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Nature’s fury scars Himachal’s preferred tourist destination Manali

Manali, July 13, 2023 (Vishal Gulati/Agency)

Once a preferred destination for tourists, Himachal Pradesh’s resort Manali — nestled in the picturesque Beas river valley — has turned into a land of rubbles after torrential rain lashed the region with full nature’s fury.

Described often as a gift of the Himalayas to the world, the rustic enclave known for its cool environs amidst snow-capped mountains now appears to fit in TS Elliot’s narration of ‘The Wasteland’ — What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow Out of this stony rubbish? Ask the people there, and they say Manali will take a long time to rise from the debris of its glory.

The worst damage was in Manali’s suburbs where the swollen Beas river caused landslides, flashfloods and widespread damage to infrastructure like roads, bridges, houses and vehicles, besides the river waters inundated the Manali-Chandigarh highway, damaging a significant porting, hampering the movement of vehicles for days.

“This was not the first destructive landslide to damage the community and infrastructure,” Ram Krishan Thakur, former Survey of India Director, told IANS on Thursday.

He said this fury reminded him of the 1995 floods in Manali that wreaked havoc on an unprecedented scale.

“This time the scale of damage is less, but humans are responsible for this devastation.”

Pointing towards a destructive trail where once massive buildings were standing, he said the most damage occurred by the flashflood were raised illegally along with the river banks.

Thakur, who has been residing in Manali after his retirement in 2002, said Burwa, a village located in the suburbs of Manali, is seeing escalating socio-economic development and growth of tourism these days despite the fact that the entire area falls in the sinking zone.

Torrential rains, cloudbursts and flashfloods have become a regular feature in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh in recent years.

The heavy loss of life caused by such calamities can be mainly attributed to the increasing human activity, particularly along the rivers and water channels.

The local authorities are yet to wake up from their slumber despite the fact that most of the picnic spots in the Himalayan state fall in high seismic zones IV-V, suggesting severest seismic sensitivity.

A devastating landslide occurred on September 12, 1995, in Luggar Bhatti area, the prominent tourist destination in the Kullu Valley, and killed 65 people.

After this week’s deluge, there are widespread damage to roads and water supply schemes in the Kullu-Manali region.

Chief Minister Sukhvinder Sukhu in a tweet sai:, “Over 10,000 tourists are stranded in Kasol and Tirthan Valley due to road damage. We are facilitating the transportation of these tourists by transshipment, utilising jeeps and HRTC buses from the point where the road is damaged.”

Bahang village, just two and a half km uphill Manali, and Manali’s Aloo ground were the worst affected by the swollen river.

Officials told IANS that about 40 per cent of the 41-km-long national highway between Manali and Kullu has been completely washed away in floods.

The highway lies along the Beas river.

Old-timers say in the 1995 deluge more than 90 of this stretch was swept away by the swollen river, resulting in disrupting access for over an year.

“This time also thousands of tourists were evacuated from the left bank of the river on Tuesday after remaining stranded for two days,” local hotelier Prem Thakur told IANS.

He said electricity, water and mobile connectivity was restored on Wednesday after three days of snapping.

According to him, 100 metre of the national highway in Rangri village was completely damaged by the swollen waters.

In one scary video, shared by a Twitter user, a multi-storeyed hotel in Manali’s Aloo ground was seen crumbling down like a pack of cards and washed away in seconds in gushing waters of the river.

So were a bailey bridge, connecting the right bank to the left bank, and the Green Tax Barrier that collapsed like other infrastructures in a blink of an eye, leaving the hill destination to a standstill of nature’s scars.

Another video showed a bus of Pepsu Road Transport Corp (PRTC) being swept away in the river.

Rangri village, which houses 600 to 800 hotels and homestays, has also witnessed the fury as the road connectivity from both Kullu and Manali sides was snapped with the washing away of a portion of the national highway.

A majority of tourists remained stranded for days.

“After my first-hand account of nature’s fury of shops and houses washing away in swollen waters and cars tossing, I have decided not to return to Manali in future,” a visibly disturbed Pragya Chatterjee, a tourist from Delhi who came to Manali with her family, remarked.

After the deluge, members of the hospitality industry fear Manali and its nearby destinations, which are home to no less than 1,500 hotels, lodges and home-stay accommodations, will take time to return to its original tranquil and forlorn look.

“For this the government needs to focus on restoring the basic infrastructure like road networks and bridges before the next season,” remarked a local hotelier.

The next tourist season in Manali starts from Dussehra holidays and lasts till New Year’s Eve.

Advocating sustainable development, Shimla’s former Deputy Mayor Tikender Panwar said “it is not just nature’s fury responsible for loss experienced this monsoon, the reckless infrastructure development is a major contributing factor”.

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