Thousands head to hills to soak in Yuletide spirit

Shimla, Dec 24 (IANS) Thousands of holidaymakers have booked their hotels across Himachal Pradesh to enjoy the Yuletide spirit and their footfalls are likely to continue till New Year’s Eve, say members of the hospitality industry.

But mellow sunshine, not snowfall, will greet the visitors at most of the tourist destinations in the state during the three-day weekend starting with the Christmas holiday on Friday, the Met office here said.

“The response of the tourists is good this weekend. But they are keen to know about the possibility of snowfall in Shimla and its surrounding hills in the next few days,” D.P. Bhatia of Clarke’s Hotel here told IANS.

“We are advising the tourists to visit Kufri and Narkanda hill to enjoy snowy landscape,” he added.

State tourism department estimates say over 50,000 tourists are expected to visit the state on Christmas.

“Most of our hotels in Shimla, Dharamsala, Palampur, Kasauli and Manali have been sold out more than 80 percent till date. We are hoping this favourable response will continue till a New Year dawns,” Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) deputy general manager Vijay Sharma said.

He said most of the tourists were heading to Shimla, Narkanda, Chindi, Dalhousie, Dharamsala, Manali and Sangla and Kalpa in Kinnaur district.

The popular tourist town of Narkanda, some 65 km from here, has good accumulation of snow, whereas Shimla, known for the imperial grandeur of buildings that were once institutions of power when it was the summer capital of British India, is bereft of snow.

Kufri, a popular holiday spot just on the outskirts of Shimla and is known as a honeymooner’s paradise, also saw snow twice this month.

The mountain peaks viewed from Shimla’s historic Ridge, Dharamsala, and Palampur towns were wrapped in a thick white blanket of snow.

Manali, as usual, remains a magnet for holidaymakers due to plentiful snow in the town and its nearby hills.

“The influx of the tourists has increased in Manali and nearby hill destinations since the onset of snowfall and we are expecting a good rush till the first week of January,” Manali-based hotelier M.C. Thakur said.

He said the annual five-day Manali Winter Carnival, a flavour of music and dance, would kick off in Manali on January 2.

Snowfall is a big draw for the tourists, especially from the plains of northern India.

But Met officials are clear. They say the weather would largely remain dry in most of the popular hill destinations till December 31.

“A western disturbance would be active in the western Himalayas on December 27 with chances of snow in higher reaches only. Rest of the days will witness long sunny days,” Manmohan Singh, director of Shimla’s Met office, told IANS.

But temperatures have been unusually low in most of the popular tourist spots like Shimla, Narkanda, Kasauli, Manali, Dalhousie and Chamba.

According to Manmohan Singh, the popular tourist destinations have been experiencing balmy days and chilly nights than most of the cities in the plains.

Christmas snows have been eluding Shimla since 1991 when 49 cm of snow fell on Christmas eve.

According to records of the meteorological department, snowfall has been eluding Shimla on Christmas eve for the past 24 years.

And, except in 2010, there has been no white New Year’s Eve either in Shimla in the past eight years.

Asia’s oldest skating clay surface rink has been holding regular sessions since December 20 due to the natural formation of a thick coating of ice owing to the freezing winter.

Himachal Pradesh, known for its delicious apples and picture-perfect tourist spots, attracted 16.3 million tourists with 7.83 percent increase in tourist inflow over the previous year, the state tourism department said.

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