Tourist trade suffers heavy loss due to traffic curbs on Sgr -Leh NH, closure of air service

Transporters, hoteliers most affected

Avtar Bhat

JAMMU, May 20: Though considered a peak season, the Tourism industry, trade and transport has been hit hard in entire Ladakh UT during this Spring due to bad condition of Srinagar -Ladakh Highway which was opened for one way traffic this time after continuous landslides on Jojila Pass.
The decision taken by the authorities to allow one way traffic on the Srinagar -Leh Highway on alternate days has led to the constant problem to tourists coming to visit for sightseeing in the Himalayan region and it has also hit the transporters and traders a lot especially the hoteliers who are totally dependent for their sustenance on tourism trade.
According to sources, the period from April to June is considered peak season for tourist trade in Ladakh region as the people from other parts of country visit the Himalayan region during this period after the educational institutions in the rest of the country remain closed due to Summer vacations.
Sources said the time from March to June being the peak season of tourism trade has been hit hard this year due to one way traffic advisory issued by the authorities as the landslides on Zojila Pass often block the Highway when it was opened on March 23 this year after remaining closed during the Winter months. Since then there has been one way traffic movement on the Highway due to which tourist influx has considerably been hit and hoteliers, transporters and other traders have suffered a huge loss, sources added.
The Zojila Pass landslides have not only hit trade in Kargil district but Leh and its peripheries also where the problem has been further compounded due to closure of services by Go Air as well as the delay in opening Manali Leh Highway, sources said.
The people dealing with Tourist trade and transport business took up the issue with LG Ladakh, B D Mishra as well as concerned DCs and authorities of Tourism Department but to no avail, sources said, adding the tourists intending to visit Ladakh prefer to return from Sonamarg in Kashmir Valley as they don’t want to get stuck in the way for days together.
Tashi Gyalson, Chairman Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Leh while showing his concern over the loss suffered by traders, hoteliers and transporters of Ladakh region, said Leh has been hit hard not only due to one way traffic advisory on Srinagar- Leh Highway but due to closure of service by Go Air which was the major air service to the UT.
He said the people are totally perturbed as the decision has hit the economy of the region a lot which is mostly sustained by Tourist trade. Besides, the late opening of Manali -Leh Highway and landslides on Zojila Pass have been other causes for the decline in influx of tourists to Ladakh UT this season, he added.
Showing concern over the failure of the BRO in widening of the 200 meters of Highway on Zojila Pass which is prone to landsliding, Mohammed Ali, president Hotel Association, Kargil said the people don’t know what hesitation the Government has in widening this portion of Highway to settle the problem.
He said there are apprehensions that the traders across Zojila in Sonamarg and other parts are in league with the Traffic management of that area which has created this problem otherwise the 200 meters of the Highway could have been easily widened to allow traffic from both sides.
He said not only tourist flow has been affected a lot but the people in Ladakh region suffer for the essential commodities as they don’t reach in time. Even the vegetables and fruits loaded in trucks get rotten when traffic is halted on the way, he added.
He said he has a hotel with 23 rooms which remained book for entire season earlier during this period of the year but now they are mostly empty as tourists hesitate to visit Ladakh as the Highway is open for one way traffic only.
He said in Kargil there are 90 hotels and rest houses which are all empty nowadays. The tourists visiting the UT mostly plan their travel in advance and they have a limited budget as well as time. They do not want to get stuck in the way to get their money exhausted so they prefer to return from Sonamarg, he added.
He said other traders also have been hit a lot as trucks, tankers carrying cement, petrol, diesel, spare parts of machines etc take one week to reach Kargil from Srinagar.
He said during earlier seasons on an average 2000 tourists from other parts of the country reached Kargil daily while the number has declined by over 60 percent this season and there is a daily loss of about Rs one crore to traders, he added.
He said they talked to LG, DC , SP and others in administration and handed over the memorandums but to no avail.
Mohammed Ibrahim, president, Transporters Association Kargil too was critical of the decision of administration. He said over one and a half month they have been facing this problem. He said the Government could have modified its plan of traffic movement by allowing traffic from Sonamarg to Kargil in the morning and from Kargil to Srinagar in the evening but it is not known why they hesitate to take a decision in this regard as this way the traffic from both sides could ply normally. He said they apprehend a conspiracy in hitting the trade of Himalayan region.
He said the tourists intending to visit Leh or Kargil mostly return from Sonamarg as they don’t want to get trapped for days together in the way. He said drivers, passengers, traders as well as tourists are worried with the decision. Moreover, the people who go to Jammu or other parts of the country during the Winter months also face problem in visiting their home towns in Ladakh due to traffic movement restrictions. This Highway is lifeline for Ladakh and the patients who are to be taken to Srinagar for emergency treatment also are not allowed to move due to traffic restrictions, he added.
Aga Toha, Additional Director Tourism, Ladakh said that problem has been created due to landslides on Highway and the Government is trying its best to double the road so that the traffic on both sides can ply normally.