Kufri: Promoted as a premier tourist spot in the vicinity of Shimla; beauty of the serene environs of Kufriâ€™s stands marred by the ugly sight of numerous horses put through the drudgery for giving visitors â€˜a memorable joy rideâ€™.
Many have protested about these animals ruining the tourist value of the destination by turning it into a stable whose otherwise clean air is dominated by stench emanating from horse dung and urine that is littered all over the place.
Unmindful of tourism earning a bad name, the horse owners are out in strength, each morning as spring breaks out at the destination, to put the beast of burden to task for making a fast buck from the tourist who stop by.
While horse owners resist any moves to displace them from making a living out of offering pony rides, the governmentâ€™s intent of removing them to reclaim the tourism value of the site has failed so much so that efforts to restrict the number of horses does not hold.
â€œOur livelihoods are dependent on the tourist inflow here and we make a living by giving them the comfort of tackling uphill terrain on horseback for which they willingly donâ€™t mind paying extra,â€ says Shiv Ram, a horse owner.
â€œIf removed where do we go and what do we do with the horsesâ€, he questions? Owning a horse to earn a livelihood out of pony rides at the tourist site was initially supported by the government and as self employment avenue, he claimed.
Expressing helplessness, Surinder Justa, the district tourism officer said, â€œwe do not own the site as it is government by the local area development authority.â€
â€œIf we are to prolong the staying duration of visitors to Shimla, it is essential that the nearby scenic spots are spurned up,â€ he said adding, â€œallowing the ponies to litter the place is causing harm to both the destination as well as the good will that the serene setting of the place should have earned among visitorsâ€.
The tourism officer mentioned that many tourists complain about being harassed or being overcharged by the horse owners and the matter often ends up with local police.
The problem is that Kufri happens to be a buffer for three panchayat zones and each one has a pony association of its own. With the three panchayats holding claim to about 200 horses each, the number at the spot surpasses 600 horses during peak summer time.
In a scenario of diverging interests of the pony owners and tourism promoters, an animal rights activists Sanjay Bhel, chairman People of Animal Rights Shimla chapter differed saying â€œthere is an nature park at Kufri which prizes some rare wild animals, but neither the wild life authorities stationed there nor the animal husbandry department have ever considered the plight of the ponies involved in the activity.
Sheer greed has overtaken the horse owners for even underfed and animals in ill-health are put through drudgery each day to eek out a living by such insensitive exploitationâ€ said Bhel.