Srinagar: A complete halt on tourist arrivals this year in Ladakh has hit the region’s tourism hard, more so after the border dispute with China since June, which had dealt a further blow to the sector apart from the pandemic. Now, a further escalation in tension at the Line of Actual Control or LAC, locals say, has ended whatever little chances of revival they were hoping for.
Tension mounted at India’s de facto border with China, known as LAC in Ladakh since May this year in which 20 Indian Army soldiers were killed during a stand-off. Earlier this week, aerial firing was reported in Eastern Ladakh along the Chushul sector, a first in several decades.
The region, one of the most popular tourist destinations north of India, was under a lockdown since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdown followed after the number of tourist arrivals had already witnessed a decline in the wake of Abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories.
The Union territory Ladakh was one of them. Tourism in Ladakh was not as much as used to be in Kashmir, with the sector thriving round the year till the outbreak of coronavirus brought it to a screeching halt.
In Leh, thousands of locals depend on tourism which peaks during the summer season. The Ladakh region has several tourist destinations at breathtaking altitudes, including Pangong Tso. The Pangong lake, which covers over 600 sq km area, even as only one-third of the lake lies in under Indian control, is one of the most frequented destinations at over 4,200 m after a Bollywood movie was shot there in 2009.
“Everything is impacted due to COVID-19 and we don’t have tourism at all,” Rigzin Spalbar told NewsClick. Saplbar is the former Chairman or Chief Executive Councillor of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Leh.
Spalbar, however, says the pandemic has hit the region harder than the border dispute. “Everything was already under lockdown due to the COVID situation,” he says.
According to Jigmat, the owner of Jigmat Couture, the crisis is deep and has hit two-third of the region’s population as most of the business is “based on tourism”.
“The biggest reason is the pandemic and Ladakh has a very short tourist season. By September, after the Ladakh festival, it is almost over,” Jigmat says. People in Ladakh celebrate nearly a dozen major monastic festivals which attract tourism and business. The Ladakh festival is celebrated in peak September.
Jigmat recently opened only one of his five stores since the coronavirus hit businesses globally. He says he has suffered 90% loss in business. But what has worsened the situation for the people and tourism in the region is the border tension.
The region reported as many as 40 new cases on Thursday, according to official data, taking the total number of cases to 3,142 with as many as 778 active cases.
“Year 2020 is gone. Whatever we have to do is for 2021. People will come out of the pandemic but border issues are even worse. If the situation escalates, it is difficult to revive tourism soon,” Jigmat added.