MANALI: Distracted by heat and din, over 1.5 crore tourists visit Himachal every year to relax in cold and calm atmosphere, but not all of them return home safely as nature’s beauty proves lethal for few of them.
Negligence, ignorance, improper safety arrangements, hurriedness, rescue response delay, week communication and medical services are few of the known reasons which are proving fatal for dozens of tourists every year.
Most of the ill-fated tourists are dying by drowning in Beas river, besides mountaineering mishaps and road accidents. Kullu-Manali draws largest number of tourists in the state and is also hub of adventure activities including mountaineering, river rafting, paragliding and skiing.
While dozens of tourists, mostly foreigners have either died or gone missing during mountaineering, number of tourists being drowned in Beas and Parvati rivers has also increased over the years. After the incident of Shalanala, Mandi, where 24 students of Hyderabad engineering college were washed away by water of Beas, Himachal government has stepped up its surveillance along the riverbanks but preparations seem to be inadequate as tourists, out of curiosity and charmed by its beauty, continue to throng the river banks.
Snow and rivers of Kullu-Manali have always been attracting tourists from across the globe. While sudden unseasonal snowfall and landslides leave hundreds of tourists stranded for hours every year, rivers too have proved fatal for tourists who are not aware of the hidden dangers associated with it. Tourists cannot resist themselves and throng its banks to touch, feel and enjoy its cold water. They generally underestimate its force as river actually flows in high velocity than it appears.
Even after the Shalanala accident, dozens of tourists can be spotted either sitting on the boulders between river to get themselves clicked or bathing in its swift currents. When a tourist family was advised to stay away from the river near Bahang village, they replied, “Don’t you try to teach us what to do and what should be avoided. We are educated and we know how to deal with water.”
Taking lesson from Shalanala accident, Kullu and Mandi administrations have put up warning signboards along the river banks and all illegal roads leading to river have been blocked. Kullu administration had dismantled all the dhabas which were built close to the river on forest land. But more such dhabas and cafes have come up near river in recent times.
As tourism department is responsible to check the illegal activities along riversides, its officials feel helpless in stopping tourists from thronging the river banks. An official with Tourism and Civil Aviation department said, “We do not have enough manpower to patrol the entire district and check illegal tourism activities every day. All we can do is to carry out surprise raids at river rafting, paragliding and river crossing spots and check if any operator is operating these activities illegally.”
So far, only two death cases in paragliding have been registered by tourism department while few more complaints regarding injuries were reported in past few years. However, death toll is highest in river rafting and road accidents (vehicle plunging into river).
Over three dozen foreigner trekkers either went missing or their bodies were recovered from various parts of the district in last two decades. No foul play was found in any case but most of the incidents happened due to negligence of the trekker who preferred not to hire local guide, a police official said.
Himachal tourism industry
Tourism industry worth Rs 5,000 crore is the largest service industry of Himachal. Tourism has a large contribution to the state’s GDP and state government has planned to increase contribution of tourism sector to 15 per cent by 2020. Himachal has about 2,769 registered hotels with bed capacity of about 61,469. In addition, Himachal has about 500 homestay units and hundreds of camping sites. Thousands of travel agents, taxi drivers, tourist guides, shopkeeper and adventure activities providers are also dependent on the booming tourism industry of the state.
White water river rafting has become an integral part of adventure sports in Himachal with over 250 operators engaged in the business. Bandrol and Pirdi are the most preferred river rafting points in Kullu district and over one lakh tourists enjoy this sport annually. Except for monsoon season, rafting is allowed throughout the year.
Tourism department with help of Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports issues licenses to the eligible operators. Rafting can be a dangerous sport if basic safety precautions are not followed. But unfortunately this adventure game proves fatal for many tourists every year.
Solang valley of Manali is adventure sports hub of Himachal and it is paragliding which draws over 15 lakh tourists to Solang annually. Unfortunately dozens of them go back home with broken arms and legs due to paragliding accidents, mostly because of crash landing. Roshan Thakur of Manali was the first trained professional paraglider of the country who with support of Himachal Tourism started training other pilots in Bilaspur in 1994.
Risk of life makes adventure games thrilling
The adventure games operators say it is almost impossible to avoid injuries and sometime even death in adventure sports due to high level of risk involved in such games. Despite following proper safety procedure, injuries are possible in such games. That is why adventure games are not for everyone and risk of live makes them more thrilling.
Tourism officer: For safety of tourists, courses and routes in Beas river have been predetermined by the tourism department. Qualified guide, certification of raft, outfitters and stringent regulations about equipment and procedures are ensured. We have now framed strict regulations for both rafting and paragliding to ensure safety of the tourists.
Main causes of drowning
River rafting, photography on slippery boulders, swimming, sudden rise in water level, swift currents and under water rocks and to underestimate the force of river
Tourists killed in paragliding
Only two cases of accidental deaths in paragliding have been registered in Manali.
Tourists killed (or went missing) in mountaineering
Two dozen trekkers, mostly foreigners, went missing or found dead since 1992.
Main disasters in Himachal
Flash floods and cloud bursts
Landslides and avalanches
Main causes of tourist deaths in Himachal
Comparison of tourists’ security with other states
Himachal: Police department, which is already facing shortage of staff, is responsible to keep watch over the tourist activities and their security. In Manali where over 30 lakh tourists visit annually police cannot be seen at all the tourist places. Extre jawans from India Reserve Battalion (IRB) are pressed into service only during peak summer season for two months. Tourism department occasionally raids the hotels, restaurants and sites of river rafting and paragliding to check their licenses. Overall less than 300 jawan take care of tourist crowd and traffic between mid April and mid July and this number decreased to less than 50 in rest of the months. Tourists have no idea that how to hire registered tourist guides. State government had launched a tourist support service through SMS by sending a complaint to 51969 by typing message followed by HP TOUR but tourists have no information about the service.
Kerala: Kerala has special tourist police who wear khaki pants and light blue shirts so that tourists can easily find them and approach them for any kind of help. The police have wide label on their shirts just above the pocket marked as “Tourist Police” who are totally dedicated to tourists. Each jawan of tourist police carries local maps, pamphlets, digital diaries and a baton. Coast guards ensure the safety of tourists in coastal areas. A 24-hour helpline number is being issued to tourists where they can complain or obtain any information.
Goa: Special Tourist Police is designated for the safety and security of the tourists in Goa. Coast guards protect its coasts 24 hours a day. IRB and local police also patrol all the beaches and tourist hotspots to ensure safety of the tourists.
Karnataka: Apart from coast guards and local police, Karnataka government in its tourism policy has planned to ensure tourism friendly amenities like information kiosks, trained guides, audio guides, interpretation centres, green police (tourist police) and access to physically handicapped at all major tourist destinations.