The scenic beauty of Dalhousie is being marred by haphazard growth, congestion
and littering by tourists, writes Sanjeev Singh Bariana
sight of the piling vehicles and the sound of repulsive honking in
Gandhi Chowk during a recent visit to Dalhousie, more than two decades
after I passed out of Dalhousie Public School, was unsettling.
Heavy rush, particularly over the weekends, hits the eye on entering the town from the bus stand; and (top) a view of Dalhousie
Photos: Satish Kumar
During the visit, the
changed scenario of the serene settings, etched by the British in
1854, having been disfigured beyond recognition, set off a debate
among friends, mostly old classmates, who had come on a reunion trip.
As is usual, "the
government having turned a blind eye in cleaning the place" was
the first reaction in the group. "Any further delay in government
intervention to save an ageing beauty will have the town following in
the footsteps of many other hill stations, including Shimla,
Kulu-Manali and Dharamsala, to name a few, who have lost their
pristine beauty," said Satish Mahajan, a leading businessman
based near Jammu.
The cops’ counter
right in middle of the chowk did not seem to have any meaning because
the traffic there was jammed all day long. The evenings were more
crowded. Randhir Singh Andohtra, a regular visitor, said, "The
public here has slowly, but definitely, accepted traffic jams as a
part of their daily lives. Not just the chowks, the traffic queues
extend well beyond the crowded bazaars."
Heavy rush, particularly
over the weekends, is the biggest striking feature on the roads as one
enters the town from the bus stand. Scores of cars, from the
neighbouring districts of Gurdaspur and Amritsar in Punjab and from
the Jammu region, can be seen edging their way to get a hotel
accommodation, which is an arduous task during summers.
`A0The town now has over
160 guesthouses and hotels. The catch is that a sizeable number of
residential quarters are transformed into tourist complexes during the
season. The booming business has led to illegal construction. The town
has over 140 cases of illegal construction, out of which 22 have been
referred to the Himachal Pradesh High Court.
The heritage property of
Sadar Bazaar, a key location for the famous Bollywood flick, 1942-
A Love story, too, has lost its original glory. The jumbled
buildings reaching for the sky at places have dismantled the original
glory. The scenic settings of the walk from Sacred Heart to the bottom
of the bazaar are now replete with permanent encroachments and
Course for change
Chadha, the president of the Municipal Council, says, “We are coming up with two new parking lots. One, with a parking capacity of 150 vehicles, is coming up near the GPO and another will have a parking facility for 200 vehicles. These two parking lots will be sufficient to handle the additional rush.”
The council has initiated the process for door-to-door garbage collection under a programme of the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNURRM). A clearance is expected from the Forest Department for the safe disposal of the waste.
Chadha says much of the controversial construction has been carried out in private quarters. The issue is being looked into because there are certain lacunae in checking construction due to an overlapping in the jobs of the council and the Town and Country Planning Department.
The track from the GPO
to Subhash Chowk was always a walker’s paradise. Rakeshwar Katoch,
on a summer sojourn with his family, said, "One of the most
unpleasant sights, now, is the road being used as an open urinal. The
repugnant odour leaves much to be desired on the part of the
The markets are
overcrowded. As Col Nirmaljit Singh (retd) says, "The view of the
Dhauladhar range, even from the markets, was awe-inspiring. The new
construction has blocked all the views. The corner seats in the
markets for a pleasant evening have been blocked by the rush. The cops
are at their wits’ end in managing the traffic."
Asha Kumari, state
general secretary of the Congress, candidly, says: "The floating
population, increased number of hotels and illegal constructions are
the bane of the enviable township. I don’t think the municipal
authorities should wash their hands off their primary responsibility.
The matter is not as bad as many other hill stations in the country. A
stitch in time will save nine."
She adds, "I fail
to understand why the authorities are unable to implement traffic
restrictions on certain roads. Even the lesser used thandi and garam
sadak are flowing with traffic. Leave aside the small cars, heavy
trucks carrying building material move even during the normal working
The former minister
says, "The municipal body cannot shirk its responsibility of
clearing the municipal waste lying unattended in different quarters of
the town. The administration needs to take a hard decision and set an
example through strict implementation."
Air Cdre (retd) A.K.
Mahajan, a third-generation inhabitant of the town, is bugged about
the haphazard growth in the town. "The original plan neatly laid
down that all construction, except in the marketplace, was to be below
the level of the roads. This was to keep intact the view of the
mountains, all around. The heart of the town now is disfigured beyond
a visit to Dalhousie, after a span of more than 30 years, I had
come across an interesting article on the Net with the headline
"Ambarsarian da Switzerland," since numerous tourists
from the Amritsar, Jalandhar and Gurdaspur region throng
Dalhousie almost the year round. Far from living up to the
epithet, one discovered that the town, despite its idyllic
beauty, was in desperate need of attention.
Municipal waste lies unattended in different parts
of Dalhousie town
What can be done
Dalhousie is known as a walkers' paradise. The upper Bakrota region can be developed as a Heritage walk
Similarly, the lovers' lane from the bus stand to Kathlog can be another walk
The many trekking routes here can be developed and used to attract adventure tourists
An efficient garbage disposal system should be evolved by the MC, along with a plan to monitor traffic
Foreign tourists as well as high-end tourists will only come if there is air connectivity
No wonder, one is
skeptical when the octogenarian (a retired bureaucrat) who had
roamed the world before dropping anchor in his hometown,
declares, "It is Dalhousie that deserves to be the Queen of
Hills and not Shimla." Where else will you find such fresh
air, idyllic walks and pristine air, he emphasised.
The heaps of
garbage, cavalcade of vehicles spewing smoke and roads choked
with traffic jams tell another story. While all the residents
love the place, the tourists (mostly weeksend tourists)
ruthlessly dirty it after enjoying a leisurely getaway.
population brings in the moolah, but makes the place
unlivable for the permanent residents. Besides the tourists who
bring in the bucks and fuel the demand for goods and services,
the entire economy of the town depends on the residential
schools located there, some of them housing children of NRIs.
Talking to various
people across the board revealed an underlying sense of not
being counted. Picturesque it might be, but the hill town is not
strategic or important enough to have political clout. Since the
Chamba-Kangra region is a single parliamentary constituency, the
3,500 voters of this town are resigned to be, as it were,
backbenchers as far as influencing decision-making goes and even
their representatives are not proactive enough to leverage
development to the area’s advantage.
Dalhousie’s green cover, thanks to laws that prevent the
Forest Department from felling trees to even widen roads,
remains intact, which is a blessing seeing the way the other
hill stations such as Shimla and Dharamsala have gone.
It is this green
cover and rejuvenating air that make it an ideal place for
patients of tuberculosis to recuperate. Martyr Bhagat Singh’s
uncle Ajit Singh and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, among others,
came here to recover from ill-health and consumption. Rather
than enhance or even maintain its idyllic landscape, the civic
authorities appear apathetic to even addressing simple things as
garbage disposal and sweeping of the marketplace.
When it comes to
Khajjiar, the same old story is repeated. The lake has shrunk
and the glen is littered with plastic and tetra-packs. Yet
again, we appear to be doing our utmost to ruin what Nature has
benevolently bestowed on us.
There is no
infrastructure for the high-end tourist in terms of air
connectivity and hotels. Even for the die-hard middle class
tourists, there is neither the concept of homestead tourism in
which they can be housed in comfortable local accommodation or
hostels or dorms for the young backpackers, who can with basic
comforts trek or camp. There seems to be no effort to attract
more tourists in a planned manner.
Is it not time
that we shed our obsession with Shimla and thought of
consciously developing other hill stations of Himachal that
continue to languish due to a lack of attention and money. While
there are many agencies ready to bail out Shimla and focus on
the environmental degradation there, places like Dalhousie
continue to suffer neglect.
One wonders while
seeing heaps of disposable plastic plates and glasses, empty
packets of chips, discarded tetra-packs, how much would it cost
to put in place a system of garbage collection and disposal or
recycling garbage. Someone who matters should give it a thought.
It is as if every visitor adds to the woes of the ‘damsel in
distress’ and there is no knight in shining armour to rescue
One wonders who
will play the knight to Dalhousie. Will the ‘Ambarsaris’
rescue their Switzerland, or will the locals stand up for their
wannabe queen of hills. More significantly, will the
politicians, both at the local and state level, finally wake up
to this call of saving Dalhousie from near-death?