Manali Jam, A Tourism Disaster For Himachal

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Manali:  This summer season has seen a massive increase in the number of tourist arrivals in Manali. This has mainly been so because a large number of tourists picked Manali over Jammu & Kashmir. While it was a handout for those associated with the tourism industry, the sudden rush has badly exposed the district administration about their capacity to handle the increased footfall.

A case in point is that to cover a mere 2 km road from Rangi to Manali Town took at times took over two hours of journey time. It was no better on the River Beas left bank road. Where tourists are able to reach Manali from Delhi in 20 hrs, this season it took on an average up to 4 hours to cover the 45 Km distance from Kullu to Manali.

Taxi operators staging a Chakka Jam in Manali on June 5, 2017 (Video courtesy Saurabh Chauhan)

With tourists flooding the town to get a respite from the summer heat, Manali this season even suffered an unprecedented day-long traffic jam on 24 June that took children two to three hours to reach home from their schools which was just 2 Kms away.

Then, of course, there were freak incidents that made headlines. A cloudburst between Patseo and Zingzing Bar had blocked the Manali-Leh highway for a good 17 hours.

All this simply points towards the need for a rethink on the tourism policy of the states.

Manali in a jam

Manali has been crumpling under intense tourist pressure for several years now. According to one estimate more than 23,000 tourists visit the town every day in the month of June and a large number of them are headed for the Rohtang Pass.

A diktat by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) caps the number of vehicles permitted to go Rohtang at 1200 in a day, this has created more confusion and chaos as the taxi operators with permits are now cheating tourists by charging heavily for the privilege of getting to the snowcapped Pass.

Not adhering to the government rates that start from Rs 2,400 for a small car, they are reportedly said to be charging up to Rs 8,000 for the 50 km journey to Rohtang Pass.

The administration did blacklist around 3,000 violators but that brought the tourist township to a halt as it led to a mid-night strike by taxi operators and turned a already bad situation to worse.

The years tourist season in Manali started with a nightmarish experience. Water scarcity, lack of parking spaces and traffic snarls have become a routine. Things get worse on weekends when people from nearby towns of Punjab and Haryana arrive and the footfall of 20,000 people on an average can double up on Saturdays and Sundays. There is simply no space to park and hardly any to even walk.

The ever going construction for upgrading Manali highway into a 4 lane between Kiratpur and Manali was another add on to the chaos as this stretch has become prone to land slides and frequent traffic grumbles. It is a common refrain that the drivers from the plains hardly have any idea of driving in the hills and try to overtake other vehicles frequently, thus breaking the line and causing road rage fights.

The situation is no better in the township as 90% of the hotels have no parking facility.

Overcrowding of people and vehicles has led to a decay in civic amenities. The result is that heaps of filth and public easing along the narrow roads has made it very difficult for the pedestrians to even stroll on the Manali Mall Road.

The tourist getaway has otherwise also a notorious reputation of its hoteliers fleecing people because the administration has failed to even get them to print tariff cards in all these years.

The air quality of this much sought after mountain resort was in the dumps as during peak tourist rush days the Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM) increased by almost 40%. In Manali, the RSPM recorded at the weekends went up to 60.35 microgram per metric cube which is way above normal.

Things have come to such a pass that the Himachal Pradesh High Courts has been compelled to intervene on many occasions.

The Court has directed the Senior Superintendent of Police and District Magistrate of Manali to work out a plan to combat traffic snarls witnessed during the tourist season every year.

The court has also directed the state administration to come out with a long-term vision plan for regulating and managing traffic in Kullu, Manali, Rohtang Pass, Kasol and Manikaran.

A run down bridge bearing heavy traffic in Manali (Photo by Sanjay Dutta)

‘Mere widening of roads or construction of new roads may not solve the issue per se. Traffic management includes many factors, like traffic control, which envisages measures of traffic flow, management of parking areas and removal of encroachments on roads, etc. It has to be understood that driving through a traffic congested area is tedious and the same adversely affects the health of one and all. There is not only waste of fuel, but it also pollutes the environment. Haphazard parking of vehicles, encroachments on roads, the absence of civic sense and lack of strict enforcement of traffic rules, all lead to traffic congestion’, is what the court order observed.

With the quality of life offered in Manali having deteriorated, Vikramjeet Singh, an old time resident says, “it is high the government intervenes and regulates tourism.”

“Tourism has to be de-centralized and at certain places mass tourism has to be discouraged. Both our governments and tourists have misunderstood the concept of eco-tourism. A de-centralized development of tourism is about being sensitive to the environment where the common man living in far-flung areas that have an abundance of natural beauty is also a beneficiary. It does not mean construction of big concrete resorts in jungles.

Everything cannot be left to the courts to decide because courts can only give orders. It is the government and the administration that have to implement them in true spirit, says Vikarmjeet.

Sanjay Dutta, an engineer by qualification but is a journalist by choice. He has worked for the premier new agency Press Trust of India and leading English daily Indian Express. With more than a decade of experience, he has been highlighting issues related to environment, tourism and other aspects affecting mountain ecology. Sanjay Dutta lives in a village close to Manali in Kullu valley of Himachal.

8 Comments

  • Ravi Roy says:

    I was in Manali from 8 to 11 June 2017.Taxi fare was demanded Rs.25 thousand for Rohtash Pass.I returned back without visiting there.There were really very critical conditions of traffic jam.

  • Anupam chambial says:

    I am from dhanotu village which is nearby dharamshala tourist place even here this traffic jam situation occured in macleodganj area. So
    Traffic jam situation is common sight in tourist places in himachal

  • chitrani says:

    We had faced similar kind of situation when we headed to manali in the month of June.
    from chandigarh to manali it took us nearly 15 hours to reach. There was massive traffic jam which the people were never witnessed before. mall road was very crowded and rate were even high. The place has became too much commercialised and the beauty of its place is soon going to be lost if proper action is not taken in time. We went to manali to spend some quality time with the nature beauty to feel the cool breeze and tranquil but all the way I took the smell of petrol and diesel and pollution. The environment is degrading and is a matter of concern .even the snow got polluted in rohtang pass.I appeal to the government to take some urgent action. There should be some limitation in the no of vehicle not all the private vehicle should give an entry and proper rules to be followed when driving in hills.

  • Jayashish Mishra says:

    These roads traffic are very very unpredictable. If you count an average time and do you visit or sight seeing plans, it is a complete no no. It is high time for authorities to plan for organised traffic and road conditions. It is challenging but there is no way out. May be tourism in these sectors has to be closed for 2 years for infrastructure development. After full completion it can again start up with a bang.
    My experience:
    I was supposed to travel from Pahalgam to Jammu in July 2014 ( no winter or snow fall time ) with family in an Innova. I was told by Hotel authorities that it will take 9 hours smoothly or else with jam maximum 12 hours. It took us 15 hours to reach Jammu from Pahalgam 🙄😳!

  • Deepak Kamble says:

    I like the Manali place

  • Gagan Gupta says:

    Very true. I was in Manali on 8th june and got seriously struck in that traffic jam. Horrible

  • Surender Thakur says:

    Filth and garbage is going to increase day by day as there is no cap on the no of hotels and the no of tourists visiting manali.As a himachalivit pains that tourists through lots of plastic bottles and empty chips packets along side the roads in himachal.The civic sense is missing.Nature disaster is impending to occur sooner than later as happens in uttarakhand regularly..In the name of tourism you cant construct roads to every remostest of religious places.People who want to go to such places will always go on trek even.But alas most of the tourists nowdays come only for enjoyment only.The more accessible the himachali terrain the more the garbage and filth.Alas no body is bothered about our fragile environment only commercial aspect is the only aspect considered what come may.Our mountains are decaying at a rapid rate and there is no solution to it

  • Sanjeev Singh thakur says:

    The situation Shimla in terms of traffic jam is is almost on the same track.

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