We are past the Ides of March, and it’s still snowing in Manali. The Friendship Peak remained invisible all day. Though the handsome snow-capped mountain crest has been visible from the left bank of the River Beas quite often over the last fortnight, it yet again allowed dark clouds to embrace it, after fresh slushy snow and light showers came down on this Himalayan town early morning on Tuesday.
Though Manali experiences snowfall through the winters, the current weather is slightly unusual and is beginning to trigger concerns among tourism stakeholders.
Last year, hoteliers and travel agents here suffered a major blow after massive mountain floods caused death and destruction in Uttarakhand. The impact of the gushing waters, and the resultant visuals on YouTube, ensured a steep climb-down in tourist footfalls in Manali despite its distance from the ground zero of the calamity.
While intermittent showers continued almost all day, conversation at the Fauji Tea Stall — a favourite haunt of the locals near the Manali Bus Stand — hovered around the weather, the forthcoming elections, and the possible impact of the two on tourism. As in any setting, the house seemed pretty evenly divided between the pessimists and optimists.
The pessimists, egged on by the prevalent weather, argued that the 9 phase poll season — commencing on April 7 and concluding with the announcement of results on May 16 — is sure to take its toll on tourism. Unperturbed by the aspersions, optimists maintained that the day-long poll activity in Himachal Pradesh, scheduled for May 7, would have little or no impact on holidaymakers.
Naysayers aside, the general mood in Manali remains upbeat as this picturesque mountain town prepares to welcome tourists for the forthcoming season that shifts into top gear around April 15th and remains in that state at least till the end of the harsh Indian summer. As for the impact of the elections, only time will tell. Que sera sera.