Covid-19, India-China border row cast shadow on Ladakh tourism industry

Tso Moriri in Ladakh. Photo: Khalid Anzar

The hotels are unoccupied, the taxies unhired and the markets bereft of their usual hustle bustle. Ladakh is missing its guests.

As people step out of the Leh airport, Cherring Namgyal (32) waits for tourists he can ferry in his taxi to different exotic locations in Ladakh. But that's a futile wait.

A few who are coming are either locals or people on official work.

The coronavirus has hit us hard and there are barely any tourists this season. The tourist season is coming to an end. To add to it, people are apprehensive about the ongoing tensions on the border, Cherring Namgyal said.

The tourism industry in India and across the globe has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, but the impact is felt harder in Ladakh because the tourism window here is squeezed to just a few months -- mostly from April to mid-October due to harsh winters.

"There has hardly been any business this year. There are simply no tourists due to coronavirus pandemic and lockdown," Noordin, the vice-president of the Ladakh Taxi Operator Cooperative Ltd who goes by his first name, said.

Many taxi drivers are without work this year, he said. This year, some of the taxis have been hired by the Army.

The current tensions with China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) too has impacted tourism in a way, he added.

"Many tourists want to go to the Nurba Valley and Pangong Tso. But routes to some places have been shut because of the ongoing tensions," he said.

The Pangong Tso lake is one of the places in Ladakh where there is a built-up of troops on both sides.

Ladakh has nearly 4,000 private taxis, Noordin said.

He said Ladakh still has much more to offer beyond the regular tourist spots such Pangong Tso lake.

Ghulam Mohiuddin, the owner of Hotel Grand Dragon, a starred hotel in Leh, said the room occupancy is very low this season.

The start of the tourist season coincided with the commencement of the pandemic. So there were no tourists this year and the room occupancy was also very low, Mohiuddin said, adding the economy of Ladakh largely depends on tourism.

After the lockdown eased, there were tensions on the border. Actually, there is nothing to fear, but people are hesitant largely because of the pandemic and also due to the tension, Mohiuddin added.

The main market in the Leh city depicts the tale of how tourism has been hit this year. It wears a deserted look. Many shops did not open this year.

"Many Kashmiri businessmen rented shops in the market. But due to the fear of coronavirus, they have not come back," said a garments shopkeeper.

Riyaz Ahmed (70), the president of the main market in the Leh city, said there has hardly been any business this year.

Ahmed, who has seen the region changing, said the tourism industry took an upswing after the '3 Idiots' movie starring Aamir Khan.

All wanted to go to Pangong Tso lake. There are many such beautiful places across the Ladakh region, but tourists have not come here at all, Ahmed said.

He said unlike the rest of the country, tourists visit Ladakh mostly from April to mid-October. After October the temperature drops to sub-zero levels.

Those who want to beat the heat come here in May-June when the mercury soars in the rest of the country. People keep coming till October end, Ahmed said.

But this year, the situation is different.

The lockdown began in March. When the restrictions were lifted, there was a seven-day mandatory guideline of self-isolation. People are still very scared (of travelling), Ahmed said.

Cherring Udgen (65), who sells dry fruits in the Ladakh market, concurred with Ahmed.

Coronavirus has disrupted everything, he said, as he sanitised his hand with every transaction he had with his customers.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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