Rising tourism in Leh and Ladakh- Braving the Cold

Ladakh, in the extreme north of India, is among the coldest places on earth. During winters, temperature here falls to as low as -40 degree Celsius and summers are also predominantly cool. Despite the freezing cold, for over 30 years, people have been visiting it. Until 1979, Ladakh existed as a single district and in the mentioned year, it was split into the districts of Leh and Kargil. The number of visitors to this unhindered wilderness is rising and a big chunk of travellers who come to Jammu and Kashmir, venture into this plateau as well. The major areas or regions, which are the most popular among visitors, are Leh – the administrative capital of the Leh district, Dras in Kargil and the valleys of the Shyok, Nubra and Zanskar rivers. In the past, traders from Tibet, across the Himalayas, kept the region always bustling with life, but the Chinese government after capturing Tibet, closed the borders.

 

Trends

 

In the mid-20th century, the plateau remained closed for locals due to the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan. A significant point of this conflict came in 1948 when the Indian Army held on the Siachen Glacier, lying in the north-west of the district. The Indian government finally opened the area for tourists in 1974, perhaps to provide a better livelihood to the mountain-dwellers. In the same year, about 527 people came here, with those from outside the country numbering at 500, making up the majority. Since then the trends have changed vastly and in contemporary times, the Leh District is recording gigantic rise in numbers. According to data collected from local authorities, between 1988 and 2001, 17000 people visited the town on an average annual basis.

 

The highest number in one year during this period is pegged at 25000 in 1988. Owing to the spread of terrorism in the state, Leh in 1991 witnessed an all-time low of less than 10000 visitors. From the next year up till 1999, the number kept increasing gradually and held firmly consistent between 10000 and 20000. Another significant lull came in 1999 in the wake of the infamous Kargil War. Since 2003, the tourist count has again picked up and has been rising steadily. As per reports, in 2010 and till August 2011, the numbers stood at 77800 and 148588, respectively. Many different factors, ranging from elevating peace, better infrastructure and more advanced technology can be attributed to the recent upheaval.

 

Factors

 A) Roads

 

The biggest factor in the growth of tourism in Ladakh has been the improvement in the infrastructure. One of the only two National Highways to link the region with the rest of India is numbered as 1-D. It had always been an important route as it was used extensively for trading between India and Tibet. After the Dogras took the region from the Sikhs, the former people improved the road, allowing caravans to pass. The British government in 1873 sanctioned around INR 2500 for its upkeep. Following the Indo-China war of 1962, the local government started building National Highway 1-D, reaching Kargil by 1964. It was for ten years used exclusively by the army and after it being opened for civilians in 1974, Ladakh has become closer to the country.

B) Internet and Motion Pictures

 

Holiday packages, being offered by the multitude of travel agencies, are also an important factor contributing to the increment. Internet has become one of the indispensable utilities and nowadays, it is filled with travel portals offering all kinds of holiday packages. A stiff competition among the companies to dominate the market has led to the cost of such packages falling continuously. These packages take care of everything like booking of international flights, making reservations in hotels, getting travellers to Ladakh, sightseeing and getting them back. They have made the place easily accessible to all and thus has contributed significantly in the upheaval of tourist activities.

 

The region has been featured in loads of Indian motion pictures, which has further elevated the amount of visitors. Kashmir, especially Srinagar has been used as location in Indian films since the 1950s and in the latter part of the first decade of the 21st century, various attractions of this rugged land are also being used to shoot. A notable recent motion picture is 3 Idiots that featured its final scene at the Pangong Tso Lake, at a height of about 4350 metres above sea level. The part in Bhag Milkha Bhag, depicting the training of the athlete, was also shot in the area.

 

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