Shimla/Manali (IANS) To escape the scorching heat in the plains, tens of thousands of people are heading to the cool environs of Himachal Pradesh.
Hospitality industry representatives say the snowy landscape overlooking Narkanda, Kalpa, Dharamsala, Palampur, and Manali towns are drawing a large number of holiday-makers from across northern India.
"The snowy landscape of Rohtang Pass never disappoints visitors. On average, a daily arrival of tourists in Manali is between 20,000 and 30,000. On weekends, the figure goes more than 40,000," Manali-based prominent travel agent Nakul Thakur told IANS.
He said there was a noticeable spike in footfall of the tourists with the reopening of the Rohtang Pass, located at an altitude of 13,050 feet in Kullu district.
The pass, which is still marooned in a thick blanket of snow, was reopened for the tourists on June 1 after six months of closure.
Official sources said only 1,300 vehicles with government permits are allowed to ply across the Rohtang Pass, some 51 km from Manali, every day as per the National Green Tribunal guidelines.
Likewise, many hotels and guesthouses in the state capital Shimla have been sold out well in advance.
"Our properties are almost chock-a-block with tourists," D.P. Bhatia, liaison officer with Shimla-based Oberoi Group of hotels, told IANS.
Corporate executive Isha Bhatnagar from Chandigarh said: "What a pleasant weather in the hills from the scorching conditions in the plains."
But seeing the hordes of tourists, most of hotels, guesthouses and lodges across the tourist destinations have doubled their tariffs.
Taxi drivers and guides are openly fleecing the tourists by quoting high rates in this peak tourist season, pinching the pockets of holidaymakers.
In Manali, for a glimpse of a snowy landscape spread over the Rohtang Pass, you should be ready to shell out an extremely high fare to hire a cab.
So it is in tourist spots near Shimla, such as honeymooners' paradise Kufri where each pony owner is virtually trying to poach you without paying any heed to your refusals. You will end up getting charged an exorbitant fare for a ride across the hilly terrain.
"We have paid Rs 14,000 to a travel agent for our to and fro journey from Manali to Rohtang Pass," Sushmita Banerjee, a tourist from Delhi, told IANS.
The actual fare of a luxury cab is Rs 6,000 while an ordinary one costs Rs 4,000.
With only 1,300 taxi or private vehicle permits issued online daily on a first-come-first-served basis to visit the Rohtang Pass, taxi operators are charging two to three times more than the actual fare, reports say.
Hill destinations like Shimla, Kufri, Narkanda, Kasauli, Chail, Manali, Dalhousie, Palampur, and Dharamsala are flooded with visitors.
According to various reports, there has been an increase of 40-45 per cent in the tourist inflow to the state compared to last year.
But a word of caution for the motorists travelling towards the Rohtang Pass.
The road beyond Kothi, 13 km from Manali, is treacherous as chances of landslides are high.
Even the state government has made it mandatory for people, travelling in a vehicle that does not bear Himachal Pradesh registration number, to hire a local taxi beyond Kothi.
A slew of accidents has led the government to ban plying of vehicles outside the state on Manali-Rohtang stretch, say, officials.
Tourists footfall in the state last year declined to 164.50 lakh, that included 35,6568 foreigners, from 196.02 lakh in 2017, says the state's Economic Survey 2018-19.
The state economy is highly dependent on hydroelectric power, horticulture, and tourism.