Otherwise abuzz with tourists in October, old Manali’s more than 50 per cent shops are still closed. Shopkeepers who had gone back to their native villages, states after lockdown was announced in March end have still not come back though hotels in Himachal Pradesh opened to tourists from October 1, while all religious places opened from September 10.
Himachal Pradesh had opened borders for tourists around mid-September, but many hotel associations decided to open from October 1 while few major brands had resumed business in September itself.
While shops were allowed to open from June onwards with restrictions, many shopkeepers have still kept their shops shut as most of their business is linked with tourism.
“There is hardly any customer in the market, very few tourists are coming even though it is pleasant and people used to throng to hills during Dussehra holidays. Many shopkeepers, who hail from J&K or other parts of Himachal Pradesh, have not opened their shops as yet. They may come back in December if Covid cases remain under control,” said Johny, an artificial jewellary seller in old Manali.
Om Baba, a man running handicrafts shop in the same market was also sitting idle without a single customer since morning. He said, “I am a local. This is the reason, I have opened the shop. But most of the shopkeepers have not yet come back. They can’t bear expenses of power bills, paying to their staff and even rentals when there is no income.”
Cafes, restaurants are waiting for customers while a few tourists who are in the market are apprehensive to eat anything outside and many are seen snacking packaged food items along with their self prepared tea/coffee with sachets .
Even at the Mall Road, half of the stores are still shut.
“Most of the shops have business linked with tourism and as of now not more than 30 per cent of hotels have opened for tourists, what is the fun of opening shops,” said Anoop Thakur, president of Manali Hotel and Restaurant Association. He added, “There are nearly 600 hotels linked with our association which is the largest association in Himachal Pradesh while in Kullu and Manali over 2000 hotels, guest houses, home stays are there and everyone is not in a condition to open hotels even now looking at the stringent SOPs. It seems that SOPs were formed thinking that hotels are only in cities of India, no thought has been given for the small villagers who have opened home stays/guest houses within the same premises where they live. They cannot follow that 6 metre distance SOP because of less space and many other rules and regulations. So, 10 per cent branded hotels cannot contribute to the economy of the state. One needs to think about small hotels, home stays as well. If they open, flouting norms, they will end up in vicious circle of government notices.”
Parveen Thakur, who runs a small dhabha with brand name ‘Punjabi dhaba’ in Prini village of Manali, said, “My dhaba remained closed for 80 days in lockdown. I had gone to Mandi where I do farming as well. Now, tourists from Punjab,Chandigarh, Haryana and Delhi have started trickling in. If all goes well, business will be back on track by year end.”
Anoop Thakur, who has not opened his hotel till now, said: “Few tourists had come when Atal Tunnel was inaugurated and now we have pinned our hopes on bookings after Diwali.”
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