Rising Rape Incidents Hurting Kullu-Manali Foreign Tourist Market

"We are flooded with emails from foreign clients about the current situation in Manali after a rape incident was reported last week. Although everything is okay here but tourists are concerned about their safety" - Mahesh Mishra, a travel agent.

Manali: Kullu is all set to achieve its target to host over 1.5 lakh foreigner tourists this year, but according to sources with tourism industry, incident of rapes is hurting the international tourism industry of the region to a large extent, with many foreign tourists expressing apprehensions about it.

It’s strange that foreign tourists are staying in dozens of Kullu villages without even getting their C-forms filled properly which has been made mandatory even for domestic houses who offer accommodation to foreigner guests. Many functioning guest houses have not been registered in Kullu. Authorities fail to trace the whereabouts of the foreigners staying in Kullu as most of them arrive without making any itinerary and stay wherever they feel comfortable.

Foreigners have no doubt helped in growing of tourism in Kullu valley with the number of foreign guests increasing from few hundreds to 1.5 lakh only in two decades. In 2009, 1.19 lakh foreigner tourists visited Kullu valley and the number increased to 1.33, 1.38 and 1.43 lakh tourists in 2010, 2011 and 2012 respectively. Given the good number of advance booking, Manali is looking forward to cross 1.5 lakh landmarks.

A view of the Kullu-Manali valley from Bijli Mahadev temple: (File Photo)

Twenty foreigners have died in Kullu in last seven years and cause of majority of deaths was drug overdose. Over a dozen foreigners are still missing from Kullu while a man from Israel was killed in Barshaini village in 2007 and a woman from Russia was murdered in Manikaran village in 2008. On June 2007, a South Korean woman was raped in Kullu and the accused was acquitted in 2010. Another woman from Australia was raped by her Facebook Indian friend at Kasol village in May 2012.

Last week on June 2, a Japanese woman was raped by Taxi driver. Though the accused was arrested but the incident sent shock waves among the foreigners.

“It’s disgusting. women travellers are not safe here. Police security should be tightened up even during nighttime,” said Anneli, a woman tourist from UK, Anneli who is in Manali since Sunday. It’s the beginning of foreign tourists’ season and hundreds of foreigners are already camping here.

Any rape incident reported in the valley or a gang rape incident involving a foreigner reported from anywhere in the country sends shock waves among foreign tourists, especially in women who are travelling alone.

Majority of tourists travelling to Kullu are from UK, Israel, France, Italy and USA. The incident of rape is the issue that is being discussed by all tourists here. While most of them are demanding hard punishment to the culprits, there were few of them who believe the victim, who was seeking lift from a truck in midnight, should have been cautious about her safety.

“How an alone single woman can ask for a hitch-hike at 3 am from a truck on the highway in a strange country. Either she was supposed to be sleeping in her room or accompanied by her friends at that time,”Patricia, another tourist from Spain said.

French national Mark Hamieau, who was staying in Thela village of Kullu for over 30 years without Visa and Passport and Pomerantsev Kiril, an Italian national, who was staying in Malana without travel documents for over 15 years in 2011, are some of the examples that police have no exact idea of the arrival and departure of foreigners. Many more cases of visa overstay have been noticed in recent years in Kullu district, the fast growing hub for foreigners.

“We are flooded with emails from foreign clients about the current situation in Manali after a rape incident was reported last week. Although everything is okay here but tourists are concerned about their safety,” a travel agent, Mahesh Mishra, said.

The most preferred whereabouts of foreign tourists in Kullu are Old Manali, Vashisht, Tosh, Kasol, Manikarn, Chachoga, Shuru, Naggar, Malana, Haripur, Banjar, Soyal and Halan. Most of the tourists themselves want to live without worries of security and legal check and many times do not fill even the C-forms. Full moon parties have totally been banned but still many such parties are being organized without coming in police scanner.

Meanwhile, police have step up its surveillance in the entire district to make foreigners feel comfort and secure. As police officials are asked not to give any type of statement to media persons, an officer disclosed that police are planning to frame new policies for foreigners to avoid such incidences in future.

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.

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