Leh June 29: With more than 50 percent of the population in Ladakh that includes Leh and Kargil district, dependent on tourism, 2020 will be marked as a ‘black year’ among these people who are faced with Coronavirus and Chinese aggression.
As per the official information, there are a total of 347 cases of Covid-19 in Ladakh region. Even as the number looks small, the population of Ladakh is not more than 3 lakh. The local number of cases of infection will not matter as international travel is ban at the moment and majority of the tourists to Ladakh come from foreign countries.
Roads to Ladakh – from UT of J&K and from Himachal Pradesh remain closed till April end due to heavy snow. The Border Road Organization (BRO) is entrusted with the responsibility to open these roads after the winter season. After the roads open, tourists start flocking in Ladakh from May end to September. This is the peak time when lakhs domestic and foreign tourists visit Ladakh.
However hoteliers as well as others associated with the tourism industry in Ladakh this year are disheartened as no tourist has come to the arid desert.
Trekking gone for a toss
A large number of tourists come to Ladakh to trek beautiful hills in and around Leh district. These hills are considered to be one of the best in entire world for trekking and local guides make it possible with their knowledge of area and essentials they carry along with them for the trekking.
There are hundreds of agencies that provide shoes, bags, sticks among other essential equipments required for trekking to mostly foreign tourists who come from United Kingdom, UA, Israel, Russia and other European countries especially for trekking. The hills of Ladakh are considered even better than those in Himachal Pradesha dn North East India for trekking.
Hotel industry in Ladakh ruined
The arid desert is situated at a height of nearly 11,500 feet and has an inflow of more than 50,000 foreign tourists every year and same number of domestic ones. However this year the Coronavirus pandemic broke the back-bone of the hotel and restaurant industry in Ladakh.
Hotels in Ladakh charge anything between Rs 2500- Rs 8000 per day from the tourists during the peak season. This enables the hoteliers to earn their living for the year to come as all the roads to Ladakh are closed in October and there is a shortage of supplies that are fulfilled by the army and Air Force. During this period, people use the money they had earned the previous season. Small hotel and restaurant owners are this year worried about this year.
India-China standoff another worry
Tensions between India and China started in Galwan area of Ladakh region after 20 Indian soldiers were killed by the Chinese army on June 15. Since then the issue is being highlighted in national and international media.
Locals believe that the issue has given a bad name to Ladakh and it could worsen the situation of tourism industry even when Coronavirus ends.
Stanzin Dolma, a local guest house owner says that majority of the business in Ladakh are dependent on tourism and due to Covid-19 pandemic, it has suffered a lot. “But we are also worried that even if Coronavirus pandemic ends, the issue of Chinese aggression will be closely watched by the international community and advisories will be issued to the citizens of these countries not to travel to Ladakh” said Dolma,
She said that the issue has to be ended by the government of India once and for all so that people of Ladakh can focus on their business and are not stressed due to the developments on the Eastern border.
How to reach Ladakh
Travelling to Ladakh can be as exciting as taking your journey to moon. However while you need a spaceship to travel to moon, reaching Ladakh is a bit easy.
There are different ways including airplane, bike, car and even bus to reach Ladakh from Chandigarh, Delhi, Mumbai, Jammu or any other city of the country.
The easiest way to travel to the UT of Ladakh is via airplane. Flights to Leh airport are available from almost every major airport in the country. However this mode of transportation could make you unwell as you reach a very high altitude within a short time that does not allow your body to acclimatize.
On the other hand the most exciting way to travel to the northernmost UT of the country is through motorbike where a group of couple of people can take three to four or even more bikes to reach Ladakh.
Journey in SUV or a jeep is also considered to be exciting as you pass through the mountainous areas of Kashmir region and then drive the vehicle on Zojila Pass that is considered to be one of the toughest motorable roads of the world. While one drives through these mountainous passes, chapters of history keeps unfolding in front of their eyes as the development has so far not reached these areas.
The first town that comes after cross Zojila is that of Kargil that saw action during the Kargil war. Surrounded by the hills that had become bases of Indian army during the war, Kargil welcomes the tourists in the UT of Ladakh.
Routes to Ladakh
There are two route from where you can reach the arid desert. First one through Srinagar that passes through Zojila Pass, Kargil and reaches Leh while the other route is from Manali that passes through Rohtang Pass, Jispa, Sarchu and finally Leh.
Staying in Ladakh can be exciting as the local restaurants offer you the best Tibetan food along with traditional cuisines known to Ladakh. Leh market has a number of restaurant that are economical and can be a place to revisit your deep thoughts.
Ladakh hopes for a better future
Residents of Ladakh are hoping for a better future by an end to Chinese aggression as well as Covid-19. They believe that a firm stand by the government of India against China in the region will deliver a correct message to the dragon that has dared to eye the Indian territory.
All those whom I talked to say that backing off from what belongs to us is not a solution as China will again do the misadventure in future. They say it is not a strong China that is doing it but “a weak China that has been bashed up by the world for spreading Coronavirus and was now trying to show its strength”.