Work-from-home takes on a new meaning as people move their workstations to the hills. With Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh opening its borders, professionals are escaping the monotony and heat of the cities with their families, laptops and a COVID-19 negative certificate. Praveen Nagpal, who runs six cottages as part of Banlekhi resorts in Uttarakhand’s Mukteshwar, says, “It’s a win-win situation for guests as well as for the plummeting tourism business in the hills. While people get to spend their working summer in a relaxed environment, we get a steady source of income since tourism as it were, is passe.”
Nagpal has also opened his two-room bungalow in Himachal’s Solan for those who want to stay put and work. He adds that he and his industry peers are now looking to run their properties as paying guest facilities, at a fixed monthly rent, equipped with a study table, good WiFi and a running kitchen. “We won’t entertain anyone who wants to come here for less than seven days; we are getting enquiries mainly from Delhi, Gurugram, Chandigarh and Noida. In fact, day before, a corporate office in Gurugram asked if 15 staff members could be accommodated for a month, with their families, at a discounted rate. We are happy to cater to such requests.”
Earlier this month, as Unlock 2.0 set in, the Uttarakhand government opened its borders for tourists, as did the Himachal government. What visitors need is a COVID-19 negative report from an ICMR-accredited laboratory, done within the last 72 hours at the time of entry. This had led to long lines at state entry points even as families flock to the hills, to enjoy cool climes without giving up their professional responsibilities.
While some hoteliers are apprehensive about catering to quarantine tourism at discounted rates, there are those who welcome the move. Dharamveer Singh Chouhan Co-founder & CEO, Zostel, which runs eight properties across two states in Manali, Dalhousie, McLeodganj, Rishikesh and Mukteshwar, says that even as they are closed at the moment, he gets 15-20 enquiries daily for future bookings. He’s worked out plans for 15-21-30 day packages at discounted rates. “People can cut down on their house rent and other kitchen and household bills, and can work, chill and live out of a beautiful place. We are also offering workstations and good WiFi, while there are no time-consuming responsibilities such as cleaning or managing groceries,” says Chouhan.
For many, it’s a chance to be with their families, spend the entire summer in cooler climes, and still not miss work. So they are doing whatever it takes to get there. Gautam Mishra, a data analyst from New Delhi, says “I am travelling to Uttarakhand with my family next week. Currently, their rule says that I should travel with a RT-PCR certificate, which absolves me of their quarantine and minimum stay regulations,” he says. With a COVID-19 negative report in hand, the family plans to stay in the hills for a month. Mishra and his wife will continue to WFH, while their children will catch up with their online classes from a resort in Binsar.
As per an unofficial estimate by the hoteliers association in Uttarakhand, more than 8,000 visitors have crossed into Uttarakhand in the past one week from various states. Whereas, an informal estimate by the Himachal Pradesh Hoteliers Association puts the number of outsiders staying over in the state to about 6,500.
The charm of the hills had been there ever since temperature started soaring in the plains amid lockdown, but until last month, it wasn’t that easy. Delhi-based Vasudha Sondhi, who owns a homestay in Parvada village in Uttarakhand’s Mukteshwar, says she had to face trouble for several days before the family of five could settle in for a long working holiday at their place. Four days after they reached Parvada, after due checks at the state border, cops knocked at their door, insisting they go for institutional quarantine. They complied and checked into a three-star hotel for a paid quarantine. Sondhi says, “It was only after our corona test came negative that we were allowed to return to our place. We will be spending the rest of the summer here.”
Publisher Pramod Kapoor, founder of Delhi-based Roli Books, was also in self-quarantine with his wife, Kiran, at their holiday home in Landour, Mussoorie, last month. He says, “We have a house in Landour and were trying for the longest time to get a permission pass to spend time here. It took us many attempts to finally be allowed to enter by the state government, on the condition that we will be in home-quarantine for 15 days; we happily agreed.” The couple is now spending the entire duration of their intended stay perhaps till July-end in self-imposed home quarantine rather than going out and moving around in the hill station.
Several small hotels and homestays in Palampur, Kasauli and Renuka have been hosting tourists. Anil Thakur, who runs a six-bedroom hotel in Kasauli, says, “Although we haven’t opened up formally, if someone requests for a room for minimum 10 days, we arrange for the cleaning and basic kitchen essentials.” They are expecting more crowds in the coming weeks, he says, especially those who want to escape the hot and sultry weather of the plains and also because the hill states are relatively less affected by COVID-19.