Fleeing from the pre-monsoon dry heat, the denizens of the land of five rivers and adjacent states can only take refuge in the hills, to mop up the sweat on their brow, as the adage goes.
What had held them back thus far – at least until the first COVID wave lasted -- were fears of being struck by the lethal virus. But feeling charged up with vaccines and smug in the belief that they carry antibodies, the loosening of the curbs has seen floodgates open into Himachal Pradesh.
So far so good, but what began as a trickle has turned into a swarm with bumper to bumper traffic on roads leading to Shimla And Manali. With hotels running out of beds – almost a replay of the distress witnessed in Delhi’s COVID designated hospitals – tourists prefer tossing and turning all night in their large SUVs. Most hotels are operating at nearly 90 per cent occupancy at weekend and tourists are perforce scouring for ‘spots’ in the countryside.
More worrisome is the stampede in postage-stamp sized hill stations like Manali, where shops and eateries are chock-a-block. Tourists have few places to hang around and jostle for a toehold on the Mall as they eat and shop for trinkets on the trot.
The scramble for cooler climes in apparent breach of Covid-19 protocols has come on the heels of alarming predictions of a third phase of the coronavirus outbreak. A report by SBI Research says that the third wave may hit India next month in August. "Going by the current data, India could experience cases around 10,000 in the second week of July. However, the cases could start rising by the second fortnight of August," the SBI report adds.
Shimla hotel and restaurant association president Sanjay Sood told PTI that the withdrawal of the condition of negative RTPCR report and e-Covid pass to enter the state had given a boost to footfall. Shimla, of course, has its own peculiar problems: Water demand is at an all-time high and some localities are going without any drinking water.
An added attraction in the Manali circuit is the world’s highest Rohtang Tunnel which can now be negotiated in record time to land on the ‘other side’. The photos from Manali have gone viral on social media and hashtags “third wave” and “Manali” were trending on Twitter.