agrarian. Their neatly laid out villages with exquisite double-storey houses in wood adorn the airy spurs of hill declivities.
The beauty of the region is well-described by British traveller Godfrey Thomas Vigne who travelled form Simla to Mussoorie in 1832. He records the breathtaking canvas of the snow-capped Bandar Punch, Swarag Rohini and Trishul.
Springs from the rich oak forest supply water to the cantonment. The quantity is far from adequate during summers and as such an alternative source of water supply need to be explored.
The township since its establishment has continued to live in harmony with nature. However, in the last two decades, the verdant landscape has begun to be littered with waste. Chakrata has been listed as an important destination of the eco-tourism circuit by the tourism board. Hence, it is all the more important the town is kept free of plastic and other non-biodegradable waste.
It needs to be mentioned here that dumping and burning of plastic is not a solution to the problem. The answer lies in collection and disposal of waste through recycling, which entails resource recovery and energy conservation. Such an intervention can help the town maintain its grandeur for times to come.
— The writer is a consultant on waste management
Make candles part of home decor
Dehradun, January 20
No longer do Doonites need to visit Chandigarh or Delhi to buy candles for home décor or as gift items, as the market here has picked up in a huge manner.
“We have a wide range to offer from gel, fruit-shaped, chocolate-shaped to floating candles. Starting from Rs 99 to Rs 1,500 one has a rage to choose from. The main attraction for this season is the wine bottle-shaped candles. Those in bright colours such as golden, silver, greens etc are also a huge hit,” said Girish, a salesman at Archie’s store.
The market also offers non-aromatic candles for everyday use. “Aromatic candles are mostly preferred for by the hotel industry, whereas non-aromatic ones are a hit among students,” said Girish.
Interestingly, the market also has stuff for the ones who believe that candles are an integral part of home décor. “In addition to aromatic candles, we have designer candle stands for people who want to keep it stylish. Our product is crafted out of solid block of high quality paraffin wax that does not drip and is smoke-free.
The exclusive candle stands are made out of sandstone, mango wood, ceramic, stainless steel and glass, which are durable and modern,” said Anupriya of Rosebys, a home fashion and lifestyle store.
“Earlier people used to buy candles during festival time, but today they are purchasing them round the year,” said a salesman at the Art home store.