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Trekkers in Himachal can now walk their way to adventures, Raj heritage

IANS | October 22, 2023 10:14 AM

SHIMLA: If you are dreaming of a perfect holiday in the lap of nature, strolling amid misty meadows and breathing in pine-scented air under an open sky, Himachal Pradesh is just the place for you. To make things easier for nature lovers and backpackers, the Himachal Government is promoting trekking in forests as part of its initiative to open doors of ecotourism in the state and give people a chance to unwind far from the madding crowd.

The Himachal government is specifically developing trekking routes and reviving old mule paths used during the British Raj to give trekking enthusiasts a taste of the bygone era.

For beginners, trekking to Shali Tibba overlooking the Himachal Pradesh capital is the best option, say officials of the Forest Department. This trek offers a panoramic 360-degree view of the surrounding Himalayan peaks.

A temple atop the Shali Tibba is dedicated to the highly-revered goddess Bhima Kali. Devotees often flock to the top, especially during Navratri for darshan. The temple has been constructed with wood and stones, typical of rural Himalayan architecture.

A trail to the temple was constructed in 1936 by the then ruler of Faridkot. That trail still exists and is in a good condition for trekking enthusiasts to try out.

Then there is Triund, the trekking route overlooking McLeodganj, the abode of the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. This route is a popular trekking trail among tourists coming to Kangra district.

According to the Tourism Department, more than 10, 000 trekkers, mainly foreigners, visit Triund every year.

For professional mountaineers, trans-Himalayan peaks in the picturesque Kullu, Lahaul and Spiti Valleys offer challenging ground for expeditions that last for days or even weeks, a key source of income for the local people.

Most of the peaks, which are at altitudes of 4, 000-6, 000 metres are yet to be conquered. However, as with any adventure tourism activity, trekking, too, is fraught with risks and many a time trekkers go missing. Officials of the state-run Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports in Manali admit that it is very challenging to locate them without helicopters as most of the areas where trekking takes place are off the beaten track and devoid of human activity.

Official records say that more than 20 foreign nationals have gone missing from the Parvati Valley in as many years. Over the years the valley, known for growing world-class cannabis, has earned the moniker ‘Death Valley.’

The reason: The hills around the valley are gorgeous, but they are also rugged, cold, inhospitable and no place for an inexperienced or ill-equipped trekker. Some die of high-altitude sickness, some slip off narrow, icy tracks while some are marooned by blizzards.

Also there is a possibility that the missing tourists were robbed and killed by local people and their bodies were buried deep in the forests. Lonely hikers with expensive watches, cameras and other accessories become easy prey to unemployed Himachali youths hooked to drugs.

Locals believe that the number of missing trekkers or deaths is quite high as many incidents often go unreported. For instance, a Swedish woman’s frozen body was found on a glacier in Lahaul and Spiti district in 2004, almost 25 years after she went missing in the region.

To lower the incidence of missing trekkers, a new initiative has been launched by the government under which the Forest Department has been directed to designate and notify trekking routes across the state, an official statement said.

These trekking routes would be meticulously planned, taking into consideration local weather conditions and the availability of essential facilities such as accommodation, etc. These routes would be offered to trekkers as comprehensive packages through the eco-tourism society.

Manali-based trekking operator Nishant Singh Negi told IANS that in October and November hundreds of backpackers descend on the Kullu-Manali segment.

“Some do serious trekking, while others roam aimlessly from village to village and some indulge in drugs. This is one of the reasons for their mysterious deaths and disappearances, ” he said. He said most of the foreigners prefer to trek alone or in small groups without taking the help of local guides. This is particularly true of Israelis, who come here after compulsory military service and prefer to stay in isolated, secluded areas.

An official statement quoting Chief Minister Sukhvinder Sukhu said the recurring problem of trekkers getting lost or facing unexpected incidents leads to resource-intensive rescue efforts. “Notifying the trekking routes would enhance their safety and convenience, ” he said.

Under the proposed regulations, trekkers will be required to register before embarking on their journeys. Additionally, they will be provided with tracking devices as a mandatory safety measure. This will enable swift tracking in the event of an emergency, ensuring timely assistance. Also, the Forest Department will offer the services of trained guides to trekkers, further enhancing safety measures. These guides will be registered and given specialised training, which not only improves trekker safety but also creates employment opportunities for local youth.

Sharing his experience, Gaurav Duggal, a Chandigarh-based corporate executive, told IANS, “When we go for trekking over a weekend, we prefer to stay near nature and away from the crowd. That’s why we prefer the short but steep trail of Triund. This place is just three hours away from Dharamkot.”

He adds that the snow-covered Dhauladhar ranges are picturesque in winter and give the taste of trekking amid the Himalayas.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at gulatiians@gmail.com)

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